Three years ago, Julie Huynh heard the words: “You’re pregnant.”
For some, it’s a welcomed phrase and a new beginning. For others, it can be two words that instantly force a turn down an unexpected path.
For Huynh, it was the latter.
While a freshman at Johnson High School, Huynh found out she was pregnant. She was 14 years old.
“It was scary,” said Huynh, now 17. “I cried for a couple of days. I couldn’t tell my mom. I finally just got the guts to write her a letter and gave it to her. She was really disappointed in me. I did not have enough guts to tell my dad, so my mom told him for me.”
Her parents didn’t take the news well. In fact, it was the second time they’d heard the news coming from a teenage daughter. Huynh’s sister was the same age when she had her first child.
“I guess it kind of freaked them out for me to be stupid enough to do what my sister did because she was the same age as me when she had her first child,” she said.
But as the time passed, her parents started to accept it, Huynh said. They also began talking to her then-boyfriend, now husband, Tony Huynh.
“Me and my mom weren’t really close anymore — we hardly spoke,” she said. “Me and my dad did not speak at all.
“(But) as time went by, me and my mom kind of got closer. Me and my boyfriend stayed together. His parents were really upset about it, too. I really didn’t speak to them that much. I was too embarrassed to.”
‘I wanted to cry myself to sleep at nights’
In June 2010, her daughter, Izabela, was born. By that point, Huynh had finished her freshman year at Johnson but wanted to find another place to continue her education — a place more conducive to students with children.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to a regular school having her because it would have just been too much ... and I didn’t want to drop out of school,” she said.
She started attending Lanier Career Academy in Oakwood. Her daughter stayed at the day care on site.
But even with a switch in schools, she could still feel the pressure of being a teen mother.
“I really did want to drop out then because I didn’t think I could do it anymore,” she said. “Honestly, I wanted to cry myself to sleep at nights because I didn’t think I could do it. You can’t sit there and do homework while on the other side your baby’s crying and wants to be fed and wants to play. It just doesn’t work that way.”
She lost a lot of friends, stayed by herself at home more often than not, struggled with school and struggled in her relationships with her husband and parents.
“Time management and not being overwhelmed is hard to do as an adult (parent),” said Becky Burrow, community educator for Gainesville-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Inc. “But when you’re a teenager, when things are a little more dramatic, it’s even harder to juggle that challenge of everyday life.”
And although Huynh is almost done with school, the stress is still constant and the challenges never go away.
“Sometimes I’ll come in and be like: ‘I can’t do this no more. I don’t know what to do,’” she said. “But then I got to think about it as: I put myself in this position, I have to move on and I have to keep trying and I can’t give up. My parents didn’t give up on me, so I’m not going to give up on my daughter.”
‘A handful of girls at almost every school’
Huynh is not alone in her situation.
In 2010, there were more than 300 children birthed by teen mothers, ages 15 to 19, in Hall County — about 52 out of every 1,000 births.
Statewide, about 41 out of every 1,000 births were from teen mothers.
“It’s definitely more common than it used to be,” Burrow said. “I wish I could say it was uncommon. I wish I could say there was a handful of girls in the whole county, but I have a handful of girls at almost every school.”
The rate in recent years has been dropping, though. Burrow’s job is to mentor teens who are pregnant or recently became mothers.
She said, on average, she deals with about 100 teens a year, helping them get through everyday struggles and emphasizing the importance of staying in school.
“We work with them on being the best parents they can,” Burrow said. “Being a young parent is challenging, but there’s no reason why they can’t be a good parent.”
Now Izabela is 2 years old, and Huynh is a semester away from graduating and moving on to pursue a career as a medical assistant.
“Now, I still want to be a medical assistant, but it’s taken me a little longer because of having a child,” she said. “(But) I feel like my goals are higher now because I’m more motivated to be done with high school and be on to college so I can financially support us and have a career.”
Looking back, Huynh wishes she would have made some different choices, but her daughter, who Huynh says is “hyper and a handful,” is “what makes my smile.”
“I don’t regret having her, but I do regret the decisions that I made,” she said. “I love my daughter to death, but sometimes I want to give up because it’s hard. ... Sometimes it’s not what you want it to be.”
At the end of the day, she said, that’s not going to change.
“I do what I can. I’m not perfect — nobody is,” Huynh said. “Everybody makes mistakes and I’m living with the consequences of it. I’m not like other teen moms — I’m not saying I’m better than them — I’m responsible for what I did and that’s all that matters.
“I just want other teen moms to know that you’re not the only one going through the struggles, and if I can do it, you can do it.