by Danielle Cantor
Last week a friend alerted me to Caught in the Cradle, a compelling short documentary on teen pregnancy, produced by freelance reporter and independent producer Rebecca Kaufman. Rebecca was kind enough both to share the video, posted here, and to discuss her experience making it.
Why did you choose this topic?
I chose this topic because Al Jazeera English had decided to do a series on international maternal health issues. I was researching possible story ideas in the U.S. and came across the statistic that this country had, by far and away, the highest teen pregnancy and teen birth rate in the developed world. I had never come across this statistic, and when I ran it by my colleagues they didn’t know it either. That told me it had the potential for a interesting story because even though the U.S. is lagging so far behind, we are still not talking about the issue in the media and in other public health campaigns.
What about recent reports that teen births are on the decline in America?
The U.S. teen pregnancy rate has been declining on a steady basis now I believe since the 1970s. So the fact that it is still declining is good news but not surprising. Still, it remains much higher than other developed countries–and in states like Texas, I think it barely moved. Mississippi and New Mexico are even worse than Texas, and Oklahoma is not far behind.
I think the expert who is featured in my story, Susan Tortolero… would say the results of well-taught comprehensive sex education are that kids will abstain longer from sex and when they do decide to have sex they’ll use contraception. But this is not an easy argument to make in Texas!
What sorts of obstacles did you encounter while making this film?
This story was a real challenge. We chose to do the documentary in Texas, which has a very high teen pregnancy rate and also has been one of the strongest proponents of abstinence only education. What we encountered when we started to research the story was fear, even from people who were trying to raise awareness about the issue and open up the dialogue. Advocating for comprehensive sex education in Texas is still politically risky, and inevitably a conversation about reducing teen pregnancy brings up the very sensitive topic of abortion. For all those reasons, it was incredibly difficult to find people willing to cooperate with us on the story. In fact, we had an agreement from the Austin Independent School District, which deals with high numbers of teen parents in their schools, to work with us on the piece. At the last minute they pulled the plug because one or two top administrators had cold feet about the sensitivity of the topic.
How did the teenage mothers you profiled impact your perspective?
I can’t say enough wonderful things about the two young women we featured in the story–Mayra Nunez and Eva Salazar. They had a maturity beyond their years and a drive to succeed that was so admirable. Both were dealing with “baby daddies” who were in and out of their lives, and they both had decided it was their responsibility, as mothers, to make a future for their children. I often forgot I was talking to a 17-year-old and 20-year-old. At the same time, there were moments in the film when they really opened up and exposed their vulnerability. It became clear that every day is still a challenge. I also want to point out the Mayra and Eva are the exceptions. So many teen parents don’t have the drive or don’t have the resources to make it as far as they have. The reality is most teen parents don’t graduate from high school, and never mind college. That’s why its so crucial that there is more education about how to prevent teen pregnancy in places like Texas. As we say in the film, without more education, that cycle of teen pregnancy and poverty will perpetuate.