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Girls Are Not Ready To Have Babies At 14

My apologies to my infertile readers for the potentially disturbing blog post title but I feel I must address an article that was just published because it is endometriosis-related.

Why in heaven’s name am I writing a post about girls not being ready to have babies at 14? What in heaven’s name does this have to do with Endometriosis Awareness Month? Bear with me. I will explain what this topic has to do with endometriosis before this post is done.

Novelist Hilary Mantel – (Photo Credit: Martin Pope)

On February 27, 2010 the following provocative article was published:

Novelist says girls are ready to have babies at 14

The article states:

“Hilary Mantel, the prize-winning author, has opened up a public debate over teenage sex by claiming that girls are ready to have babies when they are 14 years-old”.

What??

To quote Hilary Mantel from the article above:

“I was perfectly capable of setting up and running a home when I was 14, and if, say, it had been ordered differently, I might have thought ‘Now is the time to have a couple of children and when I am 30 I will go back and I’ll get my PhD,'” she said.

The article went on to state:

“Last night the writer’s views met with a mixed response amid growing concern that Britain still has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe, despite a 10-year Government campaign to lower the figures”.

Also in the article was this statement…

Sue MacDonald, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Having a baby is a life-changing experience and 14-year-olds have enough to cope with just being 14.

“Girls of that age can be physically mature but not necessarily psychologically mature to cope with being a mother. It is much harder to be a parent if your own childhood is not complete.”

Another astonishing quote from Hilary Mantel was this:

“Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society’s timetable”.

Reaction to her comments:

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said the suggestion that girls should have children at 14 was “completely out of line” with Government policy.

So, what does all of this have to do with endometriosis? Why am I writing about this article?

If you read the article mentioned in the beginning of this post, then you may have noticed two references to endometriosis. These references were near the end of the article and mentioned almost in passing. However, that does not mean that the mention of endometriosis in this article is not relevant. It is relevant… even if it seemed to be thrown in as an afterthought in that article.

To quote directly from the article:

Mantel, who was born in Derbyshire, was left unable to have children after suffering from a debilitating and painful illness during her twenties.

It was eventually diagnosed as a severe form of endometriosis and the author is now patron of the Endometriosis SHE Trust.

The novelist, who was awarded a CBE in 2006, said that women should be able to choose whether to have children when they are teenagers or pursue a career and have children later in life.

I do not pretend to know what Hilary Mantel’s intentions or motivations were when she granted this very controversial interview arguing the premise that “girls are ready to have babies at 14”. I never heard of Hilary Mantel before I read this article. Since reading it, I have learned a bit about her devastating experiences with endometriosis. I have the utmost sympathy for Ms. Mantel and from what I read she had a harrowing experience that left her unable to conceive children. This is terribly unfortunate and I cannot imagine what that experience must have been like for her.

However, I think it in unconscionable to advocate for the notion of 14 year old girls to intentionally get pregnant.

When I think of teenage girls in the 14 year old range, I think of them having fun being kids.

I do not think of 14 year old girls as being pregnant, as Hilary Mantel suggests.

Ms. Mantel’s role as the patron of Endometriosis SHE Trust and the fact that it was mentioned in this controversial article is bothersome to me on a level I haven’t covered yet.

Being 41 years old, I am old enough to have read about how pervasive the “pregnancy myth” and “career woman myth” theories in conjunction with endometriosis were years ago.

Years ago, it was commonplace for doctors to “prescribe” pregnancy as a “cure” for endometriosis. When I was single and 24 years old, I was at the hospital for pre-admission testing and a random doctor from the hospital that I had spent less than 2 minutes with told me that the way to “cure” my endometriosis was to get pregnant. That was in the early 1990s.

You can read about the pregnancy-cures-endometriosis myth: HERE.

You can read about the “endometriosis is a career woman’s disease” myth: HERE.

To give just a bit more detail regarding the “career woman’s disease” myth from what I recall reading many years ago (but am unable to find in an online search), the bottom line there was that many of the women who were diagnosed with endometriosis years ago were “career woman” who had the resources to aggressively pursue a diagnosis. Most endometriosis patients consult with 4-5 doctors before getting properly diagnosed with endometriosis. The average endometriosis patient is diagnosed 9.9 years after the onset of symptoms. Sadly, in a society where access to medical care is inequitable, patients can be stereotyped by socioeconomic class. For many years, endometriosis was incorrectly viewed as a “white woman’s disease”… when, in fact, women of all ethnic backgrounds have endometriosis. For years, women of color were misdiagnosed with conditions like pelvic inflammatory disease… when, in fact, it was really endometriosis.

