DEAR ABBY: On Jan. 31, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter. On May 24, I graduated from high school. I love my child dearly, but I really wish I were older, finished with college and married. (I am none of these, and won't be for a long time.)

All things considered, though, I am one of the lucky ones. I have two wonderful, supportive parents, my baby was born healthy, and I have persevered and finished high school. Even with all of this on my side, I still wish I had waited, and I hope that by writing this letter, I can influence just one couple to wait until they're married to have sex.I knew the facts of life, but it never occurred to me that I could get pregnant. I always figured it would happen to someone else. Now I am everyone else's "someone else."

I literally get sick to my stomach when I hear my friends telling me how much they'd like to have a baby, and how they wouldn't mind getting pregnant now. All they think of is how much fun it would be to dress the baby up and show it off. The truth of the matter is, once you have a baby, you don't feel like going out anymore. You don't think of the incessant crying, getting up in the middle of the night for feedings, the dirty diapers, the spitting up, the constant washing of clothes and bottles, and, most important, the expense.

I spent $600 alone in baby-sitting costs between March and May just so I could go to school and graduate - $600 that I didn't have. That meant I had to get a job, which meant more baby-sitting costs.

I was not, and still am not, emotionally prepared to be a mother. The stress is incredible! For the rest of my life I am going to be a mother. There is no way around it. If I don't feel like being a mother at some point in time and want to just go out and be an 18-year-old - a typical teenager having fun - that's too bad, because I will always be a mother first. Even if I do go out, my daughter is always on my mind.

My plea to anyone out there who is not ready to have a baby and is either having sex or thinking about having sex, DON'T DO IT!! If you do it, you should use TWO methods of contraception - preferably the pill AND a condom.

Babies are wonderful gifts from God, but I believe that they are meant for people who are emotionally and financially ready for them.

Thank you, Abby. I hope I have prevented one teenage pregnancy with this letter. - LINDA SCHRAVEN, PHOENIX

DEAR LINDA: So do I. Thank you for an honest account of motherhood as experienced by at least 1 million teenage girls a year. According to Joan Griggs Babbott, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, one in 10 teenage girls becomes pregnant each year - nearly 30,000 of whom are under the age of 15. And for every teen who chooses to have the baby, almost an equal number choose to have an abortion.

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