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Dear Teen Mom

Image via Twenty20/ozcavazos

Hola mamá,

I know you don't know me, but in many ways, I know you. You see, 17 years ago, I was in your shoes. I was in high school, in love ... and pregnant.

I know what it feels like to experience the simultaneous joy and terror of seeing a positive pregnancy test, to wonder what your baby will look like and how your family will react to the news.

I remember how scary giving birth seemed. Would it hurt? How much?

I know you might question whether or not you can be a mother, and whether or not you should keep your child. I remember how everyone seemed to have an opinion about my pregnancy and pending motherhood, but very few people listened to what I had to say. I know just how agonizing it can be to decide whether or not to stay in school, and what it feels like to drop-out, believing it is your only choice.

You aren't alone. Right now, for every 1,000 teenage Latinas in the U.S., an estimated 46 of them will have a baby by the age of 19. Seventeen years ago, when I became a mother, that number was nearly twice as high.

I felt the lonely hours, when life seems to move on without you; when friends stop calling and people you were closest with seem to distance themselves from you.

You aren't alone. Right now, for every 1,000 teenage Latinas in the U.S., an estimated 46 of them will have a baby by the age of 19. Seventeen years ago, when I became a mother, that number was nearly twice as high.

But what do numbers like this mean to you? Right now, they don't make the path you're on any easier. What you need most is a friend who won't judge you, who listens, and most importantly, who gets it.

I understand.

Here's a list of six things I wish someone had told me — and so now, I'm telling you. And one more thing: Above all else, you will be OK.

1. Having a baby is your decision.

No one else gets to decide whether or not you keep your baby. You can listen to people's advice, but you ultimately choose whether or not to give birth, and whether or not to raise your child. Don't let anyone talk you into doing something you don't feel is right. If someone is pressuring you to make a decision you don't agree with, it's important that you speak up and stand your ground.

2. Ask for help.

Don't deny yourself the help of others, especially because you want people to think you can handle everything on your own. Part of being strong is knowing who you can lean on when times are hard. Moms need breaks and lots of support – so be wise enough to ask for it.

3. You matter, too.

Whether you are 16 or 36, it's hard for first time moms to accept that their needs are as important as their child's needs. Being a mother is about balance. You will need time to yourself, and the opportunity to do things that inspire and reinvigorate you. Think of yourself like a cell phone: if you don't recharge the battery, it won't work.

4. You can finish school.

Thirty-four percent of teenage moms don't earn a GED or high school diploma by the time they turn 22. This can mean less employment opportunities, and less financial stability. While continuing your education while raising a child is difficult, it's not impossible. Talk to a school counselor or a social worker about your options for continuing your education.

5. Trust your instincts.

If you feel something is wrong, listen to your gut. You are the best advocate for yourself and for your child, and it is OK to seek out multiple points of view until you are satisfied with the answer. If someone dismisses your concerns, but you still feel worried, talk to someone else. You know yourself and your baby better than anyone.

6. Your future is bright.

Having a child at a young age can make things harder. It's kind of like running through sand instead of across grass. It doesn't mean your life will always be hard, or that you are incapable of making good decisions. You can and will do things that are amazing, and you deserve to achieve your goals and dreams. To get there, all you need to do is start working toward that reality. Make decisions now that will get you closer to that future you see for yourself.

Just know that inside of you is the ability to do wonderful things. One day, you will be in my shoes, looking back at this time in your life, and you will smile. No matter how hard things can seem, they do get better, I promise.

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