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Child marriage: Impact of being a young bride

Posted at 3:22 AM, May 06, 2016

There can be serious consequences of getting married as a child. 
"I got married at sixteen because I thought I was in love and I was also pregnant at the time," said Audrey, whose name we changed in order to protect her privacy. "I had to grow up pretty quick from there." 
Her father had given her two options: abortion or marriage. She chose her child. 
Audrey admits she wasn't emotionally ready to be a wife and a mother, which doesn't surprise psychiatrists.
"Usually around that age, individuals are developing an identity," explained Dr. Munther Barakat, a clinical psychiatrist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. 
Researchers have linked early marriage to mental health issues. 
"There are higher rates of depression, anxiety, and dependency on drugs and alcohol. Now, [researchers] are very careful not to make any strong correlations between that and they suggest for further evaluation on family stressors and other factors that might play a role." 
There are other health concerns as well. 
"People who marry young, less than twenty [years old], are more like to have an early pregnancy even if they didn't marry because of pregnancy... young parenting is certainly fraught with difficulty," said Dr. James Meyer of the Marshfield Clinic. 
The implications of child marriage go beyond worries about health. 
"Child marriage undermines girls' health, education, and economic opportunities and it increases their risk of experiencing violence," said Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of the non-profit Unchained at Last. 
And marriages involving children don't tend to last. 
"About a third of teen marriages are divorced within five years and half are divorced by about ten years after the marriage," said Dr. Meyer. 
Audrey's marriage lasted three years. 
"Did he love me? I know he did. And I loved him. But it was not going to work. As I got older, I think I became more enlightened." 
It had a lot to do with her child. 
"It was an abusive relationship physically, but there were also drugs involved, marijuana smoking. And I didn't want my child exposed to that. I didn't want that lifestyle," said Audrey. 
Getting a divorce was a messy process filled with drama.
"The police were called many times for him coming and threatening me and my family. I remember one time he was beating me up when he came to my parents' house...and my mother ended up coming down the stairs with a broom and chasing him out of the house." 
With the support of her family, including her father, Audrey got her divorce. And today, she couldn't be happier. 
"I met somebody and he was so kind. It was to the point where, after work, he would drive me to the library to help me better myself to complete my G.E.D."
Audrey married that man 28 years ago and they're still together today. She also went to college, joined the military, and has had a successful career. 
While she may regret getting married so young, she is absolutely certain she made the right decision about her child. 
"I wouldn't trade her for the world. She's just been a blessing." 
Audrey has some advice for others who might find themselves in a similar situation.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And just because you end up pregnant at sixteen, your life is not over. It's what you make of it." 

If you have been affected by child marriage, you can email michelle.richards@wtmj.com.