Being a teenager in Singapore, or anywhere in the world for that matter, can be a rather challenging time in life (for them and us!). Being a pregnant teenager is a whole different ballgame. Society has a long way to go in becoming more accepting of young parents, and even with the best will in the world, we all know that ‘accidents’ can happen, no matter how clued up on contraception a teenager (or any person having sex for that matter!) is. Fortunately, in the face of huge prejudices towards teenage pregnancy in Singapore, there’s a group of people who not only understand, but care too. We’ve been chatting with senior caseworker, Ms Siti Fatimah from Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support about what teens can do if they find themselves pregnant, where they can turn to for help and how families can support the situation in the best way possible…
Tell us how Babes came to be and what it’s about
Babes was launched as a programme under Beyond Social Services in 2005 to provide support to pregnant teenagers for their pregnancy. In 2013, Babes separated to focus more on the issue of teenage pregnancy, and became the only non-profit organisation in Singapore that provided a targeted service for pregnant teens who need support. We proactively reach out to anyone age 21 years and below who need advice and support with their pregnancy, and we also provide information on their options so that they can make informed decisions.
We pride ourselves on the fact that we take a ‘mother-centric’ approach, and will actively support any young, pregnant mother through her choices as well as nurturing a longer-term approach to foster support from family, friends and the volunteers at Babes, all with an aim to making life easier. Through our casework and counselling services, we aim to help pregnant teenagers:
- Make better, informed decisions
- Become more empowered
- Feel supported with the end goal being that our pregnant teens have increased well-being during pregnancy and are better positioned to cope well in future.
Teenage pregnancy is a bit of a taboo subject here in Singapore. How does that impact on what you are trying to achieve at Babes?
The struggle is real, but to be fair, it is not as bad as it used to be. Reducing the stigma has encouraged more unmarried women to keep their babies, even when their boyfriends do not want to. Greater social acceptance and support shown to single mothers, such as changes to policies, have also helped these young mums feel more accepted. Now that the fear and stigma of being a single mum is not as overwhelming as it used to be, women feel more empowered to successfully raise a child alone.
For example, children of unwed parents are now included in a savings scheme, the Child Development Account, where the Government matches the deposits parents make. However, at school level, there are currently no standardised policies or practices when it comes to dealing with pregnant teenagers. It is often dealt with in a hush-hush way, and different schools adopt different practices when it comes to dealing with teenage pregnancy. A girl’s dedication to complete her studies shows strength and character, so the support she gets or doesn’t get in school can make a big difference.
The entire pregnancy crisis is a hugely emotional experience that causes a lot of distress and trauma to the girls, and to their families, and the pressure that society tends to exert on them only adds to the burden. Community support is essential for nurturing an inclusive environment that will help these girls regain a sense of normalcy and security both during and after a pregnancy crisis.
Where can young people go to get good contraception advice without feeling judged?
Unfortunately, I can’t think of any place to suggest and that is a sad state of affairs. Our advice would be that if a teenager is searching online for information, make sure it is from a credible website. Government-related websites such as the Health Promotion Board or Ministry of Health are a good starting point.
At what age would you recommend parents start speaking to children about safe sex and contraception? And what is the best way to approach the subject?
Based on our experience, and on research, sex education should before a child is 14 years old. Please do not rely on school to educate your children on this important topic. It might feel embarrassing, but it could make all the difference when it comes to your child having the knowledge they need to avoid a teen pregnancy. An increased number of younger pregnant teens have told us that they wished that sex education had started younger, and before the onset of puberty at least.
The best way for parents to approach the subject is to emphasise the importance of this subject, and to let your child know that this is for their future well-being. Educate your child on good decision-making skills, teach them to have a better understanding of their body, and inspire a good sense of self in them. It’s also important to talk about the consequences and impact of teenage pregnancy.
Can you share with us a story that really highlights the issue of young pregnancy in Singapore?
This one is by Anne:
“At 20 years old I gave birth to my first child. Lying in a maternity ward at NUH, my one-day-old baby boy was next to me. I was happy for a moment but then felt sad immediately in the next. Numerous thoughts were racing through my mind. I had no idea what to do next: I was only a student then and had dreams of being a flight stewardess. How would that still be possible with a baby to take care of?
At NUH, they referred me to MSF for financial assistance who then referred me to Babes. They were concerned as I was showing signs of depression.
Talking to my Caseworker from Babes was an outlet for me. My parents divorced when I was young. My mother left us to remarry a well-to-do man, leaving my brother and myself with my father without ever turning back. It was tough, and we struggled a lot financially. I felt lonely and unwanted. I wasn’t good enough for my mother to stay. When my boyfriend left me while I was carrying his baby, it deepened that sense of abandonment and depression in me.
With the help of my Caseworker, I created a routine that both allowed me to focus on myself and spend time with my baby. My son went to live with my ex-boyfriend’s family so that I could study to finish my course and I visited my baby after class ever evening. It was a good balance, although the visits were very stressful for me as I was under constant pressure from my ex’s family to reconcile with him, which was not an option.
The counselling sessions with my Caseworker helped me a lot by providing me with a safe environment to release my pent-up frustration and anger over everything that I was going through. I was able to cope better with my anxiety and stress. After several sessions, she convinced me to talk to my mother for the first time about my parent’s divorce. Understanding her reasons for leaving my father helped to resolve various questions about myself that had bothered me for years. It helped me to prepare for motherhood and be there for my baby.
Now I’ve completed my studies and found a regular job. I am financially independent, and my son now lives with me. It was a long journey, but I have moved away from the belief that I was inferior to others. I am thankful for the support I received from Babes as they helped me through a dark time.”
What advice do you have for families facing a teen pregnancy situation?
Talk it out with the other family members. As parents, it is okay to feel angry and disappointed, but give yourself some time to deal with the shock. All these feelings are part of the grief and loss process; loss of what life could have been if your daughter wasn’t pregnant. If there is a need for family mediation with the boy’s family or even within the family, and the families are not comfortable doing it on their own, they can approach Babes. Your daughter needs your utmost support right now. She is lost and confused, and shunning her or blaming her will not help to make the situation any better.
Babes believe that the family is best able to manage their situation with the support of their own family, friends and volunteers. Family, friends and volunteers have a role in supporting families to look out for their children. It takes a village to raise a child. The essence of family life is cooperation.
And what advice do you have for a teenager who has discovered she is pregnant, and is feeling overwhelmed with how to seek parental and/or professional help?
Do contact our 24-hour helpline 8111 3535. You may even SMS or WhatsApp Babes if you don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What support systems are there in Singapore for teenage parents?
Educational institutions, Ministry of Social and Family Development, Family Service Centres, medical social work in government structured hospitals, YMCA (for courses and training), Mendaki SENSE (for employment opportunities), Safe Place (for shelter, advice and counselling)… There are, thankfully, too many to list them all down.
Thank you so much, Babes for talking to us. If you have a teenager who needs help, or are a teen yourself looking for advice, do get in touch with Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support for understanding advice. You are NOT alone.
Other stories that you may find useful:
The truth about being a young mum in Singapore
How to talk to your children about sex
Helping your child understand consent
When and how to educate your kids about puberty
Counselling in Singapore: therapy centres for families