"People always think of teen pregnancy as what they see on TV. It's not like that at all."

 

In December of 2009, MTV produced a spinoff of its popular show 16 and Pregnant calledTeen Mom - the spinoff drew in more than 3.65 million viewers. The producers (one of whom is Morgan Freeman) and MTV claim that the series is meant to educate teens on the realities of teen pregnancy. After each episode, the network provides information and a link to its website to get more
information on contraception and teen pregnancy.

16 and Pregnant premiered on television when I was 15. As someone who grew up with the show and its characters while my fellow classmates in high school were beginning to experiment with one another, the "reality" of the show contrasted with the reality of life was quite different. I struggled to see the humanity in the show - it seemed like every single action was simply a reaction for dramatic effect. When I had the opportunity my freshman year at Tufts University to spend 8 months to follow a person (or group of persons), learn their story, and understand how it was representative of a broader story and important issue, my mind instantly jumped to teen pregnancy and young parents.

A television show on MTV, despite its best intentions, is meant to entertain rather than educate. When I met Amber in November of 2011 for lunch at a Panera Bread in Arlington, Massachusetts to talk to her about the project, the importance of the project began to hit me. Here was a real live person, not followed by an MTV crew but still going through very real things and coming out above it all just fine.

The problem with television shows like 16 and PregnantTeen Mom, and all the others is that it produces stereotypes. Judgments. When, as Amber said herself, it's not like that all. This project is meant to break down those stereotypes: share the voice of a teen mother herself so that
people can hear her story in her own words in her own voice. 

 

The best person to share Amber's story with you is Amber herself, in her own voice. Listen, while you look at the images below.

Before I got pregnant, I was a party girl. I spent all my time smoking and drinking. I barely went to school. At that moment, I was more focused on just having a good time. 

And then I met Alex.

I thought I was pregnant...I knew, I was pregnant as a matter of fact.

She was like, you take it and don't look at it because you're supposed to wait five minutes anyway. She was like take it and we'll look at it together. And I was like alright dude. So I go into the bathroom and I peed on the stick. I peed on that stick and I looked at it real quick and I could already see the double line. I put it down on her bureau and it was the longest five minutes of my life. 

He's still not in the picture now, and I don't plan on him being on the picture ever. I wasn't asking him to dump his girlfriend for me or anything. I just wanted him to be there for his child. You know? Like he didn't have to be there for me, but I wanted him to be there for Lillianna. And he's not.

Pregnancy kinda sucked. I mean...obviously I enjoyed it, sometimes. But for the most part? Not really. All my friends stopped hanging out with me and I spent a lot of time inside. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I started feeling ok. I started preparing a lot for the baby...taking it one step at a time.

Lillianna Brielle Dempsey was born on March 6, 2012 at 9:07 PM. She was 8 pounds, 9 ounces and she was 20 inches long. 

My pregnancy changed a lot of things about my life. Any type of big...big thing like this...well, clearly it changes everything. Your whole perspective on life is now so different than how it was before  All of your priorities change in general. You don't come first anymore. Your child does. You don't think about yourself anymore. I have other things that come first now.

That I never had to do before. I want her to look at me like somebody she wants to be. Somebody that she can look up to, somebody to base her actions on. 

I just want her to be happy, and to give her...anything she wants.

You don't realize how much you can love somebody until you have a kid. She's yours, you know? That's your child. You created her. She depends on you for everything. You're everything to her.

If I had the chance to? No. I wouldn't do anything different. Now that I have her, it's just...she's everything I could want. When you think about having a kid and stuff like that, she's...she's perfect. I wouldn't change it for the world. Not at all.

I just don't want people to have a stereotype. Because all those shows, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom and all that...people just think of what they see on TV. That show is what people seem to think of young parents. That's not what is at all.

People always say you're going to miss out on so much because you're a mom and this and that and you're missing out on the best years of your life, and it's like...I don't think that at all. 

I still have so much to do. Everything that I could do, I can still do. I just have to put it on hold.

And then eventually, I'll get to where I'm going. Wherever that may be.


ABOUT THE PROJECT

The project following Amber Dempsey through her pregnancy and after the birth of her daughter was done
from November 2011 through April 2012 during my fellowship in the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice under the
close mentorship of photojournalists Gary Knight and Samuel James.

Amber was kind and open enough to share her story with me and allow me to share it with you. I please ask that you respect her image and voice, and do not reproduce it for any personal or commercial purposes.