Recently, when the CDC asked new mothers about their intentions prior to becoming pregnant, they provided a new, additional multiple-choice answer. The question was, “Thinking back to just before you got pregnant with your new baby, how did you feel about becoming pregnant?” The new choice was, “I wasn’t sure what I wanted.” *
I was delighted to read about this change in the form, as my experience taught me that pregnancy ambivalence is a huge issue for many people—teens AND adults—so I’m glad it’s being acknowledged and monitored. Although I’ll add that memory distorts: asking mothers that question after giving birth will yield a smaller number than asking them prior to pregnancy. Still, it’s a significant change, as this recent article explains, and I hope it will lead more researchers to explore the subject.
In my personal experience with teens, addressing the complexity of pregnancy intent was key, whether it was with groups, couples, or individuals. How one feels about becoming pregnant touches on so many different aspects of life. When given comfortable, non-threatening settings in which to discuss this, teens welcomed opportunities to articulate their conflicting feelings. Hearing themselves think out loud helped them clarify their own goals.
There were so many girls who stated things like, “Kids love me,” “Babies are so cute!” “I love kids,” or “I know my new boyfriend really loves me,” when we started talking about it. Giving them the opportunity to then explore what it actually means to be a mother, to raise a child, to run a household with a family and a job—to give themselves a reality check and set clear goals—was key to their future success at effectively preventing pregnancy until they were ready.
Similarly, with boys, asking them questions such as, “Do you hope to be a dad someday?” “What makes a good dad,” “What would prepare you for that,” and “How do you know when you’re ready?” helped them see themselves on one point in a changing continuum. Following that up with discussions about whose responsibility it is to prevent pregnancy and what is the male’s role empowered them to be caring, equal, supportive partners, to set goals for themselves, and to communicate effectively with their partners.
These, I believe, are important discussions in which all teens should get to participate. Day by day, our teens are growing up, and the government’s attempts to roll back sexuality education and reproductive rights—and all the accompanying screaming—isn’t helping them answer some of those fundamental questions for themselves or their partners.
This is where your emails and comments about how you’ve found my book helpful as you interact with the teens in your life warms my heart. Please take a moment to think of anyone you know who might be struggling with a teen they love, and share my book with them now if you haven’t already.
*This question is one of many on the survey from PRAMS, the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, which is a surveillance project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments. They collect data with the ultimate aim of improving health outcomes of mothers and infants.
The views expressed above are solely those of the author and not those of Planned Parenthood.