I got an email from a scared, pregnant 14 year old girl this week – she wanted to know about antenatal vitamins and what would happen to her baby if she didn’t take them. She was worried.
Why hasn’t she? I’m not sure, we haven’t got that far yet. Maybe she still hasn’t told her family, maybe she can’t get to a clinic. I don’t know. The thing I want to know is – why does she have to ask ME? Why am I, a total stranger she saw on a TV talk show and found a way to Google, her best option for advice and support?
This is a problem. There should be people in her life she can speak to. Why can’t she?
If there are parents of teenagers (boys and girls) reading this – please do me a favour when you’re done: go to your child and have a conversation about what you would do and say to them if they were faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Make sure they know that you would not abandon them. Make sure they know that they would have YOU, and not a stranger – to talk to. Please. It’s not fair that this girl should feel so alone – EVERYBODY in the world deserves someone to lean on. Maybe she’s just assuming the worst of them – if so, why haven’t they made it clear her whole life that nothing she says will make them stop loving her? Parents – please go and do it now. Make sure they know they have you. If you can’t in all honesty say that you WOULD be there for them, no matter what – if your love comes with conditions – then you’ve got bigger problems to sort out.
Thinking of her reminded me of myself – same age, same issues. I remembered that first antenatal doctor’s visit (the fear! the horror! the Transylvanian gynae!) and thought I’d post an extract from The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No which describes it. It’s easy to laugh NOW, of course 🙂
From – The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No
1993: In which she escapes ritual sacrifice, but not the speculum
We waited for the doctor in silence. Silence would become a pattern those early days. There was too much to be said and we didn’t know how. It was a bad time for small talk. When my name was called, we made our sheepish way to the sister’s office. I felt like I had a flashing neon sign above my head: “Watch Out – Pregnant Girlie Coming Through!” Maybe they should have just given me one of those lepers’ bells. Picture me shuffling along in a brown Friar Tuck habit: “Unclean! Unclean!” Ding dong.
My mom quietly reported the reason for our visit to the nurse, who made her repeat herself louder, as per standard nursing practice, at least twice. She then went off to speak to the doctor and I was handed another huge, plastic wee glass. Old hand that I was, I took it and stalked off to the loo as if I’d been doing it all my life. No matter how old they are, eventually all pregnant women develop an air of resigned dignity – nothing can ever embarrass them again. Dinner party conversation turns ugly if you have more than one pregnant or recently pregnant woman present. Floaty bits in urine sample? That’s nothing. Sixteen episiotomy stitches through three layers of tissue? Piece of cake. Emergency enema? Pish. Bring it on. We are superwomen. We love this stuff. Compared with the other paranoid horrors of first-time pregnancy, weeing into a wineglass seems delightfully tame.
I managed the manoeuvres fine this time, but it took ages because of the “one-trickle-and-three-drops” deal. I stood by and watched as a very young looking nurse tested the sample. I think she was about to start a rousing jazz version of, “maybe it’s negative” – but she saw my face and changed her mind. True as cookies, the little pink lines showed up immediately, pinker than ever. You could call it cerise, even.
“Yes, it’s positive. You’re definitely pregnant,” Young Nurse reported helpfully. Um, yes. I know. Thanks.
A whole bunch of standard antenatal tests followed. There was the usual pricking of the finger to test haemoglobin levels, with a malfunctioning needle gun thing. She had to shoot me three times before she got it right. I was about to go and find her a stapler to use instead, but then, hallelujah! The tiny smear of blood on the glass told her I was so anaemic as to be nearly dead. This was bad, I knew. I’d been reading my booklet, you see. I got all tearful suddenly. “How bad is that? What does it mean? Is everything okay?” I croaked.
“Don’t worry, bokkie. We’ll give you some iron pills and you’ll be fine. And baby too.” She smiled and squeezed my shoulder. It was the first time anyone had mentioned “the baby”. So far, it was just called “The Situation”. Nobody had gotten as far as thinking about the actual baby. I was so grateful for that that I almost started bawling again. Along with the morning sickness and bladder control, indiscriminate howling was another new development that day. Later, I cried when I couldn’t find any mayo in the fridge, and then I cried when I did find it. I cried watching starving orphans on the news and buxom blondes on Baywatch. Apparently, this is normal and all down to hormones. I thought I was going nuts.
Then it was time to be weighed, which wasn’t that bad, and have my first ever internal examination, which was extremely bad. The gynaecologist was a scary old woman with sharp, bony fingers and an Eastern European accent. She would not have been out of place in a gingerbread house. She poked and prodded with her freezing hands and creepy silver implements, then left me to languish with my legs around my neck and my nethers flapping in the breeze, while she went off to have a cup of tea or boil a small child in oil or something.
She came back eventually and seemed surprised to find me still lying there, half naked.
“Vell, get dressed. Ve are finish now,” she cackled. Okay, so maybe it was a chuckle. It seems she hadn’t gone off for a spot of human sacrifice, after all. She had just left the room so that I could get dressed again. Duh!I would have slapped my forehead if my hands weren’t busy covering various outlying regions. It didn’t make sense, really, as she’d just seen all the bits worth seeing. What difference did it make if she saw them again in the process of being covered up? But there you go. That’s how things are done. You live and learn, and if you can provide perfect strangers with a little entertainment along the way, so much the better.
She looked like a seventy-five-year-old Elizabeth Bathory, had the latter not been walled up inside her castle and left to starve to death. Anyway, as I clearly wasn’t a virgin, she wouldn’t have been interested in bathing in my blood. This should have made me feel better, but no. She gazed at me over the tops of her gnarled, steepled fingers. She was scary. Then she got scarier.
“Now ve do ze blud,” she intoned in her creaky Transylvanian voice. Excuse me? Ze blud? What the hell?
Trying to restrain my ridiculous imagination, I managed to stutter, “Um, but the nurse already checked my blood. She pricked my finger…”
She cackled again. No really, this time I swear it was a cackle. “Zilly chile, zat vas only ze aitch-bee. Now ve test for all ze ozzer tings.” Small pause, while I translated sinister witch talk into English.
“Oh, the HB. I see. So now we do more tests?” I smiled in what I hoped was a non-threatening and, above all, non-virginal way.
“Yes. Nurze vill take more ze blud, and zen ve talk, okay?”
Okay. Then we talk. Woo-hoo.