By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 29, 2012
A black and white 1950s-era film clip filled the projection screen in Rackham Auditorium as a grainy promotional television segment — produced by a U.S. government agency to encourage adoption — depicted happy parents selecting children from orphanages.
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The piece served as an introduction to an address by Catelynn Lowell and Tyler Baltierra, the stars of MTV’s reality show “Teen Mom,” on adoption, a practice they said was a far cry from the antiquated images of the past. Hundreds of students attended the event —sponsored by Bethany Christian Services, a family-planning center, and the University’s chapter of Students for Life — that was designed to examine adoption and provide students with a chance to brush shoulders with well-known reality stars.
The two guests, now age 20, who are from Marine City, Mich., appeared with their Bethany Christian Services adviser, to show clips from the MTV series and share their story in a question and answer format.
When Bethany approached Students for Life about hosting the event, club president Tori Criswell said it was a perfect opportunity.
“We’re all about fostering a culture of life,” Criswell said. “We’re a pro-life group, but we really want to encourage dialogue. This is a great way to do that because Catelynn and Tyler are really candid about their experiences and that this stuff gets people talking. They have a very positive story and we want to share life and the beauty of that and how really good things can come out of a seemingly scary situation.”
Criswell said Students for Life hopes its campus efforts, including Wednesday’s event, will raise awareness and provide support for students coping with unexpected pregnancy. In addition to hosting speakers, the group provides confidential support through a Pregnant on Campus Initiative and walks in the March for Life each year.
That story began before Lowell found out she was pregnant at age 16. Baltierra said he remembers passing notes to Lowell in seventh grade music class, hoping to convince her to go out with him, and they’ve been together ever since.
After receiving news about the baby, the couple struggled to decide between raising the child and completing an adoption. Since both teens resided in unstable home settings — Lowell’s mother was an alcoholic and a drug user and Baltierra’s dad shuffled in and out of prison — ultimately, the two opted for an open adoption.
Lowell and Baltierra carefully selected the adoptive family, and in their open adoption they stay in contact with the family and their child. They communicate with their daughter, Carly, regularly.
Lowell said she has no regrets about deciding on adoption. Both had unfulfilled goals to meet, like graduating high school, and they both plan to enroll in college to pursue degrees in social work.
Still, they said the decision wasn’t easy, and Baltierra said he admires the courage Lowell had in tackling the situation.
“I think for someone to have that strength to be able to sacrifice like that for the child, to see her strength through the whole situation, really inspired me,” Baltierra said.
Many of the event’s attendees also gleaned inspiration from listening to the couple’s experiences.
“I watched their story on ‘Teen Mom’ and always thought the story was special,” Engineering sophomore Carly Chorba said. “Not a lot of people would have the courage to give up the baby for adoption.”
However, some students said they mostly attended the event to see their favorite reality television stars.
LSA freshman Olivia Robertson said she didn’t necessarily agree with the pro-life sponsors, but still welcomed the chance to attend the event.
“I think it’s an interesting opportunity to see people from a TV show,” Robertson said.
Regardless of reasons for attending, Lowell said she is glad to help educate others who attended the event.
“It’s crazy because I’ll get girls who said they made an adoption plan from hearing my story,” she said.
Although Lowell and Baltierra aren’t planning on having more children anytime soon, they plan to get married next year at a Renaissance themed wedding. After nine years, Baltierra said their relationship is stronger than ever.
“I think trauma either does one of two things to a relationship. It either brings things closer or rips them apart,” he said.