A Young Mums View on Support in 2014

Recently I was due to attend a conference as a representative of young mums. I had to fight rather hard for an invite. This was a conference about the support of young parents (anyone parenting under the age of 25) yet, NO young parents had been asked to attend on the panel discussion, let alone talk. Sadly, my son was ill and I couldn’t attend. I wrote this article for the delegates pack.

This was seen by CEO’s of charitys, social workers, support workers, police, midwives and the head of the UK teenage pregnancy strategy.

My name is Emilie. I am a young mum to four children. I was a teenager the first time I fell pregnant and I am still a young mum at the age of 24. I’m single and my children’s dad is not involved in their upbringing, I live on a council estate and claim benefits. If ever there was a cliché young mum – I am it!

It can be (very) frankly claimed that people, like myself, are government funded breeders and that my situation is seen as a lifestyle choice with living expenses and a free house thrown in. However, a young person who chooses to or ends up parenting at a young age doesn’t always fit the uneducated, poor, promiscuous or thoughtless stereotype. Some young parents have chosen to be parents at a young age. Some young people have found themselves in that situation. People don’t plan everything that happens to them.

I think for some, youth pregnancy and parenting symbolises a breakdown in society, innocence, stable families and the idea of marriage. Is being a young parent the end of the world? Well, if you’re asking me, it is the end of life as you know it, but definitely not the end of the world. The years spent on personal development during those early adult years are different but any parent, of any age who parents their child, will tell you that parenting brings huge personal development.

Professional Support offered for young parents who need help can range greatly. In a professional supporting role you may aid a parent in completing university studies. You may teach a young parent to cook a meal with fresh ingredients. Both are achievements with positive outcomes. Support is such an individual thing. It is about making that young parent the best version of themselves. Often support can be given by a stable, loving family. But that isn’t always possible. If you don’t talk to your family or your family has broken down; statistically if you haven’t done well in social expectancies, such as school or have emotional attachment needs that haven’t been met, that’s when the young parent and their child may have more difficulties. These are likely to be the young parents that need extra, more specialised support.

Reading this, you could be supporting young parents professionally, on the other side of the supportive spectrum you could be a lone voice who simply choses not to judge or somewhere in between. Collectively though, I believe we all know that one of the biggest, fundamental problems are the stigmas that young parents face from society, media, their peers and sometimes even themselves. I think the social stigmas come from society’s collective dislike of children under 16 years old and even young people over this age who may not be considered mature, having sex. Young parents, sadly, often receive negative reactions.

For young people who are becoming parents, the foundations of a positive pregnancy need to be aimed for early on. If a young woman is insecure about her pregnancy she has the potential to become a home bound young mother. It is a fact that disadvantaged women, either socially, emotionally and/or economically are more likely to get pregnant at a younger age and go on to have a baby. As a consequence there are higher rates of social exclusion for young parents and their children.

However, I believe that young parents, when supported, can be very good parents. When I say supported I don’t mean every young parent needs a social worker and strict monitoring. Support, of course, can be that and there’s nothing wrong with it but, support can be as little but, hugely significant as when you see a young mum at a group you attend and, you say hi! She’s a mum who has got out of the house in one piece! Hurrah to her and hurrah to you. See? You have something in common!

I believe that the poverty within young families is real. Whilst many young parents go onto achieve great things, that they may never have done if they hadn’t become a parent at a young age, there is no denying the immaturity in development and education could cause a deficit in met care needs – even if just for a while! This is true though, of many new parents in today’s climate – we’re all struggling in our 20’s, our 30’s, my parents are still struggling in their 50’s. However, we can’t be complacent about the need to encourage young parents to succeed and break the cycle of children being born to young parents in poverty and becoming young parents in poverty themselves. By encouraging change in the social structure parents in poverty allow themselves to live in and the society of which they deem themselves worthy of this would have a huge influence on the outcome for each young parent and their children. A person’s self esteem needs to be supported when they are pregnant and through parenting for achievements to be accomplished. Then, often, those achievements will bring new and higher standards.

Many of the most vulnerable young parents don’t want or think they need the help. Whilst, as professionals, you (mostly) can’t force it, the excuse of, ‘they don’t want help’ ect can be very dangerous in aiding the stigma that many are working to abolish. When you’re finding it hard to engage a young person it is often important to step back and go ‘back to basics’ that, you might skip past because of time constraints, for example. What life has this young person lead? Is testing boundaries being perceived as being difficult and not wanting help, consequently continuing this young parents socioeconomic pattern? Any person who doesn’t complete a developmental stage, such as learning boundaries, will often, subconsciously, repeat the same patterns again and again. In your role, is your perception of that person aiding stigma or can you see past it, even when you’re being pushed to your limits?

