This week’s video is for families who may be dealing with an unintended teen pregnancy. You can watch it below, or, if reading’s more your jam, keep scrolling to enjoy the blog version! One of the big reasons we as adults worry about teens having sex is the possibility that they’ll either wind up pregnant or get someone else pregnant. It may bring you some comfort to learn that in North America, teen pregnancy rates have been dropping steadily for several years. The birth rate for youth between ages 15-19 in 23.2 live births per 1000 people. In Canada, it’s 13.5 live births per 1000 people.
Nonetheless, if teens are having the type of sex where a penis and vagina get together, there is always some possibility that someone’s going to get pregnant. Judgements, Assumptions and Stigma Sometimes we have such anxiety about teen pregnancy that we wind up unfairly stigmatizing youth. Stigma is a way of mentally separating ourselves from others, by labelling them as "bad", and ourselves as "good" and therefore safe from the same fate.
Our culture can be pretty judgemental about pregnant youth. We might find ourselves making unfair assumptions about how irresponsible, impulsive or unintelligent these kids are. We might think a pregnant teen didn't use contraception, or has indiscriminate sex, especially if they’re Black, Brown and/or poor. We may even blame their family for failing to raise their kid "properly"
The truth is we can’t look at a pregnant teen and presume to know anything about their character, their values, their intelligence or their circumstances. We can't know how diligent they were about using birth control, how many partners they had, how smart they are, how much money they have, if the sex was consensual, or what type of family they have. All we really know is that they had sex.
It isn’t wrong to hope that our teens don’t get pregnant. It isn’t wrong to worry about what would happen if they did, to talk to them about the benefits of delaying partnered sex until they're ready, and to encourage the use of contraception/safer sex practices once they start having sex.
But there’s no evidence that shows stigmatizing or negatively judging teen pregnancy will is an effective way to stop your teen from having sex. What it can do, is making them reluctant to talk about it with you, which may mean missing out opportunities to talk to them about reducing their risk of unintended pregnancy.
Okay, but what if MY teen is pregnant? Hearing your teen say “I’m pregnant” or “my partner’s pregnant”, can feel like a bomb going off in your brain. You may be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of emotions. Or you might feel frozen and numb. As I said, teen pregnancy affects you too and we’ll explore your feelings more in the next section. But for now, let’s focus on how you can help your child. An unintended pregnancy doesn’t change the fact that your kid is your kid. They aren't a bad person. They're just human. Most humans have sex. Sometimes sex leads to pregnancy. Which isn’t to say that pregnancy isn’t a big deal - it is! But at the end of the day, this is still the child that you've loved and raised.
Speaking of love, I think that’s always an appropriate place to start. If you’ve just found out your teen is dealing with a pregnancy, you might not know what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week or next month. But if you can manage to say something reassuring like, “I love you and no matter what happens next, I’m here for you,” that’s huge.
Unintended pregnancy can be really scary for youth. More than anything they need to know that they’re safe and loved. So start there.
Help Them Take Care Of Their Health If your teen is pregnant, their body is doing intense work and going through major change. Youth who get care from a doctor or healthcare professional early tend to have healthier pregnancies and, if they choose to give birth, are more likely to deliver healthy babies.
The sooner youth see a doctor, the sooner they can find out how far along they are in their pregnancy, how their body is responding and what they need to do to stay as healthy as possible.
Some folks may have difficulty accessing a doctor because of where they live, lack of health insurance, mobility issues or other reasons. Here are links to information and services that might be helpful if seeing a health professional isn’t possible right now:
Taking Care Of Yourself As I mentioned, if you’re the grown-up supporting your kid through an unintended pregnancy, you may have a lot of feelings as well. Fear, guilt, anger, disappointment, anxiety, depression, grief...even excitement or joy. Whatever your emotions, they're all a valid. Learning your child is pregnant is intense news under any circumstances, but it can hit you especially hard if you weren't expecting it. If it takes awhile for you to fully process the news that's totally understandable.
Some families blame themselves for their teen's pregnancy. They might wonder, "what did I do wrong?" But having a pregnant teenager doesn’t mean that you haven't been doing a great job raising them.
We may look at other families and think they’re perfect, or nearly perfect. Everyone seems to gets along, the kids are doing well and whatever struggles they face are relatively low-key. There are families like that...and those people are very, very lucky.
The truth is that a lot of us aren't that lucky. We have to face major family challenges. Not because we aren’t great people but because life likes to kick us in the ass from time to time. If your family is coping with a teen pregnancy and you manage love, support and be there for each other through it - even if it gets messy sometimes - I think that makes you a pretty amazing grown-up and I think your kid is really lucky to have you. If you do find yourself struggling and have the resources and access, you might want to talk a therapist, counsellor or family coach. Again I know that isn’t something everyone has the means to do, so here are a few self-care resources:
Teen pregnancy can be tough and scary. If it’s something your family is dealing with I wish you luck and I hope you’re able to be as kind and gentle with yourself and each other as possible.