As most of you know, I volunteer once a week as a Client Advocate at a crisis pregnancy center. Throughout the day today I had not 1.. not 2… but 3 young, teenage girls come in for a pregnancy test. These were girls you might see in your kid's school or at a local high school sporting event or eating a burger with their friends on the weekend. All three girls were indeed pregnant. Now that I have a teenage son in high school, I can't help but wonder about the boys that are now going to become fathers at the ages 15, 16 and 19. I asked each of these young women if their boyfriend knew they might be pregnant and all three of them said yes. (One boy was waiting nervously in the waiting room). I then asked each girl how her boyfriend was feeling about her potential pregnancy and – I promise this is the truth – each girl said, "Oh, he's really excited!"
LONG PAUSE ...DEEP SIGH.....CARING SMILE....Because I am a professional and because, from the depth of my heart, I care about these girls regardless of how naive and irresponsible they are, I responded, "That's great. I'm so glad he is on board and that you have his support." I invited the boyfriend in the waiting room to join us in the counselling room. He sat next to his anxious girlfriend with the throw pillow from our couch over his face with just his eyes peeking over the top. (Thank God for throw pillows.) He didn't look exactly "excited" to me and is pretty young to take on parenthood. I don't know if he was covering a panicked expression or if he was afraid he might vomit. Regardless, I give major props to him for at least being there. Most girls come alone.As I drove home I thought about all of the wonderful teenage boys I know through my son and my photography business. I wondered how many of them might become fathers before they graduate. I wondered how many of them would father a child that would never be born. I wondered if they realize they do not have a say in that decision. I wondered if they ever even THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS. Probably not. Thinking about sex is a lot more fun than thinking about consequences. But consequences are real.
One of the young girls who came in today for a pregnancy test was with her mom and sister. The mom was trying her best to be stable and supportive but I could tell she was barely holding it together. She knew what her pregnant teenage daughter would know very soon – parenting is not easy. She looked at me, then at her girls, then back to me. I could tell she was searching for help. Her eyes said, "Help me get through to them". I pulled out a brochure on sexually transmitted infections and explained to the girls that 1 in every 5 kids between the ages of 15 and 24 have a sexually transmitted infection. It's an epidemic that nobody is talking about. I explained that most STI's have absolutely no symptoms but can have devastating repercussions such as infertility from scar tissue. They were listening. REALLY listening. I offered my new client a free test for sexually transmitted infections, (one of the many free services we provide at the clinic) and silently prayed that her sister would never come in the future asking me for one. As I drove home from the clinic I tried to decompress and clear my mind. I tried to remind myself that most kids just don't know what they don't know. I reminded myself that all the clients who came in today left feeling cared about and supported. They had prenatal vitamins and an appointment for an ultrasound and a phone number to call if they had any questions or if they just needed to talk. That is something, I guess.
When I got home, I hung out with my son. We talked about his day, his friends, Homecoming, and his future. It's not always easy having a mom who works at a pregnancy center. I talk about sex a lot and the consequences of intimacy outside of marriage. I pray he is listening. Let's not give up parents! This is part of our job. Be an open door when your kids want to talk. I know it can be uncomfortable, but you can do it! Here are some helpful suggestions if you struggle with talking about sex with your kids.It is helpful NOT to not look at each other. If my son has an "embarrassing question" sometimes we stand back to back. He can ask the question and I can respond without us having to worry about our facial expressions. It REALLY helps! Don't ask for details. Let your kids know they can ask a direct question and you will simply give a direct, honest answer. If they feel safe that you will answer ANY question, they often feel comfortable sharing more.Teach morality. Let your kids know you want them to abstain from sex. It's okay if you had sex as a teenager. This does NOT make you a hypocrite – it makes you wise. Explain why they should wait and create boundaries that support that goal. Kids may act like they hate your rules and boundaries, but ultimately it actually makes them feel safe.I wish I had some way to wrap this essay up with a nice bow. I like happy endings and feel good stories. I don't feel great tonight. I feel tired. I feel sad. I feel frustrated. I feel weary. But next Monday I will head back to the pregnancy center and wait for the next young girl to walk through the door and quietly whisper over the counter that she needs a pregnancy test. And I will smile at her and help her. That is something, I guess.
WRITTEN BY: KAREN ANDERSON