Yes, that’s right. I know I’m a mum and many other things, and I was going to use my Story of Mum mini-exhibition to tell you all about my secret ninja double life, but then it wouldn’t be very secret. I was also going to use it to list all of the fabulously cool and fun things I am aside from being a mum, but I’m far too modest. Besides, you’ve probably already noticed how fanbloodytabulous I am anyway, so I’ve decided to use it to tell you that I am proud. This coincides with both my Story of Mum mini exhibition and the #NoTeenShame campaign that I’ve been reading up on lately.
Until fairly recently, I’ve been ashamed of the fact that I was a teenage mother. When I was pregnant, I got the stares, I got the whispers, I got the lectures. I was told “well that’s the end of your life now then.” I hid my pregnancy with clothes as much as I could, and rarely left the house other than to go to sixth form.
I thought that this might change when I had my daughter, but it didn’t. I told myself that it was because I wasn’t doing anything “other than being a mum”, so I avoided places that I could bump into too many people that I knew.
This would clear up when I finished my gap year and started uni though, right? Wrong. While it did shock the doubters into silence, it didn’t stop me from feeling the shame that had been built up for so long. I realised that I was slightly nervous when explaining to the students of my own age why I couldn’t come out for drinks after lectures. I could feel my face burning as I picked up my daughter from the university nursery and pushed her through crowds of classmates at the bus stop. While they probably weren’t judging me at all, the shock on their faces took me back to being the pregnant seventeen-year-old who was told she had no future. I was embarrassed.
It wore off. I started getting good grades at uni and the nursery staff were forever commending me on how bright and well behaved my daughter was. I was proud. I am proud; I just wish that I had enjoyed motherhood properly from the start.
This is why I was so saddened by @CandiesOrg’s #NoTeenPreg campaign. They are using tactics that will make other young mothers feel ashamed of what should be the most joyful experience possible. Why should a mother not enjoy parenthood just because of her age? Young women and teenagers have been having children since man begun, why has it been made so taboo today?
Using posters with comments such as “You think being in school sucks?” followed by a picture of a bottle is offensive. School didn’t suck, and neither does motherhood. Putting pictures of celebrities who are idolised by teens next to these quotes won’t stop teens from having children, it will just make other teens look down on them more. Having Carly Rae Jepson tell them that they should be “changing the world, not diapers” is not going to stop teens from changing diapers. It will stop many young mothers from feeling like she can change the world though. Bullying and isolation is not going to create brighter futures for anyone. We all have a right to enjoy parenthood.
I’m a teen mum and proud.
I created this:
I curated this:
As part of my StoryOfMum mini-exhibition, I’m sharing this photo from the Brit Mums tour (I think!) What I love about this is how happy this mum looks. She’s on child number six, and – while she may not be a teen mum – she’s a mum and NOT ashamed! And what a beautiful bump she’s sporting.
As you may or may or not know, last week I appeared on the panel for BBC Newsnight. Interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. Live. Yes, I nearly crapped my pants.
The topic was sex education in schools, and, more specifically, how it can be improved to reduce levels of unwanted pregnancies. Now, by “unwanted”, you would assume that they meant pregnancies that lead to abortion. No. Somehow, the term “unwanted pregnancies” includes not only pregnancies which lead to abortion, but teenage pregnancies too. I’m not sure whether by “unwanted” they mean “unplanned”, or just the fact that our pregnancies (and, in turn, our children) are simply “unwanted” by the general public. Of course, personal experience has shown this to be true, but it’s still quite brass to say it.
The Unwanted Pregnancy Inquiry: A cross-party inquiry intending “to produce a series of recommendations to Government departments on ways to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the UK.” The concern is that abortion rates are rising in some age groups (note: this age group is women between 30 and 34, not those under the age of 20), and that teenage pregnancy rates are too high (although rates actually decreased by around 20% between 1999 and 2010, and are continuing to decrease). To be honest, I’m neither pro-life nor pro-choice; I’m just pro-do-what’s-best-for-you. For me, abortion was not best. The idea had crossed my mind on finding out that I was pregnant when I was 17, but once I really thought about the fact that I had a child growing inside of me, my decision was made. And now that decision has become the best thing in my life. So, obviously me and thousands of other females out there just like me, are going to be a little more than offended when we’re being told that our pregnancies are “unwanted”.
Of course, I can see why in the current economic climate many may see unplanned teenage pregnancies as a problem; often young parents have no choice but to rely on state benefits, which does cost money. This is not an issue generalised to teenage parents. Thousands of families of all ages rely on benefits to support them. The difference is older families have had the time in their lives to gain work experience or qualifications, or both. Young parents have not. All of the young mothers that I know are in education, work, or both. If they are receiving benefits, I doubt that they will be for long. And, if they’re not, why was their pregnancy so unwanted?
