Finding out you’re pregnant can be nerve-wracking if it wasn’t planned, even more so as a teenager. An Italian girl, now 18, has opened up about becoming a young mother during COVID-19 in Malta.
Valentina Sandri found out she was pregnant when the pandemic started in March 2020. Her partner and her had met at school and only got together a few months prior.
“I still remember the emotions when I held the pregnancy test. I was feeling surprised, anxious and excited. I was shaking a lot,” she told Lovin Malta.
“I was lost. I didn’t know how and where to be seen by a doctor to confirm that my baby was healthy and fine, I didn’t know if I could have gone to a hospital and where, it was hard and so many worried thoughts entered in my mind,” she recalled, adding that she was so anxious she rarely left the house.
Nonetheless, the duo decided to take on the responsibility.
“I was searching for everything online, I didn’t know anything about pregnancy and babies at the time. I was obsessed to know anything and everything, to find the best ways to take care of my baby.”
COVID-19 restrictions also meant the duo couldn’t celebrate their milestones together.
“It was really hard with COVID-19, my partner couldn’t attend too many appointments and I was alone waiting for hours, also it’s harder because I couldn’t enjoy my pregnancy at the best. I couldn’t have a baby shower, announce the pregnancy or anything.”
Moreover, Sandri found out her baby was overdue at 41 weeks and feared she would have to go through an induced birth or C-section.
In the end, she was admitted to the hospital after 41 weeks when her water broke naturally. Her child was born in December 2020.
Now, Sandri has opened an Instagram account to fight stigma against teenage mums and talk about motherhood.
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“I’m sharing my own experiences and those of others to create a more positive environment for mothers here in Malta. I want to remove some stereotypes and present what motherhood is like for women of all ages, social status, nationality and ability.”
The idea came after experiencing stereotypes by being a teenage mother herself.
“I feel that being a teen mum sometimes people look at you badly, but thankfully most don’t care about it. I have to be honest, I lost quite a few friends but I don’t really care because I’m happier like this,” she added.
The young mother also believes that Malta needs better sexual health services.
“I think we definitely need better sexual health services for young people. Annual check-ups should be a normal part of life, and we need to explain more about sex and how to prevent unintended pregnancies,” she said, revealing she has struggled financially herself.
She also proposed to give free contraceptives to young people who can’t afford them or are ashamed to buy them, by putting vending machines around the island.
Malta’s teenage pregnancy rate has declined over the last decade, but it is still one of the highest in Europe. Sandri was one of 38 mothers under 18 to become mothers in 2020.
The most recent pre-pandemic statistics show that close to 5.3% of births were from women in their teens. Shockingly 31 students got pregnant in secondary schools in 2018 and 2019.
Out of these, three were 14, eleven were 15 and the rest become pregnant at 16. None of the 16-year-old pregnant girls, who would have been sitting for their o-levels, finished school.
Teenagers are also the least likely to use contraceptives like condoms or pills according to a 2020 study by the WHO Regional Office for Europe. In fact, it found that more than half (52%) of teenagers in Malta do not use contraception during sexual intercourse.
Issues like access to contraception and better sexual education can be addressed in a fresh update to Malta’s sexual health policy, which hasn’t been updated in 10 years.
Thankfully, Health Minister Chris Fearne has recently pledged to revisit the policy now that the road to recovery from COVID-19 is in view. A first sexual health policy draft is expected to be made public before summer.
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