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Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Baby MamasPosted Thursday, February 11, 2010, at 1:01 PM
At the Saline County Health Department board meeting Tuesday night, which I covered, board President Stephen Allegri mentioned Saline County's unfortunately high rate of teen pregnancy, one of the many things covered in the recently released KIDS COUNT report. According to that document, the county has the 70th lowest rate of births to teens in the state, out of 114 counties, with 48 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 in 2009.
Not having attended high school here myself, I can't speak to how those numbers play out. But, I can say that, because of my own experience, I'm not completely shocked. I remember about a half-dozen girls in my high school class of 160 who attended graduation with babies in tow. Actually, the first pregnancy among my classmates that I remember happened the summer after sixth grade.
I can also say that my sex education was pretty lacking, living in the buckle of the Bible belt. In high school health class, I was honestly taught that STDs spontaneously came into being as the result of promiscuity. Ours was definitely an abstinence-only program with little substance, though there were plenty of doughnuts to keep our stomachs full and our minds unquestioning.
But after all, this is the 21st century, the age of information. I find it hard to believe that most teens truly don't know the consequences of their actions. And if they don't, it's pretty easy to learn by a quick Internet search. It's also pretty easy to prevent the whole thing. Birth control pills at the health department cost $10, and condoms are free. And even if a pregnancy occurs, becoming a mother isn't the only choice. Adoption is a wonderful option, and of course, abortions are available at clinics in Kansas City.
What I find most shocking of all is a statement made by Marshall physician Dr. David Keuhn in a story about KIDS COUNT by Democrat-News reporter Kathy Fairchild. Keuhn said he wasn't surprised at Saline County's high rate of teen pregnancy because some of his teenage patients actually want to have babies. That's right, these uneducated, dependent, adolescent girls feel like they just can't wait any longer before reproducing. It obviously hasn't occurred to them that they have about 20 good child-bearing years left ahead of them.
Whether accidental or planned, few of these pregnant teens seem to be considering the future consequences for themselves or their children. Here is a sampling of some sobering statistics from the March of Dimes' Web site.
>>"A teenage mother is at greater risk than women over age 20 for pregnancy complications, such as premature labor, anemia and high blood pressure. These risks are even greater for teens who are under 15 years old."
>>"Teen mothers are more likely than mothers over age 20 to give birth prematurely (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy). Between 2003 and 2005, preterm birth rates averaged 14.5 percent for women under age 20 compared to 11.9 percent for women ages 20 to 29. Babies born prematurely face an increased risk of newborn health problems, long-term disabilities and even death."
>>"Only 40 percent of teenagers who have children before age 18 go on to graduate from high school, compared to 75 percent of teens from similar social and economic backgrounds who do not give birth until ages 20 or 21." (I actually know of two who have graduated from college, though they are obviously in the minority).
>>"Teen mothers are more likely to live in poverty than women who delay childbearing, and more than 75 percent of all unmarried teen mothers go on welfare within 5 years of the birth of their first child."
>>"About 64 percent of children born to an unmarried teenage high-school dropout live in poverty, compared to 7 percent of children born to women over age 20 who are married and high school graduates. A child born to a teenage mother is 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade in school and is more likely to perform poorly on standardized tests and drop out before finishing high school."
If I had gotten pregnant in high school, I wouldn't have been disowned or severely punished. But, I would have disappointed my mother to the point of a broken heart, and the course of my life probably would have been very different. I'm thankful that didn't happen, and even now, I can hardly believe I'm old enough to be completely responsible for someone else. But this isn't about me. It's about the future of Saline County, which will be a much brighter one when babies aren't born to mothers who are practically babies themselves.
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Sydney is a former staff writer for the Democrat-News. She received degrees from University of Missouri in both music and magazine journalism. She played oboe with the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra and the Marshall Municipal Band while she was in Marshall.