Posted: Nov 12, 2012 9:03 PM
Updated: Nov 12, 2012 11:29 PM
WILLACY COUNTY - Teen pregnancy often leads to a cycle of dependence some families can't break. It's a common problem in the Rio Grande Valley, experts say.
The Rio Grande Valley outpaces the state in the number of children living in poverty. It also has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Texas, statistics show.
The views on sex and contraceptives are as wide as the Rio Grande, experts said. Some think the information should only come from parents. Others think that schools and churches should stress abstinence. Still, others advocate giving young girls more information about sex.
Regardless of the stance on the issue, the problem is not going away, experts said.
"Everything has changed. ... But in a good way, though," Melissa Garcia said. She was 17 when she found out she was pregnant.
On March 6, Garcia gave birth to her daughter Melody. Garcia became a teen mother, just like her mother.
Garcia said her life changed with she gave birth to her daughter.
She shares her story while sitting on her stoop at her home in Willacy County.
Garcia is yet another statistic.
"I've read several times ... if you are a young teenage mom and you have a girl, it is highly likely that little girl will grow up to be a teenage mom. And if you are a young teenage mom and you have a boy ... it is very probable that some time he is going to be incarcerated and that's heartbreaking," Cheryl Sproles said, with Su Clinica Familiar.
Sproles tracks teen pregnancy trends. She is in charge of community outreach for Su Clinica Familiar.
The facts don't paint a rosy picture for Melody's future.
"It's never an easy path. That's not to be negative ... to say it's not doable. I've seen some very remarkable girls that have gotten pregnant early but had those support systems in place," Sproles said.
Studies show that babies born to teen mothers are less likely to get prenatal care, Sproles said. They also are more likely to grow up poor and more likely to struggle in school, Sproles said.
Teen mothers usually don't finish high school, Sproles said.
Garcia beat the odds. She earned her diploma for Lasara High School. She, however, did not join her classmates on graduation day. She was home with her baby.
Garcia and her boyfriend, Adonus Henderson, are not sure how they will keep Melody from repeating the cycle.
"I would just teach her and tell her not to hide anything from us," Henderson said.
The psychology behind teen pregnancy is even more difficult to whittle down to a percentage point or statistic, experts said.
"They can not see beyond high school. Many of them become romantically involved thinking ... ‘I have a baby, I will keep this gentleman. I will keep this guy ... I will be able to have part of him.' Not understanding what it is to rear a child. It's a long process. It's a big commitment," said Patricio Gonzalez, CEO of the local branch of Planned Parenthood.
"It's a complex issue. ... You want to look at the whole picture. You've got issues of culture, upbringing, cultural myths about contraceptives and not enough school information," Gonzalez said.
He said parents don't know how to talk with their children about sex because they did not get the information either.
Funding cuts forced Planned Parenthood to close down its office in Raymondville.
Garcia was surprised when the office closed.
"They closed down the one down the street. ... My mom told me to go there, but when I was going to go there they told me it was not here no more," Garcia said.
Reaching girls like Garcia is not as simple as telling them to go to a neighborhood clinic, experts said.
Su Clinica still serves young women in the Willacy County area. Garcia never visited that, or any other clinic. She was not looking for low-cost or free birth control.
"I wanted to get ... I actually, um... wanted to have a baby," Garcia said.
Garcia said she craved love and security. She finds that love in Melody's eyes, and the sense of security in her relationship with Henderson.
A congressional report states that most teen mothers want to marry their baby's father. Like 92 out of every 100 teen moms, Garcia is not married to her daughter's father.
Henderson is struggling to find his own way. He is not working. He said it's difficult to find work in Raymondville.
"These young men ... they're very scared as well. They go through a series of emotions just like the girls do. ... But the girls are left primarily with the responsibility of that baby, and it's very seldom she ends up with a partner," Sproles said.
The odds may be against Garcia's small family, but she hopes love will light the way.
Garcia soon will turn 19, and Melody is near the one-year mark. That's good news for Sproles. She said babies born to teen moms are less likely to live to their first birthday.
For Henderson, Melody is more than a statistic.
"I didn't really dream much. Just having a daughter," he said. Melody is daddy's little dream-maker.
Statistics show that more than 18,000 teen girls give birth in Hidalgo County in a single year. That's more than the population of Mercedes.
The majority of those girls end up on public assistance, statistics show.