Ways of Coping with Pregnancy
Early parenthood creates an immediate crisis for the young girl and her family, which often results in long-term disadvantages for her and her child. It curtails her life chances, especially her prospects for educational, economic, and probably marital well being.
Most girls perceive those problems and they are often causes of great anxiety. I believe that one way to alleviate some of the mixed feelings the girls experience is, for them, to be able to talk about them. It would help if they could talk to girls who are in the same situation as they are.
I teach young mothers and mothers-to-be, and I have found that some girls can openly discuss their situations, but many are too embarrassed to talk. I usually start my English class with a five minute writing exercise. The girls are asked to make a diary using a cardboard file folder cut in half, with paper put inside and stapled to the back. Each morning they are asked to write whatever they choose. They often have trouble getting started. I then tell them to write about their feelings. For example, one girl commented that she did not feel up to coming to school. She was asked why and instead of telling the class, she was asked to write it in the diary. As another way to encourage them to write, I may ask questions about the baby, such as, “What do you hope to have—a boy or a girl?” In addition to learning to express their feelings, they are learning writing skills and vocabulary.
Another way to cope with being pregnant is to join an exercise program for pregnant women. The YWCA offers such programs where the mother and child are able to attend. Most of these programs are inexpensive, some are free. Other agencies that are available to help young women in the Greater New Haven area are: Planned Parenthood, Mental Health Services, Young Mother’s Program at Yale New Haven Hospital, and the Lee Parenting Program (LPP) at Richard C. Lee High School.
To Prepare for the Baby
The pregnant teenager not only has to prepare herself mentally for the arrival of the baby, she has to be prepared physically as well. Teenagers are notorious for their poor eating habits; they have the worst diets of all age groups. During adolescence, a girl needs increased amounts of nutritious foods for her own growth and development. If she isn’t eating properly, her body is ill prepared for pregnancy. The additional nutrient demands of pregnancy can compromise her own growth and increase the health risks to her baby. (See Lewis and Lewis 1950:259)
A pregnant teenager needs more food than she usually does, but not much more. A pregnant girl between 1415 years old requires about 2500 calories a day if she is of average height and weight. She will need increased amounts of iron, calcium, and protein.
Usually there is no problem getting the pregnant girl to eat, but getting her to eat properly is another matter. One way to teach good nutrition is to teach meal planning. Some things that are nutritious but inexpensive can be made in the classroom.
Dairy foods provide calcium essential for the baby’s bones and teeth. Pudding made with milk can be made quickly in the classroom without a mess. The girls should have four servings a day. They should also have three servings of meat, fish, or poultry a day. These foods are excellent sources of iron, particularly important to avoiding anemia in pregnancy. They should have six well chosen servings of vegetables and fruit a day to provide vitamins, minerals, and dietary bulk to help prevent constipation. They could also prepare a fruit salad in the classroom; it will go well at snack or break time. They will need four servings of bread and cereal a day.
In preparing for the arrival of the baby, the pregnant girl should learn what arrangements need to be made to go to the hospital. Usually they leave it up to their parents to make the arrangements, but they can at least make sure that the baby will have the necessary clothing to come home from the hospital. As a lesson, I have the girls cut pictures from magazines and make posters to be hung on the wall. This works well for the girls who have learning disabilities. It also motivates them and leads to open discussions about their babies and their plans for after the baby is born. Cutting out pictures and looking through newspapers gives the girls a chance to compare prices of certain items. They are also given a puzzle which contains words to be learned. They are instructed to circle every word they can find in the puzzle. Each word is an item found in the baby’s layette.