It started when she noticed that she was a few days late. Her period was supposed to start Tuesday, and now it?s the following Sunday. Her breasts feel achy the way they do when she?s about to start her period, only she hasn?t started her period. Well, maybe she got the dates wrong. Maybe she was supposed to start the next Tuesday, rather than this past Tuesday. It?s pushed to the back of her mind and she goes on with her day. Another week goes by and still nothing. No bleeding, no spotting. She wakes up in the morning, her stomach queasy. It can?t be morning sickness, because she?s on the pill, so she can?t be pregnant. Another week, and her stomach is getting worse. She can?t stand the smell of bacon nor the burgers her father?s grilling for dinner.
She finally swallows her pride and buys an at-home pregnancy test. Two lines appear. She?s pregnant.
And the reality is that this is quite common. Walk into any public high school and you?ll count five women who are very much pregnant and expecting to give birth soon. And how many more among them are pregnant but early enough so that they don?t show? How many have been pregnant but opted to not go through labor? According to Bruggink (2007), the United States? teen birth rate, teen pregnancy rate, and teen abortion rate all remain the highest in the world.
Kicking off with numbers, Lindsay (1989) states that more than a million adolescents (ages 19 and under) become pregnant each year, and nearly 500,000 of those teens deliver babies. Why are the numbers so high, and why do teens so frequently have sex? Why teenagers have sex, as stated by Smith (2006), can be explained by numerous variables. For one, she says, adolescents become sexually mature approximately four to five years before they reach the level of emotional maturity required for them to choose the right partners and responsibly protect themselves from these ?accidents.? Henslin, author of ?Essentials of Sociology,? may relate it to the way teens are socialized. In chapter three of his book, he states that a person?s values, beliefs, and behaviors are influenced by outside sources, such as family, friends, media, and schooling. Looking at his claim that ?in the industrialized world, adolescence must ?find? themselves,? it can be assumed that teen sex is influenced by today?s pop culture; a culture in which friends, TV and movies, music, and magazines send obvious messages that premarital, sexual relationships (especially in teens) are common and accepted, and sometimes even expected.
Now, surprisingly, teenage sex has actually declined since reaching a major high in 1990, and it can be presumed that it is due to an increase use in condoms (Smith, 2006). Research also shows that the birth rate among girls ages 10-14 has reached the lowest level in almost 50 years. Not what I?d expect when looking at the families of my ?Brady Bunch? parents.
So she finds out she?s pregnant. Now she?s at the beginning of a long, tough road and has three options ahead of her. Luckily for her, she doesn?t have to make the decision on her own. All over the country, pregnancy counseling services are available to many young women; whether by phone service, counseling center, or Internet services (Lindsay, 1989). With their help and the support and aid of friends, family, and the baby?s father, she will have to decide between abortion, adoption, or keeping and caring for her child.
The first option I will talk about is abortion. In his latest edition of his book, Henslin makes the well known fact clear: no other issue can divide Americans as abortion. Politics and social movements have restricted abortions as well as made it illegal for states to prohibit abortion, and prolife groups repeatedly challenged the ethics and morals of abortion. Research by Burke and Reardon (2002) have shown that for over 30 years, the people of the United States has argued repeatedly over abortion, while at the same time, over 30 million women have had at least one abortion. They also point out that, and I sadly agree, while this political (and very much ethical) battle ensues, very little has been done about the emotional needs of those who struggle through the grief, shame, guilt, feelings of judgement by others, and much more. But because of the sensitive issue, such discussion of abortion-related feelings has been shushed to nothingness. Yet that is the harsh reality of abortion. It?s not an easy road to follow. According to Simpson (1996), despite abortion being the ?right choice,? guilt can still hang over you, even for the next few years to come. After abortion, many women will face a daily internal battle between condemning themselves for what they?d done and defending the choice that they felt was the only option fair to themselves and their child. All teens must be willing to fight through this guilt, and be prepared to struggle through thoughts of what if, feelings of guilt and abandonment and loneliness, and possibly ruined relationships.
