Neither Burnudecia Huey, Bonnie Stevenson nor Akilah Wofford were ready to get pregnant. Two – Huey and Stevenson – were teenagers and Wofford was 23. All were single.
Getting pregnant before they chose to be is not a road any one of them would choose to travel again. Despite making bad decisions and grappling with a torrent of circumstances in some cases, the experiences have not derailed their aspirations of achieving something worthwhile in life.
"I thought it would never happen to me. I was shocked," said Huey, 18, relating her story to Minister Telisa Franklin, host of "The Telisa Franklin Show," during a taping with Stevenson and Wofford Friday evening (Nov. 22) on the topic, "Voices of Teen Moms." The segment will be aired soon on Franklin's cable TV network on Comcast 31.
"There are extenuating circumstances sometimes that cause teens to make the wrong decisions," said Franklin. "But those problems don't always stop teens from exceeding in life. That's why it's so important to address the issue."
Although the birthrate for teenagers aged 15-19 dropped 8 percent in the United States from 2010 to 2011, the latest data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows teen pregnancy is still a major concern affecting all population groups.
In 2011, 90 girls were reported to be pregnant at Frayser High School, about 11 percent of the school's approximately 800 students. The staggering number of pregnancies received national attention and prompted local authorities and school officials to mount a campaign to urge and help young girls and boys make better decisions.
Huey had heard about the high pregnancy rate at Frayser, but never in her wildest dreams thought she would get pregnant. It happened when she was 17 and in the 11th-grade at Trezevant High School in the Raleigh-Frayser community.
"I didn't find out that I was pregnant until I had five months to go. I wasn't that big at all," said Huey, now a senior at Trezevant running track, playing the French horn and trumpet, and keeping a steady 3.0 GPA.
Huey was in her second trimester and feared telling her mother. Her father is deceased. "When I asked Burnudecia if she was pregnant, she told me no," said Laveta Huey. "But she kept sleeping a lot and gaining weight."
Huey didn't know how to break the news to her mother. So she wrote her a letter, which read in part: "I'm sorry. I know you're going to be disappointed. I hope you still love me."
Laveta Huey was disappointed, but not enough to reject her grandson. Instead, she gave her daughter the leeway to raise him with minimum help. "It's her responsibility," she said. "I have to let her be a mom."
Jamarcous Graves is 10 months old now. His father, Huey said, is still in her life and caring for his son. Meanwhile, she is putting all the pieces together to become a nurse.
Stevenson was 16 when she found out she was pregnant. The baby's father was 23. The news, she said, was depressing. The expectant mother was a power forward on the basketball team at Trezevant. She played softball, too, and the French horn in the school band.
Originally from Boston, Stevenson moved to Memphis when she was 13. Shortly thereafter, she was raped, which left her devastated. On top of that, her mother was a substance abuser and her father was incarcerated.
"I didn't blame anybody for my problems. I knew what I was doing," said Stevenson, who was raised by her grandmother. "I put my trust in him (the baby's father). But he didn't hang around. I was vulnerable at the time."
People started looking at her differently, being judgmental, she said. "I lost a lot of friends. A lot of family members started looking at me in disgust."
Stevenson dropped out in the 11th grade and was pregnant again by another man. At 18, she moved back to her hometown and back again to Memphis when she was 21. She persevered, earning her GED, the equivalent of a high school diploma.
Stevenson is 23 years old now and has three children – Baija Miller, 8, Dyuana Stevenson, 6, and Ephan Eubanks, 1. She and the children live in Bartlett with Ephan's father.
Two weeks ago, Stevenson lost her job. Undaunted, she is pressing on, studying to become a physical therapist at Southwest Tennessee Community College.
Wofford and Stevenson were classmates from the 6th-grade at Brookmeade Elementary until they matriculated together at Trezevant. She also played basketball on the team at the point guard position.
After graduating in 2008, Wofford went to Tennessee State University, majoring in communications. She left in 2011 and enrolled at the University of Memphis, this time studying journalism with a minor in communications.
"I got pregnant at 23," said Wofford, who once considered having an abortion before deciding to go through with the pregnancy. She still has a relationship with the baby-to-be's father.
Nearly six months pregnant now, Wofford laments the fact that she got pregnant. Her mother died three years ago and she wishes her father could be there for the birth of her child, but he died in June before Wofford learned she was pregnant.
"He raised me," Wofford said, noting that he was an 85-year-old doting father. "Three years ago I lost my mom, who was a drug addict. So I'm bringing a child in the world without grandparents."
Wofford does have a godmother, Phyllis Thomas, whom she regards highly. Thomas, said Wofford, will step in to fill the role of a grandmother. But family, she noted, hasn't been there to support her, "particularly on my mother's side."
Reflecting on her father's love and the circumstances of her pregnancy, Wofford said, "I will persevere."