I was a few months into my final year of school when I realised that my period was late. My friend marched me to the shop to buy a pregnancy test and we sat quietly in her bathroom waiting for the 2 minutes to pass, and there it was, two pink lines. I was terrified. I had lost my Mum to oesophageal cancer 6 years previously and I didn’t know who to turn to.
I was a child, I had zero experience in caring for babies and I wasn’t ‘that girl’- the one who makes a stupid mistake and ruins her life by getting pregnant.
I spent most of the next day at my god mother’s house, secretly researching abortion methods and adoption laws on her computer. Although I am 100% pro choice, I knew that neither of those options were for me. I put my hand on my tiny bump and I felt a twinge of wonder and excitement, but the excitement was tainted by an overwhelming feeling of guilt and fear.
You have to believe in yourself, because not many other people will
Telling my Dad I was pregnant is still one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. Unsurprisingly, he was extremely disappointed, and he looked as scared as I felt. I dissolved into tears and he told me (out of love for me, I’m sure) that ‘there is only one option’- abortion.
Telling my school wasn’t any easier. I had planned to put it off until after my first scan, but after confiding in a few close friends the news had spread like wildfire. I walked into class one day and a boy stuck out his leg as I walked past, causing me to trip, then stood up and informed the class that I was a ‘pregnant whore’. Mortified, I left the room and decided to bite the bullet and tell the head teacher. A few days later I was called into the office where I sat, alone, being told by the head teacher, the deputy head, my head of year, and the school counselor, that I should have an abortion. My head of year told me that I would fail my GCSEs if I kept my baby.
As my pregnancy progressed and I started to come to terms with the prospect of becoming a mother, every positive word I said about my pregnancy was met with a negative reaction. When I gushed over pretty dresses in shops people would frown and remind me that ‘it’s a real baby, not a doll’. I was constantly reminded about how my body was going change and how I would ‘miss out’ on going out with friends and having fun. I know that people just wanted me to be prepared, I was a child and they worried that I didn’t really understand the enormity of what was happening, but the vast majority of teenage mothers are not that stupid. They know that it’s going to be incredibly difficult, they know that they are entering a world of sleepless nights, sacrifices and financial difficulty. They know their situation is far from ideal, but why do we make it even more difficult for them? Why did nobody tell me that I would love my baby more than anything in the world, that those pretty dresses would look adorable on her and that her laugh would brighten up the room? My pregnancy would have been a whole lot more enjoyable if they had! Instead, I felt like a failure. I was convinced that I would make a terrible mother, seeing as everyone around me seemed to believe that my age made me incapable.
There was one person who did have something supportive to say. A teacher at my school told me that things would work out for me and that, from his experience, ‘young mothers tend to make better parents, because you have so much more to prove.’
People will judge you
Teenage pregnancy still carries quite a big stigma. We’re often seen as a burden on society, assumed to be dim-witted, lazy scroungers with loose morals. You might see it in the horrified glares of old ladies in supermarkets or the sideways glances of a few older mums. Sometimes it feels like the world is against you, but rest assured, it is not just you who gets judged! No matter what age you become a parent, nosy strangers will more than likely take issue with something you do/don’t do. It’s rarely the mother’s fault. It’s a simple fact in life that some people are just assholes. I think it’s helpful to remember that you can’t read people’s minds. Not everyone who looks at you is thinking something negative about you!
If I had £1 for every time someone replied with ‘You don’t look old enough to have a x year old!?!’ when I told them how old my child was, I would be a very rich lady! Pretty much every single person I have met in the last 10 years has said this to me. It is then generally followed by questions which they would NEVER ask an older mother: ‘Was it planned?… What did your parents think?… Did you not think of having an abortion?…Were you on contraception?…Are you still with the dad?’. This daily Spanish inquisition can be quite irritating, but you get used to it.
You learn who your real friends are
As a teenage mum, your life is pretty different to everyone around you. You can’t really relate to your teenage friends’ lives anymore, but you don’t really fit in with older mums either, and that can make it quite lonely. Some of my friends just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go straight out after college or go on spontaneous nights out. Eventually, most of them stopped asking. A few did stick around though. One even spent countless nights at my house helping me to settle my toddler into bed when I was struggling to cope alone after months of sleepless nights, and that lovely lady is still my best friend ten years later, and our babies are great friends too!
