In the past four years, births to Orange County teens have increased 43%. In 1990, there were 42 births per 1,000 teens; in 1994, there were nearly 60 per 1,000. Becoming a parent as a teen-ager has tremendous implications, in the short term and the long term, for the young parents, their children and their extended families. As concern about the trend grows communitywide, those whose lives have been directly affected deal with the reality of children raising children. Here's a look at how the day goes for one young mother:
It is 2:37 Monday afternoon. The school bell has just rung, and 16-year-old Bernice Urquieta is headed home. She has the usual things to worry about: homework, chores and housework. Nevertheless, her main concern is Anthony--her 6-month-old son.
After school, Bernice, a Villa Park High School junior, walks 1 1/2 miles to her son's baby-sitter's house. She knocks on the apartment screen door--adding a hello only to announce her presence--then casually lets herself in. "Hi, Anthony!" she exclaims.
"How was he today?" she asks the sitter, Stephanie Kampas.
"He was good. He was eating better today," Kampas replies, adding a few of the day's anecdotes about Anthony. "I don't actually have to pry his mouth open anymore," she says.
While she talks, Bernice changes Anthony's diaper, finishes feeding him and organizes his diaper bag.
After a few last words with the sitter and her usual "I'll see you tomorrow," Bernice heads for home, Anthony in tow. She only lives a few blocks from the sitter, but she has her hands full with a stroller, backpack, books and diaper bag.
At home, Bernice plops her backpack and diaper bag in the middle of the family room, letting out a sigh of relief.
Bernice was 15 when she became pregnant, 16 when Anthony was born. "One of my regrets is that I did not think before I acted," she admits. "But I know I will still accomplish the goals that I established before Anthony was conceived."
She wants to pursue a medical career after high school, with hopes of being a pediatrician or a nurse.
Bernice and her son share an apartment with her mother, 14-year-old brother and aunt. Her aunt and brother are usually there when she arrives home about 3:45 p.m. Today the aunt is in her room. The brother is out playing street hockey with the neighborhood children.
Anthony's father, 18, and Bernice are no longer seeing each other. He has helped some with expenses and used to visit the child weekly.
Before Anthony was born, Bernice had considered abortion. "I was at the clinic and just minutes away from getting an abortion," she said, but then she changed her mind. "I was only 15 and very confused about my future."
Bernice finishes feeding Anthony and puts him in his walker. She asks her aunt to watch him while she cleans her room and the family room. Her mother comes home about 5 p.m.
Of her pregnancy and days as a young mother, Bernice says, "I am going to tell Anthony about all my thoughts and actions from Day One, and hopefully one day he will come to understand what I was going through."
When Bernice finishes her cleaning chores, she makes dinner for the family. By the time she has eaten, washed the dishes and played with Anthony a bit, it is 7 p.m. and time for Anthony's bath. She bathes and feeds him again and puts him to bed at 8:30 p.m.
She's tired, but there is still more to do. Bernice prepares Anthony's bottles for the next day, which begins at 6:15 a.m., when she hustles to get ready for school and drop off her son before classes start at 7:45.
Next, Bernice spends 2 1/2 hours on homework. Her head doesn't hit the pillow until 11 p.m.
When she can, Bernice likes to spend time with her friends or go to an occasional party. They are activities she looks forward to several times a month.
"I still continue doing the same things that I did before I had Anthony, except I have more responsibilities and more worries, too," she said.
* DAD DUTIES
"Being a father is lots of work, but it's fun too," says a teen parent who is holding down two jobs. E4