I could not believe it was happening to me as I stared at the small stick with two pink lines across it.
I was only 17 years old, I’d only been with my boyfriend for 12 months, and he was my first serious boyfriend.
We simply weren’t ready to become parents. I’d barely finished high school, and whilst we both had jobs, they were only traineeships – hardly the greatest income to support a small family.
I had two days of relief when, after rushing off with him to the doctor and peeing on another stick, we were told it was a false alarm and that I was in fact not pregnant at all!
“Should we do a blood test to be sure?” I’d asked, and the doctor had required some persuasion before he agreed to it; I was sure of what I’d seen on my own test at home.
Two days later of course I got the call on my mobile – the receptionist told me I’d better sit down. I was eight weeks pregnant. I stood on my boyfriend’s front door step, sobbing, and he knew when he answered the door what it meant.
Once we were over the initial shock we decided we would be okay. We were madly in love with one another and we could make it work – excitement began to set in. We got married a few months later and moved out for the first time with each other.
The labour had been so much more intense than I had anticipated and I vividly remember a moment where I thought I wanted to die. But then there was Bailey – all battered and bruised but perfect.
I look back on the photos of us holding him in the hospital and realise just how everybody else saw us; we were so very young. We brought him home and settled him in, and I battled with same problems every other new mother does – the sleepless nights, the cracked nipples, the seemingly endless feeds and nappy changes – but I was happy. I loved being a mother. It felt so right to me.
The first time I took Bailey to the shops in his brand new pram, with the brand new nappy bag hanging on the back, I was very proud. I remember walking around, not really looking at anything in particular, in a little bubble of happiness.
The bubble burst very quickly when I had my first of what was to be many experiences with perfect strangers’ reactions to my young mother status.
“Is that YOUR baby!?” their horrified faces would flick from Bailey to me in shock.
“Yes,” I’d reply proudly.
“How old are you?” they would ask me, eyeing me up and down with criticism in their eyes.
“Eighteen,” I would answer. And then it would always go pear shaped.
“You’re a baby with a baby!”
“How can you raise a baby at your age?”
“Are you still with the father?” or worse still …
“Do you know who the father is?”
I will never forget leaving the shopping centre that first time with Bailey in a flood of tears. My self-worth and confidence in my abilities as a mother shot to pieces with a few ill-thought out words.
When Bailey was two we decided to expand our little family and after 14 months of trying with a miscarriage along the way, our little Emma was finally conceived. We then bought our first home and when Emma was nine months old I started my nursing degree full time.
Bailey is now nine and Emma is five and they both attend a good private school and are well behaved (mostly!), happy, well adjusted children who are yet to recognise that their parents are younger than those of their friends. I work as a paediatric nurse, and my husband owns his own IT business.
Still, I occasionally encounter the negative reactions to my obvious youth when I am out and about with my children. Whilst I do not promote being a young mother as there are certainly negative aspects to having children when you still have many life experiences yet to discover; I have always resented the implication that simply because of my age, my parenting abilities are less than those of an older mother.
But these people have a stereotype in their minds that they feel I fit into, and knowing nothing about me other than my age, they assume it to be accurate. With several years experience under my belt and the knowledge that all my friends and family who know me as a person consider me a nurturing mother; I no longer take their judgmental comments as a personal insult. Rather I now see it as a reflection of their own character flaws.
Becoming a mother undoubtedly changed me in many ways – I was forced to grow up very quickly and transition from an egocentric and love-struck teenager to a selfless and devoted mother and wife in a matter of months.
There were certainly difficult periods initially, but I imagine most new mothers find the adjustment overwhelming at times, regardless of their age; and despite those moments I adored being a mother and never once resented the little human that was my gorgeous son. Without question though, the most difficult thing about being a young mother was the stereotype and judgments that came with it.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem