2007-09-26 / Front Page

A Prolific Problem

Part 1: The Crisis
By Anne Marie Kyzer Staff Writer

(Editor's note: The Crisis is the first story in a three-part series entitled A Prolific Problem in which staff writer Anne Marie Kyzer examines the growing rate of births to teenagers and unmarried mothers in Burke County.)

The youngest mother ever on his delivery table was 10 years old.

And she wasn't sure who the father of her baby was, Waynesboro obstetrician Dr. Mark Gresham added grimly.

Dr. Gresham describes what he sees on a day-to-day basis as nothing short of a crisis situation.

Pregnancies by unwed mothers, many of them young teenagers, continue to increase in number and popularity.

Nearly 68 percent of the babies delivered to Burke County residents in 2005 were born to unwed mothers, according to the latest data from the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

More than a quarter of those were teenagers. Some 20.6 percent of all births in the county were to teenagers.

The percentage of unwed mothers in the county has increased on a steady basis over the past few years, escalating more than 12 percent in just four years from 2001-2005. And the percentage of abortions by unwed teens was also up compared to the previous two years.

"It's terrible," Dr. Gresham said. "The whole idea of being married is just not in the picture anymore." He noted that at least half of his patients are not married and somewhere around 30-40 percent are in their teens.

"And it's not just first time moms," he explains, saying that the mothers start young but continue the trend. "It's repeat offenders. It's nothing to see people under the age of twenty in here with two or three children. It's more and more common."

Deena Sams, executive director of Communities in Schools, sees the problem firsthand everyday. She works with local teenagers in her program trying to teach them positive life lessons that she hopes will steer them clear of such a lifestyle.

Sams knows she and her staff have their work cut out for them.

She said the stigma that unwed pregnancy used to carry seems to be lost on today's youth.

"Kids used to be ashamed of being pregnant, but they're not really ashamed anymore. It's almost a rite of passage," she said with a sigh. "It's sad to say. There's no fear at all of being pregnant. They're not even afraid of what their parents or others might say."

Nationally, the number of births to unmarried mothers was 35.8 percent in 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The rate in Burke County was nearly twice that at 67.3 for the same year. Teenage moms delivered 23.7 percent of the babies born to unwed mothers in the United States in 2004, while the rate in Burke County came in just under that at 22.5 percent.

BIRTHS TO BURKE COUNTY MOTHERS
2002 2003 2004 2005
% of all births to teens 19.8 19.5 16.2 20.6
% of all births to unwed mothers 63.4 65.1 67.3 67.8
% of births to unwed mothers by teens 30.5 28 22.5 27.3
% of all births to unwed teens 19.3 18.2 15.1 18.5
Abortion rate 13.2 14.3 14.7 12.5
% abortions by teens 19.7 18.1 14.9 23.8

Source: Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health

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