Rosie became pregnant at 17 last year. She was labelled a slut. Melissa, 14, ran away from home so her parents couldn’t force her to have an abortion.
Jackie, 33, had a violent partner who didn’t want their baby. There was no public housing available and refuges were full. She slept in her car.
Kat, 32, was threatened by her boyfriend. She says: ”I decided when I saw my little boy kicking on the screen I was going to keep him. I knew this would make me a single parent – I had been told in no uncertain terms I was on my own unless I ‘toed the line’.”
These are just some of the stories of women I am aware of who decided to have a child in difficult circumstances – even though it meant bearing the label ”single mother”, with all its alienation and stigma.
They wanted their babies. They were determined to be the best mothers they could be. All did it tough. But their love for their child pulled them through. It’s the kind of love you need when you’re being marginalised, told you are a bludger and a leech. Even that you are to blame for the ills of the world.
Senator Cory Bernardi in his book The Conservative Revolution suggests there are higher levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls ”who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother”. Read more here
‘What it’s really like to be a teen mum’ starts off: ‘Babies might seem cute, but having one of your own is no joke’. Is anyone really saying having a baby is a joke? Do girls really think it’s a bit of a laugh to be pregnant in a culture where they will be punished and called sluts – as pregnant teens tell me they are labelled ? There are many ready to bring them down to earth, that’s for sure. “So many people told me ‘having a baby isn’t a novelty you know’” a young woman I know told me, referring to the lectures she received after she had decided to keep her child.
In this issue, Talia, 17, shares her story of discovering she was pregnant at only 14. Not in a relationship with the baby’s father, she says she was in “total denial” until she heard “the little heartbeat”. It was then she “instantly melted and knew I had to keep my baby”. And that’s when the punishment started. Talia was subjected to “dirty looks and endless rude comments.” Friends abandoned her. Talia went into labour six weeks early and her son was born by emergency c-section. Her family reaches out to the Red Cross for housing with other young mums and she also received support from the Raise Foundation (raise.org.au – I’m a new ambassador with the foundation so glad to see they get a mention). “Being a mum is seriously hard work. It was the best thing that has, and will ever happen to me, but there are serious sacrifices,” says Talia honestly.
Australia has the 4th highest teen pregnancy rate in the world. It’s certainly not something to encourage. The Dolly article doesn’t mention contraception or abortion, though the later could be read into the subtext as preferable to giving birth given the warnings and information on the cost of nappies. The reader is warned of “premature birth, low birth weight, death in the womb, SIDS, anaemia, high blood pressure and competition for nutrients.” (I recall a 2004 Girlfriend issue which catastrophised teen birth in a whole new way. In ‘You’re pregnant, now what?’ the reader was told if she kept the baby her parents will not support her, she’ll get kicked out of school, her boyfriend will clear out and, worst of all, she wouldn’t have time to read Girlfriend Magazine because she’d be too busy “wiping drool of your baby’s chin”. I doubt the subject would be treated so trivially under more recent editorship. While there are dire warnings about risks of pregnancy, I’ve never seen the potential mental health risks of abortion mentioned in a young woman’s magazine. Adolescent girls who abort unintended pregnancies are five times more likely to seek subsequent help for psychological and emotional problems compared to their peers who carried unplanted pregnancies to term, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence). Read article here
Our finances were crippled, our mental health shattered
As I wrote in my Sunday Herald Sun piece on the weekend, we rarely hear from those who don’t end up with a baby at the end of the line. We mostly hear the success stories. So I thought it important to give this letter some prominence here. Nick Parissis wrote to me about the experience of himself and his wife Joann.
My name is Nick and my wife’s name is Joanna. I read your article today in The Sunday Herald Sun in relation to IVF and wanted to thank you for enlightening the wider community about the truths associated with IVF and adoption in Australia.
My wife and I are both in our early 40′s and have been married for 6 years. In 2008 our only child Connor was conceived through normal pregnancy however was born premature at 24 weeks for no explainable reason. Despite the amazing work undertaken by the staff at the Mercy hospital, Connor passed away after 15 days. Again doctors could not give us any explanation as to why Connor passed away. We were informed after his passing that when premature babies such as Connor get to the stage he was at, ie breathing predominantly on their own and requiring lower doses of medication approximately, only 1 in 500 don’t survive. Unfortunately for Connor and us, he was the 1.
