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Teen pregnancy Monday, 28 June, 1999, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
A mother's story
Every morning Maya Elmalem gets up at seven to make breakfast for her three-year-old son Jake. She dresses and feeds him and then escorts him to nursery school.

Teen pregnancy
For the few hours he's there she runs errands, does shopping, pays bills. After she picks him up, they spend the evening together watching television, playing games and making dinner.

It the sort of day-to-day trudge many single mothers will be accustomed to. But Maya is not yet in her 20s.

"I have no regrets, but it's been hard," says the mature 19-year-old. "Sometimes I wish I could just go out to a club but I know I'll just pay 15 for a few hours out and I'll feel really ill in the morning. There's plenty of time for that."

Maya is one of 13,000 girls 16 and under who become pregnant each year in Britain. In many ways she fits the stereotype of the problem teenage mother.

She was 16 when she gave birth; her boyfriend Terry is six years older and has spent most of the last seven years in and out of prison. She lives in a council flat and receives her allotted 85 per week.

But Maya is no "typical" teenage mum. While the government, family planning agencies and family values organisations treat teenage mothers as a problem group, each has her own story.

Maya's story

Maya met Terry when she was 12. They first had sex when she was 13 and Terry was 18.

They didn't talk about contraception. Terry always provided condoms and after a few months Maya went down and got herself on the pill at the local health authority.

Two weeks before her 16th birthday, Maya knew she was pregnant. Her period was two weeks late and she was throwing up in the evening.

When her period was two weeks late, Maya went down to her local GP to confirm the bad news.

"Even though I knew, when she told me I was shocked," says Maya. But according to Maya, the worst was yet to come. The doctor was furious and refused to discuss medical options. She went on a tirade, Maya remembers. "I can't talk to you without your mother," she said. "You should have it aborted. You're too young to make decisions."

Too scared to confide in her mother, and with no other adult to turn to, Maya broke the news to Terry. He was very supportive of what she wanted - to keep the baby. But his parents - and later Maya's mother - disagreed: she should give it up.

After much cajoling, she settled on an abortion. But in the small hours before the operation she woke in a panic. She told Terry: "I don't want to do this. I can't do this for them. It's my body." She never showed up.

The pregnancy was difficult - physically and emotionally. When she was 3- 1/2 months pregnant, Terry was arrested. She won't say why - "It's pretty terrible." He was jailed for two-and-half years.

At the hospital she says doctors and nurses were loathe to discuss options with her, looking at her as an irresponsible little girl. After the birth, she says, it did not getting any easier.

Wheeling Jake in his pram, she remembers people muttering things "disgraceful" and "that's terrible" as she passed.

"I'm young but I'm a good mother. It is very embarrassing. Everyone - the doctors, other kids, even strangers - who saw me were passing judgement."

The facts of life

Despite - or perhaps because of - the challenges, Maya has thrived.

She has stretched her 85 a week to make a cheerful, comfortable home of her council flat in north London. The living room is filled with Jake's toys - a small plastic car, piles of blocks. Terry gives her money when he can and she is sometimes paid a small fee to talk to other teenagers about the perils of single motherhood.

She also ended her relationship with Terry about eight months ago. He had been in and out of prison since she was pregnant and, finally, she "just couldn't take it".

"Jake was my biggest comfort," she says with a smile. "When I broke up with Terry, I was crying and Jake came in and said, 'Don't worry, I can fix things.' Then he picked up a screwdriver. He knew Terry used to fix things around the house."

Maya maintains that her story is a textbook case of triumph over adversity. She says she has strength because she's had no other choice.

"I'm strong because of all I've been through," she said. "I have got things to do and there is no going back."

Links to more Teen pregnancy stories are at the foot of the page.

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