Teen Pregnancy- A Big Accident Waiting To Happen

She really was in a fix.  She spoke only spanish.  She was a teenager alone in this country with only her father, and he was pretty mad right now.  She was having belly pain and didn’t understand why- until I broke it to them that she was pregnant.  She would come to the Emergency Department two more times that month with the same complaint- pain and nausea.  After making sure the pregnancy was okay, I would again explain that this is how pregnancy is.

Sigh.  If only more teenagers would know this before they got pregnant.  Most teenagers are told at least once about the chores of pregnancy- pain, nausea, weight gain, fatigue. And about that screaming, pooping baby after.  But alas, teenagers aren’t good listeners.  Like toddlers, they are better explorers, and have to try things out for themselves.  But unlike toddlers, they get to try driving fast, drinking alcohol, staying out late, and sex.

Some parents abet their teenagers’ exploration.  These parents explain this way- better that my kid tries these things at home where I can monitor their safety.  They let their teen and friends drink at home, stay up, and even have a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend.  They believe this makes a friendly relationship with their teen, and they can be there when the teenager fails.

Unfortunately, with sex, the failing is pretty hard.  When a teen drinks too much, they usually can sleep it off and weather the hang-over.  When my daughter missed a turn and skidded off the road into a ditch, she was unhurt and it was only a bumper repair.  But when a teenager gets pregnant, the aftermath isn’t so easy.  Pregnancy is a life-changing event that can’t be shaken off like a hang-over.  What about the birth control I got my daughter, or the condoms I bought my son?  Well, just like driving a car safely takes experience, taking birth control pills daily or using barrier methods properly in the heat of the moment requires care to get right.  And if they don’t get it right…

So you ask, what can we do?  Teenagers want to try stuff- driving fast, drinking, sex.  You tell us that teens are going to try these no matter what we say- they are better explorers than listeners, right?  And like our permissive parents above, letting the teen do these things at home where we can watch is a bad idea, because we still won’t be there at the crucial moment to prevent pregnancy.  So again, what to do?

The first thing is to explain the facts of life before your kids are teens, when they are still good listeners, before they become eye-rollers.  Elementary school age is best to discuss safe driving, drinking, and sex.  This is when you teach about the miseries of pregnancy, and how the fun-loving teen years are over when baby comes.  How tiring it is to feed baby and listen to all that crying .  Dirty, stinky diapers.  Spitting up.  And how if you have a baby with someone, that binds you as parents for the rest of your lives.  That guy may be cute now, but do you want to be raising a child with him, stuck together forever in a loveless pseudo-marriage of co-parenting?

Second, for those parents who are permissive so they can monitor their teens drinking and partying, stop!  Teens don’t need their parents to be friends; they have friends.  Teens actually want a parent who is an authority figure.  Teens know they may act out-of-control, and a parent who sets guidelines is a comfort.  My wife and I are pretty careful about where we let our youngest daughter go, and once when we okayed her to go to a party, she did a double-take: “Wait, you’re actually letting me go?  What if there’s drinking?”  She seemed a little disappointed that we didn’t say no.

Teen pregnancy and parenting is a chore, thousands of times worse than having to do the dishes or make the bed.  Warn your kids when they are young and instill those guidelines, so that they are well aware of the Big Accident waiting to happen, before it does.

No, Drinking Mt. Dew Will NOT Prevent Pregnancy!

This happens at least once per month, the last time just three weeks ago.  A teenager comes into the Emergency Department complaining of abdominal pain, vomiting in the morning for a week or two; and by the way, has not had a period for three months.  When her pregnancy test comes back positive, her denial is profound.  “No way, its impossible that I’m pregnant!” she cries.  In fact, sometimes the teenager seems so convinced that she can’t be pregnant that I begin to wonder if the test was wrong.

Then after further questioning, her denial begins to fall apart.  “I didn’t have sex” becomes “I didn’t have sex in the past four months.”  That is followed by “I didn’t have sex in the bad part of my cycle.”  Did you use birth control?  “Yes!”  How many times?  “Once.”  Aha.

Teenagers who get pregnant sometimes mean to get pregnant.  Many times though, they get pregnant because they had wrong ideas about pregnancy prevention.  Not only do teens have wrong beliefs about how pregnancy happens, they often have almost magical thinking about how they cannot get pregnant. 

Here are some of the wrong beliefs teens have about getting pregnant (remember, the following are ALL WRONG!): You can only get pregnant at certain times of the month.  You can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex.  Drinking Mt Dew, sipping a little clorox, or doing jumping jacks after sex can prevent pregnancy.

Furthermore, some teens get even more odd, almost magical, beliefs about their invulnerability to pregnancy.  For example, they come to believe that they or their partner are sterile.  How they get to this idea is strange, since sterility is a diagnosis that is pretty much made after seeing a fertility specialist and a battery of tests.  What teenage male of female has undergone that?  Or sometimes, a teenager just plain denies that she can get pregnant.  Oh no, not me.

However, the truth is this: if you have sex once, at any time, you can get pregnant.  Period.  End of Sentence.  No Buts.  Birth control or not.

If you don’t want your teen to get pregnant, and you want to get around the odd beliefs, start talking to her (and him!) before they are teens and are prone to magical thinking.  Talk to them when they are in elementary school and junior high.  Make sure they know that sex = risk of pregnancy, and only abstinence or birth control can prevent it.  And birth control is not perfect.  After all, birth control requires forethought and can be a little tricky to get right, like driving a car.  How good is your teen at driving a car?

Finally, I have one more thing to say.  Any time you have sex, you can get pregnant.  Got it?

Babies Having Babies

Take it from me, the father of three teenagers: teenagers are trouble.  They whine and grump when asked to do the dishes, fold clothes, or clean up.  They beg for fast food day and night.  The good manners they practiced just a few years ago are forgotten.  Now, I say all this in fun, because my teens are essentially good kids, as are most teens.  But if you want a truly difficult and unhappy teen, with a truly miserable life, have a pregnant one.

First, there are the usual problems with pregnancy.  There is often pain, as baby grows inside, and the pain of delivery.  There is morning sickness and abnormal bleeding.  There are worries about infections and miscarriages.  Now, give all these problems to a teenager- guess how well they will handle them?  Added to that, teen pregnancies tend to be more complicated, with things like  high blood pressure and premature birth. 

Secondly, there are the emotional problems of teen pregnancy.  How will I raise baby- change diapers, feed baby, get baby to sleep (you think chores are hard now!)?  Will the father be involved?  If so, can I stand to be associated with him for the rest of my child’s life?  What will my parents think, and do?  Teens, not surprisingly, have much worse problems with depression after delivery than adult moms.

Finally, after baby is born, the life of a teen mother with baby is very hard.  Being a teen mom is a sure way to poverty- raising babies is hard enough without having to finish school or hold down a job, and babies are very expensive to clothe, feed, and entertain.   Babies of teens are more often premature, and thus sicker, and need to be brought to the doctor or the Emergency Department much more.  A depressed teen mom makes for a depressed and fussy baby.  Many teens have babies so that they will have a baby to love them, and are often disappointed that babies at first give so little love for all the hardship. 

So what is the best way to avoid the living hell of teen pregnancy?  For parents, showing your teen this blog will probably not work.  Scare tactics seldom have an effect on teens.  They are not rational decision makers, much like toddlers.  You need to talk to your child before they are in high school, or even junior high.  The age you can teach your kid about not getting pregnant is when they are in grade school.

Parents, get to work!  Have that uncomfortable conversation (it actually is pretty easy with grade-schoolers) now, so your babies don’t have babies before their time is right.