Due to the emergency classical caesarean which my wife went through to deliver Connor, we had to wait approximately 1 year before we could try for another child. This time was used for grieving Connor. Jo managed to fall pregnant once again naturally about a year after we lost Connor however that pregnancy did not progress past the 10th or so week. We tried for about another year or so naturally but were unable to conceive.
We had all sorts of tests done and were given no definitive reason as to why Jo was not falling pregnant. So about 14 months after the miscarriage we decided to go down the IVF path. We did all the pre IVF screening and found it unfair and unnecessary that we even had to do criminal background checks despite both of us being serving members of Victoria Police. Through our employment we have both witnessed many people becoming new parents who we know are not in a position to adequately care for and raise a child in a suitable manner. We also met with IVF counsellors and went through all the information and began treatment.
We lost count of the amount of IVF cycles we went through over a period of approximately 18 months, and also the amount of times people would tell us that “this time it will happen, have faith etc”. Financially it almost crippled us (some $35000) was spent. If we had a baby to care for as a result every last dime would have been well spent. Every time we would go in for an egg transfer the doctor would tell us that the particular embryo looked good and that he was positive about that particular procedure. However all his positive spin resulted in nothing at the end of the day.
After approximately 18 months we gave up IVF due to monetary constraints but also due to the mental health of us both. In your article you mention about the women’s experiences in regards to their health. Jo went through all of what you mention, but I also went through similar feelings and have battled depression for the past year. My doctor and psychologist have put the depression down to a combination of Connor’s death, as well as the IVF. I can’t describe how hard it is to be on tender hooks after each embryo transfer wondering if it will work, and getting towards the date of the blood test to see if your wife is pregnant and being told it hasn’t worked. Several times Jo would get her period early on and we knew pretty early it hadn’t worked however there were times she made it to the day of the test and I would think it must have worked this time only to be shattered with the bad news. No matter how tough or resilient a man thinks he is, and being a police officer many people assume we can take anything, there is only so much negative news and disappointment a man can take. People often forget about the mental anguish men go through during IVF.
People have a misconceived idea that IVF is a lot more successful than what it actually is. Since giving up on IVF, well-meaning friends continually bring up the subject of adoption, however as you mentioned in your article, adoption in Australia is neither easy or as accessible as the majority of the population think it is. After spending some $35000 is very difficult to find another $50000 to facilitate an adoption. And despite all the positive spin and information IVF medical practitioners provide, it is important people know that IVF is no guarantee to a successful pregnancy. Whilst going through IVF you tell yourself not to get your hopes up but it is impossible not to. People must balance this hope with realistic expectations and friends of people going through IVF also need to reel in their expectations.
Thanks again for the insightful article and for your time.
I DON’T want to discuss the personal IVF journey of Tony Abbott’s staffer Peta Credlin. Others can examine the politics of the Opposition Leader’s foray into the issue this past week. But there is a new opportunity to talk about IVF. It is difficult to criticise a procedure seen as ‘‘life-giving’’, and tempting to overlook the human costs.
The Opposition Leader says he supports IVF because he is ‘‘pro family’’. But we need to face the reality that despite IVF industry publicity, with photos of smiling babies set to pastel, most couples undergoing the procedure will never see a live baby.
In 2010, there were 61,774 assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment cycles performed in Australia and NZ. Of these, a mere 18.1 per cent resulted in a live baby.
There is a higher risk of miscarriage, terminations for foetal abnormality, stillbirth, a 2.5 times higher rate of death, a high risk of caesarean and pre-term birth, (33 per cent in IVF babies, 7.9 per cent in non-IVF babies) and low birth weight (26.4 per cent, 6.8 per cent in non-IVF babies).
IVF babies have more health problems. A large Ontario study found a 58 per cent greater risk of defects in IVF infants.
There’s an increased risk of heart defects (2.1 times), cleft lip/palate (2.4 times) and anorectal atresia (3.7 times). Gastrointestinal problems are nine times higher in IVF babies. A Switzerland study has found abnormalities in the blood vessels of 12-yearolds born through IVF.
There are ethical concerns about the thousands of stockpiled frozen embryos — about 40,000 in Victoria. Most are destroyed (20,000 discarded in Victoria in 10 years) and many are used in experiments. Then there is the cost. Medicare underwrote $217.4 million in costs from July 2011 to June 2012.
The cost of an IVF baby to women aged 30-33 years is $27,000, and for women 42-45 it is $131,000.
Egg extraction involves weeks of psychological and medical testing, followed by hormone injections. A long needle is used to pierce the wall of the vagina, access the ovaries and remove the eggs. The aim is to get as many eggs as possible. I know women who have had more than 20 eggs extracted.