However, I can’t be too anti towards the entire inquiry, as Amber Rudd, the Conservative MP running it, actually made sense. Yes, I agreed with a Conservative MP. She concluded that sex education in schools needs to have more focus on relationships. It also needs to bring in the role of the male more. I couldn’t agree more. As I mentioned, the only issue I can see people really having with young parents is the financial implications on the country. Perhaps if young people were guided more on relationships, there would be less young single mothers. With both parents around full-time, having a stable income would be far easier, and shock horror, young parents would rely on benefits less.
Being taught about relationships in school probably does sound absolutely absurd, especially to the older generation who were just about taught about sex in school. But I’m sure that seeing people have sex on television programmes like Geordie Shore would sound absolutely absurd to the older generation too. Which would they prefer?
I’m aware that my view won’t be one which is shared by many. I’m also aware that, for some teenage parents, becoming a parent can turn their worlds upside-down. Better sex education with less biology and mechanics and more relationship and emotion focus can and will also reduce teenage pregnancies. Things in the real world are changing when it comes to sex, things need to change within schools too.
I was going to post a link the the show on BBC’s iPlayer, but unfortunately it is no longer there. Yes, my fifteen minutes of fame is over. When I get my hands on a copy, I’ll put a clip up.
What I have included though, is a few screen shots of nice things people tweeted about me during the show. What? It’s not often a teenage mother has people say nice things about her you know…
I got through the screaming nights of the newborn, the “grabbiness” of the one-year-old and the tantrums of the two-year-old. Three has been a nice age. She’s old enough to know right from wrong, and young enough to be fun and cute.
Three-and-a-half-but-I’m-nearly-four is becoming a new age all together. My child is rude. What sets other people off in giggles (usually family and friends without children, may I add), makes me want to scream into a pillow and lock my daughter in a Rapunzel-style tower until she has learnt some manners.
It’s probably my fault, I admit. The first time my daughter made a cheeky remark, I giggled too! I said “no, you don’t talk to Mummy like that” through a tittering red face and watering eyes. It was funny, I couldn’t help it. But my oh my, do I regret it.
I’m told “Watch the television, not me”, “Am I talking to you? No.”, and “Fine then, I won’t eat my dinner.” I’m seriously considering putting a few boarding schools on my 2013 primary starter application form.
Now, I know there are a few factors that are contributing to my madam’s diva attitude. The first being my inadvertent encouragement of diva-like behaviour during the early stages. I wish I had realised how much my laughing at her was affecting her ego… Another contributing factor is my inability to not nag. She hears me nagging at, well… everyone, and thinks that it’s acceptable. It’s my fault. I know! Another problem is her nursery is absolutely full of children just as cheeky as her. She’s there full time, there’s just no getting away from it.
I’ve tried many approaches to nipping this attitude in the bud. I’ve scorned her. I’ve ignored it. I’ve told her in my “nice voice” that that’s not the way we speak. I’ve put her on the “naughty step”. I’ve confiscated toys. I’ve sent her to her room. I’ve banned Peppa Pig. I’ve tried everything. All of which have worked instantly. And all of which have had lasting effects of about one hour.
What gets me though, is she doesn’t behave like this with anyone but those living in our household. When I speak to her nursery nurses about it, I get “Really? No! We’ve been really impressed by her manners actually.” When I visit my grandparents, I’m told “Isn’t she well behaved! All the children in our family have good manners, don’t they?” (Erm.. Yes Grandma, I’m sure they do…) And when I ask her aunties how she’s behaved when they’ve babysat, I get “she’s been very good, until you got here and the cheekiness started!” I would really, really love to delve into her mind and find out why this is.
I’m probably painting a terrible picture of both my child’s persona and my parenting skills, especially if you who are reading this doesn’t have any children of your own (“but I have loads of nieces and nephews” doesn’t count! They behave differently, to all of you backseat drivers out there…) She’s not an awful child, nor am I an awful parent. What she is is bloody cheeky and what I am is bloody stressed!
I hope it’s all a phase. And I hope the phase passes before she turns into a little prima donna forever…
Before I start on this post, I’d like to state one rule. Each time you read the words “perfect mother”, please imagine it to be said with as much venom as possible. Because she is our enemy.
Look at her, with her perfect smile, her happy, well behaved children, and her perky little boobs and ironing board stomach. The Perfect Mother: She. Is. Evil.
