If you’ve lived in in Lindsay or Kawartha Lakes long enough, you probably have heard an urban myth presented as fact: that Lindsay has the highest per capita rates of teen pregnancy in the province.
I know I have heard it and if I’m honest about it I’ve probably repeated it in the past, passing on this “statistic” as some sort of social commentary.
There is a lot to consider in what may be considered Lindsay’s original fake news. Never mind that this commentary is most definitely elitist, sexist and classist: a way of lumping a bunch of marginalized people together, thus further marginalizing them. Or that it is a way to desensitize ourselves from some neighbours — real people with real challenges — who could use our support. Simply put, this piece of trivia is blatantly false.
Staff at the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPRDHU) have heard it. As Dorothea Service, manager of health promotion with the health unit told the Advocate, “Staff … have heard this term used before in the community, but the facts do not bear this out.”
Health units across the province collect data for teen pregnancies which they define as pregnancies for females aged 15 to 19. Therefore, any statistics would include people who decided to start a family as a young adult.
At the request of the Advocate, the health unit pulled statistics for the entire City of Kawartha Lakes and compared them to provincial rates. Explains Service, “both the local and provincial rates of teen pregnancies are generally going down.”
In 2012 the rate of teen pregnancies per 1,000 15-to-19-year-old females was 23.5 in Kawartha Lakes compared to 22.0 provincially. By 2017 (the last year for available data) the numbers had fallen to 19.8 per 1,000 locally compared to 13.2 provincially.
Clearly the rates are slightly higher in Kawartha Lakes than for Ontario as a whole, but as Service explains, “rates of teen pregnancy are a matter of interpretation. True, the provincial rate of teen pregnancies (per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 years) is slightly higher than that in Kawartha Lakes, but both rates are generally on the decline. Neither would I consider the difference that significant.”
The numbers, as Service explains, require some context. “Put another way, for every 1,000 female residents aged 15 to 19 years of age, there were just over six more pregnancies among this age-group in the City of Kawartha Lakes compared to Ontario overall. Is that significant? Not necessarily if put into perspective.”
So we have a declining rate of teen pregnancy locally, but how do we compare to the rest of the province? Well, the results should once and for all put our local teen pregnancy myth to rest.
“If we look at 2016, there were 17 health unit regions in Ontario that had higher teen pregnancy rates” than our local health unit, says Service. These regions include: Northwestern Ontario, Porcupine, Timiskaming, Thunder Bay, Algoma, Sudbury, Peterborough, Brant, Chatham-Kent, Hastings-Prince Edward, Renfrew, Eastern, North Bay-Parry Sound, Lambton, Hamilton and Grey-Bruce. Of interest, five of these 17 health units had teen pregnancy rates that were significantly higher than our health unit region.”
So Kawartha Lakes is nowhere near the top of any teen pregnancy list. We must therefore ask ourselves: Why does this rumour persist? Many would say that it is a way that we collectively stigmatize people.
As Service points out, “There is often stigma associated with teen pregnancy, but the fact is that we should not be judgmental. We need to support women who are expecting a baby — no matter their age or circumstances.”
Laura O (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) is a Lindsay woman who knows all about the way society, and the local community, perceives teen pregnancy. Laura gave birth during her teen years. She would later have a daughter who would experience a teenage pregnancy.
“Yes, there was stigma when I first found out I was pregnant,” she says. But she notes that when people realized she had the support of family and an agency to help her with being a teen mom, the stigma seemed to be less.
“There is always someone that is going to judge and look down on you — someone that they feel (is) not doing the right thing. This is something that will never change and that we can’t get away from. All you can do is your best and if you need help of any kind reach out for it,” says Laura.
Laura went on to have a successful life in the health care and service industries. Her daughter went on to college and now works in the health care field. She had a second child with her husband. Laura credits the help of several agencies (Five Counties Childrens’ Centre, Women’s Resources and even Children’s Aid — which she used proactively when she needed help.
To be sure, teen pregnancy still is an important health matter. As the Hastings Prince Edward Public Health Unit reported in its 2017 paper on the topic, “being pregnant as an adolescent or teenager places both the mother and the baby at greater risk for health issues. Teenage mothers have a higher risk of developing anemia, hypertension, eclampsia and depressive disorders.”
The study also notes that “babies born to teenage mothers are at increased risk for preterm birth and low birth weight. These adverse birth outcomes will also increase the risk of perinatal mortality and childhood morbidities. Teenage mothers also have higher rates of smoking during pregnancy, lower rates of intention to breastfeed and lower rates of prenatal class attendance compared with other mothers. These behaviours impose a negative impact on the health of their infants.”
So while the aggregated statistics don’t really matter, what does matter is the health of young mothers and their babies.
For its part, the local health unit has several programs that all expectant women can turn to for support. “The Health Unit offers free, credible prenatal e-learning classes to help expectant parents learn about labour, delivery and birth,” says Service, including adjusting to life with a new baby and caring for the baby, as well as themselves.
“We also provide families with evidence-based information to make informed choices about infant feeding.”
The health unit also offers the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program, a service whereby health unit nurses will phone and offer support to all new mothers within 48 hours of them coming home from the hospital. The nurses provide in-home visits with new parents, offer support for breastfeeding and connecting with the baby, dealing with depression, and promoting healthy growth and development. The health unit also runs parenting support groups with community partners, where we can answer questions and address parental concerns.
It is not clear at this time whether any of these vital services will be affected by the Ford government’s plans to rationalize and cut public health services. The latest plans call for municipalities to cover 30 per cent of health unit expenses. (The province had previously covered 100 per cent of these costs).
In the end this isn’t an issue about statistics. It is about supporting younger member of our community.
As Service explains, “We encourage anyone, including teenagers, who are sexually active to make healthy choices. This includes using safe and effective hormonal birth control contraceptives or intrauterine contraceptives (IUCs). Using condoms during sex is also very important to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted Infections.”
Service notes that when a teen finds out she’s pregnant it can be “a very emotional time.” There are choices that need to be made — often ones that can be difficult. Women may want to discuss their options with their partners, close friend, parent, or family doctor.
Registered nurses at the health unit’s sexual health clinics can also provide confidential, non-judgmental advice. To speak to a health unit nurse or book a confidential appointment, call 1-866-888-4577, ext. 1205.