Side-effects of the hormones include hot flushes, emotional turmoil, bloating, visual changes, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and multiple pregnancy. Ninety-two IVF cycles in 2010 resulted in one or more of the foetuses being aborted.
An estimated 10 per cent of women develop hyperstimulation syndrome, which can be fatal. There were 206 cases in 2010.
Researchers from the Netherlands have found that women having ovarian stimulation have a twice as high a risk of ovarian malignancies.
Given the lack of adequate safety data, how can women exercise informed consent?
Marketed as the only option, women are often put on the IVF treadmill before others are explored. I know women referred to IVF in their late 20s who, after abandoning the program, went on to have children naturally.
Of course many couples would adopt if it wasn’t so costly (up to $50,000 per child) and time-consuming. Australia has been accused of having an anti-adoption ethos, with the lowest adoption rate in the developing world.
In 2011-12, there were 333 adoptions in Australia (149 from overseas) — the lowest on record.
Yes, there is a strong desire for a baby. But research on women’s experiences of ART shows many feel physically, emotionally and financially drained, and suffer anxiety, depression and relationship problems.
Women have a right to realistic expectations about outcomes and risks. Some women say they were given hope but not enough information. We welcome every baby born but this huge global enterprise has not cured infertility.
While it may have brought joy to some women with the birth of a baby, it has come with significant physical and emotional suffering for many more.
I’m really not all that interested in Royal Weddings. I’m actually not all that interested in royal things in general (I do like the horses though. And I confess I can remember where I was when Lady Di got killed in the car crash).
But finding out who and who isn’t on the guest list for the April 29 marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton has got me interested.
For example, the President of the United States of America, Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are not among the 1,900 invitees. But it appears rapper Kanye West is. Yes, the same Kanye West holding a woman’s decapitated head. The same Kanye West who sings lines like “She just wants a swallowship” has apparently received an invitation from the Palace seeking the pleasure of his company.
As readers of this blog know, I have been involved in a global protest against Kanye West’s Monster video. You can read about it here and the petition is here (approaching 15,000 signatures).
But last night I saw a Kanye West tweet which promoted me to take matters a bit higher and ask the Queen (through @britishmonarchy – who’d have thought the monarchy was into twitter, but there you go. Thanks @fittoprint) whether Kanye West was the kind of guest you wanted at the celebration of your grandson’s nuptials. I thought she needed to see this:
Now there’s a ‘post modern critique of female sexuality’. Perhaps, as is my habit, I’m missing all the irony and satire.
Fortunately British pop star Lily Allen understood full well what West meant. She tweeted:
I’m hoping it will put Her Majesty the Queen in a bad mood too, and she’ll take another look at that invite list.
Cold term cannot disappear central experience of pregnancy and birth
Gestational carrier is an ugly term
THE objectification of women’s bodies and commodification of childbirth came together yesterday in a single antiseptic phrase contained in the announcement of a second child for actress Nicole Kidman and her musician husband Keith Urban.
The baby’s birth three weeks ago took even dedicated “Our Nic” watchers by surprise, including Woman’s Day which had the couple adopting a Haitian child.
“Our family is truly blessed . . . to have been given the gift of baby Faith Margaret. No words can adequately convey the incredible gratitude that we feel for everyone who was so supportive throughout this process, in particular our gestational carrier.”
In those last two words, the woman whose body nurtured this child for nine months is stripped of humanity. The phrase is reminiscent of other terms popular in the global baby-production industry, such as suitcase, baby capsule, oven and incubator.
The detached language views women as disposable uteruses. This dismantling of motherhood denies the psychological and physiological bonds at the heart of pregnancy.
The euphemisms soothe: don’t worry, there is no mother whose voice the baby hears, no mother whose blood carries nutrients to the developing child, whose heart the child hears. No mother feeling first kicks, whose breasts swell, whose entire body and mind prepare for her arrival.
US ethicist Wesley Smith said he was reminded of “Dune’s ‘axlotl tanks’, which are women who are lobotomised and then their bodies used as gestational carriers for clones.”
But doctors prefer it.
On Australia Talks Back, November 9, 2009, Canberra IVF specialist Martyn Stafford-Bell said “gestational carrier pregnancy” was the preferred term.
Surrogacy was a good solution for women “unable to house a pregnancy” and a woman carrying a child with no genetic connection understood “she is, in fact, an incubator”. Some surrogate mothers use these terms to distance, because surrogacy erodes the inherent maternal-fetal relationship.
