As anyone who knows me in real life or who has read a bit of this blog already knows, I am an avid Reality TV fan. In high school, I watched the Real World and America’s Next Top Model. In college, American Idol and Project Runway. And then, after I graduated, the sleazy Vh1 hits I Love Money, Flavor of Love, and I Love New York.
Recently, I have been able to combine some of my prurient TV watching with my academic interests. A short season of “Sister Wives,” a reality show on TLC that followed polygamists living in a suburb of Salt Lake City, spawned an equally short series of posts on this blog. And, now, MTV’s 16 and Pregnant is going to host a special in which one of its former cast members thinks about whether she should choose to have her latest baby or whether she should have an abortion.
Markai appeared in Season 2 of 16 and Pregnant. Like many teen mothers, Markai’s mother was also a teen mom and as a result, Markai grew up sans her father. She desperately wants her daughter’s life to be different and for her to grow up with a daddy. In the end, though, she discovers that her boyfriend slept with another girl two weeks into their relationship and is unable to forgive him.
Markai is one of dozens of girls to appear on the show. Maci, a young woman from Tennessee who struggled to attend college while raising her son, is a perennial favorite as is Farrah whose public fight with her mother made national headlines. Usually, each season also showcases one girl who decides to give her child up for adoption. Although the produces of the show refuse to make adoption look pretty and show the heartbreak that the young girls who make such a decision experience, they always emphasize that these girls, who have sacrificed their own desire to raise their child to make sure that it has a better future, deserve our respect and admiration.
Watching the show is an interesting experience for me. My own sister had her first child at sixteen. Frightened and unsure of herself, she had hid her pregnancy beneath baggy shirts and large coats for eight months. I noticed that she was getting heavier but didn’t see what I didn’t want to see. By the time that we knew she was pregnant, abortion wasn’t an option and I’m not sure it would have been if we had known earlier. She briefly considered adoption before opting to keep her baby. I am not sure how she feels about her decision. I’ve never felt comfortable enough to ask. I assume that she would say that she loves her son, but that she wishes that her life had been different. At the age of 25, she is just starting her first semester of college and has to work a full time job in addition to school and raising her children.
I think that 16 and Pregnant opens up the possibility for these conversations to happen. It raises the profile of adoption and as many people have pointed out has tried to portray teen pregnancy in a wide variety of situations. The girls have coming from working class as well as wealthy homes. I am going to watch the episode on abortion. I am interested in how they are going to present her decision and the different positions that she considers.
Personally, I feel uncomfortable with abortion and don’t think I could ever make that decision myself. My Christian faith and belief in the value of life mitigate against that. BUT, I recognize that there is a lot of grey area and I’m willing to let people make their decisions. What I am hoping is that her experiences and the MTV channel provoke a conversation that is focused on the actual experiences of young girls who must decide whether or not to have their babies rather than on scoring points and depicting the other side as evil.