Thursday, December 20, 2007

Teen Pregnancy, In General

Excellent holiday topic, RIGHT??

Honestly I have no interest in the Spears family specifically, I just think this is an excellent example of a double standard we have in our society. We would prefer that teenagers, but more specifically GIRLS, do not have sex before they are married or at least legally an adult. But we know it will happen anyway, there is little parents can do to prevent it and in a lot of ways sex between teenagers has become socially acceptable. They don't even bother hiding it anymore (when I was a teenager, you HID the fact that you were having sex. Which I was. You didn't talk to everyone about it, dammit. And you didn't let your ass hang out of your jeans! Or your THONG! And we had to walk ten miles in the snow to get to school! Ok, not really. But you get the point.).

So we know this is happening. So some of them are going to get pregnant. Either they don't take proper precautions or they can't figure out how to put the condom on correctly, I DON'T KNOW (hello? Do schools no longer use the bannana method?). But if unplanned pregnancies can happen to adults, then you KNOW it's going to happen to crazed horny teenagers who are way too hormone addled to think straight.

When my mother was young, these girls would be sent away to "stay with a relative" or - if the family had money - "travel abroad" while they had their babies and were then forced to give them up. OR, if they lived in fear of angry parents, they would try to obtain an illegal abortion and possibly die in the process. I'm glad that we don't have that system of shame and danger any longer. The world is a better place for it. I just don't know how you get teenagers to take pregnancy seriously without it. They are old enough to only be scared by real and horrific consequences, they are also at an age when practical consequences like raising a child are less frightening than more abstract consequences like massive public humiliation. But I think the Fire and Brimstone, hide-the-girl-once-she-starts-"showing" approach is wrong. I just don't know what the alternative is.

There is still a lot of shame associated with abortion. I get that and don't really think that's wholly a bad thing (while maybe a sense of gravity might be more appropriate than actual shame). It's a horrific, ugly thing to have to do. I just personally acknowledge that for some people it is the right choice and I prefer to live in a country where it is legal and therefore REGULATED. But I don't think teenage girls should feel like that is what they have to do. I personally know women who had abortions as teenagers that their parents pushed them into. While that may have been better and easier for their parents, it was not necessarily better for them. One woman in particular is still upset over her loss, and it was 20 years ago. Clearly it was not the right choice for her and she should have had options.

But the other option is to have a child when you are yourself a child. That's a difficult road. Some of these girls choose adoption, which I think can be an excellent way to go, but some of them cannot bear to give up their child. That makes sense to me. Were I in those shoes, I don't know if I could do that. How difficult to let go of your child, even if you know it may be best for them. How can you ask that of anyone? It has to be a personal choice.

I know women who look particularly young for their age who find they are given unpleasant looks by strangers when in public with their young children. Because that is the double standard we live with. People look down on the teenage mother who chooses the most difficult road - to keep and raise the child herself. You don't have to BE young to feel that, you just have to LOOK young to know firsthand how poorly people react to it.

We try to teach our children to learn to take responsibility and accept the consequences of their actions.

Then, as a society, we teach teenagers that sex is fun and sells cars and Trojan condoms (or whatever brand has a slick ad right now) are cool and everyone's doing it.

But don't get pregnant.

If you do get pregnant, don't let anyone know.

Hide it, get rid of it, WHATEVER. We, as a society DO NOT want to talk about it. We don't want to know.

If you get rid of it, we REALLY don't want to know about that. If you let it slip that you did THAT, we will hate you for it. For doing what we secretly prefer but forcing us to be AWARE of it.

If you don't hide it or get rid of it, we will treat you differently. We will act like you are beneath us, for the same thing which we would celebrate if you were five years older.... and preferrably married.

We will not acknowledge that you chose to take responsibility and accept the consequences of your actions - like your parents tried to teach you when you were little. Partially because this doesn't fit in with our idea of how the world should be, partially because we're afraid you are contagious and other teenagers wil catch the baby bug and think it is ok.

We will crucify you in order to preserve the sanctity of the teenagers who are not yet pregnant.

We will not acknowledge that this could have happened to any of us when we were 16 or 17 because we were probably having sex at that age, too (we just didn't talk about it so much which, frankly, pisses us off about your generation).

It's a big hypocrisy. It's no win. Once the baby is on the way you have to step back and realize that this girl needs support and the whole world is going to be against her and each and every one of us who smiles reassuringly instead of looking down in judgement is making the world a slightly nicer place (every time you are pleasant to a teenager who is preggers or has babies a fluffy angel kitten gets it's wings, ok?)

Pregnancy is just as hot button an issue as abortion itself, it's just people are more ashamed to admit all the massive issues we have with it. How confused we are about it. Women who want to get pregnant often cannot. Women who don't want to get pregnant often do. You're bad if you get pregnant when you're young or if you're not married, but you're a saint and everyone flutters around you in joyful anticipation if it happens to you when you are older and married. If you do it when you are too old people think you are a freak. If you are too old without ever having done it, people act like something is wrong with you.

Everyone wants to talk about sex and no one wants to talk about unplanned pregnancy. These two topics have more than a little to do with each other so we should probably all start talking about one subject with a little less abandon and the other subject with a little more understanding.

That's all I'm saying.

(Ok. It's out of my system now, I SWEAR.)


  1. I'm twenty-three and I STILL hide the fact that I have sex.

  2. That's SUCH a confusing issue to me. I guess I think of it as being discreet. By the time I was old enough to be sexually active we were being taught not to be ashamed of our bodies or sex and to ask questions so that we were informed... but most of us also understood (did someone teach us this? Where did this come from?) that sexual activity was something about which one was discreet and a serious topic instead of just a punchline...

    Or maybe I was living in a bubble. I have no idea.

  3. I dunno, Marisa. I'm childless -- and not by choice. It is the biggest heartache of my entire life. So for me, I look at this situation and wonder why no one (in the media coverage I've heard) is talking about adoption. I actually think it's the most courageous and compassionate choice a young girl in that position could make. The most selfless choice. The most difficult one. It has to take a kind of courage I cannot even fathom for someone to make that choice. And I think it takes compassion -- compassion for your child -- to realize that you may not be mature enough or wise enough to raise him. There are SO many couples out there waiting for a child. I wish there could be someone laying out that option to her.

    Admittedly, I come to this with a HUGE bias here. But I honestly believe that someone like me, a fully grown-up woman in a stable marriage, is better equipped to raise a baby than a 16-year-old girl, you know?

    It's sad to me all the way around. She's just a kid. The baby is innocent. Her family seems like whack jobs. ACK! Okay. Here's the solution: Just give ME the baby.

    See? I solved it! YAY for me!

  4. Tracey, while you may have some personal bias, I think you are also RIGHT and I should have addressed that option at greater length. I think that in many cases the best option is adoption. Particularly - I think it's called "open adoption"? Young mothers can meet and approve of the couple who will be adopting the baby, therefore reassuring them that they are making the right choice by actually seeing that the child is going to people who are better equipped to provide a good and stable home.

    I'm sorry I did not address that more fully. You are so right - adoption should be a big part of any discussion of teen pregnancy.