Being a teenage parent

The author, Antonia Hayes.

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.

 

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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.

20 comments

  • Great attitude, I think being a parent is a wonderful thing to do at any age. In fact age should not even be a factor when deciding to have children or delay having children.

    Commenter
    Boo
    Location
    Loonyville
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 8:55AM
    • True, but whether or not you can afford to raise a child without expecting society to do it for you definitely should be a factor, and the younger you are, the less likely you are to be in a reasonable position.

      Commenter
      DisDis
      Date and time
      August 17, 2012, 2:49PM
  • I had an abortion at the begining of the year (@21). About a month ago I realised that if i'd kept it, I would have given birth by now and would be a mother.
    Sometimes I wonder if the reasons my partner and used to say it wasn't the time were selfish, or if the option wasn't there would I have been so careless as to let it happen? But I find that there's no use thinking about it that way, I did what I did and now I move on.
    On the other hand I know the next time I fall pregnet, no matter what circumstances, I'm going to keep it.

    Commenter
    Perhaps
    Date and time
    August 17, 2012, 9:04AM
    • Well done on raising a young man Antonia. I can't imagine how tough it would have been at university raising your son by yourself.

      50 years ago, you would have been strongly influenced to place your son into adoption, thankfully such attitudes have changed considerably.

      All the best in your future with your son and new man.

      Commenter
      CFE81
      Location
      Surry Hills
      Date and time
      August 17, 2012, 9:06AM
      • This is such an important point to make. I have several friends who are adopted but refuse contact with their biological mothers. Maybe they were neglectful or didn't want you, but many desperately did (and do), it was a different time and the treatment of teenage mothers was disgraceful.

        My mother was 21 when she had my older brother but looked about 16 (She still looks a lot younger than she is). The nurses at the hospital were really rude to her, until she finally said, "I'm married & 21", then they said "Oh, sorry, we thought your were a teenager". Lovely! Pity the poor teenager left on her own and sneered at by these judgmental cows.

        Find me a single woman who has never had a "bother, I'm late" moment. I used contraception scrupulously for over 2 decades, and then had a tubal ligation and still fell pregnant at 42 when it failed, so it's never foolproof!

        Commenter
        Okay
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 17, 2012, 9:47AM
    • It's interesting to read this, I suspect the "problem" with having kids as a teenager is that you really don't have any idea how much time & money you will need for a kid, the demands are relentless the first few years. And it makes having a partner difficult, because not many of us stick with our teenage boyfriend, so your kids will have different dads, etc.., which makes life complicated. That said, people are not perfect at using contraception, and it fails more than we would like. Many of my friends in their teens & early 20's had the same happen (unexpected pregnancy), but terminated. Some now have no kids, at 45-47, and I wonder whether they ever think about what might have been.

      Parents are sad when their kids have kids as teens because they know how hard it will be, but babies are fabulous & I agree celebrate however they arrive.

      You sound like a great, caring mother and no doubt your son is a happy chap. Go ahead & have another one, I had mine at 32 & 36, my husband was still studying & 13 years later we still rent, but I have the kids I wanted & wouldn't have risked waiting longer & risking age-related infertility.

      Commenter
      Okay
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 17, 2012, 9:42AM
      • Great article, thank you. I think there are a lot of judgemental opinions on this subject. I had my daughter in 1975 when I had just turned 18. She turns 37 next month. She is a primary school teacher with several post grad qualifications and an 11yr child. She makes me proud every day and I am thankful every day for the decision I made "to ruin my life and keep her".
        Yet I still get 'you don't look old enough to be a nana/ mum', and its hard not to see this a critical view of the choice I made all those years ago. But I would do it again in a heart beat.

        Commenter
        misskdonkey
        Date and time
        August 17, 2012, 9:48AM
        • I am a single Mum at 36 and it is hard work at any age. I do however take my hat of to single teenage Mums. Back in 1975 my own mother was a fifteen year old girl who gave me up for adoption. Unfortunately I have not had the chance to meet her, but if I did I would thank her. For being a pregnant teenager in 1975 would of been incredibly hard. Teenage Mums around Australia are doing amazing jobs raising their children, as this article shows.

          Commenter
          NatB
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          August 17, 2012, 10:12AM
          • Antonia, such a great article. My mum had me in 1971, when she was nearly 18, and I believe she suffered a lot of judgement and shame back then. But her parents supported her, and looked after me during the day when she went to work after having me. She went on to marry when I was three, and had three more children by the age of 26. I loved having a young mum – I though it was cool, even if people thought we were sisters! She was young but mature, and did a great job with us.

            She went to uni when I was in grade 10, and became a teacher so that she could have working hours that fitted in with us. I think she served as a great role model, showing us that we could strive and achieve AND be a great mum. For many years now she's had more freedom, because she had her children young. I made a conscious decision to have my children just after the age of 30, because I wanted to do things the other way around, having a career and travel first.

            There's no right or wrong way; there are benefits to either option. I just wish that the ridiculous stigma around young pregnancies would disappear – things are getting better though, I believe. Having a child at a young age sure makes you grow up quickly though, doesn't it?

            All the very best Antonia – and thank you for this brave, strong article.

            Commenter
            'Unplanned' but meant to be here!
            Date and time
            August 17, 2012, 10:16AM
            • Good on you. Don't worry about being judged. Judging is something everyone does to get a feel for someone, at a surface level. It won't hold you back from getting to know other people more intimately. And it is a useful filter to weed out those too judgemental to be worth your time knowing anyway.

              Commenter
              c1ee
              Date and time
              August 17, 2012, 10:30AM

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