If a young girl finds herself pregnant, the hardest thing to know is where to find support or help. Amy was 16 when she found out she was pregnant, and it was a total shock. ‘I was terrified about telling my Dad. He was very upset and said, “The smartest girl in the school is also the dumbest” and was of the frame of mind that now I couldn't achieve anything.’
Often teenage mums don’t end up finishing their education. This threatens young families with financial insecurity and poor health conditions. Without a Year 12 Leaving or School Certificate, young mums and dads often end up unemployed or in jobs which pay poorly. Some become totally dependent on welfare. Without money to secure a safe home environment, proper health care and expenses to cover necessities, young mothers are under increasing pressure and as a result their mental health is compromised.
An educated mum means a healthier, happier baby
Amy’s school supported her, and developed a plan so that she would be able to cope with the pressure of trials and her HSC (NSW Year 12 exams). ‘I told my year advisor first one day at lunch [about the pregnancy] and questioned whether I could remain at school. After getting over the initial shock, my advisor just got straight to work. The HSC was fine but only because I had the support of my partner and our families. My partner and I took it night by night so the night before an exam I was able to get a good night’s sleep. My partner’s mum also helped us out a lot in those first few weeks.’
There are other schools which offer custom plans for young mums. One example is Plumpton High, in Mount Druitt. It looks like your average high school, but there’s a twist. Accompanying some of the year ten and eleven girls are their babies. Plumpton High offers young mums, and mums to be, a program to encourage them to continue with their education. In most cases young girls have been refused an education by other schools. But in 1995, then principle Glen Sargeant created a program to encourage teen mums to stay in school. The goal of the program is for young mothers to achieve their HSC, but it also acts as a much needed support system for young mums. The program provides cheap child care and arranges housing if necessary. The project coordinators act as more than teachers—as friends, sisters, counsellors and taxi drivers too.
A supported mum is a happy mum
The most important thing for a parent to do is to offer love and support, no matter what their personal views on the decision making process might be. Ultimately the choice to abort, adopt out, or raise the baby is up to the parents- to- be, and is never an easy decision.
‘It is very important to have a support system around you at any age for any new mother’, says Amy, ‘I think this is more crucial in young mothers as they will often have no friends experiencing a similar situation, with who they can share their difficulties and experiences at being a young mother. Babies and children are very demanding and without the opportunity to take a break or have some time to yourself, it definitely puts a huge strain on you emotionally and mentally.’
A lack of support can affect every aspect of a young mother’s life before and after the birth of their child. It can impact the health of their unborn child and their emotional state after birth. Sometimes a lack of emotional support overrides a young person’s motivation to carry on with achieving a goal, although this can apply to just about anyone, not just teenage mums.
Unsupported pregnant teenagers are more likely to have health complications such as low birth weight and prematurity. Without access or the knowledge to access support, pregnant teenagers are more likely to take drugs and experience domestic violence.
Carrying on with school and going to uni were important goals for Amy, especially now that she has a young family to consider, ‘I think it [HSC and uni] gives me the best opportunity to provide for my family in the long term. Plus it was my dream and I didn't want having a baby to get in the way. Of course it has made the journey more difficult and different from if I had not had her but I wouldn't change it for the world.’
Completing their school education not only opens up opportunities for young mums to receive better jobs and higher pay, but is also important for the mothers’ emotional state. Going to school, socialising with peers and participating in school activities is essential, so that they do not experience alienation. Without connection to their community, peers and families, teenage mothers become vulnerable to unhealthy relationships.
At nineteen she had her second baby, who was planned, and lives with her partner and their two daughters in Coffs Harbour. And for young mums who might be reconsidering staying in school, Amy believes ‘a strong education will set you up for life. It can be difficult but if will make life easier because you [won’t] be struggling to put food on the table.’ Amy also adds, ‘Think about why you are doing this for your future, imagine how it will improve your future and how you will feel the day you graduate and prove everyone wrong.’
How do I know this?
Women’s Health, ‘Teenage Pregnancy’,
http://www.womhealth.org.au/studentfactsheets/teenagepregnancy.htm, 23 April 2009
Klein, J.D. “Adolescent pregnancy: Current trends and issues” (2005). Pediatrics, 116(1), 281 – 286.
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/116/1/281 , 28th April 2009
Aviva Ziegler, Plumpton High Babies VHS (2000)
Parliamentary Group on Population and Development Australia, “Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals in the Australian Aid Program- the Way Forward.” http://www.arha.org.au/Publications/PGPD07RoundtableReport.pdf, 28th April 2009.
Raising Children Network. “Parenting as Teenager.”
http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/parenting_as_a_teenager.html#teenchallenges, 21 April 2009
Marie Stopes. Sexplanations, http://www.mariestopes.com.au/contents/Sexplanations_teenage.pdf, 28th April 2009
Children by Choice. “Unplanned Pregnancy”.
http://www.childrenbychoice.org.au/nwww/unplanpregfactsheet.htm, 28th April 2008
The Medical Journal of Australia. MJA 2003; 179 (3): 158-161 “Current priorities for adolescent sexual and reproductive health in Australia.”
http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/179_03_040803/ski10035_fm.html, . viewed: 30th April 2009
Some useful links:
Sometimes it helps to talk about experiences with other young Mums and Dads who might be able to offer some advice or just share a similar story with:
Young Parents Blog www.proud2byoungparents.blogspot.com
Support offers relief in many ways; here are some links for programs to arm young parents with information:
NAPS Connect (Net Adolescent Pregnancy Services Connect)
Children By Choice
Children by Choice is dedicated to providing unbiased information and counseling to women experiencing unplanned pregnancy. They provide confidential decision making counseling and referral on all pregnancy options - abortion, parenting and adoption. They also provide support and counseling after an abortion.
Phone (07) 3357 5377
Freecall 1800 177 725