Bristol! You’re pregnant! Again! Without a ring! Again!
I still remember the first time you broke such news. Your mom was running for Vice President on a platform that strongly advocated for abstinence-only sex education, and there you were: her supposedly abstinent teen daughter, knocked up. It turned you into the butt of a seemingly endless parade of jokes, and as a brand new unwed mom myself at the time, I’d never been so grateful to be a bit of a nobody.
You haven’t let motherhood slow you down, of course. You’ve had your own reality show, competed on Dancing with the Stars, and toured the nation speaking to teens as an abstinence-only education proponent, touting your faith with every paid word. And now you have another bundle of joy on the way!
“I do not want any lectures,” you wrote in your announcement.
I feel you. I really do. But given that you made a living lecturing others on their sexual behaviors, it seems unlikely that your wish will be granted by everyone. Just sayin’.
But I am not going to lecture you about your pregnancy, Bristol. You’re a 24-year-old woman making your own choices about your own body and there is positively nothing wrong with that, despite what you may tell other young people around the country.
I’m actually sort of proud of you in this moment.
I’m proud of you for making decisions about your sex life that are right for you. You chose your timing and your partner and engaged in a form of consensual human expression that is entirely natural, all based on what felt right to you. You may spend a great deal of time trying to convince children across the nation that those choices are inherently bad and sinful, but in this moment, I’ll stand by your side and tell you to hold your head high. Consensual sexual interaction is perfectly healthy. Good for you.
I’m proud of you for facing the news of an unplanned pregnancy with courage and grace. As any woman who has ever been in that situation knows, it can be a frightening experience no matter your age or circumstance. Your bravery is worthy of praise and support. It’s wonderful that you have such a fantastic support system in your family and friends at this time in your life — not to mention a wide network of fans. It’s certainly more than some women have.
I’m proud of you for making the decision that was right for you about whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. For some, these choices are easy; they want a child or they don’t and proceed accordingly. For others, whether they go through with the pregnancy or not, this is a time of fear, anxiety, doubt, and sadness. None of these reactions are wrong, but I’m glad you’ve been able to reach a decision that gives you peace. Ultimately, it’s about what’s right for you as a woman in that moment, and I can applaud you for making the choice that was best for you, Bristol. You’re lucky, really. Not all women are given that choice. Be it the age of the mother or age of the fetus, today’s world can strip that agency away from a woman faster than the heart that beats within. I’m glad you weren’t faced with such a soul wrenching scenario.
I’m proud of you for unabashedly sharing your news with the world. Pregnancy announcements can be tricky, you see. If your family has a history of reproductive challenges, announcing publicly puts you in a position where you might need to grapple with tragedy publicly, as well. If you are a single woman of color, announcing publicly may earn you degrading comments rooted in the racist hypersexualization of minority women throughout history. And if you are a woman without means, well, prepare yourself for the “welfare queen” jokes that exacerbate your already fierce concerns about providing for a child while unmarried. While Hester Prynne’s fashion statements are no longer in vogue, many unwed mothers still face similar disdain in the midst of what can be one of the most difficult periods in their lives. If some GOP candidates had their way, such shaming would happen early and often, just like the olden days. But Bristol, you shouldn’t have to face that, and I’m glad it seems you won’t.
I’m proud of your commitment to taking care of yourself and your body during this transformational time. Pregnancy puts a great deal of strain on the system, so eating right and staying healthy are very important. It’s fantastic that you’ll have the resources to do so, unlike the many women who will work physically strenuous jobs for long hours and eat food with inadequate nutrition throughout their pregnancies because they have to support themselves and healthy food ain’t cheap. It’s fabulous that your decisions about what happens to your body right now will be respected, too, unlike the decisions of other women who made their own healthy choices and faced vitriol for claiming similar levels of autonomy. I really am happy for you.
I do worry for young Tripp and the yet-to-be-named little one inside you. Though there’s no way of knowing where life will have taken you by the time they encounter sex ed, in far too many states, that program is far from educational.
I mean, on principle, the insistence on abstinence-only sex education is unsettling because it was borne out of the frustration of the Religious Right who felt that faith was losing ground in the American education system. I know you have very sincerely held beliefs and may not explicitly sympathize here. I don’t begrudge you your beliefs, but still, the separation of church and state that’s discussed in our history classes is the same principle that prevents the (entirely improbable) takeover of Sharia Law in this country, protecting your ability to personally practice your faith. Doesn’t it bother you that we teach our kids the significance of such a principle in one class, only to hypocritically ignore it in the next?
Despite overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only sex education does not work (the two of us included there), there is also significant evidence that the programs reinforce damaging gender stereotypes that can color all future relationships and sexual experiences while stigmatizing members of the LGBTQI community. Even so, more than $1.7 billion in federal taxpayer money has been wasted on these programs since 1982. As a taxpayer and, more importantly, a mother to children who will one day be adults in adult relationships and may or may not identify with the LGBTQI community, do you not find that appalling?
I think you and I can agree, Bristol, that being an unwed mother is not for the faint of heart. You and I were certainly lucky, being in a position of privilege, and I know I certainly have no regrets myself, but that doesn’t mean that the challenges are not sometimes overwhelming. Do you not worry that your children could possibly end up facing these same challenges, and all because they were never taught effective means of preventing pregnancy?
More than half of the American population will contract an STI at some point in their lifetime, some of which can be fatal. Are you not concerned that one of your two children may fall into that camp, having never been told how to protect themselves?
We live in a world where one-in-six women and one-in-seventy-one men will be victims of sexual violence in their lifetime. Realistically, those numbers are probably low. Doesn’t it give you nightmares knowing your children and their peers may never encounter a meaningful conversation about consent while living in this reality? Doesn’t it terrify you that 40% of college students said in a recent poll that if their partner undresses, that automatically means consent for sex?
And then there are reports indicating that 15% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 12, with 93% of those victims knowing their attackers personally. What a cruel, messed-up place this can be. Seeing these numbers, does it not send a chill down your spine to know that the same advocates of abstinence-only education vehemently oppose teaching these very vulnerable children about appropriate touch and safe reporting?
I am happy for you, Bristol, but I am afraid for my daughter. There will always be open lines of age-appropriate communication on the subject of sex in our household, and consent and safety will feature front and center at every turn. Still, no matter how honest I am with her, no matter how much I prepare her to make the decisions that are right for her, I cannot protect her from a world that adheres to the “educational” standards you are paid to promote.
You shouldn’t be ashamed of your pregnancy, Bristol, but you should be ashamed of that.