I get asked all of the time what on earth would possess me to "give up" my children to inexperienced teens, just to teach them a lesson. For me, the answer is simple. I was those teens, once upon a time. I was a good kid, an honor student, gifted and talented, National Honor Society, Drill Team, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, top 10 in my class, etc. I didn't do drugs or sneak out and no one ever in my life had to tell me to do my school work. I was in a serious relationship with a boy in high school and my parents adored him. But one day, they decided I could not see him anymore. I felt like they suddenly didn't trust my judgment, and showing my lack of maturity, I decided to show them how responsible I was. On my sixteenth birthday, I moved out of my house and into my boyfriend's house. Shortly thereafter he and I came up with the bright idea of getting pregnant on purpose. After all, if we were parents ourselves, no one could tell us what to do and if we did a good job, they would admire us. I got pregnant and then married him when I was 8 months pregnant. I delivered my son a month before I turned 18. I was on Medicaid and WIC because even though he was working, we had no insurance, and since I had moved out of my parents' house, I was no longer covered under theirs. I breastfed my son, and although my school did have a daycare facility for those of us who were teen moms, they would not allow me frequent enough breaks to maintain a milk supply, and physically nursing him was out of the question. So in my effort to be a good mother to my son, I gave up a huge part of myself and dropped out of school. I graduated a few months after my class through a mail order correspondence diploma course. I put off college because my immature new husband thought that I would meet boys there, and with my lack of understanding of what love was, I thought that was a sign that he dearly loved me. We fought tooth and nail and after 9 years, 2 marriages and 2 children together, we finally admitted to each other and ourselves that we were trying to make something work that was never meant to be. We were just both stubborn, and both had a lot of growing up to do.
Looking back now, as a happily re-married 31 year old mother of 4, I realize that I didn't know a thing about love and I didn't do a very good job, by my standards, of being anyone's mom then. I wish that someone had been able to get through to me at that time in my life. I know deep in my heart that my children deserved the person that I am today as their mother. They never asked to go through the stresses that they endured because I was young and dumb. I had great intentions with them, and we all tell ourselves that we are being the best parent we can be because we are trying. But now that I am able to reflect on it, and my oldest is able to talk with me about it, I realize that I just didn't know what I was doing.
Contrary to popular belief, there was no compensation for being on the show. I have heard everything from people thinking our children's college education will be paid for to them thinking we were wined and dined while on the set. The funny thing is that those people really have no idea. Even if the set had been some extravagant thing, we wouldn't have noticed because we were too busy glued to our children's every moves on the closed circuit cameras. I can tell you that one bit of priceless compensation I got as a mother was that I will have this tool to use for my own children. I am determined to have my children benefit from the mistakes that I made. I don't want them to just tune me out, as so many teens do, when they hear me warning of the risks of premarital sex. I can share my own experiences with them and in addition, share this series with them. My 13 year old son, the product of my teen pregnancy, has even learned from The Baby Borrowers. He says that babies are way too much trouble and that he wants to wait until he has accomplished all of his goals before he gets bogged down with children.
I do sincerely wish that the series had been set up as a longer running one. I wish that there had been time to squeeze in some of the great and touching moments the teens had with our babies. I strongly believe that the message resulting from the show is that it is extremely hard to raise a baby, especially if you are still growing into the person you need to become. But at the same time, we show more of the shock and awe moments, and not as many of the loving ones. There were some really sweet times and some serious bonding was happening. I believe that while these teens who stepped up to the plate were learning to love a baby and put the baby first, without even realizing it, they were learning that they have to love themselves now and put themselves first in order to prepare themselves to parent properly later. Of course anyone can have sex, anyone can parent a child. But not everyone can be the parent that they want to be for their child. As a matter of fact, all parents reflect on things they've done and wish they had done this or that differently for their kids, it is inevitable. But it isn't fair to yourself or to your children to stack the odds so great that the majority of your parenting moments will become regrets.
People often ask what surprised me the most about participating in this experiment. I would have to say that the bond that formed between Sean and Etta tops that list. I wish they had been able to show him walking the house with her and letting her sleep on his chest on the couch all night while he stayed awake. He will be an awesome father when he is ready. Very few men are willing to fill the role that he did, as he said "because I had no choice." They usually assume they can cut and run and that babies can prosper as long as the mom is around. I think Sean disproved that theory and showed teen boys everywhere that "dads" are equally important, just in different ways. Especially with little girls, they really respond well when there is a loving male role model in their lives. In my opinion, that is the gist of the whole teen pregnancy crisis. All of us girls want to be made to feel important and loved. It is the dads in our lives who teach us how to do that on our own. If we don't learn that from them at an early enough age, we look for it elsewhere. Listen to teen girls tell their stories, you will usually notice that something "made them feel special" or "important" or "needed" or "wanted." Our dads can teach us that we are all of those things on our own, and then we don't have to believe everything the first guy tells us, because we know better.
