Ana Fuller teaches young moms how to be good moms.
The family advocate at Emerson Alternative High School Early Head Start helps girls navigate motherhood and crawl out of poverty. She's worked at Emerson for three years — the first when the on-campus health clinic was open, then second two when it wasn't.
Her first year, two girls had more than one child. This year, 11 did. And those are only the girls in her day care program, not the entire school.
Three of Fuller's students with multiple children graduated this year, she said. One is doing well, one is pregnant again and the third is a prostitute.
“It's not good odds,” she said.
Two years ago, students could walk out the back doors of their school and into the front doors of a clinic designed especially for pregnant and parenting teens.
Now the empty trailer is rotting and deserted, thevictim of what advocates say is a tough economy and social indifference.
The clinic was open for nearly 30 years, and the closing was like a falling line of dominoes. The Legislature cut about $141,000 in funding for the Emerson clinic in northwest Oklahoma City and a similar project in Tulsa.
OU Medical Center pulled its staff. The state Health Department didn't have any spare cash.
Since then, life has changed for the girls at Emerson, a longtime school for pregnant students. They skip school to go to the doctor while they're pregnant, and then they skip doctor appointments to go to school after the birth.
They fall farther behind. Students and teachers are on edge because no one — not even a school nurse — is around to offer medical advice.
Fuller reaches over to a graduation party invitation pinned onto her bulletin board. She taps her finger on the girl's smiling face.
“Ones like her,” she said. “That's what keeps me pushing and praying and loving these girls.”
The Emerson clinic opened in 1983, and Joy Quinn ran it for five years.
“I really did love it,” the nurse practitioner said. “Eventually, it gets to you emotionally. I was coming out bursting into tears practically every time I had to examine somebody.”
The mother of four girls, she found treating young expectant mothers especially challenging. They were so young — one was 12 — and many were survivors of sexual abuse, neglect or violence.
But Quinn and the other staff members developed strong bonds with the girls while she worked there from 1987 to 1992. She said she was devastated when she heard the clinic had closed.
“It wasn't just prenatal care,” she said.
“Emotionally, it made a big difference.”
The Legislature cut the state Health Department budget by $1.9 million in May 2009 because of dropping revenue. The department, in turn, cut eight programs, including the Emerson clinic.
The clinic wasn't ideal, but at least it was something, said Dr. Lauranne Harris, an obstetrician who has volunteered at Emerson for years.
“When we had a clinic on campus,” she said, “it was a real sense of community. ... It was more than blood pressure and tummy measure.”
The school doesn't have a nurse anymore. Even a rotating nurse doesn't stop by.
Teachers call or email Harris, asking about headaches, contractions, nosebleeds, nausea, fainting.
School administrators didn't want the clinic to close, either, said Debra Thomas, Emerson High School's principal from 2001 until last August. She said losing the clinic upset both staff and students.
Thomas said she worries about the consequences.
“We don't want them to have repeat pregnancies,” she said. “Without them having someone on campus that they could go to, that was a health care professional, it may eventually impact those rates of pregnancy.”
Taryn English cried when she found out she was pregnant. Her appointment was to begin using birth control.
She dropped out of Western Heights High School and missed nearly a year of school.
The baby's father moved to Ohio, where he's on probation.
Now, at 16, she's a single mom to a 6-month-old named Kaesin. After his birth, she got her act together with the support of her parents. She enrolled at Emerson.
“You have to be responsible for yourself and your kid,” she said.
Part of that responsibility is avoiding another pregnancy.
English said she would love a campus health clinic where she could take her son or get birth control. Instead, she misses class when he needs to see the doctor, and she puts off her own appointments.
Most of the moms are driven to graduate, just like English, science teacher Sandra Bennett said. But many face obstacles in addition to their pregnancies.
Some girls have parents who are locked up. Several are the only responsible ones in their families. Others have learning disabilities and already were academically behind. All of them have spent time out of school to give birth.
Add to that the anxiety teachers and students feel without having a medical expert on campus.
It's another classroom distraction, another setback to graduation, Bennett said.
“You can't teach them, and you can't teach their classmates, until you address the medical issue,” she said.
A medical clinic wouldn't erase all the distractions, she said, but it would give them more time to focus on finishing school.
“Just with a little bit of support here, the girls learn there is a different way, a different world,” Bennett said. “There is a way out through education.”
No money for clinic
District officials aren't opposed to having an on-campus clinic, but the money isn't there, said Sheli McAdoo, director of secondary education and reform for the Oklahoma City School District.
“Schools are moving to try to be everything to all kids, and that creates quite a challenge,” she said.
“It is important and, at any point in time, the community can step up and come forward with opportunities to serve in that capacity.”
So that leaves Fuller, the Head Start family advocate, and the school's teachers and volunteers battling to prevent repeat pregnancies.
Fuller pushes her hair back and leaves her hand on her forehead. She's frustrated no one will fund the clinic.
“They see these pregnancies as statistics — not humans,” Fuller said. “They're trying. They're trying so hard every day.”
But even determination can be foiled by poverty, peer pressure and loneliness. Many of the students Fuller sees don't come from loving homes, and they fall prey to boys who promise love in exchange for sex.
“It's just not simple,” Fuller said. “These girls don't live in our world.”
AT A GLANCE
Annual price of running health clinics at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City and the Margaret Hudson Program in Tulsa and Broken Arrow.
Average cost of hospital delivery of a baby in Oklahoma County.
Annual cost per child on SoonerCare.
Annual cost to Oklahoma taxpayers for teen pregnancy because of increased health care, welfare and other services.
Annual cost to U.S. taxpayers.
Number of births to Oklahoma teens in 2008.
Percentage of those births were to teens who were already mothers.
Percentage of teen mothers earn a diploma by age 22, compared with nearly 90 percent of women who have not given birth during adolescence.