7 f.  Children Giving Birth to Children

In my experience, it is not unusual for the mothers in the reunited family to have given birth to their first born in their teen years. Furthermore, in the rural areas of Central and South American countries, as well as in the low-income areas of the big cities, teen pregnancy without a continued emotional and financial support by the child’s father is not uncommon. The teen mother usually starts to work after the birth, in order to support the child, with the grandmother taking over some, or all of the maternal responsibilities. The bonding between mother and child is as a result weakened. This situation may precede the immigration of the mother. Then, the loss of the mother is not as traumatic an event for the young child because the real caretaker has always been the grandmother. Later, however, the separation starts to be a painful issue between mother and child, as the child questions the abandonment of the mother and the delegating of the maternal care since birth to the grandmother and interprets this situation as a lack of love for him or her.  A likely development of this situation is that Grandmothers become very possessive of these children as they become very attached to the child.  Some mothers have told me: ” mi mamá me quitó mi bebé,” literally, “my mother actually stole my baby away from me”.

The events that surround the pregnancy and delivery of this baby can be psychologically very painful for the mother. Shame, fear and confusion are mixed with anger and self-loathing because of the value the more traditional Latin culture places on virginity and sex only within marriage (legal or common). This can be at times at the base of some ambivalent feelings towards the child who may be a reminder of such a painful period of their lives.  Furthermore, as time passes it may explain the mother’s great efforts at controlling the sexual behavior of the daughter, when the child is a female and she reaches puberty. This is sometimes done in ways that become exaggerated, intrusive, and even emotionally abusive. Then, many times it all ends up in a self-fulfilling prophesy as the daughter repeats the story of the mother, becoming herself a teen-mother. I have worked with mothers that set up a very complicated system of spying through neighbors, cousins at school and hourly phone calls from work in the evening, trying to protect their daughter from teen- pregnancy.  Severe physical punishment and threats to be thrown out of the household “si llegan con la panza”, (“if they come home with a big belly”) still do not deter some girls from engaging in unprotected sexual behavior and pregnancy. Of course, other factors have an influence as well, in the complicated event of teen pregnancy. One of these many factors is “machismo”, a form of oppressive male supremacy found in the old, traditional Latin culture, where the male gives priority to his sexual needs rather than the needs to postpone intercourse that the female may voice. Among others, low self -esteem, or the quest for a way out of a painful home situation, influence this outcome as well as as prominently, a lack of knowledge on how to understand and handle their own and the other’s sexual needs as adults around them do not know how to teach them this important life skill for an adolescent.

Living with a man at a very early age is also not an uncommon denominator between the mothers and the daughters in this group.  Some mothers have shared with me that their choosing a mate so early was a solution to wanting to leave home and even, sometimes alleviate their mothers of the extreme poverty the family suffered. “One less mouth to feed.” In the case of the boys, besides the urge to leave a bad home situaion,  it may take the form of finding a woman that can both take care of the domestic functions they need taken care of in order to become an adult and live on their own, as well as to fulfill themselves sexually.  Many of these unions do not survive well the stresses of life as an immigrant. Women are forced to work out of the household and they then become the ones making a more secure income for the family, as domestic service jobs are more readily available than other jobs that male immigrants usually seek.  Men become depressed and full of self-loathing as they cannot fulfill their role as good providers because jobs for them are less available, or seasonal, such as work in construction or landscaping. Additionally, there are less job opportunities where men can get by without knowledge of English. Instead women have many more opportunities as nannies or, a very common one: house cleaning. The couple never finds time for themselves, as they both work two jobs to survive economically and take turns working and caring for the children.  

Coming back to the history of the mother in the reunited family, it is, then, very important to investigate the circumstances surrounding the birth of the child in the reunited family, as well as the stories passed down to the child regarding that event, in order to help heal their relationship. One extreme case of this situation comes to mind: Blanca’s mom, Rosa, gave birth to her when she was 14 years of age.  Her own mother was a very abusive and feared lady who had always punished her violently for the smallest mistake.  Rosa, who had been seduced by an older man, lived in a small village and had nobody to turn to for advice.  When the labor pains started she ran to hide in the fields in fear her mother would find out.  She had the baby by herself and hid it under some bushes not knowing what else to do.  When the event was discovered, her mother decided to take care of the child and the whole village found out and ostracized her for abandoning her baby to die. Rosa felt a tremendous relief when she was able to come to this country and leave all of that behind.   As soon as Blanca was old enough, the grandmother told her the circumstances of her birth. The girl grew up with the compassion of the villagers and the good care of the grandmother who was able to give her the tenderness she denied Rosa and her other children.  In her new life here, the first thing that Rosa wanted when she started a home with the man she had chosen was to bring her child over to be part of their family. She was going to be the best mother ever to her. When this girl came, as a young teen, to join her mother, there was an abyss between them. The girl told her sad story to everybody in school and in her new neighborhood, enjoying the attention and compassion it created around her.  It took a great deal of work to start to change the child’s perception of the mother as evil, to the mother as a very young victim of an uncharitable group of people and circumstances.  The work involved helping her give up her old story and replace it with one that would allow her to start relating to her mother. Of course, it was hard for her to give up her story, as she had received much attention and extra nurturing because of it.  Thankfully, the mother had had by then many years of therapy regarding her victimization and so was more forgiving of herself by now and as a consequence, more secure and better able to cope with the conflicts in the relationship. This allowed her to slowly rebuild her relationship with Blanca.