I got pregnant at 16. Don’t judge me; it wasn’t deliberate, well not on my part anyway. I remember sitting in McDonalds just after having the test, clutching the selection of pro-life leaflets I’d been given, with my 31 year old (suspected) psychopath and (confirmed) compulsive liar (I still believed he was 24 at this point!) boyfriend, feeling kinda numb. It didn’t feel like it was happening to me at all. Maybe if anyone could have seen the situation I was in they would have snatched those pro-life leaflets out of my hands. Even the pro-lifers didn’t look too sure that they were doing the right thing – Maybe they remembered my boyfriend from the last time he was there with a scared pregnant 16 year old. I went into college and told my tutor that I’d have to leave, before bursting into tears. She told me that every child was gift from God. I didn’t know if I believed in God but I admired her positivity. I cried some more and agreed to stay on at college, much to my boyfriends disapproval.
I didn’t want to tell anyone else at college about my ‘situation’ but I kept nearly passing out on the bus and it started pissing me off that no one would give me a seat. I was so scared about people’s reaction that I think I may have outed someone in my effort to dilute the shock of my news. “Guess what? He’s gay and I’m pregnant” seemed to at least divert some of the attention away from me. Although I probably ruined the other guy’s life. Once news was out, I quickly had to re-evaluate who I was. I figured the cute innocent flirty thing wouldn’t really wash anymore, not with the looming bump. I can’t remember what I decided. I guess the decision was taken out of my hands. When my photography teacher asked what I was doing over summer and I said having a baby she just laughed nervously. My maths teacher would whisper to me that if I didn’t do the homework it was ok because he ‘knew’. Friends would dare to reach out and touch my stomach then squeal with a kind of repulsion. I didn’t understand this ritual. There didn’t seem to be any enjoyment from either party. I tried to keep my fat ugly bump hidden and I refused to waddle. I also refused to wear hand-me-down-pregnancy-dungarees (thanks but no thanks – I still had SOME sense of dignity left).
I put off telling my parents for as long as possible. I kept telling myself it was only two words. My boyfriend wanted me to say “I’m having a baby” rather than “I’m pregnant”. He said it sounded more positive. He obviously didn’t get that my main aim was just to cut down the number of syllables I had to get out! My mum tried her best to sound supportive (well, as much as you can when all your hopes and dreams for your first born are shattered in an instant). She hugged me and reminded me that I was ‘good with kids’, I had done my work experience in a nursery after all. My dad said nothing. My name was added to the prayer chain. Again. I sat some exams at 8 months pregnant, despite the Psych department extremely concerned that my fail would look bad for their department on the prospectus.
At 2am, two days before the due date, contractions started. I went downstairs to watch MTV because I knew the hospital didn’t want me wasting their time with false alarms. At 8am I decided to go into hospital. He was born at 8.23am. Giving birth is absolutely the single most amazing thing in the world. I could not believe that there was a real life baby at the end of this, a bloody baby. I instantly fell head over heels madly in love the second I saw him. I didn’t want him in the cot next to me, I didn’t want to sleep, ever, I just wanted to hold him. He was perfect. And I wasn’t fat any more.
I squeezed back into my size 8 jeans and took my perfect baby to college with me to pick up my results (which included an in-your-face-A in Psychology) and managed to sort out going back part time. They had never had to deal with a student who was a mother before but my tutor kindly sorted it out. After a year she also helped me apply (last minute) for Uni. She said anyone could go to this one so long as you could climb the stairs. It sounded ideal. I was impressed with how little time Uni took up. I could still go to all the ‘parent n toddler’ groups and not miss out on any Mummy stuff at all. At 18, I got married and a few days before our one year anniversary, while he was at the corner shop, I put my son in his buggy, picked up his shoes and walked out. The relationship was doomed from day one to be honest. I just wasn’t ready to be a single teenage mum. It sounded like I’d failed. Anyway, the divorce came through just after my 20th birthday.
I went back home to the patient long suffering ‘rents. I shared a bunk bed with my son and, at weekends, when he was fast asleep, I’d creep out and pretend to be that cute little innocent thing again for a few hours. Although the innocent bit tended to wear off after the first hour. I quickly made up for my lost youth. Or something like that. Looking back, I’m glad I did while I still had the energy and before my body knew about hangovers. You can scowl at me all you like but I hadn’t been allowed out for four years and suddenly I found myself with permanent live-in babysitters. Deal with it. Besides, I was always back by morning.
I graduated at 21, my son started school, and I got myself a crappy part time job that often involved putting things in alphabetic order or colouring in, much like at home, but eventually I managed to find a bank that took into account family credit and child benefit when they calculated how much mortgage I could get. I felt like a millionaire. I think this is what’s now referred to as ‘Irresponsible Lending’. Lucky for them I was probably the most responsible 22 year old they had ever met – at least with money anyway! Estate agents, however, saw a dizzy young girl on her own with a child playing ‘Houses’ and ignored me. I resorted to knocking on the doors of houses with For Sale signs to ask for a peek till I finally found my house. My son got his own bedroom. A loyal friend, looking for a cheap place to live while she did her teacher training, paid half the bills. I bought a big red smeg fridge off ebay. We were set up.
Meanwhile I met a guy who was the complete opposite to me. He stole my lodgers ham once so she had to move out and I eventually let him moved in. He’s very good at making people laugh and fixing things. I’ve spent too much time over that last 8 years wondering whether this is enough, but I guess this is all we really need. He’s good at the things that I’m not good at and has proved invaluable in emergency situations. I should stop worrying about it. Or have more emergencies. I did a Masters and got a proper job that involved a bit of counting, rather than just ordering, and a bit more telling people what to do, much like at home. At 26, we moved into a bigger house further up the hill, four doors away from my parents, and I bought a grand piano for my son off ebay.
Things are kinda grown up and boring now. I closed my ebay account and punished myself with more studying. It’s like a form of self harm but has the benefit of looking good on my CV. I know I’m lucky; I’m lucky that my parents forgave me for not turning into the daughter they expected, I’m lucky that my college tutor was actually my fairy godmother in disguise and I’m lucky that my son was born in the summer holidays so didn’t disrupt college too much. Maybe my tutor was quick to land the ‘Gift from God ‘line on me when I turned up in her classroom at 16 in floods of tears (and she tells me now that when pregnant students seek her out she always checks what the girl wants to do first) but, to her credit, she did look after me when I needed it and has never stopped looking out for my son. (Pro-lifers take note: if you can’t promise at least 16 years of personal support, I say you should put your placard down and re-think your approach).
We will never look like a conventional family though. Apart from the cat we all have different surnames, the variation in skin tone occasionally makes me nervous when going through passport controls that we could be suspected of kidnapping, and I miraculously don’t seem to have aged much since giving birth at 17 (physically or mentally) so I’m pretty sure its not just the NTL man who thinks that I’m my partner’s daughter! I don’t know if it’s really true that people go on holidays and meet families that are just like them, or whether it’s just a facebook fallacy, but so far it’s never happened to us! (We did once overhear a child in the next tent squeal “that boy is calling the 12 year old girl “mum””) Still, in the words in Kylie circa 1989 “If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a single thing”.
Also published on Teenage Mums, the real story