As a young mum, what key things do I think need implementation for best practice in today’s rapidly evolving modern world? Language spoken and body language when in a supportive role is highly important when initialising first and subsequent contact. I can tell, quite quickly, if someone is supporting me as a young mum who has to have intervention or as a mum who is receiving support and just happens to be young. The difference is huge. The first may conclude in me not feeling supported and ending up quite frustrated. This frustration, no matter how hard I try to put it to the back of my mind, then impacts on the children in my care meaning the support has been counterproductive. The second may result in me feeling understood and in turn my positivity, making a happier, more productive household for the rest of the day.

The importance of the way you, as a professional, present yourself, your attitude, openness and clear explanations cannot be under estimated. Again, going back to basics is fundamental as not everyone understands abbreviations, for example, that you use without thinking about it! Your knowledge is often secondary. Listen to that person. If you don’t know, tell them, ‘I don’t know but I will find out and let you know,’ and do follow it through! You cannot expect a young parent to understand their limitations and accept help if you don’t understand your limitations of knowledge and when you need to gain greater understanding to help that young parent. I believe a person in a supportive role knows two things. One, the person you are supporting is the expert of their own situation. Two, you and the young parent can never stop learning from each other.

I think supporting bodies also need to make the best they can of their continuity in care policies. Personally, during a five month period, my son has been assigned two different social workers. This can’t always be helped and support should be about moving along and being present in the ‘real world’ but do bear in mind that the people who are in need of support are often vulnerable people who can be adverse to change. If there needs to be a handover of support what could you do to aid the transition as smoothly as possible? A joint visit for handover? A telephone call update rather than an email? A face-to-face meeting rather than a phone call? Every little step forwards makes change and improves best practice and thus raises the standards for those you are handing over to.

I further think it’s important to understand where young people find their knowledge too, then to look at what you could also engage with to empower this young person. A lot of the people you come into contact with may not have a support network. These days, though, young people can access support through seach engines, Facebook, Twitter and watch TV a lot of the time through their phone or on smartphone apps. Texting is fast, easier and often cheaper and emails are accessed quicker than it takes to dial a number these days. At 3am support is found on Twitter #NightFeeds, through apps and Facebook. If I need to contact someone I text them in the evening, when I’ve finally sat down, as they will pick it up in the morning and I’m less likely to disturb them. A text or email fits into daily life even when the children are screaming and I don’t have time to make the call before the office shuts. If you can recognise and, actually embrace, that social media, apps and typing forms of communication are a good thing, then you will be benefitting your services. This is the way the world is now, if you don’t embrace it, I would go as far as to say that you are not fully satisfying your duty of care.

Young people have whole support networks spanning miles with overseas connections becoming the norm. There are great examples of support that have correct information such as a new app for young parents in pregnancy and through early stages of parenting that the charity Best Beginnings have made called Baby Buddy. Social media isn’t all about worst case scenarios, panicking parents with incorrect information that you have to reassure against anymore.

Now, I would like to revisit my first paragraph with you. Whilst true, it is not the full story. I hope that it will reiterate that the brief synopsis you may receive of a person needing support may not always give you the full story: I am Emilie, I do have four children, two are alive and two are not. The two that are alive were born very prematurely at 27 weeks and 28 weeks retrospectively. My son, born at 27 weeks, is categorised as disabled and I had to stop working my consistent and set hours to become his carer. I have gone from being totally self-sufficient, supporting myself, my children and home on my wage (on which I paid tax) to now claiming disability benefits and spending my days, normally in some hospital waiting room whilst working hours that suit my family, when I can. I do live on a council estate by fluke and I live in an ex-council property, I wasn’t ‘given’ it because of my situation. My husband couldn’t handle the loss of two babies and the health needs of the others and his path in life, unfortunately, took him on a journey away from his family.

Originally I knew I was a young mum but I didn’t feel like one as I was married to someone older with my own home and a job in the social services field, I was offered help but I was determined I had it all sorted, and I did. When I was on my own with a son who had complexed needs I realised I needed help. It took six months for me to accept it. I fought on saying, ‘I can cope.’ Eventually my son’s health took a turn for the worst and I was in a bad place emotionally and also with my employer for being off work so frequently. Like most young parents I wasn’t a bad mum but I needed help to be the best version of myself and I had to accept and embrace it, or carry on and ultimately end up having it imposed upon me. So, my family helped in practical ways by cooking me meals for the freezer etc. Before I finally gave into flexible working I received anti-depressants, counselling and financial help with childcare so I could try and continue to work set hours. My health visitor would visit at home on my day off to make life a little bit easier for me. Support for my children was very much at the forefront. Support for me became secondary. Upon giving up work I set up a website: http://www.MummyMai.com and started to blog about premature birth, loss, parenting a child with complexed needs as a single and young parent and everything inbetween. I also took to Twitter, @Emilie_Mai_ to gain wider support and to fill the loss of company from work friends and colleagues. But this didn’t help completely and I felt isolated. So I searched for people who I could talk to about my experiences with an aim to improve support for young people like myself.

