THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Film-maker Juliette Veber spent four years tracking teen mums. Kim Knight talks to her about the Kiwi mothers who have grown up with their children.
‘D o you see the world?” He is 4 years old, all cheeks and merry eyes. Strapped in behind his mum, Devante answers his own question. He lists trees and shops and cars. In the front seat, Oshyn smiles. She was 16 when she discovered she was pregnant. Her world? It orbits this small boy.
“Before I found out I was pregnant, I had jumped on the independent youth benefit,” says Oshyn. “When my pay would come in, I’d go and get drunk, I’d go have fun, go and hang out with my friends that were all on the same path. When my baby came along it felt like, like just the way that I saw things was different, the way that I looked at life was different. I was no longer doing things that would just affect myself. Everything I did was for my baby.”
Oshyn, now aged 23, is speaking to the camera. She’s one of 30 young women interviewed by Auckland-based film-maker Juliette Veber over a period of four years for the web-based project “Conversations With Teen
Mums”. It combines photographic portraits, personal quotes, written interviews and three half-hour films, including Oshyn’s story. The site went live yesterday — “a unique window into the minds of New Zealand young mums who are coming-of age as their children grow” says the publicity blurb.
“The stereotype of a young mum is that they’re going to stay on the benefit, they’re not going to complete high school, and their child is not going to complete high school,” says Veber.
“There are lots of examples of successful children who are offspring of teen mums — Barack Obama is obviously the most famous one. “I don’t like the judgment young mums receive. I don’t think it’s fair. That’s where I was coming from at the beginning of the project. I wanted to get to know the young mums and share the human beings that I knew.”
New Zealand’s teen pregnancy rate peaked in 1972. Back then, 69 out of every 1000 teenagers gave birth. By 1984, that figure had fallen to 30 out of every 1000. In 2016, the rate dropped to 16 out of every 1000. In concrete terms: last year, 2481 babies were born to teenagers — 15 of them under the age of 15.
What does teenage motherhood look like? And why would anyone devote thousands of hours to a project examining that question?
There has been a plan in place, absolutely, but it just doesn’t go how they think it’s going to go.
BECAME PREGNANT WITH HER SON SIOSIFA WHEN SHE WAS 14. My granddad found out through my mum. He asked me why I didn’t tell him. ’Cause they didn’t find out until I was four months. My granddad wasn’t really happy with it. He gave us this quote. It’s in Tongan. It’s like, ‘You have a cup of wine and once you spill it, you can’t gather it back up.’ And he says that’s what happened with me. I’ve spilled my cup of wine and I can’t gather it back up.
FOR MORE STORIES FROM TEEN MUMS GO TO CONVERSATIONS.CO.NZ