Teenage pregnancy: advice for parents
If you've been a model mum or dad, talked about where babies come from since they were barely babies themselves and, er, banged on about barrier contraception since before the year six disco, teenage pregnancy can come as a terrible shock.
"My daughter has just told me she is pregnant, about six weeks. She is just 17. I am really struggling. I have told her we will support her no matter what her decision, but I really do not want her to have this baby. This is just not the life I wanted for her. I am so sad." Rose1927
Your emotional reactions to your teenager's pregnancy are bound to be complex:
- Your baby's having a baby
- You remember the reality of having a baby
- You may have been looking forward to a bit of relative freedom, so that impending grandmother/childminder status fills you with resentful frustration, closely followed by guilt
- You may worry that a baby will put paid to your child's future achievements
- You may even feel a tiny bit jealous
This Mumsnetter explains: "My son became a daddy at the ripe old age of 18 (though he turned 19 not long after.) Of course I was upset to begin with, as I thought he'd thrown his life away, but he, his girlfriend and their baby moved into their own place and are making a life together. My gorgeous grandson is nearly a year old, my son is working (in a crappy job, but it's a job) and they get top-up benefits. They're devoted to their son, and have their whole lives to come."
But if you're feeling all over the place emotionally, imagine what your teenager is going through. Whether a teenage mum or dad, they're going to be confused, shocked and probably scared stiff about your reaction.
It's a testiment to your relationship with your child - and a sliver of silver lining - if they tell you about their pregnancy: under-16s can have an abortion without you knowing about it if their doctor thinks they understand what they're doing by giving consent.
Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy in most cases if taken up to three days after unprotected sex. After three days, it may still be possible to have an emergency IUD fitted. Emergency contraception is free from family planning clinics and some pharmacies.
Once the first ructions have subsided, what next? If it's your daughter, she's got three options:
- Keep the baby
- Have it adopted
- Have an abortion
If your daughter won't talk to you about these options, then encourage her to talk to a Brook counsellor, who can give her impartial advice, and/or to another family member, her GP, school counsellor, a trusted teacher or a social worker - the important thing is to confide in someone.
It's also important she gets her pregnancy confirmed by a GP or practice nurse, or at a sexual health or family planning clinic.
You can't take the decision for your daughter, and it's obviously complicated if it's your son who's the dad because there's a limit to how much you can be involved in his girlfriend's decision, but you can try (and it may be very trying) to make sure the implications are thought through properly. These Mumsnetters say:
"Be honest with her about how you feel. Her decision is about taking responsibility for herself and boyfriend's future."
"If your daughter does choose a termination, it's not necessarily an 'easier' option than having a baby because a termination can also come with other issues."
If your daughter (or son's girlfriend) decide to keep the baby, then you need to be honest about how much support you'll be able to provide, whether that's in cash or kind.
"Support her as best as you can and make clear rules about what assistance you will give as far as babysitting goes etc."
You can also be practically helpful to your son or daughter by researching whether there are any teenage antenatal support groups in your area, getting counselling numbers and encouraging healthy eating. Buy your daughter folic acid supplements (pregnant women need 400 microgram daily until the 12th week of pregnancy).
Teenage pregnancy: taking the long view
The age of your teenager is obviously going to make a difference to how you feel about their pregnancy. You may be furious with them that they didn't use contraception responsibly, but think of the flipside - how would you feel if their sexual behaviour had led to an STI that caused infertility?
And having a baby doesn't necessarily mean that your teen can't complete their education or have a fulfilling life, as these Mumsnetters agree:
"Teenage pregnancy is not the end of the road, it's just a rockier path."
"Careers - whatever their stage - go on hold at least for a short time when you have a child. And that could be at 17, 27, 37, even 47."