I was signposted to and became in contact with the charity Best Beginnings (info@bestbeginnings.org.uk). Six months later I have talked at three conferences around neonatal provisions using the Best Beginnings Small Wonders DVD. I have tested the Baby Buddy app, and have been filmed for videos going into the app and I have even spoken at the launch night of Baby Buddy. I’ve been on BBC radio, in many national newspapers and Pregnancy and Parenting magazines and I’ve been invited to talk in secondary schools, at Hertfordshire university and also at Bedford university. I have been empowered to talk about my story using social media and to, hopefully, help others with ex-professional and personal insight.

The help that I have received has made me happier and that impacts positively on our family life. I have been enabled to be the best version of myself as a person and a mother and empowered by the knowledge that I’m helping others too. Initially, I may appear to be a cliché young mum but that isn’t my full story and I am proud of who I am and of where I am going.

However, I could not have been the best version of me without help. Help ranging from my sons disability team Social Worker to the elderly lady from over the road who helped when I had a screaming child in each arm and I was trying to shut the boot of my car!

By Emilie-Mai first published on Mummy_Mai.com

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Becoming a Teen Mum

This is not a topic I speak about a lot, maybe a part of me is embarrassed or worried what people may think, but I am getting to the stage of life where I actually not too fussed what people think. So here is my little story of how my life got twisted up side down… hang on I am not Fresh Prince, No I was just a normal teen who really had no clue.

They say that teen mothers is a trends in families, my mum was nearly 30 when she had me so I did not copy too much. As a teenager I had such low self esteem, I thought I was ugly and fat and that I would die alone. These were far from it and after a boyfriend who told me these I was a full time low. I met my eldest Sons dad when I was 15 and we dated for a few months. Then one month I realised I had missed my period and little did I know who much that would change the course of my life.

Back in the days of camera flip phones and no instagram

I had no clue what a baby would entail or what I would need. I kept it quiet as long as I could and then had to tell my mum and dad. At the ripe old age of 16 sitting down with my parents was a hard thing to do but I carried on, my family in true style ignored it for awhile until I was massive. My mum brought me lots of maternity clothes and off I went getting bigger and bigger. I also had awful fluid retention and was massive (this is why there is no pictures of me when Pants was born I seriously was the size of a house). In this time I lost most my friends they were busy with life and I was stuck with Family and partner at the time. I went along to pre natal groups but a lot of the Mums did not talk to me. I was too young and they just ignored me. I remember it being hard sometimes people often so judgmental and I always felt like I had to justify my self all the time.

Baby Pants

The time came to have my little baby and after waiting 7 days overdue and 24 hours in labour I had Pants. The labour I can not remember any off it but knew it was long. I did not feel love straight away I suddenly felt a huge overwhelming sense of pressure. I felt as if I would never be on my own again. The responsibility hit me very hard and all of a sudden I was scared. Scared I would muck it up, scared I would never have freedom again. I was 17 no college qualification just a waitress. It was then I knew I could not do nothing in my life I needed to get a career show my son to be a better person His Dad sadly never grew up and for that reason we split and then I was on my own. I had my family and my mum was a massive help, the first few nights she sat up with me with a colicy baby who did not sleep and brought things for me when I needed it. She was really amazing.

A teenage me and my Pants

I lived with my mum for a few years whilst I got on my feet, I went back to being a waitress a month after Pants being born a few hours a night just to get a little cash, I did not claim anything except child benefit and relied on my mum. I had no clue and probs would have wasted the money anyway but least I earned the milk and nappy money and that some how justified my decision. I then started university at 18 studying for 6 years to become a nurse. Meeting my husband on the way and having two more children. I would not have had it better if I tried.

Its funny really looking back, for years I suffered this judgement feelings. Even now people look at me with the babies and think I am a teenager in trouble. For years I would always bring into the conversation I was a nurse and married because did not want people to think bad of me, but now I think so what. You know if I did not have a baby at 17 I would not have my life now. I am blessed beyond belief and have done so much more than I ever imagined. My Son saved my life from heading nowhere and helped me find myself. I then joined a church where for the first time since becoming a mother people accepted me for me and there the empty feeling was filled in. My hard layers where brought down and I learned to accept love and to not care if people judge me. I am loved and that’s so so amazing. So if you may think some body is young you never know what life has in store, having a baby brought me determination that I did not have before. I love being a mum I know no different really.

By Sara who blogs at Mummy’s Little Blog

10 things you shouldn’t say to a young parent

Being a young parent comes with so many good points. Being able to watch your child grow older, understanding some of that new fangled fancy lingo they are coming out with, surviving on no sleep.

But it also comes with a wealth of judgement and whispers. You get people come up to you on the street, ask you questions and be negative about your situation.

Unless you know that young person you have no right to make those judgements. So here are 10 things to not say to a young parent.

1: “What a waste of your future, didn’t you want to travel/get an education/get a good job?” Oh how fickle people are. Having a child does not waste your future. It simply changes the course slightly. Having a child young doesn’t mean someone can’t travel, get an education and a good job. Many young mums are teachers, business women and even politicians! Some even have degrees!

