Being a teenage parent
The author, Antonia Hayes.
At some point between finishing my last HSC exam and starting my first day of uni, I got pregnant. It wasn’t Schoolies pregnant, I’d been with my high school boyfriend for two years which at that age was a very long time, but I was eighteen years old.
This wasn’t the plan. I’d done well at school, was very ambitious, and had my whole life ahead of me. I remember listening to Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach and crying a lot. Everyone was surprised when I decided to keep my baby. Especially me.
Julian was born in October 2001, conveniently in the week between the end of lectures and my final first year exams. Some people were also surprised that I’d decided to stay at uni full-time throughout the pregnancy and after Julian was born. This shocked me — of course I wasn’t going to stop my education just because I’d become a mother, and I found myself having to stand up for what I thought were good choices. Everything was going to be fine: I was lucky to have the support of my parents, my boyfriend, and a beautiful new baby.
Perhaps I was naive, stubborn, or full of that nineteen-year-old fearlessness, but I really thought I could have it all. And then my world started crumbling down around me. Julian became seriously ill and we had to spend several weeks in hospital. His father and I split up when Julian was six weeks old. Juggling uni and a baby was proving to be more difficult than I’d anticipated, and I had to get welfare payments. I also found myself more and more disconnected with my friends, as they lived their carefree teenage existences and were out till dawn and I had to stay home with my new friends colic, vomit and nappy rash.
I didn’t understand their lives and they didn’t understand mine. Meeting new people was also tricky because I started coming up against something that I’d never expected: judgement. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me ‘But you’re too young to have a child’, I’d be a very rich woman today.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 16 in every 1000 babies are born to a teenage mother. I had never thought of myself as a statistic, but it turned out other people would. In the media teenage parents are called a serious social problem, and teen pregnancy is labelled a health issue. I had to battle a huge negative stereotype and found some people were dismissive of me (socially, intellectually, romantically) simply because I’d had a baby at 19.
So I started to keep Julian a secret from new acquaintances because I didn't want to be judged as someone who made poor choices. I wanted other people to see me for who I was first, my motherhood was just peripheral. When you’re at that delicate self-conscious age you care about this stuff. Most people spend their early twenties trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives, and I spent mine trying to do all that with a toddler.
I also found myself getting left behind career-wise. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old, but now I was so time poor I barely had a chance to write a shopping list, let alone write something of any value. It was difficult watching my peers start to be successful while I had to wait, I needed to put Julian first. It felt as though I were sacrificing my dreams and replacing them with Wiggles DVDs.
Things seemed hopeless, and perhaps all the people who had said to me I was going to ruin my life were right. Looking back, I thought I needed to give up, but actually all that happened was that I took a different road to get where I am today. I’m now thirty and Julian is turning eleven this year. People still tell me I’m too young to have a child, but now instead of feeling as though I need to stand up for myself, I just agree with them.
Julian and I have been through so much together, grown up together, and we have a beautiful, special bond. Thinking about how much I love my son actually makes my eyes well up, he makes my heart leap to a stratospheric place.
Over the years I’ve had some amazing and varied jobs, we lived in Paris for four years, and I finally met a man who has become Julian’s dad. I'm now at an age where I'm considering having another child, but I'm not sure what to do. I never thought I’d have to worry about my biological clock. On one hand, I'd love to do it all again with the man I love, plus my friends are starting to have kids too, but on the other hand Julian will be 18 when I'm 37 and I'm finding myself tempted to not have more children. Imagine the freedom of having no more day-to-day parental responsibilities in your mid-thirties, but not having to worry about never experiencing parenthood. It’s becoming a difficult choice.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t had Julian at nineteen, although I never regret deciding to keep him. But I wish there had been more positive messages about being a young mother, that it’s not just newspaper reports about it being a serious socio-economic problem, or drama filled like MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’. And I wish I could go back and tell eighteen-year-old me that everything is going to be fine. But I have a sneaking suspicion she knew.