Sure The Baby Borrowers shows our children crying. All babies cry. In fact, if they never cried, that could signal some sort of developmental disorder. Babies cry to communicate to us. If they were older, they would have been speaking, but since they couldn't, they used their best known form of communication. But one thing people fail to realize is that babies also communicate by smiling, laughing, and cooing - all of which they did on set with their teen surrogate parents. There were far more squeals of laughter than there were tears. Because I was there, I can say this with 100% certainty. All of the so-called experts can only postulate, and they have nothing but conjecture to base that on. I would respect their opinions much more if they actually attempted to determine what actually took place. Certainly as experts, they must be aware that in television, only a fraction of what actually happens ever sees the light of day. To base claims on those few moments just seems irresponsible. Opinions are one thing, but when groups that are supposed to be reputable jump to conclusions prematurely and disseminate their judgments, we all fail.
Participating in this show changed our children for the better, in my opinion. Etta became a little more social. She didn't have as much anxiety about being dropped off at a daycare. She started spending more time with her daddy and a little less time glued to me, although that is where she and I are still most comfortable. She is still the sweetest and most loving little girl one could ask for. She gives kisses by the dozen, just because. She did learn to crawl right after the filming, so we do have to give Sean a little bit of the credit for his efforts in that area. She just turned 18 months old and is a well-adjusted, darling little girl. She is walking, running, dancing, smiling, laughing, and is even trying to beat Benjamin at potty training!
Benjamin is still as ornery as ever. He is a little firecracker and always seems to be the life of the party. You never know what is going to come out of his mouth, or what he will get into next. There is never a dull moment and he always keeps us on our toes. He is smart as a whip and as Sean described him, "wicked strong." Every time he hears the theme song for the show come on, he runs to the television and screams, "It's Baby Borrowers! There's my Sean! There's my Kelsey! And me!" He is our own little daredevil and likes to pull Etta into his antics. He is funny as all get out, and witty to boot! He got into something the other day and we asked him what happened. His response was, "I didn't do it. Hmm, looks like we've got a mystery on our hands."
This show has helped me to learn a little something more about myself as well. I have always talked with young new moms when I encounter them, and offer my experience and an ear. Likewise I try to talk to the teens that I come across who seem like me at their age, and just try to push them in the other direction a little. But it wasn't until I was contacted about this extremely beneficial social experiment that I realized there was a way to actually reach more than just my small circle of life. I cannot say it enough, but the show was already worth it for me and my family just because Kelsey changed her mind about wanting a baby this early. Helping one young woman avoid the same mistakes that I made is priceless. I also look at as if we helped to avoid any children she would have brought into her relationship and been ill-equipped to mother them in the way that she has always dreamed. She wants to be the best mother possible, and she has to be confident in herself as a beautiful person (inside and out) before she can fully give herself to her children. When the time is right for her, she will be an awesome mother. I am just proud to say that I knew her and that she had a good enough head on her shoulders to test drive parenting before she made the lifelong commitment.
I was recently informed that the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is urging NBC to pull The Baby Borrowers from its lineup. I have to wonder what prompted their press release. I certainly didn't get a phone call. None of their physicians have interviewed my children to determine how detrimental the separation was to them. It seems to me that they have to be seeking to gain something from this public request, but I can't figure out what that might be. One of their chief concerns is that the idea of baby borrowing will catch on and babies could be at risk without the cameras there. I am guessing they haven't heard of the novel concept of babysitting. Teens have been doing this for years, only the ones involved in the experiment did it to learn instead of to earn spending money. It is untrue to claim that teens are more likely to neglect and/or abuse children if this experiment is emulated. In fact, most shaken baby syndrome perpetrators are the male fathers or the mothers' boyfriends in their early 20s. (according to www.thearc.org.) Female shakers are generally childcare providers or babysitters. In addition, I keep seeing headlines that state, "Experts call for NBC to pull The Baby Borrowers." Maybe it is just me, but I don't consider AACAP President Robert Hendren, D.O. to be an expert on this subject. He might be an expert in the field of child psychiatry, but he is ignorant to the facts of this particular social experiment, therefore his claims are baseless. He has not visited with the children involved. He has not spoken with the parents that were involved. He has made no assessment of any of their psychological well-being. The only thing that he has done is to make outlandish claims that garner headlines. He, in my opinion, is portraying his organization no differently than a newsstand tabloid. I welcome him to interview my children to determine the level of detriment this experience has had on them. I challenge him to find something real, as opposed to hypothesizing, in any of the children who participated which shows that they were emotionally harmed by their participation.
In conclusion, I would not trade this experience for anything. All of the participants in this experiment have been accused of doing it for monetary gain, regardless of the fact that there was no compensation involved. I find that to be an odd accusation. Had someone come up to me and offered me $50,000 not to involve my children, I would have turned them down without batting an eye. The opportunity to help these teens is much more valuable to me than any money anyone could offer. It is easy to sit back and judge others claiming that there must be some other way to help. I think that claim is ridiculous. Of all the programs out there designed to curb teen pregnancy rates, which ones are actually doing any good? My guess is not many. The Baby Borrowers may not be the only way to minimize the impact teen pregnancy has on our society, but it is another tool in the arsenal. What we have been trying hasn't been working, as evidenced by the latest headlines from MA. If the status quo is not working, sometimes you have to try something new, and I applaud Richard McKerrow, Tom Shelly, Love Productions, and NBC for doing just that. I thank them for the opportunity to be a part of such a noble effort.
Mother to Etta and Benjamin of The Baby Borrowers