Campaigning against teen pregnancy on the TODAY show Wednesday, Bristol Palin, 18-year-old daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, told Matt Lauer that a baby “is not just an accessory on your hip. This is hard work.” But she called her 4-month-old son Tripp “not a mistake at all. He’s a blessing.”
Bristol, her baby, and her father, Todd Palin, were visiting the TODAY show to promote the Eighth Annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The event is sponsored by the Candie’s Foundation, for which Bristol has signed on as a national spokeswoman in the battle to fight teen pregnancy in the United States.
Near the end of the interview, Lauer asked Todd Palin whether his daughter is sending a mixed message by talking about the joys of being a mother while telling other teens not to do it.
“It’s kind of a fine line that we’re walking on,” Alaska’s “First Dude” said. He described her job with the foundation as “sharing Bristol’s experience with other teenagers — sharing the mistake she made a year ago,” and helping other girls to learn from it.
The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the industrialized world. Each year, some 750,000 American teens get pregnant, according to the Candie’s Foundation. Half of them never consider how pregnancy will affect their lives, and eight out of 10 do not marry the father of their child.
The 18-year-old Bristol is the second-born of five Palin children. Her youngest brother is just a few months older than Tripp, who slept soundly in his mom’s lap while she talked with Lauer.
Being a mom hasn’t been easy, she said, and her life is nothing like it was when she was a carefree teen cavorting with her pals and her hunky hockey-player boyfriend, Levi Johnston.
“It’s completely changed,” Bristol told Lauer. “I’m up all night with [Tripp]. I’m constantly changing diapers and making bottles. Your priorities change 100 percent.”
Todd Palin repeated what his wife has said about their daughter. “We’re very proud of Bristol,” he said. “She’s tough. She’s a great mom. We’re proud of her for taking on this national responsibility.”
He acknowledged that teens don’t consider the consequences of pregnancy. “I think that they should,” he said. “This is a huge responsibility, and you don’t have time for friends.”
Bristol Palin’s pregnancy became public news shortly before her mother accepted the vice presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention last year. At the time, the family said that she and Johnston intended to get married, and Tripp’s father accompanied the family to the convention and to many stops during the campaign.
But after Sarah Palin lost the election and Tripp was born on Dec. 27, the couple broke up. Johnston earned the enmity of the Palins by going on several national television shows, including Tyra Banks’ and Larry King’s talk shows, to say that he had lived with the Palins and that Sarah Palin had to know he and Bristol were having sex. He acknowledged to King that the two practiced safe sex “most of the time,” but not always.
Lauer twice attempted to ask about the relationship between Bristol and Johnston. She said only that Johnston is active in helping to raise Tripp, but would not talk about what they did in the Palin home or address any of the controversies he has raised.
“I’m not here to talk about my personal life,” she said.
After Tripp’s birth, Bristol initially said she would advocate safe sex. Now, she’s advocating abstinence as the only 100 percent certain way to avoid teen pregnancy.
Lauer said that may be unrealistic. “Is there room for safe sex?” he asked Bristol.“If you’re going to have sex, I think you should have safe sex,” she said before going back to her message that only abstinence works.
Bristol dropped out of high school to give birth to Tripp, but continued to take classes online. She will graduate with her high school class later this month, and told Lauer she wants to begin taking college classes soon and complete her education.
As for her dreams for Tripp, she said simply, “I want him to be healthy and happy.”