Teenagers taking this path should also be prepared for the expenses and lengthy process of getting an abortion. During the past few years, says Simpson (1996), courts have attempted to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion (a.k.a. ?Roe v. Wade?). And though it is still legal, they have certainly restricted it and made it more difficult to obtain. For example, some states, if not all, have restrictions on health insurance, so while some may be used to paying only $20 for an appointment, the average abortion costs approximately $400. And, due to the lack of qualified physicians and clinics, multiple appointments may come with the abortion process, and in case of complications outside the clinics, it may be hard to obtain the medical attention required as many ER doctors are not trained for procedures like abortion.
Despite the emotional turmoil of abortion, there are in fact a good number of advantages. For one, abortion is a safe and still legal process, and is in fact quite common and routine for many practitioners. And despite the statements of pro-life activists, many abortions occur when the fetus is about the size of a lima bean or a walnut (Simpson, 1996). Majority of clinics also allow patients to bring a friend or family member for support, and according to Simpson (1996), the child?s father many times wants to be supportive of their girlfriend and will go with her to the clinic when she has the abortion (though out of care or need for resolution is for the girlfriend to determine).
The second and most uncommon option is adoption. I only say uncommon because, according to research by Lindsay (1989), fewer than 5% of pregnant teenagers actually release their babies to go to the care of someone else. Simpson (1996) also adds:?It takes a truly magnanimous person to give up her child because she is concerned for its well-being. When the woman knows she cannot provide for the child and, wanting it to have a good chance in life, gives him up for adoption, she ought to have peace of mind. Often, though she may be relieved, there is the ever-present sense of loss.?
Further research into the topic of adoption shows that she?s right. After the adoption takes place, grieving may be intense for the birthparents, and it may continue for months, sometimes even years. In most cases, the woman feels cheated, because she participated in the miraculous process of conception, pregnancy, and birth, and then ended up with nothing in the end. Many women sometimes even feel rage at the child?s birthfather after giving her child away, because he didn?t have to feel the child move and had a much easier time signing his own child away to another family than the woman who stayed up all night while a baby kicked her ribcage. In the words of Lindsay (1989), birthparents tend to ?expect to go on as if the pregnancy never happened.? Unfortunately, her studies show that this isn?t the way it works out for most birthfamilies. And as if leaving your own child in the care of someone else wasn?t enough, Simpson (1996) has seen cases in which a woman changes her mind the day of delivery and keeps the baby, only to discover later that she cannot care for him after all, and by then it is much more painful to hand the child away.
There are many forms of adoption. Lindsay (1989) brings to our attention the two main forms of adoption. There?s the traditional closed adoption, an occurrence in which the young mother was told to forget her baby and go home as though nothing had happened (a feat much easier said than done). Another form is that of open adoption, in which birthparents and the adoptive parents prefer to remain in touch even after the adoption is finalized. A third option, according to Simpson (1996), is temporary foster care; when the parents temporarily give up their baby to another?s care. When they are in a better position to care for the child themselves, they can regain custody. This way, they haven?t totally lost parental rights as in total adoption. One thing must always be remembered, however. The baby?s father must sign the adoption papers, too, waiving his parental rights just like the mother had done. Simpson (1996), knows of many cases in which a few guys (more more guys? mothers) were willing to take the baby from the mother to raise on their own.
Despite the small amount of teens willing to give their child up for adoption, testimonies can be found in books and online in which many women say that they still stand by their decision to give their child up to another family, although some say they still wonder about how the child grew up, while others become ?inexplicably? depressed the birthday of their child.
The third and final option available to pregnant adolescents is to keep the child, with or without their partner.
First, I will touch on facts on single teenage mothers, beginning with the numerical, statistical facts. According to ?Daycare and diplomas? (2001), 80% of mothers drop out of school (college or high- or junior- schools), while 50% of mothers under the age of 18 actually graduate from high school. Many pregnant students who leave school actually do often intend to return after the baby is born. But challenges arising from birth make this difficult, if not impossible. Many businesses even avoid hiring teen parents because they?re unwilling to face the complexities involved. And, according to the National Education Association, educators, too, tend to ignore teenage pregnancy, assuming that the student will drop out of school when the stress becomes too much. Other educators (particularly those of private, Catholic high schools) will even pressure their students to leave.
