Aussie Teen Mums Are Fighting For An Education
What it's like to find yourself 15 and pregnant in Australia.
Condoms thrown at you. Schoolyard bullies. Being told you're not allowed to wear the school uniform anymore -- this is the reality faced by Australian high school students who find themselves pregnant.
"There is excessive bullying of expectant and parenting teens," Bernadette Black of the Brave Foundation told ten daily. "It's pretty traumatic. These types of stories are just heartbreaking. You can't hide a growing belly. You can't hide that you're going to have a baby."
Teen pregnancy rates in Australia have dropped to historic lows, but there were still 12.9 births per 1000 teen girls (age 15-19) in 2016 -- and those mums, already facing higher adversity, need support.
When Ebony found herself pregnant at age 15, the first adult she told wasn't her parents, but the principal of her Catholic school.
"I totally freaked out," she told ten daily.
"I had a hundred emotions running through me. I was frightened, I was angry, I was disappointed... I was scared. Mostly scared, because I was so young."
It was a Friday morning when her pregnancy test returned a positive, so in lieu of knowing what else to do, she went to school. It wasn't long before she found herself called into the principal's office.
"She was the first adult I had to tell," said Ebony.
"I just said to her, I'm pregnant. She goes, well how do you know that? I pulled out the pregnancy test and showed her. I was in tears."
"She said, look, everything's going to be okay, we'll get you the right support. But she also said to me, we don't support sex out of marriage, and we also don't support termination. For me hearing that from the first adult I told, I really felt doomed either way."
There was no plan in place for Ebony to manage her education, and since her birth -- to a daughter named Ruby -- coincided with the Easter school holidays, she went back to full-time study just six weeks later.
"When Ruby was born, she was like a new puppy," she said. "Everybody was so exited about her, but after a couple weeks, I was forgotten about. My priorities had changed. I didn't want to sit in class being silly, I wanted to be in class and then go home and do what the mum has to do. I really didn't have anything in common with anyone anymore. That was really hard. I lost all my friends."
Discrimination laws in Australia make it an offence to deny a woman an education due to pregnancy or motherhood, but the reality is that many schools in Australia found themselves ill-equipped to deal with a pregnant student.
The Brave Foundation is working to ensures young mums aren't denied an education.
Black said that helping schools understand how to support teen parents by communicating and learning from each other was key.
She said that discrimination against young mums is something she's certainly seen, but that the last five years have seen it decrease.
"It can be extremely scary, and extremely lonely to find yourself pregnant, said Black, pointing out that plenty of young mums might not even be old enough to have a driver's licence to get to the shops or get to school.
"It causes a lot of social isolation."
Brave recently secured $4 million in federal funding to launch a trial of their Supporting Expecting and Parenting Teens (SEPT) program, which builds a "village of support" around young mums and connects them with mentors, most of whom have been in the same situation.
Up to 350 young parents across the country are expected to take part in the program, which will also put expecting and parenting teens in contact with local child and maternal health services, education and training, and help them develop and achieve their long-term goals.
Ebony -- now a mum-of-two, art-laws student, and future practicing lawyer -- is also a mentor as part of the broader Brave program.
She wants parenting teens to be prepared for the realities of the situation.
"I wish we had a plan that said you could come back three days a week, and there was none of that," she said. "I was pushed back into school full-time and expected to manage."