2: “Did you do it for the council house and benefits dear?” Wow, yes. I definitely chose to bring a child into the world so I could secure a house and benefits on the state. Umm if you didn’t realise we are in a housing crisis! Less than 1% of council homes are occupied by parents under the age of 25! I definitely was expecting a council house with those statistics.

3: “Is the father still around?” I mean that’s not something that is said to a 30 year old mum so why does it get said to a young parent? So what if one parent is or isn’t involved? Yes there is a lot of single parent households. Not all of them are young parents though.

4: “But you look so young, you’re only a child yourself!” I think my reproductive system says otherwise. I’m old enough to get married, vote, drive a car, live alone, have a job. I’m pretty sure I’m old enough to have a child.

5: “You don’t do it like that, you should really do it like this” When it comes to parenting everyone does it differently. As long as you are not hurting or putting your child at risk then you should be left alone! WE DONT ALL PARENT THE SAME.

6: “I bet you leave your child and go out each weekend” First of all, what a parent does in their spare time is none of your business. If they want to go out, then as long as their child is being cared for and they have some spare money then why shouldn’t they! I know personally I’ve not been out for so long I can barely even remember it. But I do enjoy a good glass of wine and a movie.

7: “Didn’t she know about contraception” This is a touchy subject for me. I was on contraception when I got pregnant. Many girls and women are. The one thing that needs to be noted is education. Sexual health and awareness education is so low for young people that it’s barely non existent. I didn’t know about contraception, stis, implications of pregnancy. I didn’t even know wheat to do when I found out I was pregnant. What these girls need is an education. Not a lecture.

8: “Why don’t you get a job instead of rinsing the benefits system” In a world where it’s hard to get a job for a graduate, it’s even harder for a young parent. With rising childcare costs, lack of support and minimum wage not being a living wage, it’s easy to see how a mum can get lost and not know where to start. A support system for young parents, from education through to the workplace needs to be there in some capacity. They need help as much as the others wanting a job.

9: “You look young enough to be her brother/sister” I’m going to take that as a compliment even though you meant it as an insult. If I can still look young with these eye bags and this saggy body then I must be doing something right honey?

10: “You’re doing so much better than the other young mums, at least you are doing something with your life” See there is my problem. All young mums are doing something with their life. Whether that be working, studying or something else. They are still doing something. They are raising children! That is a bloody hard job and that needs to be applauded too. So if you’re going to give me a pat on the back can you give a pat to all the young parents?

Laura tweets from @maxandmummyblog
Originally posted on Max and Mummy

A young mum. My story.

I never expected to be a young mum, damn I never imagined myself even being a mum. I was one of those girls at school that everyone said wouldn’t be a teen mum, I was too good for that. But at 19, I fell pregnant.

Most people see 19 and think, well you are old enough to get married, have a house, have a job, why not a baby. But I was at the end of my first year of uni, had been with Scott less than a year when I realised that I was pregnant.

We were being safe. I was on the pill, I had been on it for years. Religiously taking it as if it was an extension of myself. But for one week I was also taking some tablets for a chest infection. The doctor never told me that it could mess with my pill so I didn’t think anything of it. 5 months later and I started getting horrendous headaches and stomach cramps. After thinking things through I tell Scott that I’m coming off the pill and we would need to use alternate contraception.

A month had passed and I still hadn’t got my period. So I thought I would pick up a test. Freaking out that I had messed something up as I was coming off the pill. When those two blue lines appeared I broke down. I didn’t know what to do or say. I called Scott in tears and drove all the way down to Portsmouth to tell him. His family guessed almost straight away and within 24 hours my mum knew too. We were both 20, at uni and pregnant.

We decided to go to the family planning clinic with my mum, talk things through there and decide what the best thing for us to do was. When they got me up to give me an ultrasound they gave me the shock of my life “You’re about 6 months pregnant, did you know that?”. Cue another breakdown from all of us. Not only was I pregnant. But I had 3 months to decide what the hell I should do. None of us knew how we hadn’t noticed. I’d gone up a dress size but put that down to eating rubbish and going out at university. Not being pregnant!

After sitting with Scott for what felt like days we decided we had to keep this child. it was given to us for a reason and we would love it and bring it up as best as we damn could. It took both sets of parents a while to come to terms. Of course it would, we were young, in our prime and all of a sudden expecting a child that was going to change our lives. I remember my mum coming home one day with a packet of baby grows and giving me a hug. Chatting with her friends at work they had reassured her that it wasn’t a bad thing, amongst all the death she dealt with, we were bringing new life into the world and it was a blessing.

Next thing we knew we were in a whirlwind of appointments, scans and checks. Thankfully everything was perfect. We got told we were having a girl, but still picked out neutral stuff. I’m definitely not a pink girl! (we all know how that turned out!)

Within a fortnight we had deferred a year of uni, sorted out maternity/paternity leave and found a place to live. It was as if we were on fast forward and it was only getting faster. We went on a long weekend to Disneyland Paris which did us the world of good. Our last chance at being us before we were parents. That’s not to say we didn’t still do what we wanted. 2 days before Max was born we went to a gig. I’m pretty sure that put me into labour.

