With Bristol Palin and Jamie-Lynn Spears splashed across the news headlines, unplanned young pregnancies are becoming household conversations. Yet despite what some call a trend, at the University of Richmond pregnant undergraduate women are unseen.
Sarah Fisher, the nurse supervisor at the Student Health Center, said that the health center gives a lot of pregnancy tests, with about three or four of them positive each year. Despite these numbers, Fisher, who has worked at the University of Richmond for about 20 years, said she couldn't remember seeing an undergraduate woman carry out her pregnancy on campus. She said they had seen women choose to have their baby, but in those cases they have decided to take time off from school.
"I think it is a time that people need a lot of emotional support, and not that their friends on campus couldn't do that for them, but I think to carry out a pregnancy you have to shift your focus a little bit," Fisher said.
On March 9, 1994, a first-year woman gave birth to a baby girl in a Lora Robins Court bathroom. Elizabeth Stott, a staff psychologist at Richmond's Counseling and Psychological Services, said she remembered the incident well.
"Nobody knew she was pregnant," Stott said. "She was kind of denying it and hoping she would give birth at home over spring break. I guess she just thought she'd wait until the last minute and go home and have the baby and give it up for adoption."
According to a Collegian article that year, women living on the dormitory floor heard a baby crying and took the young woman and baby to the hospital. The baby was later adopted.
"Obviously she was not facing up to what was going on and she wasn't preparing and taking care of herself," Stott said. "She gave birth all by herself and it was more painful and difficult than she had anticipated."
Angie Harris, the associate dean for residence life for Westhampton College, said that to her knowledge, she hadn't seen a pregnant woman on campus. But since they are not forced to report their pregnancy to the university, she could not say for sure if there have been.
"I don't know if it's that someone wouldn't feel comfortable being pregnant and continuing to be in classes," Harris said. "I have worked at other institutions where there have been women that were pregnant and living in residence halls and it really wasn't an issue. I don't know why we don't see it at Richmond."
Sophomores Emily Doto, Jean Neaylon and Brianna Puccini said that they also had never seen or heard of a pregnant undergraduate student.
"I don't really know why we don't see any," Doto said. "Maybe they are covering it up."
They all agreed that the use of birth control and emergency contraception might contribute to a low pregnancy rate on campus.
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Young women at the University of Richmond do have resources available to them if they are or think they might be pregnant. Fisher said that when a woman comes to the health center thinking she may be pregnant, she is given a free urinary pregnancy test. If the test is positive, the health center will recommend that the woman see a doctor as soon as possible.
"We do try to be really impartial and not judgmental and I think we are all like that here," Fisher said. "We let them know what their options are, and we try to encourage people to stop and think about it and maybe not make a snap judgment."
Fisher said that many times women who got a pregnancy test had already done a home-pregnancy test and were just looking for confirmation. "Usually with a positive pregnancy test there's not too many who are surprised," Fisher said. "I think it's something like a sixth sense and people usually have a feeling."
The health center providers do not perform abortions or offer prenatal care but will recommend facilities in the area depending on what the woman chooses to do. They will also refer the woman to other confidential resources such as CAPS, the Chaplaincy and the deanery.
Harris said that women have come to the deanery if they were having academic trouble as a result of the stress that could come with an unplanned pregnancy or abortion. She said the deanery would support her as they would any student who needed time for a medical withdrawal.
"Even though it is something that seems like it's nine months away, still in that moment the decision you have to make, I would imagine that's an enormous amount of stress," Harris said. "Hopefully they would come to us for emotional support, but more practically, academic support and advice."
Peter LeViness, the director of CAPS, said that pregnancy might be unseen because it is not something a pregnant woman would want to tell everyone about.
"Typically we try and encourage the student in most cases to involve people they are close to and people who are supportive to them," LeViness said.
LeViness said that CAPS saw probably fewer than a dozen women each year who came to counseling for pregnancy reasons.
"Whatever they are coming with, we want to hear their story," LeViness said. "If it's a decision that was not yet made one way or another, whatever it is, our job would be to help them. We would inquire about their own values and beliefs, how it's going to impact their life and just help them think through all those different angles. We would be supportive of whatever decision they come to."
Contact reporter Emma Anderson at email@example.com
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