Sex Part 4
Irish Examiner 02/09/205
by Ailin Quinlan
In the final part of our series on teenagers and
sex Aileen Quinlan looks at teen pregnancy and
assesses the help available to young mothers
"Pregnancy makes you grow up very fast" Maria
Mannering didn't like school. So at 17, instead
of doing her Leaving Certificate, she went off
to work in a supermarket. "I hated school and
didn't want to be there," says the 19 year old
from Tallaght. Shortly afterwards she discovered
she was pregnant. At the time she was living in
the family home with her mother, three brothers
and little sister.
At first she couldn't bring herself to tell her
Mum. "I didn't want to tell my mother, though
I knew she would support me - she had already
said to me she would if it ever happened to me.
"I was in shock for a while. Then I decided I
had to get on with it. Then I found out that I
was due to have twins and I went into shock again!
I didn't use a contraceptive."
These days, she says, she tell her friends to
use them: "I tell them they'd be stupid not to.
I love my daughters very much. However I am very
young. When I had the babies I was just 17." When
her mother did find out about the pregnancy, Maria
says she was very supportive, accompanying the
teenager to her appointments. Maria's labour was
very difficult, but she got through it and her
twin girls, Justine and Sophie were born in August
Maria stayed at her mother's house, until the
twins were three months old and then settle in
a three-bed roomed semi-detached house nearby.
The babies' father maintains contact with the
two-year-olds. He visits regularly and takes them
out. "It was not as hard as I thought it would
be, but I had support. I was living with my mother
until they were three months old and then I found
a place to live very close by." While she enjoys
the independence her own home brings her, there
are financial worries. "Paying the bills is an
issue," she says. "There's more freedom because
I have moved out of my mother's house and am more
independent. I am more responsible now than before
I had the babies. I hated school."
Ironically, it was the arrival of the babies,
which turned her thoughts back to school, and
set her on the path to the Leaving Certificate
she had abandoned only a year or so before. When
the results came out last month, Maria discovered
that she had got six honours: English, Irish,
Maths, Business, French and Geography. "If I did
not have the babies now, God knows, I'd probably
still be working in the supermarket. I went back
to school because of the babies. I wanted a better
life. I wanted to get a proper job and be able
to provide for them.
"Pregnancy makes you grow up very fast. I didn't
want them to grow up and look at me and say "You
didn't even get your Leaving Cert so why are you
telling us we have to go to school." With the
support of her home/school liaison officer and
the Teen Parent Support Programme, Maria was encouraged
to go back and do her Leaving Certificate. Margaret
Acton of Teen Parent Support arranged for the
child to go into a crèche near Pearse College
on Clogher Road. The Project funds the crèche,
which allows me to go back to school. I did my
Leaving Cert - six subjects at ordinary level."
Next month Maria plans to start a Post Leaving
Certificate Course in languages for business and
tourism and hopes eventually to find work in the
travel or tourism industries. She attributes her
success in coping to the strong support of her
mother and to Margaret Acton of the Teen Parent
Support Project. "Only for Margaret Acton and
the project I would not have been able to go back
to school. And my mother said she would mind them
when I needed to study - and has my five- year-old
sister to mind already. I wasn't ready to become
pregnant a seventeen. I was very lucky with the
support I got from my mother. Some people wouldn't
have that support and without it life for a teenage
lone parent would be very difficult - if you want
to have sex use contraception or face the consequences
- and the consequences are not easy. A lot of
young girls don't think about the consequences
- I didn't either. My mother warned me but I didn't
listen. I did sex education in sixth class in
primary school, but it was no use. I don't remember
any major sex education classes at second level.
I should be a big subject, it should drum into
your head the consequences of unprotected sex
and the need for contraception."
Tips for those involved in a crisis pregnancy
FOR THE MOTHER -TO-BE · Get information: Get all
the information you need about your rights and
entitlements. Try your local Youth Information
Centre or Citizens information Centre. Organisations
working with one-parent families can help you
in getting the information you need.
Get Support. Many organisations working with one-parent
families offer a counselling service. Seeing a
counsellor can be a great way of getting support
and working through problems ·
Learn abut parenting: Learning basic parenting
skills can really help in making life a little
easier for you and baby. Parenting courses are
often offered by locally-based community groups.
Your local public health nurse may be able to
tell you about such courses. You could also contact
your nearest Family Resource Centre for details
of courses. One Family run a Positive Parenting
course in Dublin. Phone 1890 662 212 for more
Mind your health: Start taking folic acid as early
as possible in your pregnancy. As soon as you
discover you are pregnant, visit your GP. ·
Health care is provided free to all expectant
women through the GP, it is also provided for
six weeks after the baby is born.
FOR THE FATHER-TO-BE
Fathers have an essential role to play in their
children's healthy development and self esteem.
If you are not going to be the full-time parent,
start talking to the mother of your child as early
as possible to find out how you can support her
in parenting. It is important to try to talk about
access arrangements as soon as possible so you
can foster a positive relationship between you
and your child. Remember, it is the right of the
child to have access to his/her parent rather
than the parent's right.
FOR THE GRANDPARENTS-TO-BE
Parents can find it difficult to adapt to their
new role as grandparent. You may feel angry and
upset. You may fear a loss of your personal freedom
if you think your assistance is needed in rearing
the child. You may find it confusing to know when
to proved support and when to step back - particularly
if the young parent is living with you.
Attending mediation may help. The Family Mediation
Service is a free mediation service that helps
families work through problems they may be having
in a practical way. Contact the Family Mediation
Service on 01 6344 320. Grandparents-to-be can
avail of a booklet, Being There For Them, from
Left Holding The Baby
Throughout her career as a public health nurse,
Margaret Acton was drawn to the problems facing
teenage parents. " I
felt the services for them were pretty dismal.