“I am strictly a hotel,” one said.
Donna Hill, who experienced a toxemic pregnancy followed by a traumatic induced labour which she hoped to forget, said, “I told myself I was just an incubator. I was just going into an operation and not giving birth.”
Sydney surrogate mother Shona Ryan told a Canberra conference: “I had to forget I was pregnant. There was not the same joy and wonderment. In some ways I felt sorry for this baby that it didn’t receive the same attention [as my others]. I had to deny the pleasures of pregnancy.”
After the birth: “My subconscious, my body, my emotions, knew I’d given birth and were screaming out for that baby. I kept having the urge to tell people, ‘I’ve had a baby!’
“The personal cost to me and my family [was too high]. I came to the conclusion I couldn’t recommend surrogacy to anyone.”
Of course the birth of any baby is worthy of celebration. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid hard questions about the fragmentation of motherhood, about a child who may wonder about their birth mother and why she is not raising them.
We can’t keep our Eyes Wide Shut about the exploitation of women in countries such as India where a booming surrogacy industry, described as womb slavery, attracts rich foreigners. And questions need to be asked more broadly about the global trade in the use of gametes in a range of reproductive procedures.
The Daily Mail recently ran “The brutal fertility factories trading in British mothers’ dreams” to describe vulnerable women trading in the only valuable thing they possessed: their fertility.
In the US commodification of a child knows few limits. Journalist Bill Wyndham, pretending to be a single, HIV-positive gay man, was told by a surrogacy company he’d make a perfect dad.
He was, however, not allowed to adopt a puppy from the dog pound.
We don’t know the background of the surrogate mother. Was she a student trying to pay off college loans? Had she given birth for other couples? Did she have the option of changing her mind? Will there be any future contact between the mother and child? Does she have other children who are asking where the new baby went?
Some women have been unable to relinquish. Mary Beth Whitehead, US surrogate mother in the famous Baby M case, said: “Something took over. I think it was just being a mother.”
Jane Smith from Sydney said of the son she carried: “I couldn’t let him go.”
Another surrogate mother has said: “In the beginning it is easy to see things in an unrealistic way. When there is no real baby, it is easy to be idealistic.”
In 1997 a baby called “Evelyn” became Australia’s first litigated surrogacy case when her surrogate mother couldn’t give her up.
The raft of celebrities hiring out surrogates to have babies for them has became almost a modern day form of wet nursing.
But the lack of objective evidence about the long-term impact of surrogacy on the surrogate mothers, the children and the families of the commissioning parents is concerning.
The process of pregnancy, labour and delivery followed by summoning extraordinary reserves of strength to surrender that baby, cannot be reduced to the science fiction that the woman who does all this is merely a “gestational carrier”.
With a big scarlet letter on the back as a sign of their shame
In the US, teen fashion chain ‘Forever 21′ has launched what has been labelled a “controversial” maternity line called Love 21 Maternity. The range can be found in Forever 21 stores in five states. Apparently, three of these states have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. Some are claiming that Forever 21 is deliberately endorsing or encouraging teen pregnancy. They’ve made quite a thing about it. See this and this and this.
It’s obvious really, isn’t it. The impressionable young woman sees a baggy dress or elasticised pants and says to herself: “I think I’ll get pregnant so I can get some of those!”. And let’s not even mention those cool maternity bras with the little hooks allowing release of the flaps for easy breast feeding.
I love this quote: “The maternity line has some cute, fresh and very young clothes, which only proves that they were targeting young soon-to-be moms”.
Only proves it? Oh that’s right, I almost forgot. Mums who are not in their teens are expected to look dowdy, unfresh and old.
I wonder what the critics prefer? That a pregnant teen not have something half decent to wear? Like she doesn’t already have enough problems to contend with. Is it better we send her off to the sackcloth and ashes shop where she can find something really ugly and punishing to wear, a point I make here:
I’m not making light of teen pregnancy. Yes it is a serious issue. It’s also has complex causes. Reducing this to a debate about whether a few items of clothing in a few stores in a few states in America encourage it, is trivialising the importance of the issue.
Not every young woman wants an abortion. They are overrepresented in research findings on negative mental health outcomes after abortion. Some shared their distress in my book Giving Sorrow Words: women’s stories of grief after abortion. But if a young woman has decided to go ahead with her pregnancy, surely she should be given every support. Including some clothes to wear that won’t make her feel worse.
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