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What options are available to pregnant women?

In the light of Pregnancy Education Month, which kicks off today for the month of February, emphasis is again placed on family planning and “what to expect when expecting”.

And while birth is one of the most natural processes on earth, studies have shown that one in every four women describes giving birth as a traumatic experience, according to a statement by the Childbirth Educators’ Professional Forum, which has recently partnered with Bio-Oil for the “Empowering Birth” February campaign.

Furthermore, research has shown that up to 20% meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and that women who fear childbirth experience longer labour, and are more likely to need an emergency caesarean.

So much more is said of unexpected, or “unwanted” pregnancies, especially among teenagers who seldomly feel as if they have the much needed guidance and support to make life-changing decisions, which sadly often result in babies being dumped or discarded.

According to the 2016 South Africa Demographic and Health Survey conducted in collaboration with the national health department and the South African Medical Research Council, about 16% of women aged 15 to 19 have borne children, 12% have given birth, and another 3% were pregnant with their first child at the time of the survey.

The survey presents findings from approximately 13 000 households interviewed.

Based on information provided by interviewees between the ages of 15 to 49 years, 17% of men and 5% of women reported having two or more sexual partners in the past 12 months, with only 58% of women and 65% of men having multiple partners in the past year, and indicating that they used a condom in their last sexual encounter.

The survey further recorded that teenage mothers are more likely to experience “adverse pregnancy outcomes”, and are more “constrained in their ability to pursue educational opportunities”, which remains a source of concern to teachers.

According to provincial education department spokesperson Jessica Shelver, the department’s policy on managing learner pregnancy is designed to encourage pregnant learners to remain at school.

“The department employs social workers in every circuit who work with our colleagues in other departments and agencies, the individuals concerned and their families to address broader societal issues,” she said.

The policy provides step-by-step guidelines on how schools should support pregnant learners, she further explained.

“It aims to ensure that pregnant learners stay at school and complete their schooling,” Shelver said.

“The policy recognises that all concerned have roles and responsibilities in this situation, including the school, the parents of the unborn child, and the families concerned.”

The department treats pregnant learners sensitively – as learners with special needs – and provides them with access to counselling by social workers and psychologists based in its district offices.

“The department works with our schools and other departments such as health and social development to provide appropriate support,” she explained.

“In terms of the Constitution, principals, school governing bodies and Education Management and Development Centres (EMDCs) are accountable for all learners’ rights to quality education; this includes enrolled expectant learners or learners who are parents.

“To balance the parental responsibilities and educational needs of learners who are parents, partnerships with education support services, social services and the health department should be forged within the EMDCs.”

Shelver encouraged learners who seek advice to call the Safe Schools call centre on 0800 45 46 47.

Apart from support offered in schools, expectant moms, irrespective of age, who find themselves in a panic-stricken situation where they feel they have to hide their pregnancy from their parents or loved ones, or feel they have no other option than to “discard” the baby, are urged to seek assistance at one of the crisis pregnancy centres across the province.

In the Helderberg, Choices Crisis Pregnancy Centre offers expectant mothers free counselling and information regarding the various options available in relation to their pregnancy and baby.

The Helderberg Baby Saver, a special safe built into the wall at the centre offers a safer option of discarding an unwanted baby than a dustbin or drain.

During a special presentation on the Helderberg Baby Saver at a recent Subcouncil 8 meeting, founder Sandy Immelman said 3 500 children are abandoned annually.

“For every one found alive, two are found dead,” she explained.

Choices is easily accessible to the community, located on the corner of Schapenberg and Old Sir Lowry’s Pass roads in Somerset West, Immelman added.

Once a baby is placed in the baby saver, an alarm is activated that is monitored by Securite, who immediately informs the appointed respondent and dispatches an ambulance, Immelman explained.

The baby is then taken to Helderberg Hospital for a medical evaluation before being handed over to a social worker to start the process of adoption or fostering.

For more information on the Helderberg Baby Saver, visit www.babysaver.co.za or phone Choices on 021 852 6454.

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