I was 16 years and 3 months old when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. At the time, my home life was pretty unstable. My parents had separated 6 months before, the next sibling down from me (there were 6 of us at the time) was in foster care and I had been with my boyfriend at the time for just over a year.
I vividly remember my mum’s words when she saw the positive test. She was livid and said that I would have to be the one to tell my dad. He, on the other hand, was a lot calmer about the whole situation and simply asked when I would be moving in with my boyfriend. I can’t really remember now what went through my mind at the time, but I do remember knowing with complete certainty that I was going to keep my baby.
Before I fell pregnant, I had been considering a career in political law. I had chosen my A levels and I was just about to sit my GCSEs at the local Grammar school. I sat my exams as planned that summer whilst dealing with awful morning sickness and hiding a growing bump. Now, as far as I could see, there was no way I could go back to school to study for my A-levels. Only a few of the girls I had gone to school with even knew I was pregnant and there was no way I was going to start 6th form with a massive baby bump. I would have been 6 months pregnant in September and it wasn’t the kind of school where a teen pregnancy would have been accepted. So, I gave up on the idea of university and instead focussed on being a mum.
As my pregnancy went on, I became more aware of the judgement that comes with being a teenager. People automatically assume things about you and about the way that you will parent. I remember asking my midwife about antenatal classes and being told that, because of my age, I wasn’t allowed to go to the normal classes. Instead, I had to go to special teen mum classes which were held at the local women’s hostel. I decided to go along to these classes as I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as possible when it came to giving birth and looking after a baby.
Now, I’m not judging the other girls in the classes or the women who ran them, but I might as well have not bothered going. Out of the six of us, I was the only one planning a natural birth and also the only one wanting to breastfeed. So, obviously, the focus of the sessions was on properly preparing formula milk and pain relief. The only week I found particularly useful was when we visited the delivery suite at the hospital so that we could see what the rooms were like and what options were available.
The actual process of labour and delivery were pretty much the same as they were for my other babies. I was induced the day after my due date as my son had reduced foetal movements. It turned out afterwards that his movements had probably been restricted because he was a fairly big baby and, at the time, I was tiny. I was in labour for over 27 hours and haemorrhaged badly afterwards as my uterus was too tired contract back down. But, thankfully we were both ok. I had a mixture of wonderful and not so wonderful midwives, doctors and other health professionals and at the end of it, I had a beautiful baby boy.
Unfortunately, that’s when things started to get more difficult.
I knew fairly quickly that I was struggling mentally with having a newborn. When I first came home from the hospital, I was still living with my mum and due to a leak a few months earlier, we had no lighting downstairs or heating and hot water throughout the house. It was December when I had my son and not the most pleasant of experiences. Although my boyfriend was allowed to stay at the weekends, we were still not allowed to share a room (I know, I don’t see the logic either). So, he would take my son downstairs and look after him overnight so I could try to get some sleep. My eldest was a very poorly baby, he had severe reflux and numerous infections which saw him hospitalised. We found out later that it was due to a condition he had called sepo-optic dysplasia which meant that he was visually impaired as well as suffering from hormone insufficiencies. All of this, as well as my own slow recovery from the birth, meant that I was really starting to struggle.
I tried speaking to my health visitor about it, but she essentially brushed it off and told me that I was fine. Incidentally, it was the same health visitor who told me that my son’s belly button looked fine…24 hours before he stopped breathing due to an infection where the cord had come away.
It was only when I moved away when my son was two months old, and changed doctors, that I was taken seriously. My new health visitor was wonderful. She saw straight away that I needed help, encouraged me to speak to my new GP about my post-natal depression and visited me every week to make sure that I was doing ok. She also spotted that my son had issues with focussing his eyes, which eventually led to us being given a full diagnosis of his conditions and being able to treat him. Once I had moved, I was also encouraged to join post-natal classes with all of the other mums, not just the younger ones, which really helped to boost my confidence. There was still plenty of judgement from people who knew nothing about me, but I didn’t let it bother me anymore.
Thankfully, by the time I had my second baby, I wasn’t considered a young mum anymore so I received exactly the same treatment as any other mother.