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Why young pregnant people need your support, not your judgement

Illustration by @mollyhankinson.studio

Shame was the strongest emotion I felt throughout my entire pregnancy and during the beginnings of motherhood. It isn’t so much now – because I am older, I give less of a shit about what people think and I have found my groove in parenting. But, before finding this confidence, I was exhausted from the continual explanations people demanded from me and from shrugging off ignorant, and quite often offensive comments.

Embarrassment is another emotion that I found came hand in hand with pregnancy. I was embarrassed to tell my Dad, as that meant he knew I had touched a boy and mortified telling my mum as it visibly crushed her dreams in front of me. Shame as I got on the bus with my baby bump showing, and having my Oyster card bleep twice. And shame carrying a baby in a sling, physical evidence of just how much I had let everybody down. Although 17,000 other girls across the country became mothers that year before they were 18, no one else I knew around me was  having a baby at my ‘delicate’ age. It was incredibly isolating – and at 24, I am still the only mum in my group of childhood friends. 

My school was in Deptford and most girls were religious and driven to be educated and leave ‘ends’. Sexual relationships were not considered appropriate at our age and the word hoe was thrown around casually to describe any girl that had gone near a teenage boy. But, it was always made known that if you were ‘stupid enough’ to find yourself in that predicament that abortion was not acceptable either. 

My closest friends went to a school not far from my own, but the majority of people I knew from there were from different socio-economic backgrounds. Their parents tended to be older, degree educated and homeowners. We had never been skiing – which somehow managed to crop up in conversation more often than you’d think (FYI you will never catch me skiing, no matter how wealthy I become).

The shame subsided a little when the hypothetical baby, hidden from the world in my womb, was born. Shame began to move on but left pity in its wake. I couldn’t allow myself to ever truly feel baby blues, or the sadness for how much my life had changed, because I couldn’t let people pity me anymore than they already did. I had to show that I was strong enough to make this work. When an adverse situation happens to anyone, a common reaction is for people to try their best to relate and share stories. This is very normal, but I was bombarded with positive stories of teen mums they knew of, that had found a nice man that took on their child, and happy families ensued. 

I often felt that people’s desire to ‘fix’ this ‘tragedy’ was greater than my own. I didn’t need a partner to make everything right – what I needed was support and kindness, but nobody wanted to enable the decisions I had made. I feel this is a recurring theme with teen pregnancy. People make it harder for teenage mothers because it might put other girls off from following the same path, and as a result teenage mums are punished for their ‘mistakes’. 

Teenage pregnancy is a trauma. When I first read that I was pregnant and it made me very  defensive. However, with hindsight, I see the issues surrounding teenage pregnancy daily. The increased risk of prolonged poverty; difficult, riskier births (it’s a common misconception that teenage girls are prime age for giving birth), abusive relationships and more children born at a young age. All of these have applied to myself at some stage. 

A couple of years before I had Noah, a family member’s toddler son was hit by a car after he wandered out into the road. He was in hospital for a long time and the accident took his sight. While he was there, there was also another little girl on the ward. She was her parents’ only child, an IVF baby. She was critically ill and later passed away. This was retold throughout my family, with comments accompanying it such as, “yet some people can just keep having babies…

I thought about this little girl all the time when I was pregnant. I thought about her parents even more. In their eyes, was I one of those people who had ‘just had a baby’ with no intention, no trying? Sixteen years old and alone – why did that qualify me to be a parent and yet they, older and more ‘suitable,’ had had this experience stripped away from them? I know lots of people thought it; I’m sure people still do. I didn’t deserve my baby, I hadn’t worked for him, I hadn’t put anything aside for him and I certainly wasn’t ‘ready’. This played on my mind for years. I started to see slander and judgement against teen mothers everywhere. On television, in newspaper articles, people’s Facebook statuses. The amount of teens I saw at Halloween dressed up as teen mums, wearing the uniform of gold hoops, a Primark vest and a fag. 

It definitely weighed me down. I didn’t get on buses if I could help it, just in case someone said anything – which had happened before. I was fiercely defensive when my age was asked, and felt the need to attempt and change everything about myself to become ‘a proper mum’. There is a statistic written somewhere (along with hundreds of other negative ones) that teen mothers are more likely to suffer from pre and postnatal depression. Whilst this could be for totally biological reasons, psychosocial factors must play a huge part. Being judged for every second of your motherhood; feeling the need to constantly justify yourself and for people to openly intrude and demand answers about your life, is bound to impact your mental health with devastating effects. 

I try everyday to ensure that my (now) two children are able to access things in life that children of older parents are able to. I am open and honest with my eldest about how young I was and that things weren’t easy in the beginning. However, we’ve got into the swing of things, together. I do not wish teenage pregnancy on anyone, but it happens and it will always happen. All I ask is that you take time to understand that teenage pregnancy is a childhood trauma, always. These young pregnant people need your support, not judgement, and if you can offer kindness, please do.

Illustration by @mollyhankinson.studio

See more of Molly Hankinson’s work on her Instagram HERE

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