So, if she’s so evil, why do we all try so hard to be her? You don’t? Oh, I think you do! Put yourself back here: you’re just getting used to motherhood, your child is about five months old, and has been up all night for four nights in a row. You’re shattered, but you know you need nappies so you rush out to the shop with your hair in a state. As much as you know that this is perfectly normal, (after all, you’re a mum now), you still hope you don’t bump into anyone. You don’t want them to say “well she’s really let herself go since she had a baby!” But, typical, you do. An old “friend” who you’ve barely spoken to since you were preggo. She asks “How’s motherhood?” And what is your response? YES! You said something along the lines of “Oh, I’m loving it”, or “it’s amazing!”, didn’t you? I knew it. You put aside the fact that you were on the verge of tears, or even already in tears, last night because you were just so bloody shattered, didn’t you?
Now, it’s not that motherhood isn’t “amazing” or that we’re not “loving it”, but, let’s be honest, it is hard work. And that hard work often overshadows the fun parts. And that’s the harsh reality.
So why do we do so much to try and prove ourselves to be like… Her? We pretend like everything is fine, when it’s not. We avoid asking for help, because we don’t want people to say “I told you so!” And, in general, we try to do too much.
Let’s kick the Perfect Mother to the curb. If we love, our kids, do our best for them and put them first, is that not enough to make us better than her?
She’s not real!
Today my daughter, my boyfriend and I took a family trip to the cinema to see the latest addition to the Ice Age series. I’m very familiar with the first of the series, can’t remember if I’ve seen the second or not, and have had the third on the telly in the background while I’m not taking much notice God knows how many times, so I’m no expert on the history of the series or the character development or anything like that.
If I’m completely honest, I was apprehensive from the start, as I think that they’re overdoing it with all the sequels; if a film doesn’t need it, leave it as it is! But anyway, I did try my best to go in with an open mind, and here’s what I thought.
It all felt so OTT! Within the first five or ten minutes, we had a rebellious teenage mammoth wanting to date boys, a male molehog who’s secretly in love with his female best friend (again, the mammoth), an abandoned and senile granny sloth, the splitting of the continents, and a family separation. It was a lot to digest for me, let alone my three-year-old daughter! Although, to be fair, she seemed more interested in the animation and funny voices than anything.
However, once all the drama at the beginning had passed, the pace started to slow down and we were able to focus on one storyline at a time. The pirates were great, and the use of ice for the pirate ship was genius. For me, they were the highlight of the film. There was a particularly good battle scene, although I won’t go into details as I don’t want to spoil the film for any of you wanting to watch it!
After that, it all died down again. So much so that my daughter started shouting “I want to go hoooome! Let’s go hooooome!” So that’s exactly what we did! Therefore I can’t give a very detailed review, as I didn’t see the whole thing! From what I did see, it wasn’t great. The animation was good, as were some of the characters and the series’ famous use of Scrat’s parallel storylines. But the general business of the film made it feel rushed and far too difficult to get absorbed into the story, no matter what your age. Might be fun for little boys who are in to pirates. or older kids who might understand some of the jokes, but for me and my family, it was a total snore. I’d give it 2/5.
It’s all good and well me sitting here on my laptop saying “let’s break the stereotype”, but, for all you know, I could be that stereotype. And for all I know, I could be too! Simply in denial… I mean, I did grow up on a council estate, the teenage pregnancy rates where I live are astonishingly high, and, on those very rare occasions that I do get to go out and party with my friends, I tend to get rather shitfaced. So, to the stranger’s eye, I probably am. But those details don’t even scratch the surface on who I am or what I do. So let me tell you a bit about my story and you can decide for yourself.
Seventeen years old, sitting in my bedroom looking at a pregnancy test. As the test was given as a freebie from some sort of teen sexual health organisation, there were no instructions, no nothing. I hadn’t even considered taking it, as of course there was no way that I could be pregnant. The stick is showing me two lines. I’m pretty sure that that means I’m pregnant, but can’t be certain; like I said – no instructions. But I must have it wrong, it must be one line that means positive and two that means negative. I phone my best friend, to check. I don’t really want to, but this is before the days that iPhones are as popular as television sets and I don’t have good old Google to hand. Riiiiing riiiiing! Riiiiing riiiiing! ”Your call has been forwarded to the T-Mobile voicemail for…” Shit. By now I’m panicking. There’s only one other friend who may know for sure, and we hadn’t spoken properly for a while. She was a good friend though, right? I could ask her in confidence. So I did, and she said: “Sorayah, you’re pregnant love.”
And that was that. I was pregnant. I didn’t cry, didn’t laugh, didn’t even react for a moment. I just said “Okay, thanks…” and hung up. I phoned my boyfriend. His reaction was the exact same as mine. “Er, oh. Er, okay… Um… I’ll be round in a minute.” I could hear all his friends laughing and joking in the background, as normal teenagers do. Whilst him and I sat on the phone realising we were about to have to become adults. Like, real, proper, actual adults.
