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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pregnant at sixteen

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pregnant at sixteen

Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Pregnant at sixteen

I’ve been sitting in my office all morning praying to “AK’s” guardian angel to watch over her today with special care and attention, and telling myself that no sixteen-year-old should be giving birth tight now, and especially not under the circumstances in which this type of thing happens here….


No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to concentrate this morning. My mind wanders to the birthing tables in the maternity wards here – cement slabs covered with tiles – hard and cold – on one of which a girl from FAR’s unschooled girls project is giving birth right about now.


Even though she’s one of the “lucky ones,” because she has all our affection, support and help, things are the way they are here, and she’s giving birth with “no frills” – no anesthesia – at sixteen, that age somewhere between girlhood and adolescence…


It comforts me that Rosalie, the project leader, is with her. She won’t leave her alone and she is giving her the affection and understanding she needs right now. She is with the girl in the birthing room because her mother doesn’t know much about giving affection and understanding… Here the culture of showing affection isn’t too visible in relations between parents and children…


I’m also consoled that “AK” knows what’s happening, because we prepared her. We explained it to her, and even though it will be painful, it won’t catch her off guard. Here that’s a luxury… In any case, without FAR’s support, in this type of unexpected early pregnancy – unfortunately quite common here – the girl can start having contractions without even knowing she is pregnant or what is going to happen during birth.


We didn’t know about her pregnancy – nor did she – until the end of the seventh month. In a routine check-up of the project’s girls enrolled in school (“AK is in fifth grade), we saw that her ankles were swollen. There were no other signs of pregnancy. The thing is, the power of the mind is such that it can tell the body to “hide” the symptoms. When the girl found out and accepted the situation, her belly of almost 8 months relaxed and popped out almost overnight.


Tradition plays an important role here. When her pregnancy was confirmed, and before even telling her father, we had to look for a house to take “AK” in. In her family’s ethnic group, the fact of an unmarried girl’s early and unintended pregnancy puts her father’s life at risk. The only way to avoid his death is to remove the girl from the family home, leaving no trace of her, before the father is informed of the pregnancy.


Society has something to say about these cases as well. The child’s father’s family is expected to take care of her. Normally, “AK,” once kicked out of her house, would have installed herself in the house of the babe’s father and become their responsibility.


So it goes like this here: they get you pregnant (in most cases it is not consensual…); they kick you out of your house; you have to go live with the family of the guy who got you pregnant – people you don’t even know; you can’t go home until you’ve given birth and your family has made the sacrifices necessary to break the curse of your pregnancy on your father…


“AK’s” “luck” was that the guy who got her pregnant – a 20-year old young man – got another girl pregnant a few months later, and that girl had already moved in with him. So “AK” was able to escape her destiny of “forced marriage” to this young man and has the possibility of becoming a single mother, in charge of her own life.


In Burkina there is terrible ignorance and a total lack of information about sexual education. “AK” didn’t stop telling us that she hadn’t known that she could get pregnant from what she had done. And I believe her. It’s a taboo that isn’t addressed at school and even less so at home. And new technologies arrived a few years ago in a big way, completely without control or restriction, giving young people who are unprepared to manage the information unfettered access to its negative impact.


So, as all’s well that ends well, thanks to AK’s” case, we become aware of something we didn’t know, and have begun some sexual education talks with the parents and children in our projects. Contrary to our expectations, they have successfully generated much interest and high participation.


I conclude this post – the length of which got away from me… Sorry! – with news that has brought me peace: A beautiful baby has come into this world at 2.8 kilos, and “AK” is smiling again – something she hadn’t done since learning of her pregnancy. Life goes on and the great big FAR family has a new member!

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