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I was a teenage Mum...
Member Name: sandemp
Advantages: The new life developing, far more energy than as an older mother
Disadvantages: The prejudice, other people's attitude, the general bad press
As the title says, there was a time long, long ago when I was one of those social pariahs, a teenage Mother, even worse I was a single teenage Mum. Should have been shot, shouldn't I, after all I only got pregnant so that I could live off the state and get a council house? Well if that's what you think then you are wrong and now that my teenage pregnancy is older than I was when I gave birth to him and I'm that equally strange and sometimes derided creature that is an elderly Mother (I'm only 40 really), I'm going to talk a little about my experiences as a teenage Mother, the prejudices I encountered, the realities of life a young parent and give some advice to those who find themselves in the club at a younger than average age and to those who may encounter them.
==A Little Perspective==
If the tabloid newspapers are to be believed, teenage pregnancy is a relatively new phenomenon, which is of course a totally false preconception. If anything it has only been in relatively recent years that any stigma has been attached to teenage pregnancy and it wasn't so long ago that any woman that had not had a child by their twenties would be the one facing derision. Not so long ago is was not unusual for a sixteen year old to be married and well on her way to starting a family, and a few hundred years ago the age was even lower, with fourteen and fifteen year old girls marrying and having children. It's only been over the last century or so that attitudes towards teenage pregnancy have changed, in line with both an increase in life expectancy and a longer childhood and compulsory education. (Remember it is not so long ago that children as young as five or six were working in the mines and it wasn't until 1971 that the school leaving age was raised to 16).
Although sex education had a far lower priority during my school years than it does now (we were limited to learning about periods and being told not to do it until we were married), my parents taught me the basics, including the fact that babies are the nicest thing you can catch. So I knew all about contraception, and in fact had been on the pill from the age of 14 to regulate and lighten my periods. Misconception number one is that teenage mothers are all promiscuous, I was anything but only having two serious boyfriends before the age of twenty. Misconception number two is that teenage mothers are stupid and don't take precautions, again wrong, when I fell pregnant I was in a grammar school, less than six months from taking my A levels, already having 9 GCSEs, an RSA in data processing (equivalent to an AS level) and an A level I had taken at night school. Not only was I attending school, but I also worked every hour I could, up to 30 hours a week in a supermarket. I was also on the pill and using condoms when I fell pregnant. The only trouble is the condom split and I didn't realise at the time that I was one of the very small percentage that the pill doesn't work for.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, so let's go back a couple of months to when I met my child's father and genuinely believed he was the one. We'd been seeing each other for a few months before we took our relationship to the next level, see I didn't just jump in the sack with the first bloke I met so that I could get pregnant. When we did decide we were ready to take the plunge, we decided to take all precautions, so even though I was on the pill, we also used a condom, but it split. That was the one and only time the condom split, so I knew when I conceived down to the day (26th December 1990, as it happens). About a week later I started to feel a little queasy, but thought I just had a stomach bug, after all I couldn't be pregnant, we'd only had the one condom split and I was on the pill. But it wasn't a stomach bug, I continued to be sick and be sick and be sick again, until it was all day every day and my GP insisted on a pregnancy test that came up positive. Although I was shocked, I didn't have much time to think things through, as I had a condition called hyperemesis that causes almost constant vomiting and required the first of many hospital stays. During that visit admission I was given a scan, which showed I was six weeks pregnant and as soon as I saw that little heart beating, I knew that I was going to keep the baby. It was also during that first hospital admission that I discovered that the baby's father was not only cheating on me but was denying that the baby was his and so I was going to be a single teenage parent.
