Where to turn

Published 9:34 pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pregnancy is an enormous undertaking.

From the prenatal risks to the emotional toll, carrying a child tests many mothers to the limit before their child is ever born.

That same toll is often exacerbated in the case of teenage mothers.

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According to the Aetna medical Web site, InteliHealth.com, teenage mothers are more likely to go into premature labor and/or delivery, be anemic, develop high blood pressure or have a baby with a low birth weight. Additionally, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that teenage mothers are at risk for mental illness, including depression, and increased guilt, anxiety and fear for the future.

Yet here in Suffolk, there are relatively few programs aimed at helping young mothers navigate their way through their pregnancies.

The Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project (STOP) Organization used to offer a non-marital teenage pregnancy program, but officials from STOP’s central office in Norfolk said the organization no longer offers the program.

Assistant Superintendent Kevin Alston said there are no programs in existence designed specifically for teenage mothers.

“They have access to any service or program every other student has,” Alston said. Specifically, he said teen mothers, like all students, have access to the counselors at their schools to discuss any issue they need help with.

Alston added school administration leaders have met with local high school principals to discuss new strategies in keeping teenage mothers in school.

“When you look at that segment of the population, you see a higher dropout rate,” Alston said. “We want to keep those students in the school environment as long as possible.”

As far as preventative programs, Alston said the school system’s sexual education program teaches about the effectiveness of all birth control methods, and abstinence is taught as the only method that is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Western Tidewater Health District also launched a new youth program this summer, which is a general program aimed at teaching self-esteem, dealing with peer pressure, managing stress, nutrition and the consequences of sexual activity.