Why am I bringing up these old myths that I would rather forget? I bring them up because the content of the interview with Hilary Mantel talking about how she thinks girls should have babies juxtaposed with the article mentioning that she has endometriosis and is the patron Endometriosis SHE Trust brings up the specter of these myths.

While Ms. Mantel may not come out and say “pregnancy cures endometriosis”, she argues that perhaps things should be re-ordered (having babies and then going back to school). Since she suddenly and tragically lost her fertility, it almost seems like she wishes she had tried to get pregnant at a very young age and is now suggesting that others do so.

Her nonchalant attitude about going back to school at the age of 30 to get a PhD degree offended a fellow endometriosis patient and friend of mine. My friend thought that Hilary Mantel made it sound like a piece of cake to get a PhD. I agreed that Ms. Mantel made it sound pretty effortless to simply “go back to school at 30 and get a PhD” after having had children.

Last but not least, Hilary Mantel has endometriosis. One would think that she’d be aware that a certain percentage of endometriosis patients experience infertility. Therefore, as an endometriosis patient, I find it offensive that Hilary Mantel (an endometriosis patient) is suggesting that girls as young as 14 should intentionally get pregnant. I’m not just talking about the age she is suggesting itself but the fact that she comes across to me as if she’s insinuating that trying to get pregnant at such a young age would automatically be possible (even if it were somehow desired, practical, and responsible). For some endometriosis patients, it might not even be physically possible to do what she suggests. One article I read said that Ms. Mantel’s severe endometriosis symptoms began at 11 years of age. What is it about the age of 14 that Ms. Mantel seems to think is the recipe for success?

Again, I feel very badly that Hilary Mantel went through a terrible ordeal. From what I read, doctors didn’t believe she had a physical problem, drugged her up on psychiatric medications, and did not diagnose her endometriosis when they should have. I also read about her sudden loss of fertility and my heart went out to her. It must have been extremely traumatic.

My concern is that promoting idea of girls as young as 14 years of age getting pregnant (14 is below the age of consent in England, by the way) is irresponsible.

It also concerns me that Hilary Mantel is listed in the article as being affiliated with an endometriosis organization as she shares her controversial views that have to do with reproduction… when endometriosis is a reproductive, immunological, and hormonal condition. Ms. Mantel is entitled to her opinions just as I am entitled to mine (which are quite different from hers). I find it troubling that she made the comments she did at all but to have the endometriosis organization she is affiliated with mentioned in the very same article makes her comments more troubling still.

This post was written by Jeanne at http://chronichealing.com. Copyright © Jeanne — chronichealing.com. All rights reserved.


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Reading: Girls Are Not Ready To Have Babies At 14

8 comments

1 DianeNo Gravatar { 03.02.10 at 5:51 pm }

fabulous post – thanks, Jeanne! 🙂

2 AmandaNo Gravatar { 03.02.10 at 7:48 pm }

Whoa… this lady is coming to the Cambridge Word Fest soon (I only know this as I saw her picture in the leaflet about it and recognised her when I opened this email… I don’t know her and her work from squat!) Anyway, if I’m still around in Cambridge maybe I should try and catch her in a corner and ask her what this is about!!

I mean, come on, I have always loved children and dreamt of being a mum since about the age of 9 (when my mum started childminding) and I was always very mature for my age, but I would NEVER have wanted to have children at such a young age as 14, especially with the onset of my periods and having to learn to live with such pain. Having only had my periods for about a year at that stage, I remember being completely baffled by the fact I was in such agony and my life was a mess because I felt sick for up to a week before my period (but because I was irregular I wouldn’t know that this was the reason for my nausea… it took me many years to learn what my symptoms meant and what my body was trying to tell me)… and all this whilst my friends had no idea and told me to “cheer up” and thinking about having to deal with those changes whilst raising a child – NO WAY!!