Your life is not ruined
I was determined to give my daughter a stable future. My baby was due in June and the school year ended in May and I was determined to prove my teachers wrong and pass all of my exams, so I worked hard in school and revised every spare minute I had. I had an after-school/weekend job washing up at a local restaurant. Being 15, I had no legal minimum wage so the money was awful (£3/hr!), but that gave me the funds I needed to prepare for my baby’s arrival. It turns out that a baby doesn’t really need a whole lot of ‘stuff’. As long as they have a safe space to sleep, something safe to travel in, clothes to wear, and mum’s boobs to feed them, they’re good to go. Her timing was *almost* perfect. My labour began on my due date, and my daughter came into the world the morning after. Two days later, recovering from birth and after being up every hour or so breastfeeding my daughter, I sat my last GCSE exam and passed with full marks, securing my place in college for September. I worked hard and it payed off.
In England we’re very fortunate to have the ‘care to learn scheme’. This meant that I could have my childcare costs covered whilst I studied my A levels in college. My daughter was just 12 weeks old when I started college. Leaving her so young in the care of someone else whilst I attended college was so hard (In the UK, women generally take a years maternity leave). I spent the first few months constantly texting/calling her childcare provider to make sure that she was OK. She was still waking frequently during the night for feeds so I was exhausted, and I turned up to college more than once with baby sick down my back! We soon settled in to our new normal though. She adored going to nursery and it gave her a chance to socialise with other children her age, seeing as I knew very few other mums. It also gave me a little bit of normality, an opportunity to be a ‘normal’ 16/17 year old. I would read her my biology text books as her bed time stories as a bit of extra revision and used the night feeds as an opportunity to work on my coursework.
I did great in my A levels and secured a job as a HCA not long after finishing college. My daughter turns 10 this year, I’m progressing in my career, she has a baby brother and we have a stable home. My daughter is a credit to me. We have a very close relationship and are often mistaken for sisters!
You can successfully breastfeed
Over 80% of mothers over 30 initiate breastfeeding at birth, but less than 50% of those under 20 do. Only 7% of teen mums are still breastfeeding at 6 months, compared to 34% in the rest of the population. Breastfeeding as a young mother was tough. Like many babies, my daughter struggled to latch well in the early days. My nipples were sore and I was exhausted. I could have done with some more support but I didn’t know where to go. I exclusively breastfed my daughter for 12 weeks, and then she had formula during the day and was breastfed on a night until she was 4 months old, at which point I was advised by my health visitor that her sudden increase in night feeds meant that she was hungry and needed more formula and solid foods during the day. She didn’t wake any less, but she did breastfeed less and my milk supply diminished (a return to frequent night waking at around 4 months old is a normal developmental stage often referred to as a ‘sleep regression‘ and is not an indication that your baby needs to begin weaning. Weaning should not start earlier than 6 months). I so wish that I had the support I needed back then to make breastfeeding work. The WHO recommend that babies should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months, and should continue breastfeeding alongside complimentary foods for up to 2 years and beyond. Using formula carries risks to both mothers and babies, and with the right support, most women are able to breastfeed. That’s why it’s a great idea to read up as much as you can on breastfeeding whilst you are pregnant, to help you be prepared.
I have since supported other women to carry on exclusively breastfeeding on their return to education. Your rights as a student are the same as your rights as an employee. This means that your school/college/university must take suitable measures to safeguard your health and must not discriminate against you for breastfeeding. Being unable to express milk at school would put you at risk of developing blocked ducts and mastitis, so the Health and Safety Executive recommends that your place of work/education allow you sufficient breaks to either breastfeed your baby or express your milk, and provide a private room (NOT a toilet!) in which to express and a fridge to store your milk. There is no legal obligation for them to do this, but unless they have a very good reason not to, denying you a safe place to express and store your milk may be seen as sex discrimination. This could be as simple as taking an extra 15 minutes for your lunch break and sitting in an empty classroom or office to express, and storing your milk in their staff room fridge. It’s a good idea to write to your school in advanced to arrange this, and then to contact a breastfeeding counsellor or health visitor if you encounter any issues.
You will be a great parent
Whether you’re 14 or 34, becoming a mother for the first time is likely to hit you like a ton of bricks. There’s nothing in the world quite like it, and no amount of preparation really prepares you for how much your life will change, how sleep deprived and how full of love you will be. There are a lot of negatives to being a teenage mother, but it is not the end of the world. Your age does not make you an incapable mother. Being young, you have so much more energy to deal with the demands of parenting and you and your baby are likely to have a very close relationship.
