These topics were discussed during the “Child Watch Tour: Putting the Pieces Together” on June 25, which focused on increasing awareness and responding to difficulties faced by teen parents.
The tour was made possible by Smart Start Cherokee County and Community Partners for Adair and Cherokee Counties Coalition.
About 30 people took the tour, which included stops at Tahlequah City Hospital, Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Indian Medical Center, Help-In-Crisis and Kid Connection to inform participants of resources and services each site provides to teen parents, pregnant teens and the children of teen parents.
In 2000, more than 11,000 girls in Oklahoma between the ages of 15 and 19 were pregnant. In 2006, Oklahoma saw more than 1,100 births to Native American teen females, according to thenationalcampaign.org, a Web site aimed at preventing teen and unplanned pregnancies.
“Every day we schedule four new OB (obstetric) intakes, and out of the four, at least two to three of those are teens,” Paulette Wilson, a registered nurse at Hastings, said. “We have a high teen pregnancy rate.”
Registered nurse Sarah Craig, who has been a nurse/midwife at NEO Health Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates in Tahlequah for nearly three years, said she said she’s seen one significant change in teenage girls during that time – they now want to get pregnant.
“The big change I’ve seen in the last 2 ½ years with teenagers is they’re wanting to be pregnant,” Craig said. “These aren’t accidents anymore. Not like they used to be. They think it’s cool. They think it’s a way to get out of school.”
But pregnancy doesn’t get girls out of school anymore, not like it did in years past when pregnant teens could be homebound. “There’s no more homebound because you’re pregnant,” she said. “You’re not sick; you’re pregnant.”
Craig, a teenage mother herself at 18, graduated from high school while pregnant. But with her husband and mother’s support, she obtained her licensed practical nursing degree and two master’s degrees in nursing and midwifery.
“I have a big calling to teen pregnancy,” she said. “It’s been a big issue, and it’s an ongoing issue, and it’s only getting worse instead of better, unfortunately. We all know that it’s an issue, and we need to change it.”
Craig said discussions about abstinence, teen pregnancy and safe sex are common in her house with her four children.
“This is dinner conversation at my house with my kids,” she said. “That’s the message you need to give every teenager you meet. You tell them, but sometimes it’s not enough. (Sex is) fun? So is riding a bike. So is water skiing. It’s an adult act and has a lot of repercussions.”
Craig said parents, counselors, teachers and community members need to get involved with teens earlier.
“At eighth and ninth grade, they’re already pregnant,” she said. “You have to tell them, ‘you can have sex all day long. That doesn’t make you an adult. You’re making an adult decision, but you’re not ready to handle the adult responsibilities that come with it.’”
Jan Tomascheski, a Cherokee County Systems of Care employee, went on the tour to become more informed. Accompanying her was her 16-year-old daughter, Jenee, who carried a “Baby Think It Over” infant simulator.
The simulator is a lifelike, life-size doll with realistic computerized responses, which allows people to experience some demands of infant care.
“(The infant simulator) is something we’re doing as part of today, and I guess as a mom as well,” Tomascheski said. “It’s programmed and has sensors, so when the baby starts to cry…it’s hungry, needs a diaper change, the head’s not being supported, had shaken baby (syndrome), fussy or needs to be burped. It’s up to the student to see what the baby needs and is up to them to fix it.”
Jenee said the crying doll caused her some hectic moments as she tried to figure out what was wrong with it. “It’s a weird feeling. I don’t know what to do,” she said.
The simulator served its purpose after half a day of random crying because Jenee said she doesn’t have plans in the near future to be in that situation.
But for teenage girls who have had babies, it’s not too late to help them get educated, get jobs and be good, successful parents, Craig said.
“You just have to encourage them and tell them, ‘it’s not the end,’” she said. “You’ve just taken a different road in life.”