dolly_november_2013Pregnant and punished: Dolly and teen pregnancy

Girl Mag Review Dolly November 2013

Melinda Tankard Reist

‘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).

I’m pleased Dolly mentioned Red Cross and Raise Foundation. A broader list of resources would also have been welcome. It takes a lot for a young woman to decide to proceed with pregnancy, and often the support they need to carry to term and raise their child are lacking – which can contribute to negative health outcomes for both mother and baby. A 17-year-old woman contacted me recently, looking for support. She lives in an outer suburb of Melbourne and was suffering insults including being called a “slut” for deciding (with her boyfriend) to give birth. Fortunately there was a service provider not to far away happy to help her. A housing service for pregnant women in Canberra, many of them young, turns away 400 women a year it is unable to house. Young women shouldn’t be punished for being pregnant yet it seems a swelling belly is the modern day version of the Scarlet Letter. A young pregnant woman needs our support more than ever.

‘How to make any decision’ is a guide to helping girls make the best decision, assessing the risks and benefits then helping the reader determine whether to ‘Just don’t do it’, ‘Think it Over’ for ‘Go for it’ – which you can do “If you’ve got the support of your friends and family and have really thought through every pro and con…It’s likely this action is going to make you happy, make others happy and also give you some valuable experience for when you’re next in this situation.”

‘Dolly Jobs’ provides advice to girls who may like to consider a career as a flight attendant. The article also provides advice on impressing during work experience.

Continuing an ongoing and important theme in both Dolly and Girlfriend in recent times, Dolly looks at ‘When jokes become bullying’. While it’s normal for friends to “Jokingly take digs at one another” in an affectionate and playful way, “Bullying, on the other hand, involves humiliation and cruel comments disguised as jokes. Someone is made to feel small and upset. This is where the joking behaviour stops,” says psychologist Emma Webster. You can tell the difference if it’s one-sided or there’s a power difference. Girls are given advice on what to do when it happens to them – try to be assertive, direct, deliver in a low-key way – and how to help a friend who is being bullied.

‘When sorry is the hardest word’ helps girls to give genuine and thought-out apologies to assist in building solid, resilient relationships. “Every relationship will encounter problems, as no two people will ever think, feel or behave exactly alike,” says psychologist Gemma Cribb. “As well as healing friendships, apologies also help relieve guilt when you feel that you’ve done something wrong.” Any article which helps girls to deal with conflict in healthy ways and find ways to heal relationships is welcome.

Dolly Doctor has a feature on helping girls check their vaginas, breasts, bladder and bowel movements and tummy health.

‘Reality Reads’ includes the story of Kate who supported her boyfriend through testicular cancer. He changed during the treatment – especially while undergoing chemo- and “the boy I had known and loved for almost three years became a different person.” Eventually he was cleared but “we’d been torn apart by the cancer and we broke up.” She says she grew from her experience and cherishes life in new ways, but was a “teenager forced to grow up to fast.” An honest account from a young woman.’ Dolly All Stars’ introduced 2013’s “high-achieving, super talented” readers – Jade, 18 an aspiring pastry chef, Holli, 16, a UNICEF ambassador, Nina, 17, a musician, Coral, 15, a champion windsurfer, Lauren, 18, a mentor to adolescent hospital patients, Samantha, 19, a youth in agriculture advocate, Poppy, 13, a skater and entrepreneur, Tegan, 19, an ambassador for gender quality, Madeleine, 16, an actress and indigenous rights campaigner, and Kaiya, 17, and animal rights activist.

It’s always a breath of fresh air to read about young women like this even if you have to plough through 90 pages of mostly fashion, beauty advice and shopping to get there.