You are not alone
Being a teen mum can feel quite lonely, but you’re definitely not alone! I’ve spoken to other young mothers who have shared their stories of what it was like being a young breastfeeding mum:
‘I gave birth to my son on my 15th birthday. It wasnt easy, but being a mum came naturally to me and is the best thing I’ve ever done! We had a hard time learning to breastfeed, I had heaps of milk ( which came in handy when my sister had my nephew 8 days after me and needed surgery, she wasn’t producing enough milk for a few days and I was able to share mine💓) but we had trouble latching and for the first few weeks there was a lot of expressing and trying to get him to latch and also trying to make sure he was actually getting milk. With the support of my mum and my amazing midwife we were able to get the hang of it, and I ended up feeding him till he was 2 1/2/ 3ish. He turned 8 two weeks ago 💕’
Laurén’s story :
‘I was 19 when my baby girl, Harper, was born. She will be 1 year old next month and we’ve been breastfeeding since birth. I never really intended to breastfeed – I always said I’d give her some colostrum but if I didn’t like breastfeeding I’d go to formula after the first day. As soon as she was born she dragged herself up my chest and latched herself on, and I knew it was meant to be!’ (this is called ‘breast crawling‘ and is truly amazing) ‘Before her birth I wasn’t educated at all on breastfeeding, all I knew was that it was healthier. Once we started breastfeeding I learned all about it and I was so glad I tried it! It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The advice I always give to people is this: If in doubt, make a cup of tea and then wing it. Nothing lasts forever so don’t get caught up on the hard times, and treasure the good ones. Cluster feeding was probably the biggest shock for me, I wish I’d known what to expect so that I’d been prepared! I had never heard of it, so when people said things like “she’s feeding again? She needs formula, your milk is obviously not good enough” I seriously doubted myself a few times which knocked my confidence. If I had done my research beforehand and educated myself, I would’ve known that it was all perfectly normal and healthy behavior! Breastfeeding was the one thing I didn’t research during my pregnancy, and it’s the one thing I wish I had. I’m so glad I gave it a try, it’s been an amazing journey and my daughter is absolutely thriving!’
‘I was 19 when Leo was born. I was sitting my a-levels when he was the size of chocolate chip! I was working as a waitress when I found out I was pregnant, it gave me a massive push and I started working near on 7 days a week to save up some money for maternity leave. Although my partner had a decent job, I wanted to have some money behind me in case we needed it. Leo is 11 weeks old now and I’m currently studying to work in HR.
He is exclusively breastfed and I plan to carry on until I go back to work and then I’ll exclusively pump until he’s ready to wean. I love breastfeeding, it’s been my plan since I was 16 learning about the benefits in my child development class.
I went to a few pregnancy classes, but I was the youngest there by at least 8
years so I felt very out of place. I guess to any other teen mums I would say just do whatever makes you happy. Don’t take in any judgements from anyone!
‘I was 16 when I got pregnant. I was in an abusive relationship and I was missing for 6 months so I was very vulnerable. My daughter is now 8 months and my baby’s dad is not involved, so I’ve done it all myself.
I’ve been exclusively breastfeeding for 8 months! Breastfeeding has had its difficult times but I was determined to keep trying because I wanted to do the best I can do for my baby.
It might be difficult, especially as you may have no support around you, but honestly you CAN do it. You will lose your patience and you’ll be stressed, but you’ll get through it. Keep it up mumma!’
‘I found out I was 20 weeks pregnant at 16 and had my daughter at 17. I really wanted to breast feed as it was pretty normal in my family and couldn’t afford formula.
Our first feed in hospital after she was born was great! But after that she was really sleepy and wouldn’t latch. The nurses did try to help but by the end of the day I was handed a bottle and told to give it to her because she had stopped passing urine.
She breastfed much better once we were home but I had no support and no information on breastfeeding at all. I didn’t know what a good latch should look like and by 5 weeks my nipples were very damaged, so I gave up and gave her a bottle of formula. She had an an allergic reaction to the formula and was put on prescription soya formula, and that was the end of our journey.
I’m now exclusively breastfeeding my second daughter who is 15 weeks old. Looking back I see so many things that I could have done to fix our breastfeeding problems, but I just didn’t know where to go for help!
I am very very grateful for the support from groups like this. I don’t think I’d still be breastfeeding without it!