Fighting stigma of teen pregnancy

Nonprofit Fristers, run by Irvine resident Ali Woodard, helps put young mothers and their babies on the right path.

December 10, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Fristers founder Ali Woodward, right, parent Ali Cooper, 23, holding her 5-year-old son Cordell, and volunteer Lisa Jones, left, pose for a photo at Mariners Church in Irvine. Fristers is an organization that helps provide pregnant and parenting teen mothers, ages 13-25, with education, access to resources, role models and support.
Fristers founder Ali Woodward, right, parent Ali Cooper,… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Ali Cooper was at a friend's house when she took the test.

"Positive," it read.

A trip to a Birth Choice health clinic confirmed it — she was 16 years old and pregnant.

Gripped by fear, Cooper wondered how she would face her parents. Would they chastise or stand by her?

The Irvine resident quickly decided not to go through with the pregnancy. She wasn't ready to give birth, she thought, only to be overcome by a different kind of terror.

"I was more scared to have an abortion than to be a mom," she said.

Today, her son, Cordell, is an energetic and curly-haired 5-year-old.

Although she didn't hestitate in saying that she wouldn't change any part of the experience, Cooper admitted that being a teenage mother had seemed like an uphill battle.

The baby was colicky. He refused to eat and alternated between screaming and crying. And his lullaby of choice? A vacuum cleaner or blow dryer.


For the most part, an exhausted Cooper raised Cordell singlehandedly because his father — her ex-boyfriend — was more interested in partying late into the night and sleeping through the day, Cooper said.

"I would call my mom at 3 in the morning," she recounted. "He would be screaming in the background and I would be in tears. She would tell me to take a deep breath, tell me everything was going to be OK and offer me tips on how to calm him down."

In that regard, Cooper was lucky because her family supported her and helped whenever possible. Most often, though, young unwed mothers are abandoned by disapproving, embarrassed families and friends who find it too difficult to relate to their plight.

And that's where Ali Woodard and the team at Fristers, which provides guidance to teen moms, steps in.

"Being accepted and supported is the basis for anyone to grow," she said.


'A critical gap'

Woodard, 48, of Irvine, is founder and president of the charity organization, which was originally conceived as an offshoot of Mariners Church in Irvine.

Woodard, who had become pregnant as a teenager but elected not to have her baby, realized that the resources and conversation surrounding teen pregnancy had not progressed much over the years.

She'd noticed plenty of effort to avoid unplanned pregnancies, but then the support petered out, leaving young girls ill-equipped for the role of motherhood.

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