Don’t get me wrong, Tim and I are more than aware that the sooner we start trying for children the better, but I would much rather find out I am infertile and have the struggle to start a family (even though I know it is so difficult, having followed the journeys of so many people going through that) than to have had a child at a young age, to a boy who might not even remember my name, and struggle with the guilt of not being able to give the child a good life and the remorse of having missed out on so much myself. I don’t mean any disrespect to those suffering from infertility and sincerely hope that I don’t offend anybody, but out of the two difficult scenarios, I would much rather face infertility with a loving partner than bringing up a child on my own, as a teenager trying to come to terms with my own journey out of childhood and into adulthood, and all the stigma that comes with it. Again, I reiterate, I sincerely hope this does not upset or offend anybody, I do not mean to insinuate that infertility is an easy thing, because I know it is the furthest thing from easy!

I don’t read much of the SHE trust, despite it being based in my hometown, because I usually refer to Endometriosis UK and am a member of that organisation… the SHE trust, though good, never gave me the same level of information and support and after this I wonder how it is actually organised.
.-= Amanda´s last blog ..changes… =-.

3 AvivaNo Gravatar { 03.02.10 at 8:28 pm }

It’s definitely too bad that a diagnosis doesn’t come with better information about endometriosis or any other disease. Sometimes the worst misinformation is spread by those who should know it best, the doctors and patients themselves. 🙁

I also find it horrific that someone, anyone, would recommend that girls have babies in their early teens. Yes, it’s true that women’s fertility peaks earlier in our lives than ideal, but that doesn’t mean we should be having children when we’re still children! It’s just insane. Totally insane.
.-= Aviva´s last blog ..Yet Another Bizarre New Symptom =-.

4 JeanneNo Gravatar { 03.03.10 at 3:04 pm }

Diane:

Thank you! 🙂

Amanda:

I would love to be a fly on the wall if you should track Hilary Mantel down in Cambridge to ask her about all this. I understand what you’re saying… I started babysitting the infant next door when I was 12 years old and was mature for my age… at least as far as things like being responsible to babysit. (I only babysat there on nights when my mother was home and right next door in case I needed help with anything while I was babysitting… and the couple who hired me to babysit knew this).

However, the idea of 14 year old girls intentionally getting pregnant and having babies just boggles my mind. Hilary Mantel isn’t talking about refraining from judging girls who find themselves pregnant at an age like 14 due to an unplanned pregnancy.

No, she talks in such a way that actually promotes the idea that 14 year old girls are somehow naturally ready to have babies at that age.

Like you, my teen years were spent in sheer agony with my periods from hell, thanks to endometriosis. The thing that is really interesting (and ironic) is that Hilary Mantel has spoken in interviews about her own endometriosis and it sounds from what I’ve read like she was in rough shape dealing with endo pain during her teen years too.

Also revealed in interviews is that Hilary went many years undiagnosed with endometriosis. In other words, she now knows she has endometriosis but back when she was a teenager she didn’t even know why she was so sick (as happens so typically with endo).

So, now that she knows… I am baffled as to why she’d make comments about 14 year old girls having babies. It sounds like she herself was sick with untreated endometriosis at that point.

Yet, she states:

“I was perfectly capable of setting up and running a home when I was 14, and if, say, it had been ordered differently, I might have thought ‘Now is the time to have a couple of children and when I am 30 I will go back and I’ll get my PhD”.

By the way, she really makes it sound easy to go back to school and get a PhD at 30.

I just don’t get it. How many 14 year old girls are ready to be mothers? I know I’ve never met any.

As you mentioned, the years ‘with-endometriosis-symptoms-but-no-diagnosis-yet’ are traumatic enough. The notion of adding the responsibilities of being a mother on top of a 14 year old girl simply growing up or (in the case of endometriosis patients) learning how to manage life with a chronic illness is mind-boggling to me. Her comments also seem to presume the girl would even be fertile. If the girl of 14 has endometriosis, it is possible that she couldn’t get pregnant if she tried. To me, this part here is a slap in the face from Hilary Mantel to her fellow endometriosis patients.

I do not think that anyone will misunderstand what you are saying, Amanda. I hear what you are saying regarding the looming potential specter of infertility and decisions regarding timing of trying to conceive. I understand exactly what you’re saying.