According to Simpson (1996), despite the challenges of single teenage parenting, it is not at all uncommon for an adolescent female to raise the child by herself. Even Henslin agrees in his chapter on ?Marriage and Family? that the number of single mothers in America has increased from 10% to 34% since 1970. And, Simpson says, like all other pregnant women, while some expecting teens can feel happy, others feel depressed, and (perhaps as a side effect for still trying to fit in with peers) even embarrassed during their pregnancy. However, all single teenage mothers may have to realize that not only is their pressure on familial ties at home, even their friendships are at risk. Some friends may feel as though they?ve been abandoned, some mothers resent their friends? freedom, and sometimes mothers break friendships because their friends (and their own old lifestyle) choices aren?t healthy for a baby to know.
Despite the lack of emotional support the father may provide once the child is born, he is still a father. In fact, for the next 18 years, he?s still responsible. If the child?s mother decides to apply for government assistance, for example, she may not get it unless she names the baby?s father. Then the government is entitled to take part of the man?s wages for child support. So while he may be relieved to not have to raise a child day-to-day, he is still supporting him or her through financial means (Simpson, 1996).
Other times, Simpson (1996) says, some young women and men will rush to do what they feel is the right thing. They will marry, which many times causes numerous problems in their relationship in years to come. Though it may seem the noble thing to do, they should only marry for the right reasons. One, they should be old enough. Older teens who have more experience and schooling behind them are in better positions to marry. Henslin shows by use of chart in his ?Marriage and Family? chapter that experience and background can determine the likelihood of divorce. Some college education as opposed to a high school dropout decreases the risk of divorce to 13 percent. Simpson (1996), also states that similar interests and backgrounds are very important in determining the probability of the couple staying together, as, while opposites attract, without similar values, interests, and experiences, there is very little to sustain a relationship. A stable relationship is also important; meaning not the years of being together, but the level of commitment. And finally, a certain level of maturity and sufficient income is important for a married teen couple to raise a child in a healthy environment.
Now that we?ve gone over a teen?s options, I?m going to bring up the most important part of teenage pregnancy in today?s society: how to avoid getting in the situation.
The first and foremost way of avoiding an unplanned pregnancy at such a young age is education. I remember from my own experience as a freshman in high school what sex education was like. We learned about STDs, how babies were made, and we learned of various forms of contraception from guest speakers from the Planned Parenthood organization. But, research recently done by Bruggink (2007), shows that a new method had been introduced by President Bush. This new abstinence-only teaching method, in which Bush has vowed to ?elevate abstinence education from an afterthought to an urgent goal? (Stover, 2007), has reflected in the $241 million in federal funding on this new policy 27 states have adopted for their sex education courses, mandating that abstinence must be taught. The Bush administration will only provide this funding to schools that are willing to throw out current comprehensive sex-ed curriculum, and instead teach a program in which abstinence is stressed, fear of STDs is thrown at students, and only the failures and disadvantages of contraceptives is taught, if contraceptives are brought up at all. Success is unlikely, as a study released in 2004 by Representative Henry Waxman found that over 80$ of this curriculum contains false, misleading, or distorted information about abortion, contraception, and gender roles, and continuously presented religious beliefs as solid, scientific fact (Bruggink, 2007).
Bruggink also explores Why kNOw? (an abstinence-only program) and reveals that it teaches yourth that condoms are useless, apparently believing that this will discourage them from sex. And predictably, as research shows, young people who don?t believe condoms don?t work will only use protection less often, and the sexual activity in youth does not happen at a lower rate. Challengers of these programs claim that they are guilty of ?providing inaccurate public health information to children.? Nearly half of students engage in sexual activity before the age of 19, and they argue that schools are now being asked to leave students unprepared to protect themselves when they do become sexually active (Stover, 2007).
With the apparent failure of sex education, it seems that the responsibility of teaching about safe sex to adolescents has now fallen back onto the parents themselves, a task that many parents seem to leave into the hands of teachers and administrators they neither know nor trust (Bruggink, 2007).
Luckily, despite the failing sex education methods in schools and the awkward parents not wanting to discuss the sensitive subject with their teens, some adolescents do get a hold of information about contraceptives and safe sex, whether through Internet, friends, or teachers who refuse to drop that ?forbidden? material from their curriculum.
