I was in year 12 when I found out I was pregnant. I was school captain, I'd been dux the year before, and had plans to go to university. Then suddenly, my life veered in a direction I was never expecting it to take.
The community of Swan Hill where I am from in Victoria's north-west were so lovely and supportive to me, but I found a major disconnect and many barriers when trying to navigate the health care systems.
It was potentially in the early days of my pregnancy, when I saw a GP to look at some contraceptive options other than the pill as it was making me ill. I was turned away with merely a brochure to "go home and read".
Six months later, when I hadn't had my period and the possibility of pregnancy appeared, we travelled to Melbourne where my pregnancy was confirmed. It was too late to consider any other options.
When giving birth at 17 back home, I had a very traumatic experience both physically and emotionally. I felt let down by the medical staff and it left me unsure about myself. I lost confidence in myself and consequently suffered mental health issues.
It has taken me five years to come to terms with what happened.
I was fortunate enough to have the support of family and my partner, but I understand that is not the case for a lot of young people who do find themselves in this situation. It breaks my heart and scares me how other young people with any difficult circumstances are treated when they are testing whether they are pregnant.
This opened my eyes as to the lack of support and education when it comes to sexual and reproductive health which young people could receive in the region, and the absence of interactions between health services and young people.
It inspired me to co-design and lead Sexy and Safe: Let's Talk About It, a series of consultations and reports by Youth Affairs Council Victoria on the attitudes and behaviours regarding sexual and reproductive health in rural and regional areas.
Alarmingly, the report found that less than 1 in 5 young people in the Mallee use condoms every time they have sex.
During the consultations, young people told us that they wanted to know more about reproductive health and they didn't like learning about sex from their teachers.
They see the importance of learning about STIs, termination, and the kinds of services they can access in their town, but unfortunately most young people don't learn about it at school.
Unfortunately, sex education as it currently stands in regional areas can reinforce the shame. It is about sex, your organs and pregnancy, and often becomes uncomfortable especially between students and teachers, to talk about it.
There must be a better way to introduce young people to health promotion services. Students told us having small student tours of health promotion would help them get familiar going through the door. It would desensitise them to the issue, but they would also meet the professionals and develop some rapport which would make the experience more comfortable and less judgemental if they needed to access those services later.
A few young people were able to identify where different services were for unplanned pregnancy and STIs, but they didn't understand how they could approach the situation. How would you tell your parents where you had gone? What if you knew someone at the medical centre?
And what happens once you have a prescription and you have gone to the chemist - do you know people at the chemist?
When everyone knows everyone in a community, your right to privacy in accessing services is almost impossible.
But I know there is crucial work happening to create real change, and young people like me are at the heart of it.
We want to have appropriate access to sexual and reproductive health services earlier and be treated like everybody else.
We want sexual education to be delivered in every year of high school, with a standardised curriculum consistently delivered by sexual health professionals.
We want to embrace a youth-led, peer model approach and include young people in the decision-making and design of programs aimed at reducing stigma and shame in accessing services that are critical to our lives.
Our voices and ideas should be the loudest and most considered when seeking to understand the issues and the potential solutions to the current youth sexual health crisis in rural and regional Victoria.
And we need action on those ideas if we are to see real change, both with and for young people, in the delivery of youth sexual health education, services, resourcing and supports in our region.
I hope one day all young people, especially those in rural areas will not have to face barriers of stigma, judgement, lack of confidentiality and lack of service options that I had to face.
Read the reports and recommendations at sexyandsafe.com.au
Mia Rovere is a young person from Swan Hill who was a co-designer and facilitator for Sexy and Safe: Let's Talk About It, a consultation by Youth Affairs Council Victoria on the attitudes and behaviours of young people in the Mallee on sexual health.