Bristol Palin and Teen Pregnancy
As a practicing women's health Nurse Practitioner, I've worked for over 20 years to try and prevent accidental pregnancies because I've seen first hand the effects that this has on women. An accidental pregnancy may be a source of joy for some women, and a crisis for others. I'm sorry that Bristol Palin's personal life is under such intense national scrutiny at a time when she's very vulnerable both as a teen with limited life experience, and as a young woman who is pregnant and must have many questions and concerns. Perhaps her experience can help us have a dialogue that will help other teens.
I'm late and I'm worried
"I'm late for my period and I'm worried that I might be pregnant" When I hear these words, I take a deep breath as I wait for the urine test to develop. Walking into an exam room to give the news that the test is positive is very difficult as a health care provider. I know that the words I'm about to utter will change this woman's life and the lives of many other people, including the father of the baby and both families. When the woman is a teenager, the ripple effect is larger and more dramatic.
I make certain that I clear time in my schedule to help her absorb the news and provide the support that she needs to move forward, whatever her direction and path.
"I didn't think this could happen to me"
I've seen many young women go into shock and completely fall apart at the news. Their lives are changed in an instant in ways they never expected or thought could really happen to them. It's hard for those of us who are past the teen years to remember, but many teens feel invincible and still have some elements of magical thinking that influence their behaviors.
Though it may not seem logical to us, deep down many teens think that they can drive fast and not get a speeding ticket, or drink at a party and not get caught by their parents, or have unprotected sex and not get pregnant or a STD.
Some young women find out that they're pregnant, get prenatal care and deliver healthy babies. Yet, we've all been shocked by the stories of young women who hide their pregnancies, deliver at home or school, surprised that the pain in their stomachs are actually a growing baby, and by the stories of a few young women who were in such denial that after delivering, they've abandoned their babies.
Another sad fact, is that pregnant women are at risk of being physically abused by their partners, especially if this is unplanned.
Effect on the family
I've seen families fall apart and turn on each other, and others that recover from the news and rally around. In any case, it's a turning point in many lives as people come to grips with the news. Just as every young woman's situation is unique, the way that young women decide how to deal with an accidental pregnancy are varied. There is no one way that works for everyone. What does work is to provide support to the young woman and her family, if they're involved so that they can make the best decisions about what to do next.
What can parents do?
Let's face it, few parents are ever ready to think about their children growing up and becoming sexual. TMI – Too Much Information. I've seen lots of my friends and patients cringe at the idea of talking to their sons and daughters about sexuality. It's uncomfortable to think about, let alone talk about. I believe that open communication with teens about their changing bodies and sexuality makes sense. We can't be with our teens every minute of every day. But we can help prepare them for the decisions they'll be faced with along the way.
Talking to your teen about sex
Recently I was on ABC's View from the Bay, here in San Francisco talking about this. Here's the link to the video. How to Talk to Your Teens about Sex
Here's a link to how to move beyond talking about the Birds and Bees and how To talk about Sex with your Teen.
More to follow this week and next
Check back over the next few days and weeks. I'll outline various birth control options from A to Z. And as always, I'd love to hear from you about what has worked with your family.
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