Once again, nothing will stress the truth like statistics. According to a study by Planned Parenthood (2007), 85 percent of women each year aged 15-44 who don?t use birth control during sexual intercourse will become pregnant. Yet at the same time, statistics obtained from Colino (200) also show that of the 3 million accidental pregnancies in 1994, over 50% occurred among women who were using contraceptives. In fact, if women rely on nonsurgical contraceptives throughout all her reproductive years, she?s likely to become unintentionally pregnant 1.8 times, according to studies sponsored by Alan Guttmacher institute (a researcher on sex, contraception, and childbirth issues).
Before discussing the methods, I?d like to go over some minor history of birth control, as I feel that history is important in cases such as these. According to Baird (2007), a reproductive rights pioneer Bill Baird advocated for the right for unmarried people to purchase contraceptives. The ruling (Baird v. Eisenstadt) ended victoriously on March 22, 1972. Baird reports that Associate Justice William Brennan wrote:
?If the right of privacy means anything it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision to bear or beget a child.?
Planned Parenthood (2007) also adds that since all Americans gained the right to use birth control, the maternal death rate has fallen more than 60 percent, and the infant death rate has declined by more than 70 percent.
Before deciding upon methods of birth control, teens must answer certain questions. Planned Parenthood (2007) encourages teens to think about how well certain contraceptives will fit into their lifestyle, how convenient, effective, and safe will it be, affordability, and protection from STDs. There are numerous methods that involve surgery and sometimes long term protection from pregnancy, but very few are affordable or recommended for sexually active youth. A most common method (and free method) is early withdrawal. Planned Parenthood (2007) slightly discourages using this method alone, as out of every 100 women whose partners use the early withdrawal method, 27 will become pregnant during the first year of imperfect use (and perfect use for most birth control methods is nearly impossible to do). The upside of this method is that it can be used when no other method is available, there?s no prescription necessary, and there are no medical or hormonal side effects. The downside is that it takes a lot of self-control, and sexually inexperienced and younger men are many times inconsistent with this method.
In addition, there are various over-the-counter methods. Planned Parenthood (2007) recommends for teens the condom (male or female), the sponge, and spermicide. And there are other prescription forms available, such as the pill (which is 95% accurate with typical use, according to Colino ), the patch, and the ring (for example: NuvaRing).
As I have already stated, teenage pregnancy is sadly a fairly common and unnecessary issue in today?s world. Abstinence-only programs have proven that teenagers? sexual activity will hardly decrease anytime soon, but proper education can and should be taught to adolescents. It will not encourage them to have sex any more than they would without the education, but proper knowledge and classes that aren?t fear-inducing will open students up to the idea of practicing safer sex. And as for the teens who are already pregnant, whether while practicing safe-sex or sleeping with other people carefully, proper support groups need to be more available, as they can greatly reduce the darkness and anxiety of the painful roads ahead of them.
Baird, J. (2007, March) Birth control turns thirty-five. The Humanist, 67(2), 8-9.
Bruggink, H. (2007, January) Miseducation: The lowdown on abstinence-only sex-ed programs. The Humanist, 67(1), 4-6.
Colino, S. (2000, May) Oops! A baby! Glamour, 98(5), 302-305.
Daycare and diplomas: Teen mothers who stayed in school. (2001). Minneapolis: Fairview Press.
Henslin, J. M. Essentials of sociology: A down-to-earth approach (7th ed.).
Lindsay, J.W. (1989). Parents, pregnant teens and the adoption option: Help for families. Buena Park: Morning Glory Press, Inc.
Planned Parenthood. 2007. Planned Parenthood. 8 Oct. 2007 <http://www.plannedparenthood.org>.
Simpson, C. (1996). Coping with an unplanned pregnancy. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
Smith, M. (2006). Adolescent pregnancy. Healthline. Retrieved October 8, 2007, from http://www.healthline.com/adamcontent/adolescent-pregnancy
Stover, D. (2007, January) Should we be teaching sex education or sexual abstinence? The Education Digest, 72(5), 41-48.