Lincoln teens balance high school and parenthood

James Moore and Alissa Pierce, 17-year-old parents, plan to raise Taitlyn together

Story and photos by Kara VanLandingham, News Net Nebraska

Lincoln Southeast junior Alissa Pierce turned 17 on Feb. 15 but already has a family of her own. There’s her boyfriend, James Moore, also 17. And there’s Taitlyn, their 13-month-old daughter.

“Abortion was never an option,” says the diminutive, soft-spoken Pierce. The girl, who seems to love being a mom, also refused to put her baby up for adoption or turn her over to others in the family – both options Moore’s dad pressed for. Instead, she and Moore plan to raise their “Tater Tot” together.

Pierce is far from alone in her young motherhood. One million women under the age of 19 will become teen moms this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nebraska’s teen pregnancy rate, at 8.5 percent, is slightly higher than the national average.

Neither Moore nor Pierce planned to be parents. But, when they found she was a pregnant, their course was clear. Moore was adopted and feels strongly that he has an obligation to avoid it for his child. He wanted to help raise Taitlyn.

“I didn’t want her to feel some of the bad feelings about being adopted as I did,” said the young man. Currently Moore’s mother watches Taitlyn while her parents are in school and can’t tend to her.

Taitlyn, 13 months old, stays with grandma when her parents go to high school

Pierce’s pregnancy was difficult. Despite going to the doctor numerous times, she didn’t learn she was pregnant until she was four months along. “I have a backwards uterus, so you couldn’t see the pregnancy,” she said. She was sick often and lost weight.

However, the birth was easy. Taitlyn, born healthy, “came out with two pushes and no pain meds,” said Pierce. “I only missed one day of school after her birth and only because Taitlyn had a doctor’s appointment.”

While Pierce and Moore were surprised by Pierce’s pregnancy, growing numbers of young moms become pregnant on purpose. With popular culture all but condoning and glamorizing the idea of high school girls having children, it’s no wonder why these girls might entertain the idea.

Women who grace the likes of MTV’s hit series Teen Mom are paid handsomely. They make six-figure incomes and appear on the covers of magazines. Friends of the stars of the series are quickly becoming so-called “copycat moms,” in the hopes of attaining the same sort of recognition. This new phenomena has its effects in Lincoln, too.

“Our school is now full of girls that think being pregnant makes them popular and will give them a better reputation,” says Pierce. “Some girls will even lie about being pregnant for the attention but you never see the baby.” Lincoln High and Lincoln Northeast both have day care programs on site for children of the students. Most high schools in Lancaster County offer teen parenting classes.

While Pierce says she did not get pregnant on purpose and was not encouraged to have a baby, her mother applied for her to be on the Teen Mom show.

“I was one month too young though. You have to be 16 and I was still 15 while I was pregnant,” Pierce said.

Pierce grew up down the street from Farah Abraham, a young mother featured during season one of Teen Mom. “We used to play together when we were little,” Pierce said.

Pierce and Moore have the support of their parents — and each other — to help their lives run smoothly.

But they do live with restrictions. The teens are not allowed to stay the night with each other and they live separately in their parents’ homes. The young mom has Taitlyn during the week, while dad takes her on the weekends and they often tend to her together.

The parent of Pierce and Moore want them to finish high school. So they chip in on caring for the baby.

Not all young parents have this privilege. Sam Anderson, a 24-year-old unmarried mother of three, is pregnant with her fourth child. Currently out of work and in danger of moving to the City Mission because she has just been evicted from her apartment, her life has been a series of disappointments.

“I dropped out of high school when I was a teen, pregnant with my first child at 15 and my mom kicked me out,” said Anderson. “Ever since then it’s just a vicious cycle. I want to get my life together but I can’t because I never had a foundation to build my life on.”

She may not be able to keep her family together.

“I will have to give this baby up for adoption, I just can’t take care of it,” Anderson said. “If I would have waited to have children, my life would have been very different and I hate the fact that girls would think this kind of life is fun, pretty or easy.”

Teen motherhood seems to repeat itself in the family tree. Anderson’s mother was 16 when she had her. And Pierce and Moore both are children of teen parents. The boy’s mother put him up for adoption as an infant.

Pierce and Moore hope to eventually move to Colorado together after high school, where Pierce wants to work on becoming a registered nurse and Moore can become a music teacher. Until then, they will live under the rules and help given by their parents.

Even though Pierce loves her daughter and believes she and Moore can make a future for themselves, she advises other teens to avoid pregnancy. “Girls think it’s so cool to be pregnant now, they look at us and say, ‘I wanna do this too,’” said Pierce. “What they don’t realize is it’s the biggest responsibility of their lives.”

Mom Alissa puts daughter Taitlyn’s slipper back on after changing her.

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