Session 11—Unintended Pregnancy
This session opens room for conversation around adolescent unintended pregnancy. While some parents and caregivers in this workshop may consider their children too young to face an unintended pregnancy, they, too, will benefit from a review of the options and the opportunity to prepare to support their children.
The session invites reflections on participants’ own experiences and beliefs as well as their hopes and fears for their children. It affirms that, should an unintended pregnancy occur, the expectations and hopes of the youth in the situation may differ radically from expectations and hopes held by the adults, who bring additional life experiences and and knowledge. The session supports parents and caregivers to prepare to communicate and support across this divide, should an unintended pregnancy occur.
This exploration may bring up emotions, even distress, related to participants’ own experiences. For this reason, it is recommended that facilitators leave space for deeper feelings to emerge, invite participants to take care of themselves as they need to should intense feelings arise, and have a plan to follow up this session with pastoral care if needed.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, on average in the United States young people have sex for the first time at about age 17, but do not marry until their mid-20s. During the interim period of nearly a decade or longer, young people may be at heightened risk for unintended pregnancy. While declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States are significant, caregivers would be best served by preparing for a conversation. This session helps participants explore emotions around pregnancy options and set their focus on developing conversational trust with their youth and becoming ready to support them.
- Chalice and lighter or LED candle
- Computer with Internet access, and a projector
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- Covenant on newsprint sheet, from Session 1
- Journals or paper, and pencils/pens
- Handout 11.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources
- Explore items offered on the Recommended Multimedia Resources handout to ground yourself more fully in the topic. You may email the handout to participants prior to the session, plan for the group to view the videos or explore the websites during the session (note that this will extend your meeting time), and/or provide the handout afterward. You can modify the handout to include local resources.
- Preview the video, “Denise X Youth Testify” (YouTube, 7:01). It is from the Youth Testify project created by We Testify, an advocacy group for abortion access, and Advocates for Youth, an organization that supports youth in demanding sexual health, rights, and justice.
- Post the group’s covenant.
- Optional: Write the Focused Check-In prompt and Reflection questions on newsprint; post the Focused Check-in prompt.
Opening (10 minutes)
Welcome participants. If any participants are new, provide a quick round of introductions. Quickly review the group covenant and invite any questions.
Say that today’s topic will explore feelings around unintended pregnancy as it pertains not to us but to our children, should they, one day, experience it.
Invite a participant to light the chalice while reading the following passage from the Abortion Conversation Projects (link provided in Handout 11.1):
What you say at this point can influence the outcome positively or negatively. Your first reaction can shut down further discussion or can open the door to trust and cooperation. Take some time. It’s OK to say “I’m in shock. Give me some time to absorb this news.” “I love you. We will figure this out together.”
If you have already blurted out something you wish you hadn’t, acknowledge that you spoke without thinking. Apologize and start over with a positive message that you feel better about. “When I said, ‘___’ I was in shock and just reacting. I’m sorry. I really want to be there for you now. I hope you will let me help.”
Focused Check-In (5 minutes)
Invite the group to sit in silence, taking in the words just spoken. Lead the participants to take a deep breath together. Then, ask everyone to reflect on, and then share their name and answer to this question: “When I think about unintended pregnancy, I first think about _________.”
Invite participants to respond briefly, as they are ready. It is okay to have some silence while participants think about the question. Make sure each one has an opportunity to speak, or to pass.
Spotlight (20 minutes)
Open this Spotlight activity by saying in these words, or your own:
There are three options for someone who has an unintended pregnancy—parenting; birth and adoption; and termination of the pregnancy. Adults who are now parents and caregivers will all have personal experiences that influence how we think and feel about each of these options. This session invites us to consider these options with a focus that is not on ourselves, but on our children who may one day experience an unintended pregnancy and face these options themselves. The session will help us prepare to be there for them.
Suggest that, throughout the activities to come, participants hold the following questions. If you are meeting online, you might add these questions to the Chat. If you are in person, you might post them on newsprint. Read them aloud, pausing after each one:
- What reactions are you having: thoughts, emotions, sensations in your body?
- What pregnancy stories, intentional or unintentional, do you carry inside about yourself, a partner, a family member, a friend?
- How did the child/children whom you parent or caretake come into your life?
Say that holistic, comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives are proven to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy, but, other than abstinence, there is no guarantee for avoiding it. Share these statistics with the group:
- The majority of pregnancies to women younger than 20 were unintended, with proportions ranging from 56% unintended in New Mexico to 79% in Maryland and New Jersey. (from Guttmacher Institute, 2013 data)
- The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports that in the period 2015-2017, 78% of females and 89% of males aged 15–24 who had their first sexual intercourse before age 20 used a contraceptive method at first sexual intercourse.
- The Guttmacher Institute reports that as of 2013, adolescents age 14 or younger are less likely to have used a contraceptive method. https://www.guttmacher.org/report/us-adolescent-pregnancy-trends-2013
Allow participants to react briefly to these statistics. Then, invite the group to move from statistics to one youth’s unintended pregnancy story, and introduce the video “Denise X.” Say it is one recorded youth testimony from a storytelling project created by We Testify, an advocacy group for abortion access, and Advocates for Youth, an organization that supports youth in demanding sexual health, rights, and justice. Explain that Denise, the young woman in the video, becomes emotional about her pregnancy, its outcome, and disappointment in family support. Acknowledge that some participants may experience the video as triggering. Affirm that it is fine for participants to turn off their camera, take a break from the session, do whatever they need to do to care for themselves.
