If you had asked the teenage version of me growing up, ‘What’s the quickest way to ruin your life?’ without a shadow of a doubt, I would have said, ‘Get pregnant.’
My teenage judgements sound very extreme but if we are completely honest with ourselves, we all know the teen mum stereotype – chav tracksuit, no qualifications, hanging around the ‘dole office’. Not to mention, it is automatically assumed that they are bad mothers. So, when I sat in that doctor’s surgery at 3am, aged 18, and was told that I was pregnant… I stepped into my own living nightmare. The doctor gave me a look that said, ‘Say goodbye to your gap year travels, your university place, your future’.
I was shocked. And I was devastated. On the drive home I simultaneously tried to convince my mum that I was still a virgin, but also that I was probably about 6 months on. (It had been a while since anything baby-making-related had happened). My head was spinning as I remembered all the things I had done recently; The nights out. The wine. The ‘Jaegerbomb-Queen’ title. The A levels. The failed driving test where I nearly killed a pedestrian. The trip to Israel where I rode camels through the desert. The grade 8 violin exam. The Sunday morning I abseiled down the Europa Hotel… I was the last person this should have been happening to.
For the next three months I was constantly carrying another human, but I’d never felt so humanly alone. It should have been the happiest news of my life but everyone’s reactions were to console me or avoid me. The amazing new life inside of me was overclouded by my young age. As a result, I think I only truly accepted that I was going to be a mum when I went into labour. Reuben’s gigantic head was making its jolly way through my cervix and that’s when I informed my mum, and the midwives, ‘I don’t think motherhood is for me’.
But oh my. One look at that deliciously-beautiful yet hairy new-born of mine, and I knew it was so for me. He was so for me. The beauty of having a baby so young is that quite often that baby is your first real experience of true love. When I looked at Reuben, I wasn’t a teen mum anymore. I wasn’t a stereotype. I wasn’t a statistic. I was just Reuben’s mum. And I was going to give this motherhood thing everything I had.
Of course, that hasn’t been easy. I’ve been winging my way through motherhood. But, aren’t we all? On top of googling what colour my new-born’s diarrhoea should be, I was working part time, repeating A levels, and completing a counselling course to get into university…most of which was done whilst Reuben slept at night. But just because something isn’t conventional, doesn’t mean it can’t work. I’m now 21 and these days Reuben and I live in Belfast where I go to Queen’s University to study Theology. He goes to Queen’s crèche when I am in class or at the library and he is only ever 20 yards away.
Anyone who knows me, and anyone who doesn’t know me (the beauty of being an over-sharer with a blog) will know, that I am pretty strong willed. Some would say stubborn and annoyingly head strong, but I prefer to say unwaveringly-determined. If ever there was going to be a single-teenage-mum studying for a degree at university – I am your girl. But for this reason, I worry that people will look at me as the ‘success’ story. The ‘minority’ story. The ‘exception to the rule’.
But in reality my story is the same as everyone else’s. And the truth- the truth that I rarely tell anyone is, I didn’t want the baby in my belly. I wanted what society told me was a quick fix. I wanted an abortion. Even after my beautiful Reuben was born, I still struggled to accept what had happened. I felt that people were waiting for me to fail and I couldn’t help but notice the looks on the street. I began to believe the lies that were spoken over me – ‘what a shame this has happened so early in your life’, ‘what a waste of potential’, ‘how could you make such a mistake?’, and not to mention the derogatory names that I’d receive from people I didn’t even know.
Boy, am I glad that I didn’t receive my news until I was 6 months on. The choice was taken out of my hands, and although my mum may have wanted to kill me – I am so thankful that I didn’t have the option of doing something I’d regret. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself how full my life would be. I wish I could go back and tell myself that there was hope.
I was told about an organisation called Surestart who run groups for young parents. I begrudgingly went to the group, annoyed that I was expected to be friends with these people just because we all got knocked up before the culturally appropriate age. Little did I know, I would meet some of the most amazing girls who would become a massive part of my life. We were in this together.
After becoming a Christian, I stopped believing that motherhood or Reuben was an unfortunate mistake that could have been avoided. I started believing that Reuben had a purpose – that I had a purpose. I was no longer a product of my circumstances. And in my darkest moment, coming face to face with the extravagant love of Jesus, I was enabled to love Reuben more than I knew possible.
I may no longer be a teen mum. But I’m also no longer ashamed. I no longer stand under the labels of ‘wreckless’, ‘worthless’, and ‘failure’. I now stand under the labels of ‘loved’, ‘strong’, and ‘valuable’. I wasted too much time mourning the life that I could have had, but that life was never actually mine to mourn. It just robbed me of the time and energy to live, enjoy, and make the best of the life I have now. Admittedly, I’m still a little scared to go out in public with Reuben in my tracksuit bottoms for fear of looking like a typical teen mum. But sometimes I think of the quivering, uncertain mess I was during my pregnancy, and I think ‘Girl, you did good’.
I am passionate about encouraging those women who are the same quivering, uncertain mess that I was. I wish it was my job to greet every woman who comes out of a doctor’s surgery after receiving their news – and do you know what I would do? I WOULD CONGRATULATE THEM! I wish I could be the voice of strength and positivity when society tells them they’ve made a mistake. It’s my heart through my painfully honest blog, and in my daily life, to eradicate the stigma surrounding unexpected pregnancies. I want to empower women to pursue their dreams, and dare I say it – with their baby. Young mothers are not a cautionary tale to tell your daughters. I want to challenge those assumptions and through that, challenge us all to get behind and support the young mothers in our lives. Actually, let’s support all the women in our lives.
Getting pregnant at 18 didn’t mean my life was over. It meant that I get to do life with Reuben. Of course I spend most of my time doing all of the dinosaur and Fireman Sam related activities…but I also still do everything I used to. I have pizza nights with friends, I go out in the evenings, I have coffee dates, I travel to new countries, I cry about assignments, I stay up way too late, I worry about money, I binge on chocolate… I do everything, but I do everything with Reuben. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Which is good because the way my mum brain is going, in a few years I probably won’t remember it any other way.