Family Matters

Sixteen-year-old Karina Flores knew something was wrong when she couldn’t button her size five jeans. She wiggled to peel them off her body and threw them on her bed, and opted for her size seven pair instead. As she finished getting ready for another day at school, she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was rounder and less defined, and her stomach was slightly bulging. When she met her friend on campus that day, she was greeted by a question: “Have you gotten your period yet?” “No, I haven’t, but I am sure I am going to get it soon enough,” she replied.

Two weeks later she found out she was pregnant.

Growing up, Karina had long and frequent talks with her mother. One particular phrase stuck with her and replayed in her mind over and over again. “A girl is like a flower, very pretty, but once touched, it becomes wilted.” Karina felt wilted. This baby would ruin her life, she thought. She knew her parents would be mad at her but didn’t know to what extent. Having an abortion crossed her mind, but when she vocalized it people encouraged her to keep the baby.

Karina’s story sounds all too familiar. One in two Latinas becomes pregnant at least once by the age of twenty. Although overall teen pregnancy has gone down within the last few years, the rate of Latina pregnancy is decreasing half as fast as the national average. Is the lack of comprehensive sex education in schools and homes contributing to this trend?

“We need to get the communication about sex out and we have to talk about it on a consistent basis,” said Ruthie Flores, senior manager for Latino Initiative, a campaign focused on helping reduce the high rates of pregnancy and childbearing in the Latino community. “But how can we do that if the parents don’t know where to turn for help?”

Fast Track

Karina remembered her doctor had told her that when she turned sixteen, she would be able to make visits by herself. She took advantage of that and scheduled an appointment without her mother’s knowledge. Karina sat anxiously in the waiting room, tapping her foot against the floor to shake off her nerves. After a long stressful wait the receptionist called her name and she proceeded to the doctor’s office. She sat down on the ivory colored chair and glanced at the pamphlets displayed against the walls that varied in topics: substance abuse, menopause, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.

Soon enough her doctor walked through the door and handed her a cup for a urine sample. She came out of the bathroom and waited for the results.

“You are four months pregnant,” the doctor said. “Are you going to keep the baby, have an abortion, or give it up for adoption?”

In shock, Karina muttered, “I don’t know.”

The doctor took Karina by the hand and walked her to the office of a social worker. The social worker explained to her all the options she had and even set her up for an appointment at a clinic in Oakland to have an abortion.

The next day Karina received three calls from the social worker. She did not know what to do and hated feeling pressured to make such a hard decision so soon. She never answered her calls.

Karina was going through a mixture of emotions, and her biggest concern was telling her parents. Being the oldest of six children, every one of her siblings looked up to her as a sister—and a mother-figure. Now she faced the possibility of being a real mother. Her parents, who were born in Mexico, raised her in a traditional Mexican household, where abstaining from sex was the best—and only—thing to do. When Maria Flores, Karina’s mother, lived in Mexico, girls had to carry themselves with dignity. If a young lady innocently talked to a man who was not a family member, her boyfriend would leave her. There was no room for games. The church and the Virgen de Guadalupe played a big role in Maria’s life, something that she wished would have carried on to her own family in the United States.

The Latino population, which makes up 13 percent of the U.S. population, is the fastest growing and largest minority group in the United States. By 2015, an estimated one-in-five teens will be Latino. Many people in the Latino population have assimilated into the mainstream culture of the United States but have kept with them old traditions and customs of their native countries. To an extent, young men are still encouraged to have sex as an initiation into manhood, whereas girls are told to remain abstinent until marriage. This double standard leads many girls to rebel and lie to their parents in order to gain some sense of freedom.

One of Karina’s classmates had gotten pregnant, and a month later she was kicked out of her house and had to move in with her boyfriend. Another classmate became pregnant as well, and terrified of what her parents were going to do to her, she tried to give herself an abortion. Karina did not want to end up like them. Her relationship with her family was strong. She spent most of her free time caring for and playing with her siblings and helped as much around the home as she could so her mother wouldn’t have to work so hard. And when she had free time she took care of many of the tasks parents normally do, like going to the bank and helping her siblings with their homework.

How much longer could she wait before she told them? Her stomach was growing and her conscience was killing her. “My parents had trust in me and I let them down,” she says, recalling that time in her life.

Two weeks after finding out she was pregnant, Karina sat her mother and father down on the couch. As her two little sisters ran up to her wanting attention, she broke the news. Tears filled the eyes of Maria Flores and slowly dripped down the apples of her cheeks. Anger and frustration built up in her father. It was as if the three of them had nothing to say. Karina looked around at the walls, which displayed pictures of her as a young girl, playing soccer with two of her brothers. The pictures were taken only two years ago. Her two little sisters continued to play on the carpet without any knowledge of what had just happened.

“Before, I would offer my children advice and they would take it,” Maria Flores now says as she reviews all the changes in her family. “But now, they have their own beliefs and I can’t control that.”

Even though Karina accomplished the difficult task of telling her parent’s about her pregnancy, things were still tense. Her father did not talk to her for almost two weeks, feeling embarrassed of the situation his family was in.

“Parents care too much about what other people say,” Karina says. “They think people are going to judge them because of what their kids do. I made a mistake and I can’t take it back.”

However, her mother came around quickly and offered her support. “If my husband wants to kick Karina out from our home, he would have to kick both of us out,” Maria remembers thinking.

Karina began to view her mother not only as a mother, but as a friend as well.

To the Flores’ surprise, there was not going to be one new family member but two. Maria was going to be a mother for the seventh time—and a grandmother for the first time—all within a month. “How many people can say that they are pregnant at the same time as their mother?” says Karina.

Not only do she and her mother attend their doctors’ appointments together, but they also go on daily walks to stay healthy. “Motherhood is nothing easy, but I know my daughter is going to do a great job,” says Maria. “Her life is not over. This is only the beginning.”

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