It has to be said that attitudes towards teen mums were not as extreme twenty years ago as they are today and the average age of the new mother was a lot younger than it is now, but there was still some prejudice. One aspect that has really stuck in my mind is the attitude of some of the midwives, at eighteen I, quite rightly, saw myself as an adult, but there were midwives who felt they needed to treat me as a child. The hyperemesis that I suffered was not widely understood and one midwife got it into her head that it was a psychosomatic response to me not wanting the baby, which led to her telling me (at 20 weeks) that it was not too late for me to have an abortion. Understandably this made me extremely upset and I'm pretty certain that it wouldn't have been said if I were five years older. I also found that rather than talking to me about my care and taking my wishes into account, the medical staff would just proceed with whatever they wanted and talk over my head. I had very strong ideas of how I wanted my labour managed, but there were several points where my wishes were overridden. (I discovered just how I had been patronised when I had my second child three years later, with exactly the same hyperemesis)
It wasn't just medical staff that treated me differently because of my age, yes even twenty plus years ago I did still get comments from the public at large. From people assuming I had drunk too much when I was vomiting in bin due to the hyperemesis to others refusing to get up and let me sit on the bus at eight months pregnant, because "these young girls getting pregnant, tut, tut, tut". I think part of the problem is that I am quite short and have always looked younger than I am, even being asked for ID at 25. People saw young and assumed that I was irresponsible, yet I truly believe that I couldn't have been more responsible while pregnant if I tried. Before becoming pregnant I had smoked, but I stopped the day I found out, I had also been a relatively heavy drinker who enjoyed clubbing and not a drop of alcohol passed my lips after the positive pregnancy test. I ate as healthily as I could, considering that I could hardly keep any food down, took vitamin supplements and rested as much as possible. The only thing I did not do is work, but that was not through choice. I had to give up my job for the simple reason that I was too unwell. But this didn't stop me looking for a new job once I could go a few hours without vomiting, even going for job interviews at eight months pregnant. I hated being on benefit and benefits then were less than generous at a measly £28 a week, of which I gave my parents £25 for bed and board. The maternity grant was also ridiculously pitiful at only £25 and I had to get everything for the baby out of that tiny amount of money, which taught my the lesson of looking for a bargain and buying second hand.
My labour was not particularly difficult, and the end result was a tiny little person, who was now totally dependant on me for everything. I will admit now that even though I had an over-whelming love for my baby, nothing prepared me for how difficult it is to look after a baby, no matter how old you are, or how suddenly your own needs come last. From day one I did everything for my son, with no help from his father, there were no support services for younger mothers at that time, we got exactly the same support and visits as any other mother. I was not offered any parenting groups, nothing, I had to learn everything myself and hope that any mistakes I made were not too drastic. I also had to learn to make a pitifully small amount of money go a lot further, buying clothes and nappies for the baby and make do and mend for myself. Let's put it this way, it was a very steep learning curve.
So let's bust a few more myths and misconceptions about teenage mothers, starting with the idea that was doing the rounds even then that we have a baby to get a council house. I was lucky in that I was allowed to stay at my parent's house while pregnant and for the first few weeks, but when my baby was three months old they gave me a month to find somewhere to live. Although I went on the council waiting list, I wasn't willing to risk being put into a hostel, so I went all out and found myself somewhere to live. The fact that it was a grotty one bed flat, was neither here nor there, I found it myself and cashed in a savings plan to pay the deposit myself. Yes I did get housing benefit, but everything else had to be paid for out of my very meagre income support payment (£60), including gas, electric, poll tax, water, food and clothing. To say I struggled is an understatement, there were days when I didn't eat so that my son could, I only bought myself new clothes when I could no longer repair the old and there is no way I could afford any luxuries. I couldn't even afford a colour television and had a 10 inch black and white portable (much to the disbelief of the licence inspector). So much for the idea that I got pregnant to get a council house and for the dole money, I don't believe anyone would choose to have so little money.
Because I wanted more for my son than a breadline existence, I started a training course when he was five months old, to try and continue with my qualifications and when that finished I got whatever job I could, which happened to be as a nursery assistant. This was not my first choice of career and I can't say I was ever happy, but at least I was working. The trouble is, that we didn't have the minimum wage then, so I was working 40+ hours a week, for under £140 a week. Then I was paying for my son's nursery place out of that which cost me £35 a week, and after that I had to pay my rent, bus fare and all the other necessaries. We were better off by my working, but not by much, maybe £5 a week. This wouldn't happen today, there are in work benefits to top up wages and make working a much more attractive proposal, but of course it is even harder to find a job today (not that much harder though).
