When Constance Brooks began her junior year at Henderson County High School in 2011, she was 16 and her son Caiden was barely two months old. She couldn't sleep or study. At school, she struggled to stay awake. At home, she held her son in one arm while trying to do her homework with the other. She was bitter and angry.
"I used to freak out all the time. I used to feel like it was so hard," she says. "It was really bad when Caiden was first born. I missed a lot of days” of school.
Unintended teen pregnancy rates have declined nationally, but the consequences are all-too-familiar and often bad. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 50 percent of teenage mothers drop out of high school.
Constance has family, friends, counselors and mentors trying to help her beat the odds. "I just feel like you shouldn't blame the world for everything,” she says. “It was my mistake to have sex and now he's here, and I'm going to do my ultimate best to take care of him."
Constance loves her son deeply. She says when she looks into his eyes, "I don't know how to describe it. I feel connected to him. I see a little of myself in him."
Constance wants to provide a good life for her son and is learning along the way. "I always fear that I'm not going to be a good enough parent. I always fear that because I'm 17 and not a totally mature person that when I think that I'm doing right, I'm actually doing wrong."
She knows what others think. She knows that society judges teenage mothers. Even so, women like Jenn Forker mentor Constance and other teen moms through the Christina group Young Lives. Jenn has Constance and Caiden over for dinner at least once a week. And Young Lives meets two to three times a month.
It was friendship-at-first-sight for Constance and Jenn. “I think I get as much out of it as she does,” Jenn says. “My goal is just to love her and not judge her—as a lot of the world does.”
As a teen mother, Constance and Caiden's challenges aren't likely to go away anytime soon. But neither will her love for her son. “It's not easy. It doesn't get easier. You never just get used to it,” Constance says. Even so, "I think he changed me for the better.”