For most girls, their junior year in high school is when they start planning which colleges they want to apply to, figuring out what type of dress they’d like to wear to the prom and hanging out with friends. For Chantrail Moody, it was when she first found out she was pregnant.
When she first realized something was off she was hanging out at the mall with friends when all of a sudden she felt lightheaded. When she went home, all she wanted to do was sleep. She decided to go to the doctor on Monday and he told her the news. She was pregnant. She was also just 17-years-old.
"I just couldn’t believe it because I didn’t think it could happen to me," she said. "I couldn’t imagine myself pregnant and having a baby."
In Newton County, it’s happening or has already happened to a lot of teen girls. There were a total of 269 teen pregnancies in 2008, according to the Georgia Department of Health, that’s roughly 38 percent per 1,000 of females aged 10-19. The average per county in Georgia is 146, making Newton County 69th in 159 counties in the state. In Georgia, there were 23,285 teenage pregnancies in 2008.
Chantrail, who lives with her grandmother, was scared to tell. Chantrail’s mother is on the fringes of her life, but addicted to drugs and her father was in and out of jail when she was growing up.
"He’s not a bad daddy," she said. "He did more than my momma, but he could have done more."
The only constant in her life has been her grandmother.
"I didn’t tell anyone until I was about 5 months," she said, gazing at her now 3-month-old daughter. "I was scared. My grandmother didn’t talk to me really until the baby got here after I told her. It was real bad. The whole time I was pregnant I didn’t really have anyone. I know it was bad that I was pregnant because I was – am – young, but you still want people to be excited for you. When I told her she told me to have an abortion."
In 2005, 22 percent of all pregnant teens aged 15-19 chose to have an abortion in the state of Georgia. For Chantrail, it wasn’t an option. Not only was she too far along in her pregnancy to safely have an abortion, but she felt that since her boyfriend was supportive that having a baby was something that she could do. As for adoption, the thought never crossed her mind.
"I know I couldn’t have done that," she said. "I couldn’t live with that, knowing that I had gone through all of it and then just giving my baby away. That was never something I considered."
Her boyfriend, while supportive, didn’t tell his parents, they found out through gossip. His mother, according to Chantrail, didn’t say much, only that the timing was wrong since her son was about to go to Tennessee for college. Other than that, she gave Chantrail the silent treatment, and the pregnancy didn’t derail her son’s college plans. He is in Tennessee now in school. He and Chantrail are still together and he spends time with the baby when he’s home.
Chantrail went to school throughout her pregnancy. With her boyfriend out of the state and no one supporting her, she went to doctor’s visits and through her pregnancy alone and scared. Her friends, most of whom she says have children as well, didn’t tell her too much about what it would be like to have a baby. They did however, welcome her to the group, she says. Many nights, Chantrail would cry herself to sleep.
"I felt down and depressed. People were here but they weren’t happy about it. No one wanted this baby but me and him, and he wasn’t here."
Her labor started at 5 a.m. and by 2:52 p.m. baby Malyric Manuel was in her mother’s arms. Chantrail said that another thing no one had bothered to tell her was how painful it would be to physically have a baby, and how the contractions would hurt so bad that she cried. They also didn’t tell her that bringing the baby into world was just the beginning of the hard part.
Georgia ranks 8th in the nation for teen birth rate, with 62 new teen pregnancies a day – or more than two an hour, and nearly 28 percent of teen pregnancies occur in girls who have already been pregnant at least once. In fact, Georgia ranks second highest among the states in the rate of repeat births to teens according to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.
Chantrail went back to school when Malyric was 6-weeks-old but she was now two months behind in her class work. Her grandmother watches the baby during the day but as soon as Chantrail gets home, Malyric is her responsibility.
"I go to school and come home and when I get her my grandma gives her to me. There’s no naps, there’s no time for you. It’s been real hard going back to school. Some days I stay up until 4 a.m. with her and then I need to get up at 6 a.m. for school. Sometimes I just can’t do it. It’s not her fault, but sometimes I get mad and then I look at her and wonder how you can be mad at something so precious.
"I guess I just thought I would have a lot more help, but I don’t have any help like I thought. My grandma is the biggest help and my boyfriend helps out when he can… It’s been a big sacrifice. That’s what I tell my boyfriend, he got to graduate and go off to school and I can’t. Sometimes when she wakes up at 4 a.m. I look at my baby mean, but then she just smiles at me, wide awake like she’s got somewhere to be, and its okay. I’m not going to say I regret her, but I wish I would have waited."
Although people told her to stay in school and not to have sex, no one talked to Chantrail about the consequences of her actions or told her what to do if she was going to have sex. According to her, a lot of girls get pregnant so they will have someone to love them and many times, she feels that to hold on to love from their boyfriends, girls give in to sexual pressure.
"I think it would have really helped me if someone would have talked to me openly and been open to me asking questions," she said. "If someone had told me not to get caught up in a good time, if I had a good momma, or some support… I felt like my boyfriend loved me and I didn’t care as long as he kept loving me. I thought a baby would just bring us closer together and we could be a family. It’s just stupid… I used to say that I couldn’t wait until my baby got here and I could really start my life," she says, shaking her head. "But what really happened was that my life ended."
Dreams of becoming a Registered Nurse have been put on the back burner as Chantrail tries to finish high school; a goal she believes will take her twice as long as it should. She still cries at night on occasion, sometimes crying with her baby. She feels ill equipped, but is vowing that the mother and daughter will learn together. She also vows to be open with her child and to not give up on her, the way people did on Chantrail.
"When you block a child out they just don’t care – I didn’t," she said. "If my own momma didn’t care about me, why should I? People gave up on me and I never want to do that to her. I hope the best for my baby and I’ll be by her side no matter what. I hope she waits and I’ll always tell her my story."
And for other teens, Chantrail has advice too.
"Real babies aren’t dolls! At my baby shower that’s what I though. I thought I should have more because I got all this cute stuff and it was going to be so fun to dress her up, but it isn’t like that. They’re expensive – you might want to buy yourself something but you can’t. It’s so hard. You aren’t going to be able to do what you want to do. And I’ll tell them things that no one told me. That it hurts, that you cry at night, that when your baby keeps crying you aren’t going to know what to do sometimes. And that people who may say they are going to be there turn away and run when the baby gets here."
And to parents, she has advice as well. The biggest thing according to Chantrail that will help teens not follow in her footsteps is having parents who they can talk to openly without fear of reprisal.
"There’s a lot of pressure to have sex. That’s why I did it. I lost my virginity because my best friend did and I wanted to fit in. Talk to you kids about sex and protecting themselves – it would have helped me if someone had been there for me like that. It makes such a difference if you just talk to them. Parents always think their kids aren’t doing it," she said.
"They think because they are making good grades and doing what they are supposed to do that they aren’t having sex. People thought that about me, and now I have a baby. Trust me, just because you may not think they are having sex doesn’t mean they aren’t. Talk to them about it; there are 12-year-olds out here having sex unprotected. Prepare your kids – it’s better to do that because even if they aren’t having sex yet, they will. I was good in school too, but I was still having sex."
As she talks, baby Malyric starts to cry, Chantrail gets up and calmly picks her up from her swing and holds her in her arms, Malyric’s eyes drift closed slowly as her young mother rocks her to sleep. Looking down at her daughter and smiling slightly, a baby cradling her baby, Chantrail continues.