It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. Almost four years in fact. In those (almost) four years, I’ve stopped being a “teen mum” and have fully stepped into the realm of Adult Parenting™. (Well, at least to most onlookers I have. Little do they know that I still time myself climbing the stairs on all fours, step over the cracks in the pavement and throw tantrums when my hair just won’t go right.) I’m twenty-five, I’m a teacher and I have added another cub to the clan. I even check how much items weigh in the supermarket to work out if I’m getting a good deal or not, so if that doesn’t make me an adult I don’t know what will.
Yet despite being the portrait of a grown-up, I still feel like a teenager. I remember my grandma, well into her eighties at the time, once saying to me “When you turn seventeen you’ll never feel any older,” and that is one of the truest things ever spoken. It’s funny that seventeen is the age that she used since that’s the age that I was when I first became a parent. The second time around I was twenty-five but I felt no different to the first. No more experienced (you forget a lot in seven years), no more mature and no more prepared than I was at seventeen. Yet I’ve been treated so differently this time around, both during my pregnancy and since.
The first thing that I noticed was the reactions to my pregnancy. When I first started telling people, I felt the same apprehension that I had done at seventeen. How are people going to react? Have I made the right decision? Will they expect me to fail? Of course, none of this happened and it was just my own demons coming back to haunt me. Everyone that I told was full of joy and I even heard the word “congratulations” several times. I was given a maternity massage, thrown a surprise baby shower and sent to the front of the queue in Primark. Being pregnant as an adult is great – who knew? I’d do it all again just for the love I was shown.
I also noticed that no health care professionals asked if my pregnancy was planned or not. When I was pregnant with my daughter at seventeen, I had become so accustomed to answering this question at every appointment that I thought it was just standard procedure. I was never sure why it was relevant, but just answered anyway so to not cause a fuss. It always felt quite intrusive and I was never sure what the “right” answer was – if I said “yes” would I be seen as a fool for planning a family at such a young age? If I said “no” would they think I was reckless and stupid? I couldn’t win. This time around I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to say that I had planned my second child. I’m an adult with a career, no room for judgement here! How ridiculous is that? Me, someone who has spent the last eight years standing up and demanding respect for young mothers, seeking the approval of someone that I don’t even know for choosing what to do with my own body and my own family. I might as well have asked them “do you think it’s ok for me to have another baby?”
I also haven’t been patronised this time around like I was last time. Rather than telling me to go to “stop smoking” groups (despite being a non-smoker), I have been asked if I’m a smoker or not before the leaflet is shoved in my face. Instead of being lectured on why I mustn’t give up breastfeeding, I have been directed towards breastfeeding support groups (I still gave up within three weeks, age has had no bearing on that.) And, on top of all of that, not one single person has asked if my son “still sees daddy much”! It seems that present fathers are an over-25s exclusive, guys.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still twelve years younger than the perceived “ideal” age for first time mothers in London (according to this Evening Standard article) and three years younger than the 2014 national average for first time mothers, so am still seen as a “young mum” (especially as I’m on child number two) and my entire experience hasn’t gone without people noticing this, but their attitude towards me hasn’t been the same. Less judgement, same amount of surprise.
All of this has made me realise just how much young mothers need support. Of course, having experienced it first hand, I already knew this, but seeing some of the other side of the page has given me something to compare my own experiences to. It is worse than I realised and belittling young mothers does nothing but make them feel ashamed and isolated. Just treat all mothers the same. Please and thank you.