They were isolated and lonely, with little social
support," says Acton, now project leader
with the Teen Parent Support Programme in Barnardos
Married with two teenage sons she joined the programme
in 2000. The referrals came in steadily - from
public health nurses, social workers, home-school
liaison teachers, youth and community organisations
Since the programme was sit up in early 2000,
it has had more than 200 referrals. At any given
time, says Acton, they can be dealing with up
to 80 young mothers, aged 19 and under. Initially
after the discovery of the pregnancy, she says,
the young mothers-to-be tend to go into shock
"for about 24 hours." Their mothers
- the grandmothers-to-be - generally accept the
situation quickly, she says. The girls' fathers,
the grandfathers-to-be can be quite shocked and
not as accepting of the pregnancy. They worry
for the daughter or see a more gloomy future.
They can be angry or withdrawn. They can feel
a bit left out, a bit helpless, whereas the women
have some notion of what you need to be. Not all
the fathers are like that, of course."
Many of the young fathers-to be are quite interested
in supporting the girl, she says. "About
40% of the fathers would remain involved with
the young mother and child for a considerable
time. Others are there for a few months and then
disappear or do not remain involved. The girl
can be very hurt or angry or can even be glad
because they may not have been getting on."
The Barnardos programme is funded by the Department
of Health under its pilot Teen Parent Support
Programme, which was established in 1999 in Dublin,
Limerick, and Galway. Funded under the National
Childcare Investment Strategy, it is designed
to help families headed by teen parents. "The
idea was that there would be a worker there who
would help them negotiate the hurdles of early
parenthood up to the age of two," explains
Margaret Doherty, assistant chief executive of
the coordinating body Treoir.
Staff focus on issues like childcare, accomodation,
education, training or domestic difficulties.
Five branches were eventually established aroung
the country - one each in Galway, Limerick and
Louth, and two in Dublin. Two more are in the
pipeline, though details have yet to be announced.
Charlotte Carey of CURA has noticed significant
shifts in the levels of support for teenagers
who experience a crisis pregnancy since the agency
was set up in 1977. But she has also seen a sharp
drop in the age profile of single mothers-to-be.
"Now we see girls at 15 with their boyfriends
and partners. We would not have seen as many of
the girls' parents then as we do today. Back then,
they tended not to tell their parents as early
in the pregnancy as they do now," she says.
When first established almost 30 years ago, CURA
had five centres, and the women who availed of
its services were usually aged between 18 and
25. A crisis pregnancy was a shock 28 years ago,
and, for som people at least, says Carey, it's
still a shock today when their 15, 16, 17, or
18-year-old daughter announces that she is pregnant.
Many single young mothers-to-be are still anxious
about their parents reaction to the news she has
The grandparent's-to-be can be angry and confused.
"Parents say, 'I am so angry and disappointed.
I want to help, but just do not know what to do.'
Often, parents will come to one of CURA's 16 centres
and take counselling about it - they need to come
to terms with the fact that they are becoming
grandparents." It's not easym she says. "Often
grandparents are both at work, or at college,
their family are grown, then they discover a new
baby is on the way. Initially, there are feelings
of anger or resentment because they had felt,
perhaps, the life had settled down."
For the boyfriend, she says, it's sometimes a
case of wanting to get involved but whose girlfriend
is no longer interested in talking to him. CURA
provides counselling for everyone involved. "We
provide space for thinking, time to explore and
work through the issues. We are not there to judge
or to tell anyone what to do. We will see anyone
who asks to see a counsellor, there is no cost
and no waiting list." Her message is: "Don't
be afraid, come and speak to someone."
One Family director Karen Kiernan cites the three
big issues confronting young teenage parents as
education, childcare and accomodation. Because
of the lack of a national policy on teenage parents
in education, there is, she says, a glaring disparity
in how teen parents are treated within the second
level system. " Some girls may be asked to
leave school, others may receive huge amounts
of support. Accommmodation is a huge problem for
young parents - under 18 - if you are in a position
where you cannot stay at home, you have very limited
Similarly, says Kiernan, childcare is extremely
difficult: "There is no uniformity in how
childcare payments are made." Thus, for a
minor, parental and family support is the key.
Without family support, she says, teen parenting
is incredibly difficult and with it, it is just
about doable. "Teen parents are very vulnerable.
Your school can kick you out, your parents can
kick you out. We know of pregnant teenagers who
have been kicked out of home and may end up in
a bed and breakfast or in supported housing,"
In 2004, 2,560 teenagers gave birth of whom
53 were under the age of 16.
Between 1985 and 2002 some countries experienced
a drop in their teen fertility levels - in Sweden
the rate fell from 10.35 births per 1,000 teenagers
in 1985 to 6.9 in 2002. In Ireland the number
of births to 15-19 year olds increased from 17.34
in 1985 to 19.44 in 2002. The low teenage fertility
rate in Sweden is partly the result of high rates
The rates of abortion in Ireland amonst teenagers
aged between 15 and 19 is low by international
standards: in 2004 it was just 5.4 per cent per
1,000 compared to Sweden at 21.1; the UK at 23.6
abortions; Norway at 20; Denmark at 14; Scotland
at 18.2 and New Zealand at 24.6.
Last year 6,217 Irish women travelled to Britain
for abortions. This was a drop of 103 on the previous
year. Of these 540 were between 18 and 19, 209
were aged between 16 and 17 and 49 were aged under