I’d already decided that my mum and Scott were to be in the room with me. I didn’t know how he would react to all the pain I would be in and I knew that my mum would be a calming influence on the room. Luckily I had a swift labour and he was born in a few hours. When we all realised our little girl was actually a boy I think we were just as shocked as when we found out I was expecting!

It’s been tough being a young mum. I’ve had jeers and stares, comments and murmurs about how I’ve done it for benefits. What surprises most people is that we are both working, have degrees and not in a council house. Yes we get help but 99% of it is done ourselves. Having Max made us more focused and determined to succeed.

I ended up in a deep swing of postnatal depression. Looking back now it was because our life was on fast forward. It’s only been since I was out of uni that I’ve managed to slow it down. Take everything in and relax. I’ve learnt to love being a mum, be proud to be a young parent and want to empower more young mums to feel the same. We aren’t the stereotype, in fact none of us are. We are all banishing those stereotypes in one way or another.

Honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way now. We have our own family of 3 and we are perfect that way. Being a young mum was one of the best turning points in my life. I love Max and I can’t wait to see him grow up.

Laura tweets from @maxandmummyblog

Originally posted on Max and Mummy

Young Mums go to the House of Commons!

Yesterday The Young Motherhood Project was shown at the House of Commons, and a number of young mums went down to the engage with MPs about challenging the myths around young motherhood!

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You can watch coverage of it here – We had a great Young Mums Chat on Twitter the night before where we discussed the myths, the difference made by sharing stories and what messages we want to get across to MPs. Here are a selection of some of the fab tweets:

ans 1: people tend to believe that having a baby at a young age guarantees a failed future for the young person which is wrong

that and also to ‘trap’ their boyfriends. Hate it when I hear this comment from people.

it takes a lot of courage for a 15 or 16 yrs old to be at school while pregnant because of all the judgement!

I also got told by my head of course as a young mum I should quit uni as I wouldn’t succeed. There’s no support.

young mothers =holy grail of scape goating because they usually tick more than one box in society’s stigma checklist

ppl get inspired by talking to ppl who have been in the same situation as them and think if they can do it then so can i

Support them in education.I had so little help when at uni&would have been better off at home.Makes no sense!

stop making out like young mums are the root of all evil?! Sick of being stereotyped & punished for being young!

need policy makers to have direct engagement w/parents & professionals to see what is missing

Jendella did such a brilliant job of representing young mums and answering some tricky questions! The two MPs, Teresa Pearce and Kate Green, were also pretty inspiring to listen to, especially hearing about Teresa’s own experience as a young single mum. Thank you too for giving me an opportunity to have a few words!

Here is a copy of my speech below:

“I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant. I had already left home to live with my boyfriend and had become quite isolated from my friends. When we found out I was pregnant the first thing my boyfriend  said to me was ‘well, you’ll have to leave college now then’

So I went into college to tell my tutor I was leaving – I could have easily just dropped out and not gone back, maybe a different tutor would even have encouraged this, but she gave me the confidence to go back to my boyfriend and tell him I wasn’t leaving college. She spoke to my teachers and adjusted by time table to ensure I could stay, she encouraged me to tell my parents I was pregnant who turned out to be my biggest support. And that was exactly what I needed at the time; someone who recognised it wasn’t the end of the world and that actually things would be ok.

After college I went straight to uni and later while working I studied for an MSc. I was lucky I’d had my tutor and my parents who supported me. But I knew the way people looked at me when they found out I was a young mum, and it does affect your confidence and how you see yourself and decision you make about asking for help or speaking up. Occasionally people said I was the exception to the rule, while allowed them to continue looking down on other young mums.

For my dissertation I wanted to study  transitions made by young mothers. The young mums I interviewed had all created their own different pathways, negotiating families and studying and careers but they all faced some levels of discrimination for being young either by professionals, or through being rejected by their friends and families, which made life harder than it needed to be. Yet my supervisor at uni told me that their stories weren’t true! A middle-aged white middle class male said that their stories were wrong, that there wasn’t a problem with how young mothers were treated, the implication being that the problem was young mothers themselves.

There can be an assumption that other people understand the lives of young mothers more than we do, that young motherhood must be the problem because that’s what the statistics say.  But that’s not actually what the statistics say at all. If you look at long-term outcomes of teenage mothers who were born in 1970, then by age 30 their employment, income and education are not significantly different for those who were teenage mothers to those who miscarried in their teens and didn’t become young mothers.

The proportion of births that are to women under 20 are now the lowest they have been since around 1947. But as numbers reduce the stigma seems to increase and there is a growing perception that parents under 20 are not emotionally mature enough to raise a child, despite it being quite acceptable a few generations ago (so long as you were married at the time!)

