Being 17 And Pregnant In Rural Australia

Being 17 And Pregnant In Rural Australia

In 2014, Mia was three weeks into Year 12 when she fell pregnant. Here’s how Mia overcame the unique challenges she faced growing up in the country and navigating being a new young mum, and what she’s doing to help support other young people in her situation.

I could almost touch my future with my fingertips. I was school captain, dux of the school the previous year, and was ready to fully commit to my studies and the school community for my final year. Confident about what I wanted in life, I was genuinely excited for a future that would see me move away from Swan Hill to university to study a double degree in psychology and law.

But on that third school week, the trajectory of my life changed irrevocably after hearing nine words: “You’re 24 weeks pregnant. There’s nothing you can do.”

In an instant, the life I had planned was ferociously snatched away. Despite having a healthy relationship with my partner (now husband), and extremely supportive families and friends, I found myself facing many unique barriers because of the small rural community I lived in.

The judgement and stigma was real

The chemist. Medical offices. Radiography. We knew people everywhere. My partner and I were scared to access services in our community as we felt we would be judged because of highly stigmatised attitudes towards not only sexual and reproductive health but teenage pregnancy and just being a young person in general. 

So when we discovered we were pregnant, we travelled four hours to Melbourne to access a termination. I was too far along so I had no choice but to continue with my pregnancy. Unfortunately, when we came home to continue with our antenatal (during pregnancy) care, our fears of judgement were confirmed. 

Not to discount the health professionals that were incredibly caring and nonjudgmental, but there were many who treated us poorly. This made me lose confidence in myself as I started to believe their judgements.

Lack of access to services

We had no idea what services were available in Swan Hill. I did some research and found out that abortions were only available “sometimes” back then, and I’ve since heard many women’s experiences receiving ill-treatment when trying to access terminations.

If I’d known there weren’t the services, or if there were the services to begin with then I wouldn’t have put myself through the anxiety-inducing experience.

Lack of transport 

I was only 17 during my pregnancy so unless my partner or parents could leave work to pick me up I had to walk to my appointments as we have no public transport in Swan Hill apart from a few buses. At 24 weeks pregnant (and beyond!), this was rather unpleasant. 

This continued into postnatal care, walking from one side of town to the other with a baby in a pram, sometimes in scorching Mallee heat. This led to me cancelling appointments because of the hassle to get there. I felt I’d only receive a cold reception anyway. Not once was I offered any transport support, despite raising it as an area of concern with local health services.

Limited access to education

What hope did I have of finishing school?

Pregnant halfway through Year 12 and hoping to breastfeed. No transport. Limited income to afford childcare. The odds were stacked against me and there was no favourable option I felt would suit me or my family.

This made me feel extremely scared for the future. I had not completed Year 12 and felt this would make future employers look even more unfavourably at me.

Two parents holding two children, smiling to camera on a footpath with the beach in the background at dusk.

Mia and her family today | Source: Mia Rovere

Where was the mental health support?

Like many new mums, my mental health did suffer as I felt isolated, judged, disrespected and alone. Not once was I offered any form of counselling, despite the clearly unique and challenging situation I found myself in.

When raising it with a health professional, their response was: “We have a psychologist that comes here once a month but it’s a long wait so why don’t you just go find something online?”. This made me feel like I was being dramatic and that my mental health didn’t matter because my baby was fine.

My story is not uncommon 

Teenage pregnancy rates in the Mallee are some of the highest in the state, with less than one in five young people using condoms when they have sex. So why don’t we have a service system with structures and health care professionals that are capable of providing a best-care approach to young parents?

As a result of my experience, I joined Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) to co-design and co-facilitate the Sexy & Safe project, which sought young people’s insights on how they could better receive sexual and reproductive health information. The project also did some mapping around what was (and wasn’t) available in their communities. Check out the findings in the Sexy & Safe reports.

I hope one day all young people, especially those in rural areas, will not have to face stigma, judgement, a lack of service options and support that I had to face. 

What I’ve learned is that when we’re presented with barriers we’re given the chance to become more resilient and resourceful people. Without experiencing all that I have, I wouldn’t have developed the discipline or attitude I have now.

Why can’t we do it all? I’m now studying community services at TAFE in Swan Hill and working part-time for the Swan Hill Rural City Council while raising two children. I understand the value of strong communities and aim to make mine just that.