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.

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - INDEX - PIC­TURES BY JULI­ETTE VE­BER

‘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

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