What's goin' on?... with my daughter.

[Context: I’m an upper-middle-aged father living an upper-middle-class life in the upper-middle-midwest of America. A stereotypical wife and two children. A son in his third year at a Big Ten university. A daughter (let’s call her Algernette) in her final year of High School. Both good kids. Bright and personable. Never have gotten into any trouble.]

Last night around dinner time, we get a phone call. I’m upstairs changing into my painting clothes (my wife is on a redecorating kick, and I’m the designated painter). My son is off to college and my daughter is at work and won’t be home until 11 pm or so. My wife picks up the phone downstairs. A few minutes later she comes up, with a stricken look on her face, and says “give me an explanation other than the one I’m thinking of, because I can’t think of one.”

“What?”

"We got a phone call from a woman at the Medical College, asking for Algernette. I took a message to call back. I asked the woman what the call was about and the answer she gave was “I can’t say. Have Algernette call me to discuss her options.” That’s the thing that sends up all the red flags. That the woman refused to tell us what the call is about and that it’s about options.

[Digression: The Medical College is not just an academic institution, it has numerous clinics associated with it for patient care.]

Well, my wife wants an explanation from me other than the obvious, but I’m having trouble coming up with one. My mind can only come up with…
a) the obvious, that she’s there for a pregnancy test and they’re calling with the results
b) the more obvious, that she’d have probably done an in-home test first, so she was there for an abortion and they’re counseling her.

My wife doesn’t like either of these. “Well, maybe she’s doing some leg work for a friend who’s in trouble,” I say. Not bloody likely I’m thinking.

My wife raises her eyebrow in disbelief. Not that I blame her.

We decide to be mature and pragmatic. We’ll talk to Algernette when she gets home from work. Let her know that we love her unconditionally and ask her if there’s anything she wants to tell us. We want to be supportive if she’s in trouble. We want her to know that she doesn’t have to face this stuff alone. We discovered that we both had been hoping that she wasn’t sexually active, but that if she was, we had the belief that she’d be smart about it. We were disappointed.

It should be noted that we’re a little hyper-sensitive of “trouble” recently. Within the last three weeks, a student at her High School committed suicide, and a teacher committed suicide a week later. Unrelated, but unnerving.

So my wife goes off to a faux painting class and I spend the evening in sort of a daze applying dark-salmon color paint to our living room walls.

I come up with another explanation. That maybe she was there inquiring about birth control options. This thought makes me feel better.

So we go to bed and read. We obviously can’t sleep. Algernette comes home and comes into our bedroom to say good night. (We’ve had a strict rule with our kids that no matter what, when they come home they have to come in, wake us up if we’re sleeping, and let us know they’re home. Not waking us up would result in far harsher consequences than coming home later than they were supposed to. Knowing that there is no way to sneak home late has helped to keep them coming home at reasonable times.)

“We need to talk to you. Please sit down.”

Algernette gets this wide eyed expression and I’m thinking, OK, this is it, she’s going to break down and confess everything. It’s going to work out OK. It may be difficult and there will be a lot of tears, but we’ll make it through this together.

Algernette says “Oh no… did someone die?”

Hmmm. Not exactly the response we expected. We continue.

“We want you to know that we love you no matter what, and if you’re in trouble we want to help.”

Puzzled, she says “What are you talking about?”

We explain about the phone message and hand her the note with the woman’s name and number.

“I don’t get it. I have no idea who this is” she says.

So we tell her that the only explanation we could come up with was that she was pregnant and was seeking help and advice, and we want to know what is going on so we can help. Through all this I’m trying to see body language to indicate lying. I don’t see any. She stands confidently (never sat down). She doesn’t shift her weight. She makes eye contact. She doesn’t appear nervous. She’s calm. She’s cheerful. Clearly not at all like I expected a teenager to behave if she were trying to cover-up something as emotional and potentially devastating as a pregnancy.

She says “No way I’m pregnant. Don’t worry about that.”

Now we’re confused. My wife attempts to salvage the conversation and says “Well, call this woman back and let us know what is going on because none of this makes any sense.”

Algernette says “OK” and calmly walks out of our bedroom.

My wife turns to me and says “That didn’t go very well did it? I don’t know what to believe now.”

I say “She’s either the world’s best liar or there’s an explanation we haven’t thought of.”

Algernette brushes her teeth and from the hallway as she goes into her bedroom she calls out cheerily “Good night.”

And that’s where it stands at the moment.

I’m not a father.

But your post indicates that she exhibited none of the classic “lying” signals. She’s been a good kid, never getting into trouble. I can see why you might be curious as to why the woman called, but wouldn’t you be inclined to believe your daughter implicitly?

In fact, if I had had the same conversation with your daughter (in your shoes) I would have been relieved that nothing was up with her.

Could someone be playing a very nasty practical joke on your daughter?

dantheman, thanks for your positive thoughts. I neglected to state that indeed, relief was the primary emotion I felt, which allowed me to fall asleep. Although I have to confess some doubt remains…

flodnak, hmmmm. Practical joke? Could be I guess. In some ways I hope so. But it would truly be cruel.

