Mississippi Teacher Corps

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My experience trying to stop a teenage pregnancy

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a classroom by myself, as no kids were currently placed in my in-school detention. Tara, the student I wrote about in a previous entry who was terrible at the beginning of the year but has become very close to me, came into the room to talk to me. She tried to ask me a question that had something to do with pregnancy, and phrased it in such a confusing way that I thought she was asking me about a placenta. After several questions back and forth, I finally realized that she was trying to ask me how long it takes for a woman to become pregnant after having sex. It seemed like a question that she was just asking out of curiousity; after all, I am the science teacher, and students ask me all sorts of random questions about the human body. I started answering the question biologically, explaining the process by which sperm penetrate and then fertilize an egg, and explaining the amount of time involved in the various steps. After I'd finished explaining, Tara confided that she was "afraid that might happen to me." Oh crap, I thought to myself. She's telling me that she had sex and wants to know if it's too late to stop the pregnancy.
I carefully asked her when she'd had sex. It had been two days before. I asked her if she'd used protection, and she said that she hadn't. The last time I'd had a personal conversation with her, she'd told me about her 17 year old boyfriend (she's 15) who had already dropped out of school, and I wondered if he was the responsible party, but thought it would be inappropriate to pry. I then informed her that since it had only been a few days, she was not pregnant, at least not yet, and could take a pill to prevent her from becoming pregnant as long as she acted quickly enough. I explained a little bit about the morning-after pill to her, and asked her if she had any interest in taking it, or at least finding out more about her options. She bashfully averted her eyes and said that she wasn't sure. I told her that I thought the health department would have the pill if she decided she wanted it, and said that she would want to go as soon as possible if she was considering taking it at all. I asked if she had someone who could take her to the health department. She didn't. Her mother is somewhat out of the picture for her, or at least not present in her life in any positive way, and she lives with her grandmother, who had threatened to put Tara out of the hosue if Tara ever became pregnant. She used to talk to her aunt about sex, but her aunt is dead now. So, that leaves me as the only adult she trusts enough to talk about this problem. I told her to come see me right after school so that we could talk some more, and said that I would take her to the health department if she wanted to go.
After she left, I called the health department to make sure that they had the morning-after pill available. I said that I was calling on behalf of a friend (it seemed safer than identifying myself as Tara's teacher) who was under the age of 18, and asked if she could still get the pill if she came in the afternoon, even without a legal guardian present. The health department said that she didn't need a legal guardian's consent.
After school, Tara and her friend Brittany came to talk to me. I kicked out the usual crew of kids who came into my room to chat and goof around after school so that I could have a private conversation with these two. Tara was very hesitant to take the pill, and was acting fidgety and distracted. I told Tara that the decision was hers, and I wouldn't tell her what to do, but was ready to go to the health department if that's what she wanted. Brittany talked Tara into going to the health department, at least to receive more information, since information could never hurt. So, I drove Tara to the health department while Brittany sat in my back seat for moral support.
At the health department, the two girls stood back uncomfortably as we entered the waiting room. Tara commented that she was embarrassed that all these folks would see her coming in. I went to the counter and explained the situation to the receptionist while the girls stood a few paces behind me. The receptionist asked where my friend was, and I beckoned Tara forward. The receptionist then said that the clinic was busy for the day and could not take any more patients. She asked what time Tara had been "exposed," and I answered for her. The receptionist instructed me to call the clinic back first thing in the morning the next day. I asked if there was any other place in town that I could take Tara to get the pill, or at least more information, but the receptionist said no. After apologizing to Tara, I dropped her at her house and drove Brittany back to school. As Brittany and I were driving, she commented that she might talk to her mom about Tara's situation. She told me that she and her mom were very open with each other, and that her mom had Brittany at the age of 21 and told Brittany that she didn't want her to make the mistake of having children that young, and wanted to do anything she could to keep that from happening. I told Brittany how lucky she was to have a mother like that.
The next day, I called the health department first thing in the morning to inquire about taking Tara there after school to get the pill. The receptionist asked when she'd had sex, and when I told her, she said that it was too late to help her. This infuriated me. I knew for a fact that she was wrong. It was just short of 72 hours later, and although the morning-after pill works best within the first 72 hours, it can be effective for up to five days. I'd looked it up on a medical website after Tara came to me. I told the receptionist that I thought the pill would still be effective, and she put me on hold while she asked someone else at the clinic. She returned to the phone and said that it was too late. I asked if there was anywhere else in town that offfered any services that would help Tara, even some place that she could go to find out more about her options, but the receptionist said no, and offered no further help. I was at a loss. I'd contacted the health department multiple times trying to get a time-sensitive and extremely important service, and they'd just screwed Tara over. How could a medical establishment, knowing the time-sensitive nature of the morning-after pill, be so callous as to dismiss Tara on the grounds that they were busy?
Tara and Brittany came to see me after school. Tara avoided talking about anything serious, taking a marker and working out math problems on the board, and when I gently asked if she wanted to talk about anything, she said that she just wanted to do math problems. Brittany told her to be serious, and I carefully brought the pill issue up. I told them that the health department wouldn't help, but that I could try and find another way for Tara to get the pill if she wanted it. At that point, Tara started saying that she wouldn't take it anyway because she can't swallow pills, and that she would just go home, drink vinegar, and hit herself hard in the stomach. I told her not to do that to herself, and said that if she didn't want to be pregnant, the pill was safer than what she was suggesting. "Didn't you say that I'm not even pregnant yet?" she asked. Not yet, I explained, but you might get pregnant. She said that it would be a waste of medicine for her to take a pill if she might not even get pregnant, so she should wait for her next two periods to see if she missed them, and then take the pill if necessary.
I explained to her that it would be too late at that point, and that if she waited that long, the only thing she could do to stop herself from having the baby would be to have an abortion. Brittany told her that she didn't want to do that. "I could get the baby adopted," said Tara. I told her that she could do that. She then proceeded to tell me that her mother tried to get her adopted, but for some reason was unable to, and that her mother was drinking alcohol while pregnant with Tara, making Tara "kinda crazy in the head like I am now." One of Tara's sisters had been adopted, and Tara said she wished that she'd been adopted, too, since her sister had a nice life. Wow. Brittany pointed out that Tara's grandmother would throw Tara out of the house if Tara had a baby. Tara said, "Well, maybe I'm ready to leave anyway. I'll turn 16, get a job, start working, have some money, have a place, get my baby adopted." I was really sad to listen to how easily she was resigning herself to and accepting the situation that I knew she was trying to avoid.
I ended up giving Tara the Planned Parenthood national hotline number and telling her to call it if she decided she wanted the pill, or even if she wanted more information. Just before she left, I told her that I wasn't her parent and couldn't tell her what to do outside of school, but asked her to do me a favor and use protection if she had sex again. I'd done everything I could think of to help her, but felt like I'd failed to accomplish anything. Above all else, I was angry at the health department for their apathy and their failure to do something very simple that could have a huge impact on someone's life.
Tara was suspended a few days after this incident for mouthing off to the principal, and I haven't heard much from her since. I'm just hoping that she gets lucky and doesn't get pregnant.
At various points during this episode, I realized that I could get in really serious trouble with my school for what I did, possibly even get fired, but decided that the risk was worth it.
Since this incident, I've been thinking a lot about the problems with the healthcare system. It's made me think that maybe I shouldn't have abandoned the idea of going to med school, and that I should go in a few years and be a gynecologist. I'll keep thinking on it.

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