MINNEAPOLIS -- Every day in Minnesota, approximately 14 teenage girls give birth to babies. According to the most recent statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health, 4,944 babies were born to teen mothers in 2008.
And while the number of teens getting pregnant has not changed dramatically in the last decade, the reason for their decision to become pregnant has.
Julie Nelson recently sat down with a group of young girls who are about to become mothers or who already are. The girls range in age from 16 to 20 years old. Most of them come from single parent homes where they say their parents just are not involved. And, the vast majority of the girls have no relationship with their baby's father. But what they all have in common is that they all believed having a baby would make them happy.
It's after school on a Wednesday, and Sandie, like millions of other teenagers is checking Facebook.
"I'm looking at prom pictures," said Sandie.
And, like other teens, she's talking about college.
"I'm waiting to hear from Bethel (University)," added Sandie.
Sandie received a composite score of 23 on her ACT tests. That is higher than the nationwide average of 21.1. But in the last few weeks, Sandie who is 17 years old, has something more urgent than college to prepare for. She is about to have a baby.
A few weeks ago, she heard the baby's heartbeat.
"I was happy. I was like, 'oh, it's real!'" Sandie exclaimed.
When Sandie found out she was pregnant, three months ago, she did not react with sadness or even disappointment. For her, having a baby did not create a problem, it solved one.
"I don't think a baby would hurt me the way other people have... I definitely felt like I would have unconditional love for real," Sandie explained.
For many of us, the idea of a teenager wanting to have a baby is hard to imagine.
"I think they're searching for love. There is this hole inside of them that isn't being filled," said Wayne Thyren, and others who work at the non-profit agency TreeHouse, say it is becoming a familiar trend.
TreeHouse reaches out to at-risk kids in the Twin Cities suburbs. A number of years ago, they started noticing a shift, not in the number of teens getting pregnant, but in the reason they were.
"When they're first thinking about it it's the solution to the problem of being lonely," explained Jill Walker of Treehouse.
KARE 11 talked with nine young women, including Sandie, whom TreeHouse is serving. All of them either became or are about to become teen mothers. And, all of them, though they say they did not become pregnant on purpose, believed having a baby would be a good thing.
"Because what would a baby mean?" I asked.
"It would stick by you," said Tia.
"It would give you that love that you're not getting from nobody else," added Des.
"For me, a lack of my mom, she wasn't a great person to me, and never has been. I think I could fill that with a child, and prove to my child that I can be better than her," said Lacy.
"I felt alone. So, I just was like, I think I could have a baby and a love a baby and will love me back. So, then I wouldn't have to worry about someone else loving me," said Sandie.
"We see a lot of survival kids, survival mode kids. They don't have the network, the resources, the support. They're sort of latch key kids, and then some," said Walker.
The counselors say the kids are looking for a way to stop the pain now.
"Parents may not believe this, (those) who have a troubled teenager, but they (the teens) don't get up in the morning and say, "How can I mess up my life?' They get up in the morning and say, 'How can I figure out my life? My life is a mess. I need to figure it out.' In the process of trying to figure it out, when there isn't anyone else around, they turn to drugs, sex, having a baby, as answers to problems then have," explained Thyren.
Of course, the reality of teen pregnancy is quite different. According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy only 40 percent of teens who have a baby at age 17 or earlier finish high school, which means they most likely have fewer opportunities and earn less money the rest of their lives.
The girls we talked with realized all of this too late.
"Oh, I cry constantly," said Lacy.
"I'm eight months (pregnant) now, and I'm about to have my son, and it's terrifying. It's not the solution that I wish I would have chosen," added Des.
"It's hard. Sometimes you just break down and just cry," said Victoria.
"I think it's especially sad for some of the young ladies who really did have some goals for themselves, but once this event happens in their lives, this really changes their lives forever. That just doesn't go away. And, again, what they thought was going to be the answer just doesn't turn out that way," Thyren explained.
"I would tell anybody to wait, wait as long as you can. It's hard," Tia warned.
"I feel like I'm old, but I'm still living as a teenager, but I feel like I'm just old. I've just been through so much. I'm just old. It's hard," added Des.
For more information on teen pregnancy:
Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting
(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)