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One Mom's Response to Teenage Pregnancy - Participate in a Reality Show

"The Baby Borrowers" Provided Julie Sullivan the Ultimate Teachable Moment


One Mom's Response to Teenage Pregnancy - Participate in a Reality Show

'Mom' Sasha and 'borrowed' baby Shay from "The Baby Borrowers"

© Tommy Baynard/NBC
Updated July 02, 2008
Teenage pregnancy is a hot-button issue that keeps bubbling to the surface every few years. A recent spate of headlines - teen star Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy, the film Juno, the 17 girls pregnant at one Massachusetts high school - has adults all worked up once again. Everyone talks about teen pregnancy, but no one seems to have an effective solution.

Doing Something About It

If you'd already raised a houseful of teenagers and you had the chance to positively impact the attitudes of both teens and adults across the country on the subject of teen pregnancy, would you do it? Would you stop talking and start acting? Even if this involved putting yourself out there, placing yourself squarely in the public eye, and opening you and your family up to criticism?

That's what Julie Sullivan did when she responded to what she believed was an opportunity to participate in a documentary about teen pregnancy. When the project turned out to be somewhat different, she didn't balk. Instead, she realized that she could help teens grasp the enormous responsibility that giving birth and caring for a baby entails.

The Ultimate Teachable Moment

Julie and her husband 'loaned' their baby to the NBC reality show The Baby Borrowers, which gave five unmarried teenage couples their own house and a crash course in parenting and adulthood.

The first two episodes centered on the care of a baby younger than a year old, and each teen couple parented a 'borrowed' baby for 72 hours straight. During the 3-day taping, the real parents - living in houses just across the street - were able to watch their child round the clock and intervene in person whenever they felt it was necessary.

NBC promoted the show with the tagline, "It's not TV. It's birth control." And for many watching at home, the episodes caused discomfort. By immersing the teen couples in a full-fledged parenting experience, The Baby Borrowers exposed the 24/7 reality of life as a baby mama and baby daddy.

Setting the Record Straight

Although the series focused on the teens, the parents found themselves the subject of much speculation and some criticism online. Within hours of the show's debut, Julie Sullivan's decision and the decision of the other parents to loan their babies out came under fire. Yet despite the online buzz in mom blogs and parenting forums - and the many questions about why she and the other four mothers would do this - she hasn't regretted her participation in The Baby Borrowers.

In an About.com exclusive, Julie talks candidly about what it was like to be involved in a teen parenting reality show. She sets the record straight on a number of concerns, including how closely the babies (all infants under a year old) were monitored, and why she decided to participate in The Baby Borrowers.

In Julie's Own Words

"I am one of the parents of the babies on the show. My son is Shay, and he was cared for by Sasha and Jordan....

"The babies were never 'given' up by their moms. The moms and dads were on set 24 hours a day. Every mom and dad went over to help the teens as needed during the experiment. The editing of 72 hours and 5 houses into the two 'baby' episodes only shows the drama. The parents who participated were not seeking fame and received no money. We believed in The Baby Borrowers 100% and were 100% happy with the respect and safety on the set....

"It was a great experience for us and our son. Of course, we had Sasha and Jordan, so there was very little drama. But there were many struggles we helped them through that were not edited into the show because there was so much drama with some of the other teens and moms.

"I have read so many articles about the show, and keep hearing the same question: Who would do it? I don't feel the question has been adequately answered, although I do realize it’s not about us, it's about the teens. It's just hard to hear over and over, and since we are friends with the other 4 sets of parents, and I can assure you, they are all quality parents.

"We have 4 teens/young adults: ages 21, 20, 19, and 17. I have also 'fostered' 4 teenage girls in my home during their high school years, so my husband and I are very connected with teenagers. We participated in the project at first because we thought it was an NBC documentary style show about teenage pregnancy, but even though it turned out to be a reality (unscripted) show, we were very pleased to be part of it. The producers on the show put us parents completely in charge of when we wanted to go over to the teens' house (we were across the street watching on TV). All of us went over more than once to coach or motivate or correct as needed.

"But this is what I want people to know: We spent about two hours with the teens before we left to go watch them, so we did not know them, but we felt 100% confident in leaving them in charge with us watching. We spent 2 hours talking to the nanny before that, and she was completely capable and committed to our son's safety. We never left the set, not because we were worried, but because we were very interested in what was going in our teens' house as well as the other teens' houses. There was a producer, camera man, sound guy, and assistants in every house, although none of that is seen on the show. But that’s what we saw.

"My son had been psychologically tested before being included....He was very capable of being away from mom and dad for a time, and it in no way was distressing for him or we would have stepped in immediately. There was a psychologist on set watching all the babies, and we did talk to him to ask questions when needed.

"Everyone leaves their child with a care provider at some point. We felt better about this than leaving our other children when they were young with a trusted sitter when we went out of town.

"No one wants to say this but I started this process originally because I wanted to see my beautiful son on TV. That makes it sound like we are just seeking fame, and that’s not true, so no one wants to say that's why they did it. It turned out to be so much more than that to us. And just to clarify: we were paid nothing.

"The Baby Borrowers was an awesome experience for everybody involved."

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