Maybe one of her friends is having a problem, and gave Algernette’s name? (Not a very well-thought-out plan, but we’d be talking about a scared teenager here.)

Someone else using her name is a possibility. I had a short-term roomie many years ago and she gave a fake name in the ER to get treatment so she wouldn’t have to pay. Pretty sleazy, but it happens.

Hope it’s something that simple.

Someone else using her name is a possibility. I had a short-term roomie many years ago and she gave a fake name in the ER to get treatment so she wouldn’t have to pay. Pretty sleazy, but it happens.

Hope it’s something that simple.

I think it must be a practical joke. What reputable clinic committed to confidentiality would call up and say, in effect, “Hello parent, we’re going to indicate to you that your daughter has a medical secret but we’re not going to tell you what it is.” Surely a clinic would have enough experience with a common situation to have a better technique than that!

Maybe not pregnancy, but birth control options?

Alto is right on, though. What the hell?

Well, not that these are the most comforting ideas, but is it possible she was being tested for an std? (I hate saying that to ‘the dad’)

Also, I don’t think the suicide is necessarily unrelated. Maybe she went to talk to someone, and they are getting back to her? Options being a sliding scale of payment?

I don’t have much to offer, but I do remember that clinics like Planned Parenthood usually discuss ways of contacting their underage patrons. I recall PP used to show me a copy of a little comic strip, and say “If we ever need to contact you, we’ll send this to you in the mail anonymously.” They also had some sort of code set up if they had to phone you - something like “If you get a call from Joni at XYZ Cosmetics, that’s really us calling.” There’s no way they would call and say that it was such-and-such clinic, please call back.

Scarlett67 and FairyChatMom, I never considered that someone else might have used her name. If that is true, I’m puzzled about how the person “in trouble” would ever find out what she was trying to find out. It was clear from the call (assuming it wasn’t a practical joke) that there was information to be conveyed.

(By the way FCM, I’m sending you good vibes regarding your husband’s job situation.)

Alto, I thought that the call was handled poorly myself. I didn’t take the call myself though so I’m only getting the words second-hand from my wife. And I guess I just concluded that the person who called was either new or incompetent, and just screwed up. I’m not sure what the procedure for them should be. I suppose they just shouldn’t leave a message at all. Just keep trying to reach her in person.

Yeah, but even so, they’d never not tell the parents of a minor… right?

Oh gee. I missed the sentence in your OP about birth control. Sorry.

Gundy, birth control options would be a good thing.

Jorel, geez, like I didn’t have enough to worry about. ~grin~

Athena, thanks for that info regarding PP. A process like that sure makes a lot of sense, compared to the phone call we got.

dantheman, well, she turned 18 a week ago, so while I’m not exactly sure of the rules in Wisconsin, she probably isn’t a minor anymore.

Just to offer something more to what Athena said: When I went to Planned Parenthood a few years ago they asked specifically if it was okay to call me at home and if they had to leave a message say “This is Planned Parenthood calling.” If it wasn’t okay for them to identify themselves over the phone, they would say “This is Nancy calling, could you please give me a call back.” They were completely concerned with privacy and confidentiality.
From what you said in the OP, I think you handled the “confrontation” with your daughter really well, staying calm and rational with her. I know my parents would have gone absolutely ballistic in that same situation.

brondicon, thank you for your voice of encouraging support for how we handled ourselves. It wasn’t a logical decision, just our emotional makeup.

Needless to say, we intuitively feel that “going ballistic” would be more hurtful than helpful. No sense in screaming at split milk… it doesn’t get it mopped up.

Regarding the privacy issue, perhaps she wasn’t at a clinic that handles a lot of these situations and are not trained as thoroughly as PP nurses.

Did you ever ask her directly if she had visited the clinic? Is this a clinic where one could see a doctor for a normal check-up and if so, is it where she would normally go to visit a doctor? Has she been sick recently? Does Algernette typically arrange for her own check-ups?

If this is where her normal doctor is, there are tons of explanations for why someone would have called. From the innocuous (she just turned 18, maybe they want to inform her that she doesn’t have to go to a pediatrician anymore and can pick a new GP) to mild (her throat culture came back positive for strep) to worrisome (abnormal PAP).

It sounds as if you and your wife handled it commendably and I’m sure it’s a mistake or has some stupid explanation. Either way, I’d find that woman’s superior and raise hell for compromising confidentiality and nearly causing dual heart attacks.

DON’T WORRY.

you’ve told her what you thought, she said she had no idea BUT she knows how you feel so IF there is a problem she’ll come to you.

maybe she’s going for counselling and they are discussing options of how often, what type, etc.

maybe whether she wants booster shots or a PAP or some other tests

maybe to discuss treatment options for a perfectly innocuous illness

maybe she wants to change her brand of birth control

maybe she wants to register with a doctor there and they are discussing whether she would like a man or a woman

maybe it’s a mistake or a practical joke or even a wrong number.

DON’T WORRY.

whatever it is the Algernon family will cope. you’re good, understanding parents and she’s lucky to have you watching her back.