Following the award-winning movie "Juno" in 2007, there have been several hit television shows dealing with the topic of teenage pregnancy, including "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" (ABC Family) and "16 and Pregnant," a show on MTV that has received the attention of millions of viewers. The show debuted in June 2009 and has been a hit ever since, with its spin-off, "Teen Mom," carrying on with the stories of teenage girls and their babies.
"16 and Pregnant" is not scripted; it's a documentary-type reality television show that follows the lives of several teenage girls as they travel through their unplanned pregnancies.
There is plenty of controversy surrounding these shows, with some wondering if they encourage teenagers to engage in sexual intercourse. Others are sure that watching the teens struggle on the shows is enough to make other teenagers stop and think of the consequences before having sex.
According to national statistics, 750,000 teenagers a year are getting pregnant in the United States, about one-third of the teen population. About two-thirds of the teens who have babies do not finish high school, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health agency.
"The problem is that we just have a national concern with teenagers and pregnancy -- it's nothing new," said Najeyah Sultan, director of community programs at Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has locations in West Seneca, Buffalo, North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls, and many area teenagers are taking advantage of it.
"On a daily basis I'd say that we probably see about 10 to 12 teens come in under the age of 19," said Sultan.
Planned Parenthood's focus is on prevention and education.
"We deal with 11- and 12-year-olds who are pregnant and don't know enough about their bodies," Sultan said.
"A lot of it has to do [with] access and education," she said.
Sultan wants to "help children understand that they can access reproductive health services without parental permission. A lot of the time, children don't access those services because they're afraid."
High school students know that sometimes it is hard to focus on schoolwork when the "who's-had-sex-with-who" topic is constantly a hot one. An even hotter topic is created the moment a baby bump is visible on a teenager walking by in the hallway.
Some are probably walking around the hallways at your school right now feeling like they do not belong anymore. That is what happened to Gowanda High School students Hannah Young, Samantha Rindfleisch and Hannah Cleland when they each became pregnant.
Hannah Young, 16, gave birth to Cullen Morgan Shaw Jr. on Feb. 23. Though not back at school yet, Hannah's Facebook updates are often cheerful and optimistic (despite her lack of sleep), and she is head-over-heels for boyfriend Cullen Shaw, 16. "He is tired, too, but he still goes to school and he is an amazing dad."
So, what does this teen mom think about the television shows about teen moms?
"I don't really like to watch those shows because they seem fake to me," she said. "I don't think that that's how it really is because that's not how it was with me. There's not all that drama and all that fighting with your boyfriends and stuff, that's not how it's supposed to be."
Hannah did not know right away that she was pregnant. It took several months before she and Cullen officially found out and were sure about her pregnancy. After they were sure, Hannah stopped denying she was pregnant to those who asked. The bigger her belly grew, the more reactions she received from those around her in school -- good and bad.
"They stare at me a lot and I get some rude comments and stuff," she admitted. "Some people will be like, 'Oh my God, she looks so cute!' Others will be like, 'ew, that girl is so disgusting.'"
Still, during her pregnancy, Hannah received unexpected support. She experienced this one time while at the store searching for lotion for stretch marks.
"When I asked a worker where the stretch mark lotion was, she said, 'I was going to ask if you were pregnant, but I see you are,' " Hannah said. "And then she said 'Congratulations' and 'I know you're young, but you still deserve that.' "
Samantha Rindfleisch discovered she was pregnant at 14.
"I'm 15 now but that's still really young to have a baby," Samantha said. "I wasn't planning on having a baby at all in my life, but I guess things happen for a reason and I wouldn't want it any other way."
Samantha gave birth to a boy, Cayden Allen Rindfleisch, on July 15, the summer before her sophomore year of high school. Samantha and her son's father are the same age and are together still.
"He does as much as he can," she said.
The hardest part of being a teen mom is "losing your friends and your life," Samantha admitted.
>Baby comes early
"I had just turned 16 when I found out I was pregnant," said Hannah Cleland.
Hannah was due Nov. 12, but her baby insisted on coming early. She gave birth on Oct. 1, to a boy she named Noah. As a preemie, Noah was smaller than normal at birth, but that did not seem to faze Hannah too much. With no father in the picture, she began receiving help with Noah so she could return to school.
Not one of these three girls decided to go down the adoption road (each expressing concern for the child's potential curiosity about their biological parents as they get older) and, for each of them, abortion was not an option they wanted to consider.
"I never considered abortion," said Samantha.
Sandra Leith, a certified social worker for Cattaraugus County whose office is at Gowanda Middle School, sees cases of teen pregnancy here and there. Her main duty is to refer any girl to what she needs, including parenting education, financial assistance and educational support.
"When a student comes here and discloses that she could possibly be pregnant, the first thing I do is make sure that she's connected to some kind of medical or prenatal care," Leith said. "The second thing I do is make sure they're connected to family support."
From there, Leith refers teens to the Tri-County Crisis Pregnancy Center in Gowanda. If further help is needed, she is prepared to help new teenage mothers adjust to a very different lifestyle.
As for teen mom TV shows, Hannah Cleland expressed concern for the exploitation of the girls on the show, but Samantha could relate to how they display teen motherhood.
"It shows all you gotta give up, and how hard it is to go to school and raise a kid at the same time," Samantha said. "But some MTV shows make it look a lot easier than it really is."
Emily Steves is a senior at Gowanda High School.