Being a teenage mum was hard, much harder than you would ever think if you hadn't experienced it. There were prejudices and stereotypes to over-come (including one nasty store detective that assumed that because I was a young mum I was shoplifting), learning to budget and make a little money go a long way and giving up my own dreams and ambitions. But it is also a far more rewarding experience than I would ever have believed, watching and helping that tiny baby develop into a toddler, start school and then grow into an independent young man. I will also say that having had my youngest as a nearly 40 year old, both pregnancy and child-rearing are a lot easier energy-wise as a teen, what I lacked in experience I more than made up for in energy, finding the night times feeds far less draining.
If I could turn back time, would I have waited to have my son? Well yes as long as I had exactly the same child, as I do feel that we would all be better off then we are now if I had finished school and gone to university. But I do not regret having been a teen mum for one minute, and I do not feel I could have done any better in bringing him up no matter what age I had been when he was born.
==Some Advice For Teens==
Having a baby at any age is not easy, it is a life-changing experience that involves putting another person before yourself for the rest of your life, think hard before you decide to have a baby no matter what age you are.
If you do suspect you are pregnant, then the first thing to do is take a test, I know from experience how easy it is to hope it will "go away", but the longer you leave it, the harder ans scarier it becomes.
If you have a positive test try to find someone you trust to talk to, whether that be a parent, older sibling, friend, teacher or doctor, to work out your options. If the father is around then speak to him, and then speak to your parents. Yes telling your parents is scary, but again the longer you leave it the harder it gets. They may be angry and disappointed, but the vast majority of parents will be supportive, but if yours aren't then again find someone you trust to talk about the pregnancy.
Look into the choices available to you, if you decide you don't want to keep the baby then you have the choice to either have an abortion or have the baby adopted. But remember this is your choice and one you will have to live with, so don't let yourself be pressured into something you do not want.
Get medical care as soon as possible, being younger your body is still growing and you may need extra supplements and care, so it's important to start this as soon as possible.
Information is power, research your choices throughout pregnancy and labour, so you will not only know what to expect, but will also be able to make informed choices as to such things as pain relief.
Believe in yourself, don't allow other people's prejudice get you down, being under twenty doesn't make your wishes any less valid than someone over that age. If you want a particular type of labour then tell the midwives what you want and get them to listen to you. Choose a birth partner who will help you convey your wishes.
==The Myths Busted==
Not all teenager parents become pregnant to milk the system, indeed these are in the vast minority and to tar all teenage parents with the same brush is nothing less than disgusting. The vast majority of teenage parents are loving mums and dads, who will go without to ensure their children have the best, just the same as any age group. Yes there are selfish teenage parents, who "sponge" off the system and neglect there children, but again there are just as many of these selfish people over the age of twenty.
The idea perpetuated by the tabloids and current government that teenage girls get pregnant simply to get a council house is completely wrong and I must say laughable. There is a severe shortage of council housing and it is very unlikely that a young mother would be able to move into a council house in under a year (up to ten years in some areas) and then they are likely to end up on a sink estate. It is far more likely that they will end up in a bed&breakfast, hostel or mother and baby unit, and believe me these are not places where anyone would aspire to live.
As for the sponging off the state, again I think people have vastly over-rated ideas of the benefits a young mother will receive. Although the amount they receive has increased somewhat since I was a teen, it is still a pitiful amount to try and bring a child up on (£56.45 IS+£20.30CB+£62.21TC=£138.96 a week), I challenge anyone to try and live on such a small amount of money. Many teenage parents are exactly like I was, working for a pittance to try and improve their child's life and would go without a meal so that their child can have the best.
Teenage parents deserve just as much respect as any other parent and certainly do not deserve to be judged in the way that some people, including politicians, do. They are amongst those bringing up the next generation, and can you imagine how demoralising it is to continually be put-down and expected to fail. And what about their children, who are constantly hearing how terrible their parents are just because they are young, how does hearing the constant degradation of their parents help them to respect their parents. Why should these children do as their parents tell them if they are having the propaganda that those same parents are sponging wastes of space rammed down their throat every five minutes.
Yes I was a teen Mum, and a darned good one at that. While I won't say that I was any better a Mum than someone older than me, I did more challenges than those older. As far as I'm concerned age is just a number, it is not your age that determines how good a parent you are, but how well you look after your child and how willing you are to put your child before yourself. So before you tut and that young Mum, consider what a wonderful job they are doing and remember they can be just as good a parent as someone twice their age
Summary: Teenage pregnancy from the viewpoint of a once teenage Mum