Wow… I didn’t know that Endometriosis SHE Trust is in your hometown. It’s interesting that you found Endometriosis UK more helpful.

Good luck meeting up with Hilary Mantel. 😉 I’m sure you two could have quite a chat.

I, for one, am very tired of public figures who have endometriosis getting negative press (in this case by making controversial statements about reproduction when endometriosis is a reproductive/hormonal/immunological disease… in other cases by the direct spread of misinformation about endometriosis itself). I, for one, would love to see a public figure that speaks up to help the endometriosis cause. This is yet another example of a story in the media where the word “endometriosis” is mentioned but nothing good comes of it. It gets really old.

Aviva:

Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if patients who are diagnosed with endometriosis could be given some decent information? When I was finally diagnosed in 1992, I was given one brochure. It was one page, single sided. It was put out by a pharmaceutical company (that makes a medication used to treat endo). So, it was a small, one page description of what endometriosis is and it had been written by Big Pharma. That’s it.

I then went to my local library. I found nothing. This was 1992. I asked the librarian for help. She and I looked together. We found nothing in the library on endometriosis… in 1992.

Thankfully, it is much easier to find information about endometriosis now than then. 🙂 Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misinformation as well. 🙁 It can be challenging to differentiate between accurate information and all of the misinformation about endometriosis… especially for newly diagnosed patients who are still “learning the ropes”. There are LOTS and LOTS of false cures out there for endometriosis.

Sadly, as you mentioned, sometimes the worst misinformation is spread by endometriosis patients and the doctors who treat endometriosis. 🙁

For years and years, I have seen story after story in the media that either spreads misinformation about endometriosis (such as the article in The Intelligencer newspaper where they recently printed a correction after our letter-writing campaign) OR that features a public figure (like Hilary Mantel) who is cited as being affiliated with an endometriosis organization in the same article where she is making the type of comments she made in this article.

I agree with you that children having children is illogical on many levels.

~~~

Jeanne

5 jingleNo Gravatar { 03.04.10 at 7:21 pm }

agree with your point of view,
powerful post!
.-= jingle´s last blog ..Forever Friends Award and Poetry Award =-.

6 JeanneNo Gravatar { 03.05.10 at 2:56 am }

jingle,

Thank you very much!

Jeanne

7 Jenny H.No Gravatar { 03.09.10 at 6:11 pm }

I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the whole article so maybe I’m wrong…but does she not think about the financial responsibility of raising a child? What 14 year old girl can afford this; regardless of the fact that her body may be ready?…and lets not forget that many women died in childbirth in the “olden days” because their bodies weren’t fully developed and therefore not ready to deal with labour at such a young age!
Do I sometimes wish I’d known 10 years ago that ttc would be so hard? yes. Does that mean you could have convinced me to try and get pregnant before finishing my degree? probably not.
Finally, if you do “go back for your degree at 30” then is that to imply you can just quit your job to study and not have to be responsible for your teen? On second thought, I guess not since she’d probably be a mom too!
.-= Jenny H.´s last blog ..spread the word =-.

8 JeanneNo Gravatar { 03.10.10 at 1:18 am }

Welcome Jenny!

Well, I can’t say I blame you for not reading the whole article. I’ll be honest with you that reading it through to completion wasn’t my favorite thing to do. Then, I had to re-read it to be sure I wasn’t somehow reading it wrong or misunderstanding what she was saying. However, re-reading it just reaffirmed what I took out of it the first time around.

I won’t even bother trying to get inside her head on the financial questions. Clearly some sort of income would be needed to pay for pesky little things like food, housing, clothing, medical care, etc. There is no mention of how that would work.

For someone who didn’t make it through the whole article, it sounds like you have a very good handle on the gist of it! 😉

Your final summary was classic. Indeed, the 30 year old Ph. D. student she spoke of would have a teenage child (or teenage children). They don’t hand out Ph. D. degrees like candy. Obtaining such a degree would require even more time and work than some other types of degrees. As you pointed out, if her stated philosophy were to be repeated in the next generation then the teenager(s) she had would be getting pregnant. So, you’re right! That would make the 30 year old Ph. D. student a potential first-time grandmother while pursuing her degree!

Jeanne

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