Dr Jonathan Sher discusses what the links are between the upcoming Olympics in Rio and becoming a mother or father in Scotland? And, why should you care as a youth worker?
Zika virus may be the first association that comes to mind. Brazil has been the epicentre of this mosquito-borne infection that can cause such severe birth defects as microcephaly (too small brain and head). Anyone going to Rio for the Games who is trying to conceive, or might become pregnant anyway, should be having second thoughts about these travel plans. Public health officials say it is inevitable that at least a small proportion of Scottish/UK visitors to Rio and other tropical Zika zones will return home still carrying the virus and will remain at risk of harming their Scottish baby-to-be.
Thinking about, and sensibly weighing, risks is a core element of youth work. Neither fear-mongering nor false re-assurance is good practice. Youth work is all about helping young people both to feel empowered and be well informed to make the choices leading to the healthiest, happiest lives for themselves and their loved ones. And, what choices will young women and men make that are more momentous (short and long term) than: Do I want to become a parent at all? If so, then when and with whom? And, what can I do to increase my chances of actually getting what I already deeply desire: a safe pregnancy (for myself or my partner), a thriving baby and a rewarding parenthood?
The second link to the Olympics? Parenthood and youth work is preparation. ‘Falling pregnant’ implies passivity, fatalism and disempowerment. No one ever became an Olympic champion (or brilliantly successful in other walks of life) by building her or his life on these weak foundations. Every Olympian at Rio earned this role by years of high quality thinking ahead, planning and prolonged preparation. Some are luckier than others; but no one is in the Olympic Village primarily because of good luck or natural ability. The same is true of great parents – and terrific youth workers.
The third link is that parenthood is a shared opportunity and mutual challenge for most youth workers and the young people whom they assist and support. It is not usually an ‘us and them’ matter; but rather, an extraordinary example of common ground. Remember that while there are still teen pregnancies, the average age of a woman in Scotland giving birth for the first time is 28.
There is a largely unexplored, ‘under the radar’ cultural belief across Scotland that a person is either avoiding childbearing or an expectant mother/father. What often gets missed – to the detriment of individuals, communities and our society — is the potentially powerful period between ‘not pregnant’ and ‘pregnant’ when preparing for pregnancy is both possible and vitally important. This is neither a matter reserved for health professionals, nor only of relevance in the final weeks and months before conception occurs.
Much of the genuine preparation falls squarely into the remit of Scotland’s youth work sector. The ‘life course’ approach — and what preparing the next generation of Scottish parents means in practice — is explained in two new reports I was commissioned to write by the Public Health Director within NHS GG&C. They are ‘Plain English’ documents that every youth worker will understand (personally and professionally).
They have attracted a good deal of media attention during the past fortnight. But, if all you know about these reports on preconception health, education and care is derived from the media, then you have no idea what these reports actually say and recommend.
The main report — Missed Periods: Scotland’s opportunities for better pregnancies, healthier parents and thriving babies the first time . . . and every time — can be accessed at: http://www.nhsggc.org.uk/media/237840/missed-periods-j-sher-may-2016.pdf
A much briefer ‘taster’ version — Prepared for Pregnancy? Preconception health, education and care in Scotland — is an introduction and overview for people having neither the time nor inclination at the moment to read the more detailed primer. It is available at: http://www.nhsggc.org.uk/media/237841/prepared-for-pregnancy-j-sher-may-2016.pdf
In addition, I have written two very short opinion pieces about this topic. With an emphasis on the public sector, here is the link to the article in the new issue of Holyrood magazine: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/comment/life-chances-are-often-shaped-even-we-are-born. Addressing the voluntary sector, SCVO published this blog last Friday: http://www.scvo.org.uk/blog/doing-the-rights-thing-for-next-generation-of-scottish-parents/
Please read them for yourselves and let me know what you think . . . and what actions you intend to take in the months ahead.
Dr Jonathan Sher is an Independent Consultant based in Edinburgh. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org