10.05.12 Does media bullying make it worse?
About once a year a tragic case like this crops up in the news. This time, it’s a 14-year-old girl who hid her pregnancy from her family, delivered her baby alone in a bathroom, killed it and hid the baby’s body. Her mother found it a few days later and the girl was arrested. Now, the details are blasted all over the headlines and media personalities are crucifying this girl for doing a horrible thing. So, even though I know I’m coming out on the opposite side of popular media, let me say what’s really on my mind: Bless that poor little girl’s heart. Bless her poor, confused, messed up mind, life and family. Bless her and please-oh-please, see that she gets the help, compassion and support she desperately needs. There…let the comments fly and I’m sure many of them will be as hot and toxic as the ones I’m seeing on the news, and that’s fine, but the first thing you need to know about this case is this: It’s the story of a very young girl.
Teen pregnancies are on the decrease in the United States, but in other parts of the world, especially in developing regions of India, Africa and South Asia, teen pregnancy is common. For any of you who watched the PBS documentary, Half The Sky (about the impact of oppression and empowerment on the world’s women) this week, you understand how complicated and devastating this can be. Teenagers “over there” aren’t any more prepared for motherhood than teenagers “over here.” And just to make things more complicated, teen pregnancy is culturally sanctioned in some parts of the world and vilified in others, like here in the US. So when a teenage girl gets pregnant here, she gets all kinds of bad attitude and judgment thrown at her. That’s bullying, plain and simple.
Maybe that’s why this little girl in the news did what she did. Maybe, instead of being evil, she was terrified, confused, hormonal, and had the intellectual, emotional and reasoning capacity of an average adolescent girl, because, that’s what she is. Anyone who’s raised a teenager (I’ve survived several, thankyouverymuch) knows, they don’t think straight. They don’t connect cause and affect in one straight line. They don’t get the whole thing about action and consequences. Sure, some of them do, but a whole lot of them do stupid crap all day long, never understanding it’s going to turn around and bite them in the butt. When it does, they seriously wonder where the teeth marks came from. No matter how thoughtfully a child is raised, when they get to the teen years, it’s obvious; teen brains are wired differently.
Not knowing anything about this poor girls family, I’m going to guess that she might have had reasons why she didn’t reach out to her parents, family, friends and teachers for help. I’m going to assume she didn’t feel like there was anyone who would help her without judgment. I’m also going to speculate that the reason why she was sexually active in the first place had something to do with a whacky inner guidance system that placed her in a dangerous position. And when she discovered she was pregnant, she did what lots of teenagers do when they’re in trouble: She hid the evidence, kicked sand over her tracks, and convinced herself and her family that nothing was wrong.
Then she went into labor. Many of you have spent months, maybe years, preparing your adult self for that big day. You’ve read, researched, studied, practiced and still…you know you’re not fully prepared for what’s about to go down, down there. Imagine you’re a terrified girl, alone in your bathroom. You’ve probably only been having your period for a year and just getting comfortable with “all that.” Then you find yourself bleeding, in labor, in pain and you don’t know what to do. Add to that a cocktail of alien labor hormones and you have a perfect set up for what a midwife-friend calls going “labor mad.”
Jennie Joseph, CPM, is a midwife and executive director of The Birth Place, a birth center in Florida (which, coincidentally is the state where the above-mentioned teenage girl lives). She’s also the midwife interviewed in the documentary about women facing at-risk pregnancies around the world, No Woman No Cry (produced by maternal health advocate and model Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts). Joseph sees teenagers, disadvantaged women and women with minimal support systems in her practice and knows that when a woman is shown respect, compassion and acceptance during her pregnancy, the outcome is dramatically positive, even life-changing.
Joseph describes the trancelike state that many mothers experience during hard labor. “Women from all walks of life disappear into an inner place. They retreat from the fear and pain and the overwhelming nature of what their body is doing. They don’t really know what’s going on and without help some panic. When a woman is supported by a caring midwife, nurse, doctor, doula and family we can call her back from that place. We can support her, help her and get her through the experience. But when a woman is alone the terror, pain and hormones kick some women into autopilot where they panic and do whatever they have to do to save themselves from this life-threatening situation.”
And if it’s a young teenage girl, all alone, in pain, not fully understanding what’s going on, terrified of what will happen when her parents find out…that’s a recipe for labor madness right there. Is this girl evil? Did she plot and scheme to kill her baby? Oh hell no…she’s a vulnerable girl who did a terrible thing and she’ll pay for that for the rest of her life. But start with: She’s a vulnerable girl.
What would the outcome be if instead of judgment and toxic criticism we support this girl with a lifetime of compassion, education and support? What if we help her heal, learn and find a way out of the darkness? Maybe it’s already too late for this girl, but there will be another little girl just like her next year, and the year after that. Let’s start treating her with compassion now.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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