Me, Juno, and Jamie Lynn Spears
This weekend, I rented the Oscar-nominated film, Juno. It's easy to see why this little film generated such buzz. It's funny, smart, and heartwarming. It also brings up the perpetually relevant topic of teens, sex, unplanned pregnancy and the ever-contentious issue of "choice". As a mom, these are issues of great interest to me. As someone who has personally dealt with an unplanned pregnancy prior to marriage, it is also a subject dear to my heart.
After watching Juno, I came across an opinion piece in the Boston Globe about the film by Ellen Goodman, a well-known feminist writer. Goodman is critical of Juno and a "wave of movies about unexpectedly pregnant women - 'Knocked Up', 'Waitress', and 'Bella' - all deciding to have their babies and all wrapped up in nice, neat bows". She expresses deep concern for the row of tweens sitting in front of her in the movie theater while she watches Juno. What misleading messages, she asks, are "being absorbed through their PG-13 pores"?
Goodman is certainly not alone in her thinking. Many adults, pundits and parents alike, expressed outrage at the recent announcement of 16 year-old television star, Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy. In a society that offers abstinence as an "option" for teens and follows up with information about "safe sex", the parental fury over Jamie Lynn is presumably about her carelessness and ultimately, her decision to keep her baby - not her sexually active status. And understandably, no one wants to see a teenage girl go through the stigma of pregnancy, the pain of giving up a child, or the hardships of raising a child when one is seemingly ill prepared.
When I first learned that I was pregnant, I was 27 and in the middle of a series of on-air live auditions for a seat on ABC's "The View". I knew that the producers were seeking a single 20-something and that my untimely pregnancy would likely cost me the job, no matter how well I performed. Moreover, the auditions (11 in total) were going to continue for several months due to the immense ratings boost they were providing the network; it would be nearly impossible to disguise my condition through the process. I made the difficult decision to publicly announce my pregnancy (on the show). Sean and I got married in a small ceremony a month and a half later in Arizona.
I was in a committed relationship, but I was not engaged when I learned of my pregnancy. Sean was still in law school and I was on the verge of launching a television-hosting career on the hottest daytime talk show. Professionally speaking, the timing couldn't have been worse. Plus, I was deeply aware of the embarrassment and disappointment this would cause my devout Catholic parents.
Of course, there are difficulties that one must endure in making any tough choice. Witness Juno waddling through the school hallway, missing out on prom, and enduring the stares of peers, the judgmental look of a school secretary and the insensitive comment of an ultra sound technician during one of her prenatal visits. Her wit, good humor, and steely exterior did little to dissipate the pain I felt for her during those scenes - a testament to the fine acting skills of this film's rising star.
I was not a teen, but I could certainly relate to the feelings of despair that drove Juno into the "Women Now" clinic. However, what Juno (and the women in the other movies) learn, is that life's problems always look their worst when they first present themselves. In those moments we are very susceptible to underestimating our own strength and the willingness and ability of others to help us through. But it is precisely when we are gripped by fear and self-doubt that courage counts most. The films and heroines that Ellen Goodman dismisses as "fantasy" all celebrate this little life secret, crumpled bow and all.
As I have come to learn for myself, an unplanned pregnancy and child often results in unplanned and unexpected joy - and not just for the mother. What Goodman and others, fail to grasp is that in order for that to happen, one must have faith, hope, and the unsullied optimism of a teenage girl to believe in such things.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.