Finding out your teenage daughter is pregnant can create stress and confusion in families, but how you manage it can ensure the family moves forward, with respect and love still intact.
When Girls actress Jemima Kirke found out she was pregnant as a teenager, she decided to terminate the pregnancy but chose not to tell her Mum, instead doing it secretly by using her savings and asking her boyfriend for help.
A mum always thinks her daughter can turn to her, so it can be incredibly hurtful to find out this hasn’t happened. These kinds of secrets can create a fracture in a mother-daughter relationship, with trust and honesty no longer assumed.
Yet in most cases, a parent will be the most supportive person to help navigate through the physical and emotional consequences of an unexpected pregnancy.
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It’s not the time to be alone, even if the teenager thinks it is.
We are a sexually active society. A study from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University, showed that over one quarter of Year 10 students and just over half of Year 12 students had experienced sexual intercourse, with 40% of all students surveyed reporting having sexual intercourse.
A small but significant proportion (5%) of these sexually active students across Australia have experienced sex that resulted in a pregnancy.
So what do you do if this is your child? How do you support and help her, even if you’re shocked to the core by this news, particularly if you have no idea that your daughter is sexually active. Where has your baby daughter gone?
“The first thing is to make the teenager feel safe. She is safe within the family, she is safe having summoned up the courage to tell the truth and she is going to be safe in the future,” advises Sydney-based Psychotherapist and Couples Counsellor Annie Gurton.
“This is not to time for lectures on unsafe sex or being responsible – she is being responsible in telling you and needs you to support her, not read her the Riot Act.”
And make sure that you listen to her. Does she want an abortion, or does she want to keep the baby? It should be her choice – she needs to be fully informed and understand the pros and cons of each option. She may need to see a counsellor who will allow her to express herself without trying to persuade her one way or the other.
“Once she makes her decision after she has all the facts, she needs your support and understanding,” suggests Annie. “Whichever choice she makes, there are going to be implications.”
And then it’s time to get practical by making a doctors appointment and working through the practicalities. Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to involve her boyfriend and his family too. Later, you can talk about how she fell pregnant, and have conversations about her choices.
But what if you suspect she’s pregnant or that she’s already had a termination, and she hasn’t told you?
“A daughter may fear telling her parents that she is pregnant and intends to have an abortion, but in most cases parents will rise to the occasion and be far more supportive than their daughter expected,” suggests Annie. “For parents who suspect their daughter has had an abortion and is not telling them: just ask her. If she denies it, perhaps she has reason for her secrecy and she should be respected, but in the first instance, just ask.”
What do your kids try to talk themselves out of?
The right to an abortion opens up a whole kettle of fish that frankly is all about personal choice and your own belief and value systems. So what if your daughter wants a termination but you don’t morally agree with it? What then?
“A pro-life belief system is often very deeply held. However it is her life and her body – and her foetus, even if she is barely more than a child herself,” suggests Annie. “It can be extremely challenging to put your personal beliefs aside and accept her choice.”
All she may want is to put this chapter of her life behind her, and move on with her future. That’s her choice and her prerogative regardless of what you believe.
An unexpected teenage pregnancy is a period of massive stress for a parent and their child, but the important thing to remember is aside from all the emotions surrounding it, you are still the parent and she is still your child. And that should never be forgotten.
For help contact your GP or call Pregnancy Help Australia on 1300 737 732