Show the video (7:01). When the video concludes, invite the group into a minute or two silence to gather their responses. Encourage them to journal, as they are moved, with any thoughts, feelings, or issues that have come up.
When the group seems ready to re-gather, introduce the next reading. Say that it is a different young woman’s story, from a blog post at Scarleteen, in which an author explores the feelings of shame and stigma around teen pregnancy. Read aloud:
I found out I was pregnant just two months after my 17th birthday.
As my doctor repeated that my test was positive, I sat there in silence with my mind reviewing all of the reasons this was impossible. How could I be pregnant? I was an honor roll student, I was in a private school, I had caring parents, and I’ve been on the pill for almost two years now. Teen pregnancy didn’t happen to people like me, right?
Unfortunately, I had this negative image in my mind of the type of girl who would get pregnant and she looked nothing like me. So, I had a hard time understanding how this happened, but I had a harder time making decisions about what would happen. After considering all of my options, I chose to continue with my pregnancy.
The next few months got messy fast. Before I even gave birth, my parents kicked me out. I had to transfer to a public school. My boyfriend went off to the Marine Corps. I didn’t get to enjoy my pregnancy like some older women do; no one celebrated it with me. I knew that people recognized my pregnancy as a mistake, but an unplanned pregnancy didn’t promise I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I just wanted to make the best of it, but that never happened. Instead, people talked down to me and asked me private and offensive questions.
“Was it planned? Do you know who the baby daddy is? Are you afraid of what your life will be like now?”
After being asked these same questions so many times, I thought it would be best to just hide from everyone. Out of anger and sadness, I began to feel hatred and frustration towards the people around me. It took years for me to realize that the pain I was feeling about my life had a lot to do with the way the people around me treated me.
Again, invite the group to take a minute to gather, journaling if they wish, their responses. Then say:
Each of us will always respond to personal stories on a personal level, yet at the same time, the group is here today as parents and caregivers, wondering what may be asked of us.
Share this reading from a blog post by sexuality educator Heather Corinna on her Scarleteen, Sex Ed for the Real World website:
What you really want to do -- I hope -- is to help women of all ages to understand what all their possible choices are for their whole lives, to have a good idea of what making any given choice can entail, the possible positives and negatives alike, and how it could impact them and others. What you probably really want to do is to help young people, all people, make choices around sex, pregnancy and parenting which are most likely to result in a happy, healthy life, and the life any given person most wants for themselves and those in their lives. What you also probably want to do is work just as much towards creating a culture of support for those who do become pregnant -- by choice or by accident -- and choose to parent, as you work to support those making different choices. And if you really want to help to prevent unwanted teen pregnancy, you need to make sure your efforts are directed just as much towards young men as they are towards young women.
Reflection (40 minutes)
Invite participants to reflect on the statistics, the video, and the readings from Scarleteen, responding one at a time as they are moved, without cross-talk or discussion. Read all the questions and invite the participants to respond to the question or questions that speak most deeply to them, reminding participants of the amount of time each person will be able to speak.
- Have you ever had a pregnancy “scare,” when you thought you or a partner had unintentionally become pregnant? Has anyone ever talked to you about having an abortion, or asked you for help? What was it like for you to be in one of these situations?
- In what ways do your pregnancy stories, whether planned or unplanned, your own or a partner’s or friend’s, impact your ability to have a conversation with your teen about unintended pregnancy?
- How do you hope for your child to feel about their communication with you around unintended pregnancy?
- How will you support your child if you don’t agree with their decisions?
Taking It Home (10 minutes)
After everyone has a chance to share, invite the group to appreciate themselves and one another for taking the time to be here. Ask participants to think about all that was shared and experienced during the meeting and then lift up one comment or experience for which they are particularly grateful.
Invite people to respond as they are moved. When all who wish to have spoken, say you wish to offer a challenge to help them shape their “take home” learning into an action they can commit to:
The website of Family Lives, an organization in the U.K., offers advice for parents and caregivers to support their children in an unintended pregnancy. Their first suggestion is this: “Accept that you’ll experience a whole range of emotions and fears. This is completely normal. Focus on your teen’s needs, not your feelings.”
After today’s time together, do you agree with this advice? Will you remember to let it guide you, should many months or years pass before you may need it? What might get in your way?
Invite participants to find their paper and writing implement. Encourage them to take in the following questions and use one or more as prompts to make one commitment toward healthy, open communication with their child/children around unintended pregnancy. Read aloud slowly:
- What is an honest and comfortable conversation you can have now with your child to help ensure that they will come to you as a resource if they experience an unintended pregnancy, whether for themselves or for a partner or friend?
- How confident are you that you could supply current resources and lend solid support for your child, should they decide to become a parent? To have a child they will give to an adoptive family? To terminate a pregnancy? What do you need to build your confidence to support each of these choices?
- How comfortable are you with your own stories around unintended pregnancy? What is a conversation you need to have with a partner or trusted friend?
Pause, then say:
Now, please write down your answer to this last question: What promise can you make now for something you will do, between now and our next meeting, to foster healthy, supportive communication about unintended pregnancy with your child?
Closing Reading (5 minutes)
Share this reading, from Rev. Lindasusan Ulrich on the UUA WorshipWeb:
Pervasive Love, thank you for the gifts of the unexpected, for the chance encounters that enrich our lives out of all proportion. Help us make decisions, however small, based in compassion and integrity. And when we reach a pivot point, be the wind at our back guiding us towards the highest good. Amen and blessed be.
Extinguish the chalice. Thank the group for their participation. If you haven’t done so yet, distribute Handout 11.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources, for parents/caregivers to take home.