Teens experiencing pregnancy loss while attending school need more support

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Are you wondering where you went wrong? You're not alone.
Are you wondering where you went wrong? You're not alone.

Pregnancy loss appears to be an 'unspeakable' taboo topic in South African society. There is a certain level of stigma attached to it, and little or no support is offered to women who experience the tragic loss of pregnancy before term or through stillbirth. 

It becomes even worse for a minor attending school who is experiencing this and is expected to focus and write their examinations. 

According to Angela Hough-Maxwell, a local educational psychologist, the loss of a pregnancy can cause a teen or person experiencing it to withdraw from their social circle, to be angry, easily irritable, and unable to focus because they are still dealing with grief.

Read: Stillbirth: It's not your fault, and this is why

One local young woman sharing her traumatising experience is Okuhle Khanyo.

She found out she was pregnant in June 2020 while in Grade 11, soon after she turned 16. 

Scared to bring shame to her well-respected family, not ready to be a mother and knowing her family's financial state; she thought of terminating the pregnancy. 

Although those were all her reasons to consider termination, she could not follow through with it since she had no money to go to the clinic and was at home with her parents - whom she could not divulge her situation to because of how strict they were.

The fear of being exposed as the pregnant teenager in her class showed through her poor performance as she was one of the most intelligent children in her class.

One teacher noticed something was wrong. A few days later, her best friend snitched on her to the teacher. 

Khanyo's teacher accompanied her on 15 October to her aunt's place to tell her parents she was pregnant. Her parents were disappointed in her, but they said to her that she needed to focus on passing Grade 11, and they promised to take care of the baby, which was a relief for her.

At 7 months pregnant in December 2020, Khanyo was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia. She couldn't sleep because of the severe headaches and was only allowed to drink one particular painkiller since it wouldn't harm her baby.

"On 14 January 2021, around 03:30 am, I wanted to use the toilet, but nothing happened. I went back to bed and fell asleep again. When I woke up, I wanted to vomit, and while I was vomiting, I thought I was peeing on myself, and I then realised that it was blood coming out". 

She had lost the baby as the doctors couldn't find the heartbeat later that day. She gave birth to a stillborn.

Must read: 'Death is the daughter-in-law of all families': Mom shares her story of stillbirth

With the support of family, teachers and friends, Khanyo got through the grief process and passed her Grade 12 with four distinctions and proceeded to further her studies at Cape Peninsula University of Technology doing Medical Laboratory Science.

She feels that it is important to shine the light on the challenges and mental health struggles of teenage moms who experience pregnancy loss while completing high school.

Hough-Maxwell agrees with her adding that there is a need for more support for young people and the need for spaces where these young people can deal with their loss.

Supporting grieving students

Counselors and contributors Maribeth Lyles, Robert Kurtz, and Alisa Snelbaker share practical recommendations.

One of the important things they remind councellors or educational psychologists dealing with children experiencing grief is to remember that children suffering losses grieve in different ways.

  • Do not evaluate the child's grief by comparing it to the way you grieve as an adult.
  • Tailor your interventions to be developmentally appropriate for the child.
  • Let the student know that it is normal to grieve.
  • Do not deny their emotions or make judgmental comments as to how they should handle their feelings.
  • Suggest that the student might express grief, both verbally and nonverbally.
  • Expressing a loss through art, music, poetry, being alone, or another type of memorial are some ways students have been helped.
  • If a student wants to talk, be there for him/her, but respect their right not to talk.

Grief takes time

Psychological practitioner Nina Toohey told Parent24 that the trauma process eventually takes an upward shift towards readjustment.

"We gradually come to terms with the situation, adapt and make changes towards a new lifestyle. This, however, takes time," advises Toohey.

She added that at the beginning of the loss, grief will consume our lives; however, as time continues, one should accept that grief will not go away but will become a smaller, more manageable part of our lives.

Chatback:

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