Caring for A Pregnant Teen
By Jo Ann Wentzel
There are foster parents out there who specialize in parenting pregnant teens. This is a distinct type of parenting that I greatly admire since in reality you are caring for two children at once.
Usually, with young girls not ready for relationships much less babies, there is some passing of time between the discovery of pregnancy and the announcement to parents. If this time is short, a few days or a week, not little harm will be done unless the teen is far along and has just discovered it herself. Hopefully, parents will not need to wait months before they are told since this could be dangerous to the mom and baby.
Parents need to acquaint themselves with the way each foster daughter carries herself. They should be aware of her basic body outlines and general health. Foster parents must know this girl’s habits so that they recognize when things change. This is important for all kids, not just ‘possibly pregnant teens.’
Once you learn to recognize the changes in your kids, you will parent more efficiently. Changes in attitude, appearance, and habits usually announce an important step in your foster child’s development. It can be signs of a positive change but, more often it is a negative change these signs herald.
When the discovery is made either independently by the parents or the child shares the joyful news, then the hard decisions need to be made. Before absolutely anything, get that girl to a doctor. Make sure the pregnancy is confirmed before everyone loses their mind over it. This is a common state of affairs that occurs whenever there is a teenage pregnancy. Slow down, relax and get the facts.
The doctor appointment needs to take place regardless of any previous one by the teen. Confirmation should take place even if the teen assures you she did a home or other pregnancy test. Because this is such an emotion filled issue, teens may tend to stretch the truth, hide the facts, or ‘game’ about this subject.
Laws are designed to give young people many privileges including one of privacy but, your teen can wave that and allow you to be part of the whole process. If you have a good relationship with your teen, this will be easier to gain admission to information and doctor visits. Try to make your teen understand that there will be lots of stress and trauma surrounding this early age pregnancy and that she will need support. You may need to bow out if the young parents are at the highest end of the age spectrum or if a natural parent chooses to be involved. Try to stand up for your rights as to inclusion if you are to continue to parent this girl. Some foster parents also help care for the new baby as well so I believe they must be involved in the process. Not wishing to slam the natural parent but, if there were reasons to remove that foster daughter from the birth parent home, then they are ill equipped to help that daughter raise a child.
One of your most important jobs as a foster parent of a pregnant teen is to make sure that the girl is getting good prenatal care. This means either dropping her off at the doctor’s office, going with her, or confirming by phone that the visit took place. A young lady who skips appointments may develop serious medical problems and not even be aware of the problem.
Pregnancy requires proper eating, taking vitamins, enough sleep, and a watchful eye as to potential problems as the body changes to accommodate a baby. It requires a clear understanding of the doctor’s orders and suggestions so you can follow them religiously. Certain tests may be required in order to plan an appropriate delivery. These things must be dutifully reported and understood. Some teens as well as others of all ages lack common sense and someone who has more maturity needs to oversee the pregnancy.
Of course, the biggest step will be what decision is to be made concerning the babies future. Most foster parents I know, by nature just love children, so the abortion issue will probably not be one they would entertain. We won’t even go there. There is the decision as to whether or not this young girl or parents can raise this child by themselves or if they should consider adoption. Although the foster parents are in a good position to influence these girls, I would not recommend it. I would recommend you give them all the information, resources, and help you can. Stay away from offering opinions. Your relationship is so sensitive as it is with this child, you could alienate them by telling them what to do. This is a vitally important decision that can change their entire life.
It is okay to offer friendly advice in the way of information and where to find resources or who to call etc. It is a very bad move to advise the teen to either keep the baby or adopt. This is one time I really advise foster parents to keep their mouths shut. Difficult, I know. This is no time to be judgmental or say I told you so. This is not the right time to get into religious and moral debates. There may come another time where this is more appropriate but, now is not it.
Attempt to be supportive, no matter what choices this girl or young parents make. Remember, if the father is in the picture and intends to be part of this girl’s life, he needs to be treated like an adult member of this relationship. It goes without saying, so should the girl. This does not indicate you should not be painfully aware of their tender age, just do not constantly focus the discussion on that aspect. If you do, things may backfire and your relationship will suffer. Instead focus on the realities of jobs, school, diapers, no social life, friends moving on with their lives without you etc.
I’ve recently read that more girls are choosing abstinence; I hope that is true. But until the majority makes that decision, we will need to deal with teen pregnancies. We need to fight for laws that involve foster parents as much as possible while preserving the young girls’ privacy and dignity. This means we may only get information second hand and may not be in the examining room. This is not a problem if we are dealing with a truthful teen. It is a problem when we have one who may not tell us she now needs a new medication or pretends to take it, but, does not. This is a whole other situation. You may be able to develop some sort means of communication with the doctor that protects her privacy, but keeps you in the know. Ask.
If this girl has no other person to help her, offer to go to child -birth classes. I have done that and it was another bonding experience on a much different level. You can be a good support, but, only if no one else in the situation is interested or willing.
One special problem you may encounter is with a pregnant teen who was previously sexually abused. This can result in a whole slew of additional problems. I experienced this when I took a girl for a gynecology examination. She was fine until the doctor touched her and then she almost became uncontrollable. I stood by her, holding her hand throughout the entire exam. It can be a time when all those monstrous past memories come to light. This often occurs in these girls anyway at puberty but, surely is likely when a girl is focusing on her body and what it is becoming. Be prepared if your girls have a history of sex abuse. It may pose several problems.
One last problem will need to be dealt with if you are to help parent this young mom and her baby. This problem will be a need to be helpful but, not overbearing. Teach, but do not scold or belittle this girl’s efforts. Motherhood should come natural, that ability should be passed down from mother to mother and generation to generation. That is also where the lack of training and skill is passed down. Foster kids are often born to moms with little or no understanding of parenting. Their own needs have not been met so they do not know how to care for their own child. There is no skill to be passed down. They don’t know how to parent. Your pregnant teen will need help from someone who knows how to parent and can be reassuring about her becoming a mommy.
Last, look into all those resources available. There are organizations that provide food products for moms who need financial help. Many offer medical help and advice. Some places specialize in lending out maternity clothing or baby equipment at no cost to the mom. There are many school programs in place for moms who want education while they are raising their babies. Search out what is available in your area and I’m sure your teen will have a better chance of successfully surviving this unplanned pregnancy.
For foster parents who take in these special girls in such a delicate condition as it was once referred to, I take my hat off to you. For all foster parents, thanks for being the kind of people you are to do the job you do.