My first worry was finishing my A-levels, going to uni. I had been doing well at sixth form, I was receiving my grades for my AS-levels soon and was expecting them to be good. I was expecting to be able to get As overall, even if I had to work extra hard to bump them up next year. I was expecting to go to a decent uni, study English Language and Literature and become a genius of some sort. (Okay, slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift). Right now it was July. The summer holidays. I had no idea how far gone I was, but it was pretty obvious that some time during my second year of sixth form I would be pushing out a baby. And then, even if I did somehow manage to squeeze in my A-levels, I wouldn’t be able to go to uni with a baby! For one, I’m sure we don’t have ‘family units’ at university campuses over here like they do in the US, and I had never even considered going to one of the local universities. And, let’s say I did go to one of the local unis, how on Earth would I find the balance between writing my theories on post-1940 literature and flying aeroplanes of mashed up banana into the toothless landing point?
And then there were the worries of telling my family, of losing my youth, and, of course, actually being a mum. Could I really look after a child? My room looked like a World War II bomb scene, and I was going to have a baby living in it too? (To be fair, to this day my room still looks like a World War II bomb scene. That aspect of my life was unchanged by motherhood.)
I also have a chronic illness called Crohn’s disease (you may have heard of it. If you haven’t, don’t Google it, it’s gross). While when I’m well I’m perfectly fine, there are times when I literally can’t get out of bed for all the pain I’m in, and the lack of energy I have, and sometimes that can last for months. How could I look after a baby during those periods?
Anyway, let me move on a bit. After going to the doctors, I found out that I was three months pregnant. How the hell had I managed to miss an entire trimester without even noticing? I hadn’t had periods, so really there was no excuse. I guess it was a mixture of having irregular periods anyway, and being completely and utterly in denial. No excuse really though. I also found out that I wasn’t going to be able to take that year out between AS and A-levels as the spec was changing, so my AS-level wouldn’t fit with the following year’s A2′s. So I continued going to sixth form throughout pregnancy, gave birth in February, worked on my coursework at home for a few weeks, then went back in two days a week, working at home the rest. My boyfriend and I had worked out a system where he could go to work and do his studies some days, while I done mine the others. It was hard, but it worked out. We also stayed living with my mum. There was no reason not to, as my daughter could have her own room when she got a bit bigger and we could save a hell of a lot of money that way too.
I finished my A-levels, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but still good considering I had had a baby half way through the year with B-C grades. I then took a gap year before starting uni, as I wasn’t ready to send the little one to nursery being so tiny.
That gap year was pretty hard. Things weren’t great at home and my relationship with my mum was falling apart. The best thing at the time seemed to be to move into a place of our own. That was quite possibly the worst thing. For one, it was expensive. To say money was tight would be an understatement. And the worst thing was, we moved into quite an inconvenient place. Living in London, I can hardly call it ‘the sticks’, but it was right on the outskirts and there was no Underground station anywhere nearby, which, to any Londoner, might as well be the sticks. I didn’t have many friends come to visit me, and I didn’t often visit them either. I didn’t know anyone nearby, and felt uncomfortable going to the baby groups because I was so much younger than the other mums there. No one seemed to talk to me. My boyfriend worked nights so would sleep in the day, so the majority of the time it was just me and my daughter alone. I became really lonely and depressed.
As soon as I started uni the following October, things changed. My daughter was at nursery, socialising with other kids, and I was able to socialise with other people my own age. Not only that, but it felt good to be doing something for myself. Even though I hadn’t chosen to study English Language and Literature like I had always wanted, I chose a subject that I felt I would be able to balance with motherhood easier, and it was still based around language and literature so it didn’t matter. (Although now I regret choosing it. I would have even regretted choosing Lang and Lit, what I should have done was Journalism! Never mind… Another rant for another day.)
We moved back in to mums before I started my second year at uni for money saving reasons, and now things are much better. I’m closer to family and friends, and there are actually tube stations nearby. I’m home!
Now, my little miss is three, I’m due to start my final year of uni in October, and we’re all happy. I’m working through the summer, and I’m also considering taking another year out of education so that I can save some money and gain work experience that lasts longer than three months, like all my other jobs have. Who wants to graduate with no money and no job? But that’s another blog post in itself. (Advise would be appreciated on that matter).
So, I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m not saying young mums who don’t stick at education are stereotypes either. What I’m saying is don’t look at the small details that do fit the person into that stereotype; look at their story first.