by Nurse Jenna
In the past teen pregnancy was rarely celebrated and until recent phenomena such as pregnant pop icon Jamie Lynn Spears, the hit movie Juno, or political daughter Bristol Palin have we become, if nothing else, less “shocked” by the prevalence of teen pregnancies. This has bothered some people who have felt anywhere from disturbed to enraged that we have become so accepting and even supportive of teen mothers. The popular viewpoint has been that our acceptance is encouraging irresponsible teen sex.
The extension of this logic would suggest that if we had a culture that did not promote pregnant teens as celebrities, but rather ostracized them and made it shameful, this would in turn discourage the “irresponsible promiscuity” that leads to teen pregnancy. The attention and discussion mainstream teen pregnancy has generated has been perceived as a threat to the work of those promoting abstinence, or attempting to contain the discussion of sex within the family, where it is often believed children should be receiving their information, not from magazines, the news, or the public schools.
Yesterday I visited the maternity department of the hospital here in Ecuador and had an eye-opening experience.
After passing through the labor area where 50 beds were lined up in rows with no curtains or partitions in between, I noticed there was a sign that said “Sala de Adolescentes.” This labor area was devoted entirely for pregnant teens. I didn’t initially understand why they were separated from the rest of the women. The explanation was interesting though unsettling. Pregnant teenage girls in Ecuador are not over-glamorized---they are sequestered. They are an embarrassment to their families and they are kept separated so that other people do not find out they just had baby.
Hmmm, I wondered, “What did they do the previous 9 months?” Though it is illegal to force a young Ecuadorian girl out of school because she is pregnant, she is often “highly encouraged” to leave by the school for fear that her presence will somehow cause other girls to become pregnant--like it might be contagious. If not pressured by the school, the family is often so ashamed, they themselves keep the teenager home until she secretly gives birth.
This idea that hiding a pregnancy in the family, a lack of sex education in the schools, and creating a sense of shame around teen sex and pregnancy would help promote abstinence and lower pregnancy rates was the not so long ago the cultural norm in the United States. It was also during this time that teen pregnancy rates were at their highest--during the 1950s. It was shortly thereafter when discussion was opened and sex education initiated that there has since been a steady decline in U.S. teen pregnancy rates.
True to a similar mentality of silence and shame surrounding teen sexuality, Ecuador has seen a 41% increase in teen pregnancy in the past decade as they have tried to encourage family as the principle providers of sex education and have made teen pregnancy a barrier to continuing education, or maintaining self-esteem.
I believe that the preaching along this the road of morality, abstinence and shame has been proven to be ineffective in addressing the social, financial and emotional problems of teen pregnancies. Whereas honest assessment, education, and access to resources has shown a consistent decline in the problem, as the U.S has shown over the past 60 years.
Despite this, why do so many people insist on taking a road that has been traveled and does not lead us to where we need to be? Why the insistence on failed social and educational policies regarding unplanned teen pregnancies?