NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Teenagers becoming mothers is a growing problem across Middle Tennessee, and public schools are searching for a way to help pregnant teens.
Hundreds of girls become pregnant each year.
“I see no stop to it,” said Patrice Whitaker, who works with United Neighborhood Health Services and acts as a mentor to pregnant teens. “I don't have an answer for how to stop it.”
The real challenge is keeping them in school and getting them ready for the responsibility of raising a child.
At just 15-years-old, Carrie Springer is four months pregnant with her second child.
Springer is one of the teens Whitaker mentors and recently drove her to Centennial Hospital for a check-up to find out her new baby's gender.
Springer had her first child last year but the baby died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“I don't think all the support in the world could prepare anyone for losing a child,” Whitaker told News 2.
At her check-up, Springer found out she's having a boy. She was just happy to hear that he is healthy.
“That's a big relief, a big relief,” she said.
As a mentor, Whitaker tries to prepare teen mothers for having to raise a child who will depend on them when they're still figuring out their own lives.
“They really have no clue, so like I said, we try to keep them a step ahead so they know what to expect,” Whitaker explained, adding that sometimes knowing what to expect means facing that reality.
After the visit, Whitaker took Springer to Baptist Hospital to visit another teen mother who had just given birth to a baby girl.
At age 15, Norma Barrientos delivered Brittany and her life forever changed.
“It was exhausting. I used to get really tired, but I got through that already. I guess it was worth it,” Barrientos smiled.
Since the beginning of her pregnancy, Whitaker has been alongside Barrientos.
“Thank you, Patrice, for being here with me and trying to help me,” said a teary-eyed Barrientos.
She said she probably would have dropped out of school and would not have been able to sign her daughter up for health insurance had it not been for Whitaker's watchful eye.
“Aw, you're fine, Norma, no problem,” Whitaker replied, “I was happy to do it, and I'll continue doing it.”
For both teens, the relationship with Whitaker provides a vital lifeline to health services and a positive mentor in a confusing and scary time.
Whitaker counsels several pregnant teens in different Metro high schools as part of her work with United Neighborhood Health Services.
The Teens Taking Charge program focuses on keeping the kids in school and ensuring they have healthy pregnancies.
“You just be there and be supportive when you can,” Whitaker said. “As long as there's going to be a problem, there's going to be people working toward a solution, and I'm just happy to be part of help work toward that solution.”
Even after the babies are born, Whitaker and mentors like her keep a close relationship with their young mothers.
To learn more about United Neighborhood Health Services and its programs, visit UnitedNeighborhood.org.