The young parents I know are now teachers, professors, midwives, social workers, civil servants. They are also amazing parents and role models to their children and others. If we share these real stories then we can challenge the myths that girls get pregnant so they can live their whole lives on benefits and that they are a problem to be solved. If we share our stories maybe other new young parents will know that their lives aren’t over too.

No one dares talk about how there are actually many positives of being a young mum, the fact we live longer with our children, we don’t interrupt a career, we are more responsible and focused and motivated from an earlier age.

Policy makers need to listen to young parents and directly engage with them about their aspirations  and the barriers that are being put in their way, from lack of childcare at uni, to bullying from peers, to being asked informally to leave college because their pregnancy doesn’t give the right message to other pupils.

It’s important too that we listen to those who were young parents to ensure that the pathways they negotiated are still available for young parents now, and we’re not writing them off before their journeys even began. Policy makers need to put aside their fear of promoting teenage pregnancy and instead recognise that supporting and believing in young mothers is probably the best investment you can make.”

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From young mum to mum of an adult….

Tomorrow my son turns 18.I’ve been reflecting on my journey from young mum to mum of an adult….

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my experience as a young mother. Maybe it’s because I had the privilege to take part in Jendella’s great Young Motherhood project earlier this year (if you haven’t heard of it, you should check it out – youngmotherhood.co.uk). Maybe it’s because the child I had in my teens is coming up to the age at which I had him. Maybe it’s because I’m reflecting a lot at the moment about my own journey- what’s led me to where I am and where I am going. Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to write some thoughts down.

Jendella’s Young Motherhood project is fantastic in the fact that it sheds light on what it’s really like to be a young mum, and challenges some of the stereotypes that exist. In a way, it’s really sad that these stereotypes, which rarely, if ever, depict young mothers in a positive light, continue to persist in the way they did when I had my son, 18 years ago, but they do. Indeed, a very close family member only recently made a comment about young girls getting pregnant for housing and benefits, during a conversation we were having about my involvement in the project. Given that I, myself had been a teen mum (albeit an ‘older’ teen mum), this was really surprising to me. But then, you see, in her eyes, I was the exception.

The thing is, in my experience, there’s an awful lot of ‘exceptions’. In fact, it’s almost as if these ‘exceptions’ are actually more like the ‘rule’ and the tired, often baseless, stereotypes are more like the ‘exception’.

In my case, I found out I was pregnant on the day of my 18th birthday party. A previous straight a student, growing up in a leafy part of Cheshire, I fell head over heels for a boy a few years older than me at the age of 16, left my A levels, got a job and moved in with him. I didn’t set out to get pregnant, and it was a shock when I did. I can honestly say that up to the age of 16, I had led a very sheltered life, and had absolutely no idea whatsoever how to raise and take care of a child.

Reactions to the news were mixed. My mum was very supportive and my dad took it as well as could be expected when mum told him (I chickened out). For this, I was very grateful, as elsewhere, reactions were almost universally negative. I always remember the face of the parents of one of the girls I had been good friends with at school, when I bumped into her in the village with my baby bump. It very visibly said ‘that’s it, you’ve ruined your life, now’, and that was pretty much the reaction of many such people. To be fair, it was a shock to many of them who primarily knew me as a straight-A student, but the overwhelming response was not one of support but rather of disappointment and disapproval. For someone trying to grapple with what all of this meant for my life, these reactions did little to improve my self confidence or help with my ever growing anxiety about whether I could be a good enough mother.

My pregnancy in itself was uneventful. I really had no idea what to expect, and, being a natural bookworm, devoured the pregnancy book that my mum bought me. My mum was a great source of support – she’d always wanted a big family and would talk about how she would proudly push her grandchild around in his or her pram when he or she arrived. I still have a letter from her, sent just after my 20 week scan, talking about potential baby names.

However, my mum never did get to push her grandchild’s pram. The letter I have from her, was written while she was in hospital being investigated for abdominal pain, and a few days after that letter was written, we were dealt the devastating blow that she had terminal cancer. I was five months pregnant when that happened. I was seven months pregnant when she died.

My son Daniel arrived on 25th September 1996. I can clearly remember lying in the hospital bed, with him in the cot beside me, totally terrified and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a mother. I really didn’t have a clue and, with my mum now gone, felt like there were very few people who could help or guide me. The first nappy I put on Daniel, I put on the wrong way round. The midwife saw him in his back to front nappy and asked whether his dad had done it. When I said I had, she just looked at me and walked off. I felt very alone.

