My daughter is 21 today – well she was on 4th March and it’s the 20th but you get the idea! Yes that’s right – 21! How on earth did this happen? How did this small and precious little bundle grow into the wonderful woman in front of me today? It’s prompted me to write about something very personal and something I’ve never shared before because I think it’s important to demystify the scare stories and urban myths surrounding teenage pregnancy as well as celebrate my parenting, as it’s just been Mother’s Day. I’m sorting of hitting publish and peeking through my hands at this point as I’m very unsure about how this piece will be received…but here goes.
I’m no different to any other 38 year-old mother on the surface. I have those laughter lines and greying hair which annoyingly, requires far too many visits to the salon to put “colour in your sparkles” (aka grey/white hair to you and I), as they politely put it, and Ihave a pretty ordinary suburban life. Things are good, I work hard, and I have three wonderful children, a grandchild and a very loving husband. But behind the exterior, my life story reads a little differently to my peers, who are all married with families of their own now. It’s just their children are a lot younger.
At 15, I fell head over heels in love, the kind of all-consuming, there-is-no-one-else-in-this-world-I-could-ever possibly-be-with kind of love. The love that you think will last forever and in the naivety of youth just plain believe in with every inch of your being. We lasted a year and during that time I became pregnant with my daughter and life sort of changed rather quickly for me, her father and our families. I guess this is where the story really begins – our story, that of mine and my daughter.
I knew it would be difficult, going ahead with this pregnancy and managing to somehow find a job/career and be a good mum and I was scared. The kind of scared which involved lying in bed, with one hand on your growing belly, staring at the ceiling and thinking how on earth is this all going to be ok? To add to this, I was causing incredible friction between my parents as my mother tried to be supportive for me and cope with my father’s feelings of anger, guilt, shame and disappointment as well as her own. It was a very tough time, emotions ran high, my little sister probably didn’t get the attention she needed or deserved as the focus of everyone was this little bean growing inside me. It took me almost 3 months to finally pluck up the courage to tell them I was pregnant, when being sick and making excuses for not wanting to eat was just not something I could hide. There are some things here in my story which are private, and which I can’t share, not because I do not want too but because they would cause upset to my family and I respect them too much to do that. I will therefore skip over to when she was born into the world. Suffice to say teenage pregnancy is not and was not something which my family was prepared for. It’s sensationalised in the press as something every young girl does so she can get benefits and a house paid for by the government. This simply is not the case.
Jessica has been the best thing that could have happened to me. She has at times given me the biggest highs and the lowest lows but she has taught me to be who I am. In fact, she literally made me grow up. She was my motivation to do well, to go back to college and complete my Photojournalism training. She was the reason I signed up for University as a mature student at the tender age of 24 and she supported me as I got married, had two more children and got on with life. I’ve always been a bit of a home bird, so going out getting drunk in the park on cider or just clubbing till 2am was never something which appealed to me. There never was a feeling of resentment as far as my peers was concerned. My parents would help to make sure I could return to work, study and luckily would often help with childcare so I did get to socialise for birthdays etc. But it did have a huge impact on me as a person, which I don’t think I fully accepted until years later.
I was on a training course and a fellow trainee innocently asked me if I had kids. I told her I had a two daughters and she looked at me in shock and said “Gosh you must have been young when you started!” and did that nervous half giggle people do. In that split second, she’d done something I had not experienced for a long time. She’d made an instant judgement about me and my life based on having had a child as a teen. It still shocks me now the gambit of reactions it causes to this day. There is a mixture of curiosity and good-on-you attitude when you just want to feel normal, like everyone else. But you aren’t.
Having her so young, I appreciate that I did make sacrifices – perhaps you could argue more than others who chose to have children later in life. But I’ve always been a swimmer, always against the tide, usually for no other reason than something at my very core actively hates being ordinary and doing what is expected. I’ve never regretted my decision, even navigating my way through the tricky extended family decisions over holidays, Christmas, birthdays and trips, she made it and still makes it all worthwhile.
So why this post? Why now? I guess it’s taken me a long time to accept that there is no shame in having a child at a young age. I used to be hesitant about telling people I had a child, as though it was the worst thing that I could reveal to someone. But I look back now and know that it was the right thing for me, the brave choice to some looking at my situation, but the best thing I have or will ever have done. She makes me feel incredibly proud and I still find it difficult to imagine any scenario where I took another path. The plain fact is I love her to bits and my life would not be what it is today or shaped and formed me into the person I am without having had this experience. It’s a different experience yes – the age difference is not that big. We are, if anything, more like very close friends at times rather than mother and daughter but through it all, she knows I will always love her no matter what. She is now on her own journey, with a baby boy of 9 months called Kai and it fills me with pride to see how she looks after him with the same love and care I did for her.
We make decisions everyday, we choose our path – consciously or unconsciously and life takes you on a journey of discovery. Being a parent is the most rewarding and special thing I will ever do and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be one. I hope that if one person has their prejudices challenged by reading this then it will be one more person who may not judge first and think later.
Remember, adventure is out there!
This post is linked up to Honest Mum’s #brilliantblogs