Sunday Reflections: Reproductive Rights ARE Teen Issues
When I brought my teenage daughter into this world, I suffered from a horrific pregnancy ailment known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I would not, however, unfortunately know this fact until late into my second pregnancy, when I almost died. It was during this pregnancy that I stood at the edge of the abyss and looked death right in the eyes. It was also during this pregnancy that I learned that my baby was, in fact, already dying if not already dead. Unfortunately, because of a variety of laws that would have required me to wait a week to confirm that pregnancy was in fact no longer viable, I opted to have an abortion – which only required me to wait 24 hours – and save my life. There was a chance I could live another 24 hours, there was less of a chance that I would survive another week. I did the math, looked at my 4-year-old daughter and wondered what her life would be without a mother, and made a very hard by necessary decision for myself. I spent over a year being cared for my medical professionals to help fix some of the very real health issues created by that pregnancy.
I barely survived yet another pregnancy, which brought us the blessing of Thing 2. I was transferred into the care of a high risk ob/gyn who kept me alive by IVs and a medication cocktail that they give to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. I spent six months on bed rest and lost yet another year of my life to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I can not ever get pregnant again as the chances that I will survive are quit negligible. It is imperative for me to never get pregnant again. Everyone in my house uses 3,000 forms of birth control to help make sure that I never get pregnant again and have to face life threatening complications. Pregnancy still kills women.
I am the proud mother to two young girls, one of which is a teenager. It is now known, thanks to scientific research, that Hyperemesis Gravidarum is genetic. So my beloved daughters live with the unfortunate knowledge that they, too, may suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. It is imperative to their health and well being that they be able to have full bodily autonomy and be able to make their own health and reproductive decisions. They need access to affordable birth control. They need to be able to make the decision to end a pregnancy if it is killing them. And we are all too aware of how likely this is for them.
Upwards of 40% of teens will have sex in their teenage years. It doesn’t matter what adults think of this statistic or what adults want for teenagers, the fact is that many teens will and do have sex. Puberty begins around age 12, though earlier and later for many, and the body starts sending signals to their brains and sends hormones rushing through their bodies that make them think about sex – a lot. It’s new territory that they are trying to navigate and figure out. Even the teens that never have sex spend some time thinking about sex. Sex is just part of the teenage zeitgeist. Teenagers need access to accurate information about sex, sexuality, sexual health and more. They also need access to birth control and doctors that will help them make informed health decisions.
But reproductive health and access to birth control and, yes, even abortion isn’t just about sex. It’s about health. Many girls will have health issues related to their periods and reproductive organs and systems, and one way of helping them to deal with these health issues is by providing access to the correct birth control. Long periods, painful periods, endometriosis, PMDD – these are just a few of the very real health issues that women wrestle with that cause them to seek out birth control for reasons that have nothing to do with sex.
For my own personal reasons, I did not have sex until I was married in my early twenties. However, I started taking birth control in high school to help regulate a period that was causing me intense pain, profuse bleeding, and was greatly impacting my quality of life and my ability to function. As a teenager, I needed access to birth control for very real medical reasons. And I didn’t even know then about Hyperemesis Gravidarum and the impact it would have on my life.
Last week, Justice Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court, and those of us who support a woman’s bodily autonomy and a right to make her own medical decisions grew increasingly concerned. I come from a very religious background, I have a degree from a conservative Christian university in youth ministry. I am very aware of what certain parties think not only about abortion, but things like birth control and reproductive rights. I love a wide variety of single issue voters who are not even swayed by having watched me almost die. In fact, I have lost friends and family members who would rather have seen me die then support me in the decision to terminate a failing/failed pregnancy rather than die. I am all too aware of the perilous decisions that hang in the balance that effect a woman’s right to make informed health decisions.
But reproductive health and access to birth control isn’t just a health issue. It’s a religious freedom issue, because not all religions feel the same about birth control and abortion and they should have the right to exercise their religious beliefs. It’s an economic and class issue, because pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing are expensive endeavors that effect a woman’s professional growth and opportunities, earning power, and ability to support herself and her family. It’s a woman’s rights issue because some religions and some men want to use pregnancy as a means to keep women in a submissive and more “traditional” role as opposed to seeing them achieve equal rights with men. Reproductive rights is about far more then what happens inside a women’s uterus and it has far reaching impact on the future for each teen with a uterus.
I talk and tweet about reproductive rights issues frequently, because it has very personal implications for me, not just as a woman myself but as a parent to people with uteruses (uteri?). Also, as someone who advocate for teens, an average of 50% of which have uteruses, I care about reproductive rights. My personal beliefs and choices don’t matter when it comes to other people utersuses. Because I understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood, and the huge financial cost of both, I of course want teens to abstain from sex. But the reality is, many of them don’t. Many of them are being raised in families that have different views about teenage sex then I do, and I have to respect that as well. Whenever I talk about reproductive health and rights, I’m always called out and challenged. But here’s the deal: reproductive health and rights ARE in fact a teen issue. And just like every other issue, my job is to provide my patrons, my teens, access to a wide variety of correct, accurate and unbiased information to help teens make their own personal decisions about both sex and health.
And I will never stop advocating for a teens right to have access to correct information and to make their own decisions about their health and well being. I believe it is imperative for me as a teen advocate and information specialist to champion these rights for teens. And I don’t just do it because I feel that it is my professional duty (it is), a moral obligation (again, it is) or because I care about teens in general (I do), I do it also because I want my daughters to continue to have access to the tools and resources they need to control their own bodies, health, future and general well being. I want my daughters to live, and reproductive rights will help increase their odds.
Reproductive rights ARE teen issues.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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