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April 3, 2003

Babies

Last week was a week of an unexpected trial. After one of my classes, 2 of the male teachers pulled me aside and asked me to talk with one of our students, Louisa. 15-year-old Louisa. Louisa who is, mildly put, struggling in all of her classes. Louisa who dresses provocatively. Louisa who always seems standoffish. The teachers were concerned about her "health", or rather, that she might be pregnant.

Louisa and I sat in the shade of an acacia tree for over an hour. During that time, she drew with a stick in the dirt, sweat profusely, and outright lied to me. Among my many questions to her was if she knew how a woman became pregnant and how a woman could tell if she was pregnant. Louisa did not have an answer for either. I tried as patiently as I could to explain what she needed to know. But, still, Louisa kept silent.

I needed a new tactic.

A little later on in that same day, Louisa, a few of the female students, who supposedly knew that Louisa was pregnant, and I sat for another meeting.

I relayed a story my cousin Bethany once told about when she found out she was pregnant. Bethany had the most ideal situation for any woman. She dearly wanted to have a baby and she was married to a man who also wanted the baby. They were financially secure, they were employed, and they were old enough to know how a baby would change their lives. But, still, when Bethany found out that she was pregnant, she was scared. A baby changes a woman's life drastically. Bethany's point in telling the story was to demonstrate just how scared a young woman, a teenager, might feel. Perhaps the father does not want part in it, perhaps she is scared to tell anyone, and perhaps she doesn't want it or doesn't know what to do.

That was Louisa's situation and the situation of so many women.

She, at 15 years old, was dating a 19-year-old. Once he heard that she was pregnant, he broke up with her. She wanted to quickly and quietly have an abortion so she could continue with her schooling. She stressed several times that she did not, under any circumstances, want the baby.

But it is not that easy. Our school has a policy that states when a student becomes pregnant, she must leave. They are permitted to return the following year. The main reason for the policy is just that we do not have the capabilities to care for a pregnant woman. We cannot guarantee her health.

And, so, Louisa had to leave the school. She had to tell her father, a man of whom she is terrified. And, as it financially stands now, it looks doubtful if she will be able to come back next year.

What struck me, especially, were thoughts about my own sex education, or lack there of, in school. I cannot remember a single truthful, honest conversation about sex and, coming from a Catholic school, I cannot remember a conversation, truthful or not, about how to keep from getting pregnant or contracting a disease. My education was lacking in a land filled with resources of all types: books, magazines, websites, doctors. I could not imagine what Louisa learned and did not learn.

After all of this and after a week to reflect upon it, I am still sad. Women in this world have so few opportunities and I just saw one woman lose hers. I hate to think of all the women who are chastised for becoming pregnant at an untimely moment in their lives. Who are we to chastise anyone, especially when we know so little about her life?