The teenage years are rough, even within the pristine borders of Santa Barbara. Deep within the recesses of most teens’ minds, however, is the thought that things could always get worse. You could lose a parent or sibling. Your family could plunge into financial insecurity. And, of course, you could get pregnant.
Meet Kinley. Right now, she seems like many other Santa Barbara teens—tall, lean, and tanned, with hair that trails down her back. She’s got anything but a typical story, though. At her side sits a baby bassinet, and peeking out from it is her infant son, Kage.
Last year, Kinley was a prominent varsity athlete. Her Facebook profile shows a happy and more-than-well-adjusted girl with a steady boyfriend of several years. She was planning to go to med school, and thinking seriously about marrying her boyfriend. She was using protection—but then she got pregnant.
This isn’t a Bristol Palin-style story of a teen martyr who feels nothing but remorse for her actions and moralizes to other teens about the virtues and joys of abstinence. Kinley knew she was too young to have a baby, and she thought about abortion and adoption. She knew, though, that she had the support of her mom, sister, and boyfriend if she wanted to keep her child, which she learned was going to be a boy.
Then her boyfriend turned on her, too, suggesting abortion. Kinley and he stopped talking toward the end of her pregnancy, and as she approached her due date, she left high school to finish her classes through an at-home school program called Home Hospital. She started receiving nasty, menacing threats over text from her ex-boyfriend’s friends, who accused her of cutting him off and of having slept with other guys. (She says he was the only one she’d ever had sex with.)
Today, Kinley’s calm and reserved optimism is almost shocking. I talked to her a month after she gave birth, and again a month after that. The first time, she was about to graduate early from school and start online classes through SBCC. She gave up her dream career in favor of something more achievable with a baby. But even so, she was in high spirits. Kage was born healthy and happy and was a “very easy baby”—in itself a gift after giving birth so young. Toward the end of her pregnancy, she started a relationship with a good friend who not only supported her choice to keep the baby, but stepped up to fill the role of father once Kage was born.
But there were still holes in her confidence. On a recent excursion with boyfriend and baby, Kinley went head-to-head with a server who kept telling her she was too young to have a baby and that it’s too hard. She ended up being pushed so hard she cried.
“I know I’m too young! I know it’s going to be hard! I don’t need you to tell me!” she recalled thinking.
So what makes her story important? For one thing, Kinley recognized immediately that she couldn’t “go down the wrong path” and abandon her education. She knew she couldn’t rely on her mother—also a single parent—for permanent financial support. She wanted more than anything to be smart about both her and Kage’s health and futures.
Kinley also had a unique opportunity to put to use the values of her Santa Barbara upbringing and education. She attended local public schools for her primary and secondary education, and experienced the school district’s abstinence-encouraging policies for sex education. And yes, she ended up pregnant, but she faced it with a maturity that is hard to match (especially in comparison to the poor examples set by the girls of MTV’s “Sixteen and Pregnant”.) She faced a serious, life-changing situation head-on and came out on top on a path she’s happy with, considering the circumstances.
The message here isn’t necessarily that the school district is adequately preparing us to take on the unexpected issues we high-schoolers will inevitably face. It’s that, despite budget cuts, despite drug abuse, despite poverty or affluence, we can still succeed when it matters. And for those like Kinley, it’s an important victory.
All names have been changed to protect privacy.