Motherhood Can Come at Any Age:
The Obstetrical Nurse’s Role Among Adolescent Patients
“Did you hear about room twelve? She’s only sixteen and delivered a baby girl last night. Poor thing, stuck to raise a new baby on her own while she’s just a child herself! DSS may need to get involved.” These words pierced me like a razor-sharp dagger. The nurse’s words were far too close to my own reality. I began to feel a great, emotional wave brewing up within me, while reflections of my past swirled around in my head. Twenty-one years ago that baby girl was me… and that sixteen-year-old girl? That was my mother. It was at this point of realization, and sudden evocation of my past, that I made a vow as a nurse, to provide every patient with individualized care guided by their unique voices and an assessment of their needs, without passing any judgment.
As a nursing student in my obstetrical rotation, I am brutally aware of the many biases many nurses have towards adolescent mothers and have seen how these assumptions can negatively impact the care these young mothers receive. A judgmental nurse can quickly evoke feelings of vulnerability, loneliness, and embarrassment within a pregnant teen, who can usually sense when she is being judged. Without the supportive elements of “the presence of the nurse, the nurse’s acceptance of the laboring client as a unique individual with particular needs, respect for the client’s birth plan, emotional support, and instructional information about labor,” a young mother is more likely to have a negative childbirth experience (Sauls, 2004, 37). This is a terrific concern since “a negative experience may interfere with the mother’s psychological adaptation to the maternal role and her developing relationship with the infant” (Sauls, 2004, 37). A relationship with the infant is necessary in order to ensure a positive development of mother-infant bonding.
Adolescent mothers require extra guidance, emotional and educational support, and age-specific interventions. Instead of allowing negative assumptions towards adolescent mothers to influence their plan of care, nurses should strive to sensitively meet the unique needs of young mothers by making themselves aware of patients’ personal perceptions, values, and backgrounds. In order to provide this type of care and establish a positive nurse and patient relationship, it is paramount that an atmosphere of trust is continually upheld. For many young women, this trust is “the defining element that gives meaning to the nurse-patient relationship” and empowers them to experience a positive labor and delivery (Tiedje, 2008, 148).
A nurse plays a pivotal role within an adolescent mother’s healthcare team, and has a direct impact on the teen’s outcome and interpretation of childbirth. Putting one’s moral convictions aside is a vital requisite while working with adolescents who are making decisions about their pregnancies and labor. It is, therefore, the responsibility of every nurse to examine their own attitudes toward teen pregnancy and parenting before accepting an adolescent mother as a patient. Pregnancy and childbirth are beautiful aspects of life that can be made into joyous occasions for all women, despite their age.
I believe that a woman can be a competent and successful mother at any age. Nurses have the amazing opportunity to help pregnant teens recognize their abilities, their needs, and their values, while offering them nonjudgmental and individualized care, in order to establish a framework for their new role as being a mother.
Twenty-one years ago I was the “mistake” being born to a sixteen-year-old girl who instantly became a mother on a cold Thanksgiving night. It is this girl who has offered me unfailing love, continual support, and absolute guidance. It is this girl who has lifted me up every time I’ve fallen down. It is this girl who has paved me a foundation of morals and values. It is this girl whom I proudly proclaim as my mother, and who has over the years, transformed into my best friend.
Tiedje, Linda B. Childbirth is Changing What Now? The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing. May/June 2008. Volume 33(3): 144-150.
Sauls, Donna J. Adolescents’ Perception of Support During Labor. The Journal of Perinatal Education. Fall 2004. Volume 13(4): 36-42.