The blurriness of early motherhood soon took over. I was overwhelmed by this desire to do everything right for my son. I poured over the book I had, studying the advice given about how to feed, how he would develop, how to interact with him etc etc. I became slightly obsessive about ensuring I interacted with him at every opportunity to ensure that he would develop well. It was exhausting – for both him and me!!!! I was just so desperate to get it right.
My health visitor was a great source of support in those early days – frequently making comments about how he was thriving under my care, which really helped my confidence. However, when Daniel was six weeks old, I was completely exhausted and just felt that I couldn’t breastfeed him any more. You have to remember, I was also grieving the very recent loss of my mum as well as coping with a newborn. So, I went to the clinic to talk it through with my health visitor. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there, so I spoke to another one, who, when I asked for advice about how to stop breastfeeding, gave me a sharp look and proceeded lecture me on how beneficial breastfeeding was to my son. The thing was, I knew this. I had read the books and knew all too well that breast was best. I already felt very guilty about thinking about stopping, but I was exhausted, underweight and in need of some moral support. When I reiterated how tired I was and how I just felt I needed to stop, she advised me to just stop straight away and take some paracetamol if it hurt.

Now, I don’t know whether she thought I would continue feeding once t began to hurt. I do remember feeling strongly that I was being judged and patronised. But, I didn’t know any better, so I did what she said and went from 2 hourly feeds to no feeds at all. And when it began to hurt, I just assumed that was what was bound to happen. I didn’t question it even when the pain became so bad that I couldn’t bear to hold my son close to me without a pillow in between. I didn’t question it when I began to feel feverish.

Thankfully, my six week check was due, so I dutifully walked the two miles down to my GP, feeling horrendous, and, when the nurse asked me whether I was ok, I replied quite meekly that I was actually not feeling too good! A quick exam by the GP was swiftly followed by a prescription for strong antibiotics and an appointment the following morning, by which if I hadn’t improved, I was to be admitted to hospital. Thankfully, I began to improve.

Time went on, and, when Daniel was 11 months old, I started training to be a nurse. My relationship with his father had deteriorated by this point, for many reasons, and we parted . To say I was skint over the next few years is a massive understatement. Due to the way the benefits system worked, I wasn’t entitled to anything as a nursing student, despite the fact I had to pay for full time childcare, rent and all the other usual essentials such as food, nappies etc. If I had not trained as a nurse, but stayed at home with my son, I would not have had to worry about the rent etc because I would have received housing benefit. The result? Well, I often hid from the rent man. I took out payday loans, overdrafts and credit cards, and then began to fall into the cycle of taking out loans to pay for the previous loan. And I didn’t really eat. Any money I had went on Daniel’s food and needs and I quite often lived off the leftovers that from patients hospital dinners, surreptitiously obtained before the trolley went back to the kitchen.

I sadly, also continued to have comments made about my situation as a young, single mum. One comment always sticks in my mind, mainly I think because it was so ridiculous! When I was a student on a ward, On the other side of my name badge, which was clipped to a pocket on my uniform, was a picture of Daniel. One of the patients noticed it and began asking me questions about him, commenting that I didn’t look old enough to have a child and asking me my age. When I told her, she looked at the picture again, shook her head and said ‘well, at least, I suppose you must love your son, to have his picture with you’. As if, somehow, my age meant that there was a possibility that I wouldn’t love him!

It wasn’t all that bad, though. My experiences at that age made me a stronger person. A lot of the time, it felt like Dan and I against the world, but that made me even more determined to succeed and to be the best mum that I possibly could. Daniel himself was an absolute angel. Considering all that he had to put up with – the early starts, the lack of anything other than the absolute basics and so on – he was an absolute star. I never felt, even during the grimmest of times as a student when I literally had not a penny to my name, that I should give up. This was invariably helped by the fact that lots of people were very supportive and affirming. I had an amazing childminder, who looked after Daniel like he was part of the family and who would often knock a bit off the monthly bill because she knew how poor I was. I met some great friends at uni, whose lives were considerably different from mine, but who nevertheless always looked out for me. My younger sister would help out babysitting when she could – especially when I had weekend shifts to cover. And, occasionally, I would go out on a Friday night – my younger sister or a neighbour babysitting. Frequently, I would go out with literally £1 or £2 and buy a half of lager that would last me the whole night. I know some people judged me for going out when I had so little money to spare, but sometimes I just wanted to have some fun. When my daily routine started at 5am, with the bus to the childminder leaving at ten to six, so that I could get to work for half seven, work a full shift, come home, take care of Dan, study till midnight and then start all over again the following day, those nights out were like a bit of escapism.

Those days seem like a different lifetime to me now. Indeed, my life now is very different. I met my now husband in the last few months of my training and am now a very happy, settled, mother of three, with a job I love and a lot more security than I ever felt was possible back then. I work for the church and am married to a vicar, and many people make assumptions about the kind of person I am, based on those two facts. So, I am very open about the fact I was a young mum, mainly to hopefully try and break some of those stereotypes that still exist. Sadly, I have heard judgment directed at ‘teen mums’ from people within the church – very occasionally that judgement has been directed at me. I find this particularly sad because, when I was a young mum, I actually really wanted to go to church. For many reasons, I was starting to think more deeply about my faith and wanted to share that with others. However, I held back because I was afraid of being judged. I already frequently felt that I was being judged negatively by those in the wider world and didn’t really have any desire to subject myself to more. When I did finally start going to church, with my now husband, I realised that the vast majority of people in churches were kind, welcoming and anything but judgemental. It seems like such a shame to me that people outside the church still often feel like the church is judgemental, but that perception is most definitely still there. Because for all the good that the church, and the people within the church, do, you don’t have to look far in the media before you find someone being judgemental and unwelcoming – be it in relation to a person’s sexuality, gender or life circumstance. And the thing is, no matter how loud the positive voices are- no matter how numerous they are – we always seem to hear the negative voices first.

