Lawrence Memorial Hospital's new pregnancy class designed for teen-agers is set to debut today.
Nine months pregnant and unmarried, Desire Scarpa attends weekly classes at Lawrence Memorial Hospital to learn about her pregnancy and what to expect on her due date, Wednesday.
The class is helpful, Scarpa said, but she only has to look at the husbands and boyfriends helping the expectant mothers during breathing exercises for a reminder that her situation is different.
At 16, Scarpa is a resident of Hannah's House Foundation, a Lawrence organization that provides a safe and healthy environment for pregnant girls and women ages 10 to 20. She is required to go to the childbirth course, but sometimes she feels left out. Everyone else in the class is at least 20 years old, said Scarpa, Topeka.
"I really hang out with older people, so the age difference doesn't bother me," she said. "But everybody there has their boyfriends, and I don't, so that's uncomfortable."
Another resident of Hannah's House Foundation, Anita Brannon, 18, of Wichita said she worries about older couples in the class thinking she's immature.
"I think being 18 or younger and having all the adults there that have experienced more in life, I wouldn't want them to think, 'Oh my God, she's more immature than I thought,' when I ask a question," Brannon said. "Not only for me, but it might make others (my age) uncomfortable."
A class for teens
For the past year, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and other local health officials have been working on an answer to the problem, crafting a pregnancy education class specifically for teen-agers. The first class will be today, and Brannon, who is due in less than two months, will be in the class.
Aynsley Anderson, community education coordinator at LMH, is as anxious as a first-time parent for the birth of her baby, the teen-age pregnancy course.
"I once had a class with a 14-year-old with her 15-year-old boyfriend, and they were next to a 40-year-old, and it struck me that the only thing they had in common is they're having babies," Anderson said. "I was teaching the class, and it just hit me that this 14-year-old isn't getting anything out of this. It happened enough that I thought we needed to do something."
Five slots already have been filled in the class, which meets for two hours each Tuesday night for seven weeks. More participants will be accepted, said Anderson, who has taught childbirth classes at LMH for 8 1/2 years and is certified through the International Child Birth Educators Assn. Boyfriends, husbands and family members are encouraged to attend, but Anderson said teen-agers are less likely to feel uncomfortable about not having a partner if they are with peers.
Although she won't be teaching the first class, Anderson was instrumental in shaping the curriculum. But she wasn't alone.
Last September, Anderson contacted others who work with teen-agers, and the group crafted a lesson plan for the course.
The committee included a representative from Hannah's House, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, and the school district's Parents As Teachers program.
"We've been planning this for a year. We just kind of talked about what teens need, prenatally and parentingwise," Anderson said. "What can we do in the community to support them a little better?"
The group continues to meet, Anderson said, and has spun off into a "young parent support committee," picking up school nurses and representatives from the Douglas County Infant Toddler Coordinating Council and the Lawrence High School day-care program. The committee isn't limited to talking about the LMH class; members look at teen-age pregnancy and parenting issues concerning Lawrence.
"We decided after we met for a while that, 'Hey, this is of value,' and all of us who work with teens thought it was a good idea," she said.
The classes aren't in response to increases in the number of teen-age pregnancies in Douglas County, Anderson said. According to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, 85 10- to 19-year-olds in the county gave birth in 1997, compared to 81 in 1988. That number hit a peak of 115 in 1993. Figures for 1998 won't be released until fall, said Don Brown, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The total number of pregnancies for the same age group, including aborted pregnancies, was 177 in 1988 and 183 in 1997.
All 30 sessions of the traditional pregnancy classes at LMH offer information about the Lamaze and Bradley (which has fewer levels of breathing) methods, along with health and nutrition issues. Those will be on the agenda for the teen-age sessions, as will be information on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, which are not discussed in traditional classes. There will be repetition and more details in the classes geared for the younger mothers, and there will be videos and games, such as "The Fetus Game," a commercially produced board game for younger mothers.
Perhaps the most important part of the teen-age pregnancy class, Anderson said, is that the girls will be more likely to talk with others in their peer group and ask questions they normally wouldn't ask while sitting next to a married couple twice their age.
"They have a commonality in that they are expecting a baby and they're ready to be parents, but the most important thing is sharing their experiences," Anderson said.
Teen-agers sometimes base opinions on misconceptions, Anderson said, and she hopes to dispel any myths about birth-control methods. At the same time, the teachers and guest speakers will be sensitive to the teen-agers' situations.
"They're still going through the teen stuff; they're going through worries about pimples and school work," she said. "They have some added concerns that older moms don't."
This spring, five girls from Hannah's House were in a pregnancy class at LMH. At first, only one of the girls would ask questions, and only on break when the older mothers weren't around, Anderson said. She doesn't want age differences to be a barrier to discussion.
"I think the reason Aynsley's program will prove to be so important for the women in that age group, there are things in her class about life decisions that won't be in the other classes," said Paula Hatcher, Free State High School nurse. "Also, it's been my experience in working with this age group that they do open up a lot more with each other than they would with older people. It gives them some interaction with their own age group, so they're not going through the experience by themselves."
Jenn Chapman, executive director of Hannah's House, said the new LMH program will be great for the girls at her organization, who are required to attend pregnancy education classes.
"The biggest problem is that they go to the classes and see the married couples and the older couples, and it's hard for them to concentrate when they are conscious of being different," Chapman said. "If they're in a group of younger people, I think they won't be embarrassed or feel like they should already know the answers.
"They're teen-agers. They feel insecure already, and they might feel funny, as if people are looking at them like they shouldn't be there."
Nurses routinely visit the house where the girls live, but the classes also introduce them to a hospital setting, and they get to tour the maternity ward.
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
PREGNANT TEEN-AGERS CLASS
Lawrence Memorial Hospital's first seven-week course designed for pregnant teen-agers will begin today. Boyfriends, husbands and family members are encouraged to attend with the expectant mothers. Teen-agers who are 6 to 6 1/2 months pregnant should consider taking the class, organizers say.
Classes cost $45 for a couple or $25 for one person, but no one will be turned away because of inability to pay.
For more information or to enroll in the class, call LMH at 840-3066.