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.