Pregnancy can be a frightening experience for a young woman, filled with uncertainty, excitement, and conflicting feelings. You may feel scared and overwhelmed with the decision about what to do regarding your pregnancy. Talking to a guidance counsellor through your school, a trusted friend or family member, or a health care professional may help you to discuss your feelings about everything that is happening to you.
Many young women have irregular periods and may not be aware of a potential pregnancy right away. Though some women may have symptoms of pregnancy such as vomiting, nausea, or fatigue, many women do not have any symptoms. If you suspect that you may be pregnant, you can use a home urine pregnancy test two weeks after having unprotected sex. The test will not be reliable before then. If you have a positive home urine pregnancy test, you should see your health care provider or go to a sexual health clinic for a blood test and ultrasound.
Your health care provider will take a detailed history from you regarding your periods, your health history, and any medication you may have taken. It is important to inform your health care provider of any medical illnesses in your family, and of drugs or alcohol use also. Your physician may counsel you about your options or may refer you to someone who can counsel you about the different choices available to you.
What are your rights?
As a patient you have the right to:
- privacy and confidentiality; your health care provider will keep your information about the pregnancy confidential
- non-judgmental counselling about your options
- referral to supportive health care members for guidance if you wish
What are your options?
The decision about whether to continue a pregnancy can be very distressing. Often young women say that they feel unsure about what to do. They may change their mind about their decision often, because there are so many mixed feelings. How you feel one moment may be completely different the next, and you may go back and forth about your decision. There is no right or wrong answer about what your choice is regarding the pregnancy. No matter which option you choose, you may not feel 100% right about your decision. The decision about whether to continue the pregnancy is ultimately yours.
Discussing your options for the pregnancy with your doctor, nurse, guidance counsellor, or a professional at a sexual health clinic may also provide you with useful information about choices that are available to you. Some of the facts about choices open to you are listed below.
- Abortion is generally legal in Canada, the U.S.A., most European countries, and Eastern Asia. Abortion is generally illegal in most African countries, Central America, and South America. In Latin America, legal abortions are available in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and some Caribbean countries.
- Abortions performed in hospitals/clinics are covered under provincial health care plans (for example, OHIP) in Canada which means you do not have to pay a fee. In the U.S.A., payment is required in order to obtain an abortion. Other countries differ with regard to payment for an abortion. In some countries, abortion is very difficult to obtain and women have to go abroad for the procedure because of political objections to allowing abortion.
- The earlier an abortion is performed, the lower the risk of complications after the procedure.
- Women can have normal pregnancies after a therapeutic abortion. Having an abortion does not affect your chances of getting pregnant again and therefore starting birth control after an abortion is strongly recommended.
- Having an abortion may increase your risk of premature delivery in subsequent pregnancies.
There are two types of adoption:
- Public adoption: You may have some input into the selection of the adoptive parents and may be able to choose whether or not to meet them.
- Private adoption: If you are over the age of 18 years, adoptions can be done privately through a lawyer. You approve the choice of the parents who will adopt the child.
- You may be eligible for financial help or social assistance.
- You may be entitled to financial support from the baby’s father, even if the father does not have contact with your child.
- There may be resources in your community that can assist you with housing, education, parenting classes, and support.
Becoming a parent to your baby is best done when you are emotionally ready. It is important that your decision to parent your child is made for positive reasons. Sometimes young women believe that having a baby will help their relationship or that their partner may not stay with them if they do not want to have a baby. Some women think that having a baby may give them love and a family. Unfortunately, many teenage mothers raise their baby without the support of their partner or family members. This may be something to consider when deciding whether to parent your baby.
If you choose to become a parent, there are resources in your community that can help you to finish school, access daycare, and provide respite relief. In some communities, there are parenting/prenatal classes just for teens.
Health care during your pregnancy
No matter what your decision is regarding continuing the pregnancy, it is important to see your health care provider as soon as possible for prenatal care. If you plan to continue the pregnancy, you will need to see your health care provider frequently, usually every two to three weeks, to assess your health and the baby’s throughout the entire pregnancy. Often your health care provider will refer you to an obstetrician for these appointments and check-ups.
Teenage mothers have a higher risk for some medical complications, including:
- high blood pressure
- low iron in the blood
- pregnancy-related infections
- early labour or labour that does not progress well
- abnormal bleeding after childbirth
- smaller-than-average babies
Because of these health risks, it is important that you follow-up with your health care provider as directed for your prenatal care. You should inform your health care provider or go to the hospital near you right away if you have any cramping, bleeding, severe vomiting, or any other symptoms at any point in the pregnancy.
Some of the things you can do to promote a healthy pregnancy are as follows:
- eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet
- getting lots of sleep and rest
- taking your prenatal vitamins
- joining parenting groups or prenatal classes in your area
- keeping up light exercise and your favourite activities
- refraining from smoking, drinking alcohol, or using recreational drugs which could be harmful to your baby
If you are a teenage mother, it is important for you and your family to realize that there is no official age of consent for medical procedures. Therefore, you are the one who should make decisions about procedures that will affect your body and your baby. Your parents cannot make these decisions for you, although you may want them to help you. Sometimes this is a difficult concept for parents of teenage mothers to grasp. Your health care provider will help to make this point clear.