CHICKASAW COUNTY – It takes two to make a baby, but the burden of a teen pregnancy almost always rests on mom.
While teen pregnancy does not carry the stigma of 20 years ago, there are still many hurdles a teenage girl must overcome to make a better life for herself and her baby.
“I missed two weeks of school and the teachers are helping,” said Keondra Coggins, 18, a student at Okolona High School. “I want to graduate and go on to college.”
Coggins said her mother is taking care of her four-month-old daughter. She said her daughter’s father is still in her life. She also talked of having to care constantly for her baby.
“Tending to a baby is a lot of work and that’s the hard part,” said Coggins. “Hugging her up and dressing her up is the best part. I wish she was with me right now.”
In this day and age, most teenage girls who get pregnant stay in school and those with some kind of support group for their new baby usually come back to class and try to finish high school.
“Most girls realize quickly the need to get their education and so they stay in school,” said Houston High School Counselor Susan Allen. “Our teachers do help them with keeping up and trying to graduate.”
The Center for Disease Control points to the hurdles teen moms face.
“Preventing teen pregnancy is a priority because of the huge economic, social and health costs on teen parents and their families,” the CDC says on its webpage aimed at breaking the cycle of teen pregnancy.
Girls born to teen parents are almost 33-percent more likely to become teen parents themselves continuing the cycle of teen pregnancy. The CDC goes on to say teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers about $9 billion each year.
Teen childbearing in Mississippi cost taxpayers $155 million in 2009, according data from the Mississippi Department of Health.
CDC statistics for high school students show nearly half have had sexual intercourse. The current number is 46 percent for both girls and boys and is compared to 54 percent in 1991.
While all teenagers get sex education in Houston, Houlka and Okolona schools, where do teen girls go to seek birth control, take a pregnancy test and get information on prenatal care?
“Anyone wishing a pregnancy test may obtain one at their County Health Department,” said Liz Sharlot, spokesman for the Mississippi State Department of Health, “however an assessment is performed by the clinic nurse prior to testing.”
Sharlot said contraceptives are provided to clients – men and women – seeking methods of contraception.
“The client obtains an appointment and is provided information on what will be necessary for the first visit,” said Sharlot. “Clients under the age of 18 years are encouraged to have family/parental involvement.
“It is explained that all services are confidential,” she added. “The client is asked to sign a consent to voluntarily receive services.”
Sharlott said medical history is obtained by the nurse and includes sexual and family history information. The client receives a physical examination, laboratory tests and is provided with counseling and education on all contraceptive methods with more in depth counseling related to the method choice.
Sharlot said this same information is available to parents of teen boys and girls who suspect their child is sexually active or may be pregnant.
And what does the Health Department do if a pregnancy test is positive?
“The client is offered a maternity appointment to see the clinician if she desires to be followed at the health department for prenatal care,” said Sharlot, “counseling on the danger signs and symptoms in early pregnancy are provided and the need for a pelvic exam as soon as possible, preferably within fifteen days.”
Sharlot said if the girl does not want to be seen by the health department staff, she is offered a physician referral listing for the area.
“She is provided the opportunity to receive counseling and educational information materials, an exam, lab work, prenatal vitamins, WIC and Perinatal High Risk Management (PHRM) as appropriate.” said Sharlot. “She is also counseled on the importance of prenatal and good health practices — proper nutrition, smoking cessation, avoiding x-rays, refrain from drug and alcohol consumption.”
Okolona High School Counselor Zettie Johnson said she urges girls to stay positive and stay in school.
“Yes, it happens more than we want it to, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Johnson. “And yes, as any mother soon finds out, taking care of a baby is a lot of work, but they can do it.”
Johnson and Allen both urged girls who think they are pregnant to get tested and get on a prenatal program to keep the baby healthy.
“Once they are pregnant there is not a lot the school system can do that doesn’t relate to academics,” said Allen. “My office is always open and I’m always here to talk.”
And Coggins may have said it best.
“I love my little girl and I am so glad she is healthy,” said Coggins. “I would encourage other girls to wait, but that’s not the way it always happens.”
• THE FACTS OF LIFE: Today’s stories jump into the broader picture and digs into the numbers. What are the trends in teen pregnancy at the national, state and local level? What are the numbers for our community?
• MOM AND THE BABY: These stories will deal with what a girl faces when she finds out she is pregnant. Who can she talk to? What hurdles does she and her baby face?
• A FATHER’S ROLE: This series on will examine a man’s responsibility in fathering a child. What does the law say about paternity? Where can a teenage boy go to learn parenting skills?
• FAMILY: These stories will talk about the role of grandparents, siblings and community in raising a new baby.
• SOLUTIONS: This final series of stories will consider options and solutions to addressing teen pregnancy. What are and what can our schools do? What resources are lacking in Chickasaw County?
The Chickasaw Journal urges the community to write a Letter to the Editor with their views and possible solutions to teen pregnancy in Chickasaw County. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at Chickasaw Journal, P.O. Box 629, Houston, MS 38851.