And that is something we all need to be aware of. A young girl, trying her hardest to raise a child in difficult circumstances, will most likely remember the one negative comment or judgement she has heard that day, even if she has heard fifty positive, affirming comments. And, thus, such comments are likely to lower her self esteem and worth and make her life, and the life of her child, that little bit harder. One of the great things I noticed when I went to see some of the Young Motherhood exhibition in Birmingham a few weeks ago is the diversity of young mothers. No two stories are the same. No one fits neatly into the stereotypes that certain corners of the media seem determined to continue to peddle. And they all, without question or exception, like most other mothers the world over, wanted the best for their child.

My son becomes an adult tomorrow. I could spend another thousand words telling you all about his amazing achievements, about the wonderful young man he has become. I’ll spare you that. I’ll just finish by saying how incredibly proud I am that he is my son and how I wouldn’t take back any moment of the journey that the last 18years has taken me on for anything in the world. Having Daniel changed my life invariably for the better and I am forever grateful that I have been so richly blessed.

Grace

September 2014

We are dreamers. We are achievers. We are young mums.

People always judge mothers. But why put down the younger mothers even more? Why labelling all young mothers as benefit seekers, good-for-nothing and waste of space? Are people having that perception on young mothers because the media only concentrates on the minority who do such things? What about the hard working inspiring majority of young mums? Why doesn’t the media or general public want to see how the majority of young mum love and so? Because we are no different to them? Because we are too normal?

Hi. My name is Sophie. I’m 26. Wife, graduate, clinical trial officer, volunteer. Oh! And 1 more thing! I’m a YOUNG mum! Yes a young mum!” But.. But.. How can you do all these things and be a young mum” I hear you say! “Young mums just sit around home all day watching Jeremy Kyle and wasting tax payers money while their kids are vandalising something” I hear you say that too! Well…you got it completely wrong! I belong to the majority of young mums who are doing something with their lives while still raising their young families. I am one of the thousands of young mums who has studied while raising babies while being a child ourselves! I am one of the young mums who are establishing their futures along with establishing their young child’s future! I am one of the young mums who works hard, independent of any benefit to provide for their young families! And you know what I am proud to be a young mum!

As with all young mums, I was judged by family when I fell pregnant at 20 and wanting to go to uni! They said I couldn’t possibly do it, that my child’s life will be ruined if i go to uni because I’ll be too eager to party! That I should terminate my pregnancy because I couldn’t take care of myself so how can I take care of another human being? And it goes on… However, I didn’t let that change my dreams or my plans. I will be going to uni and have my baby too! Uni started when my daughter was 3 months! My uni friends didn’t mind that I had a kid. They adored my daughter! I had a social life but it didn’t involve partying or going to clubs ( yes! You can still have a fun social life without alcohol! Shocking!) I used to study on the train as I wanted to spend time with my daughter once I picked her up from childminder’s. Weekends, I only studied when my daughter was asleep! In my final year, I fell pregnant and remember writing my final year exams while my son was kicking about! Graduated with honours 2 months later! Started an internship with a university related to my degree and finished it just 1 week before my son was born! Once my son was 6 months I started looking for a job related to my degree. 3 months later I started in clinical research and now I’m here having progressed in my career field, 2 gorgeous kids who are unscarred by being raised by a young mum and are exemplary to other children! They are raised knowing they need to love people and where they live! I am socially active too and have a few hats on outside work, everything from being as mentor to being a trustee, I am also a caring citizen! And all of this with no support from anyone at all!

I am not the only young mum who does such things! Until the world of Twitter, I thought I was all alone. However little did I know that there are so many fellow young mums who have an are going through the same things as I did! Young inspiring mums who do amazing things but not known to the general public because  the bad image portrayed by media will be wrong! Before judging a young mum think what her story is! Words are the deadliest weapons and we young mums are already vulnerable as it is and we could do without you talking behind our backs and saying how bad mums we are because we can’t stop a crying child on the bus!

Young mums can become future leaders/ powerful members of the society if the right attention is given to us! We do not want to be labelled! Have you ever thought on how strong willed young mums are? Do you think it’s easy to raise a young family while you are deciding your future too? Has anyone considered that we have also dreams and goals?! Have employers thought that because we have had or child young that we can now dedicate our life to having a career without any interruption compared to other women who decide to take a career break to have children? Have you every thought of giving a young mum a chance and see what she is capable of?

Just because of a minority, please don’t label all young mums as useless to the society. We are strong. We are brave. We are committed. We are full of ideas. We are dreamers. We are achievers. We are young mums.

Sophie