Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not Just Another Statistic

When I was a Junior at Clemson (Go Tigers!), I got the phone call that I would never expect to get. It was my mom in tears, “Sarah, your sister is pregnant,” she said. A thousand thoughts rushed into my head all at once and from that moment on, my family was never the same again.

Let’s take a few steps back. My mother and step-father had recently divorced, my boyfriend was thousands of miles away, in Iraq, and I was just trying to maintain a decent grade point average while dealing with social pressures at college and desperately missing home. My sister and I are two years apart. I was always the over-achiever and she was always able to live life by “the seat of her pants.” I’ve always admired her free-spirit and ability to live spontaneously, never considering future implications. It was ironic that the personality traits that I admired in my sister were the same factors that put her at risk for an unintended pregnancy.

My sister was 18 years old, fresh out of high school and experiencing the first few months of being a freshman in college when she found out that she was pregnant. I never thought that our family would be “that” family. I never considered how a teen pregnancy would impact my family. I always thought that my sister and I would watch each other graduate from college, get married and have kids together in that order. Parts of me felt embarrassed and other parts of me felt resentful. I kept thinking “how could this happen?” and I realized that my sister and I had always been college prepped but never prepped for the world of hormones and sexual behaviors.

My parents prepared us for college since day one. I was wearing a Clemson ‘onesie’ when I was just a few weeks old. The standard in my family was to graduate college, get a great job, get married and then have kids. We never even knew that sometimes it doesn’t always happen in that order. My mom always made sure I was prepared for school, enrolling me in all the SAT prep courses, encouraging me to take the AP classes, and always supporting me academically. One thing was certain; school was priority in our home. It never dawned on my parents that if we made risky sexual decisions, those academic dreams would be put on hold or would cease to exist altogether. Our sexual education occurred when I was in the 8th grade, we were eating dinner at the kitchen table when my sister and I started giggling at the neighbor’s cat getting a little too fresh with our precious kitty, Sassy. We asked my mom what they were doing and my mother replied “they are being vulgar and having sex. That is only for adults…and cats”. And that was it. That was my sexual education.

So why is it that parents prepare and encourage their children to grow up with dreams of achieving academic success while never considering that if a teen puts themselves at risk for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, that those dreams may never be achieved? If parents spent as much time preparing their teens for safe sexual practices as they do for the SAT, don’t you think that teens would be more prepared to take care of their sexual health? Maybe instead of SAT courses, we should implement sex education courses that prepare our young adults for a world of sexual behaviors and unintended outcomes.

Today, four years after I received that phone call, I look at my sister and I still see a teen mother; a mother that had to abruptly stop being a child to raise a child of her own. Every time I see a statistic on another teen pregnancy; I see my sister’s young face, and that face is what motivates me to help other young people prevent unintended pregnancies.

by: Sarah Huggins-Kershner, Research and Evaluation Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
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