Never judge a man or woman until you've walked a mile in his or her moccasins.
My father-in-law keeps a plaque professing this proverb in his law office. I recalled these words of wisdom Monday, when Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin announced that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant. The teenager plans to marry her child's father, according to news reports.
A lot of controversy has surrounded coverage of Bristol Palin's pregnancy after her mother's disclosure. However, this family's time in the spotlight has compelled the media, as well as members of the public, to discuss the issue of teen pregnancy. This should not, and cannot, be a topic that is considered taboo. How else can we educate our children unless we openly and honestly discuss serious health issues with them? The answer is we can't.
Linda Kay Goodwin
I applaud the Palin family's commitment to life and want to take this opportunity to share with readers some information about teen pregnancy.
Teen pregnancy is one of the most difficult experiences a young person might ever face, because it usually interrupts school or other plans. It can create an emotional crisis resulting in feelings of shame and fear.
Some pregnant teens feel as if they may crumble under the pressures of their environment. They feel pressure when breaking the news to parents, and finding help may seem like an impossible task.
Teen parents, as they work to care for their child and themselves, may feel alienated from their friends, especially if those friends do not have children of their own. Teen parents often feel the need to invest extra effort into maintaining relationships with friends or feel they may have to build new support networks with other moms and dads.
Teen years can be a tough time, a time for independence, self-absorption, unexplained emotions and raging hormones. Peer pressure often is an issue in terms of behavior. A teen's body changes rapidly. As adolescents adjust to puberty, they become irritable, self-conscious, and their moods seem to swing without reason.
Sexually active teens need to know the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, which may include no menstrual period, nausea and/or vomiting, soreness and/or enlargement of breasts, increased urination, fatigue or no symptoms at all.
If pregnancy is suspected, a reasonable option is to take a pregnancy test and consult with a health care provider. Delaying prenatal care puts both the mother and baby at risk. The use of alcohol, recreational drugs or tobacco products should be discontinued during pregnancy.
Fortunately, teenage birth rates in the United States have declined over the past few years. Rates have declined steadily for black teenagers and have been on a downward trend for white teenagers. Rates for Hispanic teenagers have been less consistent. Overall rates for both younger (ages 15 to 17) and older teenagers (ages 18 to 19) have been declining.
The vast majority of teenage pregnancies are unintended. More than 75 percent of teen births are to unmarried girls, so it's important to emphasize abstinence, parental education and community-based resources with a commitment to life.
No one should fault the Palin family for caring for their pregnant, unwed daughter. Nor should anyone fault Bristol Palin for wanting to see this pregnancy through to the birth of her child and beyond.
Her story has given other parents the opportunity to educate their teenage children about the perils of sexual activity before marriage. It also has shown that some parents, like the Palins, believe in unconditional love - the best, most Christian medicine of all.
Remember, we never know the shoes in which we may someday walk.
Some statistics in this column are provided by the Web site adoption.com.
Linda Kay Goodwin, RN, BSN, MBA, is a nationally award-winning columnist and recipient of the American Academy of Nursing Media Award for Excellence in the presentation of Health Care Information to the Public. She is employed by Mount Nittany Medical Center and West Virginia University Medical Center.