For parents of teens, the reality of their child bearing a child often becomes an overwhelmingly destructive force. But it doesn’t have to be. By Ciska Thurman
Nomhle Tanale was 19 years old when she discovered she was six months pregnant. Her mother Noludwe (age 46, from Cape Town) describes Nomhle as ‘her baby’ (the youngest of four, by eight years) and recollects clearly the tears of utter shock that Nomhle cried upon learning the news. Ironically, Noludwe was relieved that Nomhle’s ‘stomach problem’ (including persistent vomiting) wasn’t anything serious. But coming home from the hospital that day saw Nomhle hiding in her room, fearing her mother’s growing realisation of what this all meant.
Teen pregnancy in SA
Julia Starck, programme manager for teen parenting at The Parent Centre in Cape Town, provides some context: ‘According to the 2014 Stats SA General Household Survey, 176 000 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 became pregnant in the previous year. There is, however, a huge difference between the numbers of those who claim to have been pregnant and those who actually gave birth.
‘The Department of Health figure for those who gave birth was 72 891. The Western Cape Department of Health is reporting a drop in the rate of babies born, but personally I am not ecstatic about these figures. Yes, it seems the rate is declining – but very slowly.’
Nomhle’s older brother and sisters came together to support their mum. Noludwe describes the anger she felt towards her ‘quiet girl’, her last-born who had never given her trouble like this before. Nomhle’s brother became furious and called for an abortion, but Noludwe felt that her daughter was too young for this, and understood her only option was acceptance. Adoption was not considered.
In 1997, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act came into effect in SA, giving women the right to abortion up to the 20th week of pregnancy. Before that time, very few legal abortions were performed. Today, any woman of any age is able to get an abortion if she is less than 13 weeks pregnant (no reason required). If the woman is between 13 and 20 weeks pregnant, she can get an abortion if the following conditions do apply: danger to her physical or mental health; the likelihood of severe mental or physical abnormalities in the baby; pregnancy due to incest or rape; or the mother’s economic or social status is sufficient reason for the termination of pregnancy. After 20 weeks, it is only pregnancies that are likely to endanger the mother or child, or have resulted in a severely malformed fetus, that are legally allowed to be terminated.
Essential to know Safe, legal abortions can only be performed in places that are designated by the Department of Health, and by medical specialists who are permitted to do so by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). You’ll need to confirm an address in clinical surroundings and a HPCSA registration number before you do anything else.
If a woman decides to give her child up for adoption in South Africa, the first step is to contact an adoption social worker. This social worker may work for the state, an NGO or a private company that facilitates adoptions or offers other services to birth mothers. The social worker will also immediately offer some counselling about the legal, financial, physical and emotional implications of all choices available to the birth mother. If she elects to go ahead with adoption, the birth mother will enter a therapeutic process that is designed to care for her physical and emotional well-being (and that of the baby’s) throughout. The social worker will also work with the court and adoptive parents regarding all the legalities: involving the legal guardians (should the birth mother be a minor), finalising the adoption plan and ensuring there is an agreement between all parties.
Essential to know The birth father’s consent is required to give the baby up for adoption. Adoption law in South Africa stipulates that the birth mother or father has the right to change their mind within a 60-day period after the child has been born.
Above all, support
Athayanda Tanale (whose first name means ‘increasing of the family’) was born on 22 November 2015. Noludwe says ‘he is beautiful and doing very well’. So too is his mother. Noludwe’s sisters travelled across the country to help her, and her older children have continued to be supportive. Noludwe concludes with the following advice for parents who, like her, are parenting pregnant teenagers: ‘Children will do what they do. Do not stay angry for long. Come back. Talk to your child about what she can do. And most importantly, show her love. If you do not love your daughter in this situation, she will not know how to show love to her child one day.’
Marie Stopes South Africa
National Adoption Coalition
The Parent Centre