Parents struggle with daughters’ young pregnancies

By Pham Nga   May 12, 2024 | 04:18 am PT
Parents struggle with daughters’ young pregnancies
The leading cause of teenage pregnancy is their lack of sex education and emotional management skills. Illustration photo by Pixabay
When Minh Anh’s college freshman daughter revealed she was pregnant, the 45 year-old Hanoian mother cried non-stop and did not eat for three days.

Minh Anh and her husband, who live in the capital’s My Duc district, were once proud to have two children, a boy and a girl, who are both well-studied. Minh Anh believed that her efforts in raising them would be rewarded once they finally graduate from university.

But on the last summer vacation, her daughter Thu Truc told Minh Anh that she was four months pregnant with the child of a classmate.

"I was so shocked, my heart felt like it stopped beating," she said. The mother pushed her daughter to the ground and scolded her. "It's better to kill me than tell me this." Minh Anh cried and stopped eating, refusing to negotiate with the boyfriend’s family.

For Minh Anh and her husband, announcing their child's wedding was a psychological struggle. "I was so scared and embarrassed that I didn't dare to send out invitations," she said.

In the northern province of Nam Dinh, Nguyen Thi An, 47 years old, and her husband found themselves conflicted when their daughter, a third-year university student, called to tell them she had become pregnant. "Go wherever you want, just don't come back here and embarrass me," An shouted at her child over the phone.

The mother was even more shocked when her child said that she had already broken up with her ex-boyfriend. Even after she told him she was pregnant, the two of them had no intention of getting back together.

"I was planning to have an abortion at the hospital, but I was too scared to go," Bich cried to her mother.

Those days, the atmosphere in An's home was gloomy like a funeral. Hearing her neighbors gossiping about someone having an unwanted pregnancy, An panicked, afraid that her family would be exposed, and refused to go outside.

Education expert Nguyen Le Thuy, from the Center for Youth Skills Development, said the leading cause of teenage pregnancy is teenager’s lack of sex education and emotional management skills.

Becoming a mother at such a young age, these teenagers are easily psychologically traumatized because of a comprehensive lack of parenting skills and lack of experience in overcoming life’s difficulties, according to Thuy.

They also feel guilty and suffer from low self-esteem when they are stuck being a parent while their friends go to school, said Thuy.

Even when they are back to school, these stigmatized young mothers face countless challenges and progress much slower than their peers, Thuy argued.

Dr. Mai Xuan Phuong, former Deputy Director of Communications at the Education and General Department of Population, now the Department of Population under the Ministry of Health, said that when a child has an unwanted pregnancy, parents must first understand that it is their fault because they did not teach their children about safe sex.

But Phuong also said this often points to a lack of knowledge of the subject in parents. Some of the blame also falls on the education system for not teaching students properly.

According to Phuong, when parents know their child is pregnant, many people like Minh Anh or An threaten and physically abuse their children. Some refuse to let their pregnant daughters out of the house, while others go as far as to kick their child out of the house.

Working in the field of sex education for decades, Dr. Mai Xuan Phuong has encountered many heartbreaking situations in which parents didn’t know how to react when faced with their pregnant daughters.

Phuong said many parents verbally abuse their children when they find out they are pregnant too early, causing them to become depressed and scared. This can often lead them to abortions at unlicensed clinics, the physical and mental health consequences of which can be dire.

What to do

According to a report released at the Vietnam-France Conference on Obstetrics and Gynecology 2023, the abortion rate among adolescents has increased from 0.4% to 1% over the last ten years, now standing at more than double the rate of the previous decade.

Many of these adolescents were as young as 12 years old, and many decided to have abortions when the fetus was already too large.

From a psychological perspective, psychologist Hong Huong (Vietnam Association for Protection of Child's Rights) sympathizes with parents’ feelings in this situation. "Almost everyone will be shocked and cannot control their reactions," she said.

In this situation, the child needs to be sympathetic to their parents and give them time to calm down, she argued.

Huong said, in cases of unwanted pregnancy where the child and her boyfriend want to be close and are of legal age, parents should allow marriage. When a child is born, parents should provide whatever grandparents’ support they can so the child gradually adapts into the role of an adult.

What can happen

After two weeks of severe shock, Minh Anh calmed down and felt sorry for her daughter Thu Truc who had been pregnant for four months and had no one to care for her while she lived in perpetual fear.

Minh Anh eventually stopped scolding her daughter and instead packed her bags and went to the city to accompany Thu Truc in asking her university for an official leave of absence. Both families decided to have a simple wedding because the son-in-law was not old enough to get married.

When the two families sat down to talk, Minh Anh learned that not only her family was struggling with the news of their daughter's pregnancy, but the in-laws were also "crying non-stop."

"Just last year, my son even advised me to have another child to ease my loneliness. I told him that I was too old for that, but who knew that this year he would give me a grandchild instead?" the mother-in-law confided to Minh Anh.

In case a child is pregnant but does not want to get married, Hong Huong advises that parents must still stand by their child’s side, and help them decide whether to keep or stop the pregnancy.

An was initially angry and urged her daughter to abort the her pregnancy for a better future. But when she and her child went to the hospital, the doctor said the fetus was too large and the health risk was very high. "I would also feel guilty if I did that," she admitted.

The mother went to the city, rented an apartment to help Bich with babysitting, and encouraged her to continue her studies.

But realizing her daughter couldn’t get legally married to the father, An took Bich back to their hometown to take care of the baby together. Ngoc Bich has determined that she will be a single mother, so An is also determined help her daughter rid herself of her sense of shame. She plans to raise her grandchild in Bich’s stead until her daughter can go to work.

When her grandchild was born, Minh Anh also began the life of a caring grandmother.

The young woman stayed up all night to make milk, change diapers, and learn new ways of weaning for her grandchild. She often cried and laughed when she carried her grandchild out or to the hospital. People often mistook her for the child's mother.

The names of the characters in the article have been changed.

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