My name is Theodora. I was 18 years old when my daughter was born. She’s 7 months old, and I’m 19 now, so let’s say it together:

I’m a teeeen moooom.

Granted, I’m not as young as some of the girls on the MTV hit show. However, the letters "t-e-e-n" are included in my age, so like it or not, I’m definitely one of "them."

I think when people hear the phrase "teen mom," they automatically imagine a poor, stupid, lazy, irresponsible young girl. A misfit and a failure, doomed to stay in the same pitiful place forever. A disappointing investment. A wreck.

I’m here to tell you your imagination isn’t always right. Every single person on this planet is different in some way or another, and those differences are neither bad nor good. They just are. It's unrealistic to stamp one-size-fits-all labels onto teen moms. There are a lot of misconceptions about us, and I’d like to challenge some of them with you.

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I was sitting in the car with my boyfriend, staring at the pregnancy test. We kept looking at each other and laughing nervously. My hands were trembling. "Ah, no way. It can’t be," he said. The first test was really faint, so we bought another.

That one wasn’t faint. At all.

So we each called a friend. His friend said, "Well, what are you going to do? I know sometimes they sell those pills at the doctor. Plan B, right? Or, hey, what about pineapples? I heard that eating pineapples can cause a miscarriage."

My friend said, "Do you... want an abortion? Are you okay? Do you need me to call a doctor?"

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The first two people we told asked effectively the same question: Do you want to get rid of the baby?

Pregnancy is supposed to make us feel happy, excited, and maybe just a bit scared. At that moment, however, I could only feel one emotion rumbling in my gut: shame.

I didn’t need days to make my decision, however. I made it within an hour: I chose to keep my baby and gave birth to her in January 2017. Every night she falls asleep in the warm crook of my arm. Every day she looks up at me with wide, loving eyes and paints my heart with a love I didn’t know I deserved. I am honored to be her mother.

Misconception No. 1: Teen Moms Are Inherently Irresponsible

I know that to a lot of people, I’m just a baby raising another baby, but I'd like to ask that folks try to see me as an individual. There’s a difference between making an irresponsible choice and being chronically irresponsible. Sure, I chose to have sex without a condom. I wasn’t on birth control, and I didn’t think clearly about the possible consequences of my actions. I freely admit that. But during the months of my pregnancy, I worked hard to prepare myself for the reality of raising a child.

I’m privileged enough to be able to stay at home full-time to take care of my daughter. My husband (yep, we got married) and I have been her primary caregivers since the day she was born.

I didn’t ask my parents or in-laws to take responsibility for my child. I quit college to raise her, and now I work from home to help pay the bills. We feed, bathe, and clothe her, and we don’t work with a babysitter or daycare. We don’t sit her in front of a TV for hours. I made a promise to myself that I would do my best for my daughter, and I think we’re doing a good job so far. My little family is learning and thriving.

Misconception No. 2: Teen Moms Are Stupid

In my experience, there are a couple primary reasons teen moms get called stupid, and neither is especially valid.

You’ve ruined your career! You’ve ruined your future! You’ve ruined your chance at a good life!

I feel very sad when I hear people tell me I’ve ruined my chance at "a good future." I don’t blame them for thinking that way; all our lives, we’re told the "proper" way to live life is to go to high school then college, get a good job, maybe get another degree, meet someone nice, settle down, and spend the rest of our days in white-picket-fence bliss. It’s easy to assume anyone who veers from the traditional path will be unhappy and unsuccessful.

I refuse to believe that I can't have a beautiful future simply because I’m a teen mom.

But that assumption is incorrect. A college degree isn’t a prerequisite to finding satisfaction and fulfillment in life, and we shouldn’t shame others who choose to live a different way. The beauty of living in a world of 7 billion people is that our journeys are varied; some are harder, some are easier, but one is not inherently better than the rest.

You didn’t even graduate high school! You’re an uneducated idiot!

There are any number of reasons a teen mom might not graduate high school. She may not want to face the embarrassment and shame young pregnancy almost inevitably brings, she may choose to start working to help raise their child... but being bright isn’t about being able to recite Shakespeare or memorize the Pythagorean theorem. There are many different types of "smarts," and a college or high school degree isn’t indicative of overall intelligence. There are plenty of smart people who don’t do well in school. (And there are plenty of not-so-smart people with degrees too.)

Misconception No. 3: Teen Moms Regret Having Their Children

I love my daughter. I love the hand she reaches out to me as she awkwardly crawls into my arms. When she’s bored, she mumbles "ma-ma-ma-ma" and screeches like a dinosaur while rolling around in bed. Every day she looks at me with unabashed love.

All of the aches and pains of pregnancy, all those breathless moments in which I had no room to breathe—they were all carving a space in my life for her. Though there have been difficult times, I have never once regretted her.

Misconception No. 4: Teen Moms Will Be Abandoned

When people found out I was pregnant, I became the subject of plenty of gossip. People hinted that perhaps I was just trying to trap my boyfriend into marriage. They cautioned my husband, saying, "Maybe you should get a test to make sure you’re really the father."

My husband and I got married in 2016. We have a very happy relationship, and when we do have problems, we talk about them. My husband sees me for me.

Teen moms are perfectly capable of finding long-lasting love. They aren’t damaged or worth less than other people. Everyone is made up of parts that are alternately soft and delicate and strong and fierce and brave and wild, so it would be unfair to pick the worst of them and say, "This person is just this part." I’m a teen mom, but I also love listening to old music and reading books. On weekends I wake up at 4 in the morning to go to flea markets and hunt for treasure with my family. I’m a Catholic. During my free time, I lose badly in video games.

Misconception No. 5: Teen Moms Are Doomed to Failure

Teen moms are often written off as hopeless cases. But I believe that with the proper support, we can be just as successful as anyone else. Growing up and finding one’s place in life is already difficult enough, and the stigma and discrimination that surrounds young parenthood is unnecessary and painful. Teen moms are often told they will never be anything more than failures and are doomed to an unhappy, unfulfilling life. Unfortunately, some teen mothers buy into that myth.

Others—often those who have been empowered by wonderful support systems—manage to reject the script that has been written for us. We can be leaders, business owners, educators, activists, and so much more. Our children have a good chance at being happy and living fulfilling lives. We can make positive differences in the world.

Yes, I’m a teen mom. But I’m working hard to make a living and remain accountable for my actions. I am thriving and will continue to raise my daughter as best I can. I refuse to believe I’ll be prevented from having a beautiful future simply because I’m a teen mom. I’ve always been an ambitious person, and I haven’t let go of that drive or motivation since I had a child. I’m capable, strong, and unstoppable. And my daughter will be too.

Theodora Sarah Abigail is a beating heart in a warm body. She works as a writer and poet in the wild, mechanical city of Jakarta, Indonesia. You can join her as she stumbles through life by following her on her blog and on Instagram.

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