Complex health implications of child pregnancies

By Prisca Manyiwa-Masuku

Teenage expecting mothers usually experience delays in booking for antenatal care which is detrimental to their health and that of their unborn child, medical experts have revealed.

Speaking to Impact stories Zimbabwe, the Acting President of Zimbabwe Confederation of Midwives Tashinga Muchena revealed that the delayed health-seeking behaviour of expecting teenage girls exposes them to health complications at the time of delivery and during the postpartum period.

Expecting teenage girls usually conceal their pregnancies in fear of their parents and stigmatisation by society.

“As midwives, the challenges we face with teenage mothers start when they are still coming for the antenatal care, usually they book very late and the late bookings mean that some of them come around 24 to 48 weeks of pregnancy.

“The reasons why they book late is because they had no intentions of getting pregnant but it just happened, so they will be trying to hide it from their parents because they are afraid of being chased out of the home and they are also not sure if the person responsible for the pregnancy will take full responsibility.

“They are also afraid of stigma in the society so the challenge now is how to break the news to their parents so they end up concealing the pregnancy or try to unsafely abort the pregnancy which may cause sepsis if they succeed in the abortion.
“There are some who book early but because of lack of experience sometimes they come to the hospital or clinic early before they are in labour and they are turned back home because they are not yet in labour so when they finally get into the labour stage they will delay coming back to the clinic which actually causes problems.
“Sometimes they lack resources to find transport in time to take them to a clinic or hospital and that also delays them to get the professional health assistance they need to deliver safely,” said Muchena.

Muchena further reiterated that as midwives they try their best to educate the teenage mothers to ensure that they have a clean and safe delivery.

“As midwives, our motto is, ‘No woman should die whilst giving birth’, so we make sure that we give them proper health education be it antenatal to postpartum.
“We educate them on how to take care of themselves and the baby. We also make sure that we build a good relationship with them during their antenatal care so that they can be free to open up in the challenges they might be facing during pregnancy so that we work on them in time,” said Muchena.

Meanwhile, a teenage mother who fell pregnant at the age of 16 narrated her unforgettable experience with child pregnancy.
“Breaking the news to my parents was not easy considering that I was still in school and my parents had expectations for me to finish my studies but it did not happen that way.

“I got pregnant at the age of 16 and during pregnancy I became epileptic and that was a painful experience. I also spent days in labour because the required vaginal opening centimeters for childbirth were not moving and I was stitched after giving birth I suffered,” said the survivor who declined to be named.

The survivor also opened up on the emotional abuse she went through at the hands of her mother-in-law and her partner.

“ I went through a lot, my mother-in-law always blamed me for getting pregnant and imposing paternity on his son. It was not easy during my pregnancy and it is still not easy because of the problems I am still facing up to now in that marriage,” she said.

The woman urged young girls to focus on their studies and not to engage in sexual behaviour at a tender age which may destroy their futures.

“I would like to urge my young sisters out there to focus on their studies and not to engage in sexual intercourse because teenage pregnancy and child marriage are not easy.

“It is a journey I wish I never embarked on,” said the young woman

Since the death of a 14-year-old girl Anna Machaya who died whilst giving birth at an Apostolic shrine in Manicaland, questions on the health implications of teenage pregnancies have been raised by various gender and civil society groups.
“There are so many effects related to getting pregnant at a tender age, firstly the teenage mothers usually deliver through the caesarian section they rarely deliver normally.
“Physically they are not yet ready to carry a baby if they do not die they may develop obstetric fistula meaning to say when she is in labour to give birth, the baby spends time on the pyramidal tract trapped there trying to come out because this girl is still too small.
“They end up having urine and faeces leaking for the rest of their lives because of the complications caused by getting pregnant at a tender age,” said an Obstetrician Doctor Chamunorwa Mutevhe.

Since the death of a teenager Anna Machaya, most experts have called for the adjustment of the law to protect the girl child against perpetrators of child marriages.
The current laws criminalise having sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16 and it allows girls to marry from the age of 18 and above.

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