When teens want to have children

Editor’s note: This story was published in January 2014.

Story highlights

Teen pregnancy is often talked about in the negative — and as an accident

Stephanie Gengotti knows several young mothers who intentionally started their families early

CNN  — 

Teen pregnancy is often talked about in the negative — and as an accident.

But Rome-based photographer Stephanie Gengotti knows several young mothers who, despite financial and social challenges, intentionally started their families early.

“They are totally, totally happy with their choices,” Gengotti said. “And they are really good mothers, too. They can cope with it really, really easy, and it’s like they were born to do it.”

In a project called “9 Months,” Gengotti spent nearly two years with adolescents in Naples, Italy, as they went through pregnancy and early motherhood. She slept in their homes, helped out with the children and developed strong relationships with families so that she could tell their stories from an insider’s perspective.

Gengotti said she read up on the subject beforehand and found that the city of Naples has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Italy. So she decided to go to a “consultorio” there — a place where pregnant girls can find social assistance — and meet some of them.

A doctor introduced her to five expecting mothers.

Photographer Stephanie Gengotti

Two of them were sisters who became pregnant one month apart: Angela at 17 and Virna at 14. Virna’s pregnancy was accidental, but she had known her boyfriend since age 11. The other four deliberately became mothers.

“One of the girls, she said: ‘We are in 2010, and of course I knew what a contraceptive was. But I decided I wanted a child,’ ” Gengotti said.

The girls Gengotti studied tended to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but they didn’t receive financial help from the government for being mothers, she said. The government would only offer assistance if the fathers didn’t accept the children, but in these cases, they did, she said.

Many of the girls live with their parents while raising their babies, and they have fiances who have stayed with them, too. Some of the girls and their boyfriends cannot support themselves and their babies alone, but their families are supportive.

Mothers of the pregnant girls tended to be very young themselves — in their late 30s — and also had children as teenagers. And the new moms tended to come from large families, with many siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, so they were accustomed to looking after children.

Virna kept going to school while pregnant. She finished her education and now works at a beauty salon. Angela also continued studying, and she is a secretary for a lawyer.

The young mothers in Gengotti’s project “all look forward to a new phase of life, and behind their windows, silent and hidden, we wonder whether it’s irresponsibility or courage,” Gengotti writes on her website.

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    Her project has not been published in Italy; she thinks this is because of the influence of Catholicism in her country. One prospective interviewer told her she couldn’t talk about contraceptives. Teen pregnancy is not talked about much in the news, she said.

    “Nobody knows about what is going on,” Gengotti said.

    The project has been life-changing for Gengotti. Before, she was afraid to have a child of her own. Part of her hesitation was that she is focused on her career, and she thought she would not be hired as much to take photos if she were taking care of a child.

    But after becoming so close to these mothers, she decided she wanted to become one, too, at age 40. She now has a 3-month-old son, Elias, and is continuing photography. She is also still in touch with the young mothers and will see them every six months.

    “I think that when you tell a story or do a project, it’s because in a way you have to solve something within yourself. Because it has something to do with your personality,” she said. “Maybe I decided to do it because I was so scared about becoming a mother.”

    Stephanie Gengotti is a photographer based in Rome, Italy.