Lessons on teenage pregnancy and becoming a premature grandmother

I became a grandmother at the age of 44.  I hadn’t planned this.  And when it happened, I didn’t feel as much joy as one would have expected.

My daughter was 19.  For a short while I was more concerned how her pregnancy would reflect on me.  I am not proud of this, but it is a reality.  We live in a world where appearances are everything.  And where perception is reality.  I was petrified of the judgement that would follow, of the view that somehow I should have done more as a mother to instil in my daughter the wherewithal to not fall pregnant.  Despite being on the pill at the time it happened.

I supported my daughter from the very beginning.  During her early teenage years we had gone over this ground:

If you ever fall pregnant, Miss J, I want you to know that dad and I will support you.  Never feel like you are alone.  You can tell us anything.  We will not judge you.”

Miss J would nod knowing that our philosophy was that there was nothing we as a family couldn’t overcome.

But then it happened and the reality hit.  I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I did judge.  Myself most of all.

It is fair to say that my parenting style is somewhat relaxed.  From the very beginning, I wasn’t big on being the strict parent insisting on conformity.  Don’t get me wrong, my children will be the first to tell you that I would yell, usually for them to clean their mess, but on the whole, I am all for my children having a very long leash.

I would tell myself that I was picking my fights. That it was important for them to learn their lessons without me trying to stifle them.  On the other hand, I would see children that had the most impeccable manners, who remained blissfully quiet whilst their parents talked ad infinitum to their friends, who were studious and focused and achieved greatly at school.  And I would denigrate myself for not being a good mother.

I stopped following mummy blogs because, frankly, they just helped solidify the image I had of myself as a crap mother.

So when my daughter fell pregnant, I felt, for a very short period, like I was being punished.  Like it was all about me and what I hadn’t done as a parent.

I would watch peoples’ reactions when they would hear that I was about to become a grandmother.  For a split second, it was there, that judgment, always followed by:

Wow, you look so young to be a grandmother.”

It wasn’t a compliment.  It was loaded with judgement and, for a short while, I let it wash over me, like self flagellation for being a bad mother.  I deserved this, I would tell myself.  This was all about me and not about my daughter at all.

As the weeks wore on, however, my mood shifted.  I began to realise that it doesn’t matter if I was a “bad” mother or not (which for the record I know I am not and really don’t give a shit of someone thinks I am).  It wasn’t about me at all, it was about my daughter.  Was she being supported to make the decisions that were important to her, that were empowering her, that were setting her up to be a mother in her own right at what is considered in our society to be such a young age?

This was highlighted when, at 22 weeks it was discovered my daughter was already 2cm dilated and at 24 weeks she went into labour for the first time (a number of times would follow).  There was a real chance we could lose Baby C. We sat in the labour ward as my teenage daughter and her partner were told that at 24 weeks it is better for them to consider not to resuscitate their, previously unwanted but now very much wanted, infant.

As I listened to the doctor telling my distraught daughter the cons of saving a 24 weeker, whilst she was breathing through labour pains, I became angry.  Very angry.  This was no longer about people judging me as a mother, or about him and the seeming inconvenience it would be to society to bring a child into the world that would be “riddled with special needs” – this man was asking my 19 year old daughter to decide to not let her child live – this was about my daughter, my beautiful brave daughter who had chosen not to terminate the pregnancy as so many teenagers would have done, but chose to keep the baby and then fight for him when things went awry.

I couldn’t help but wonder if a woman in her thirties would be treated in the same fashion.  Even the midwifery nurse was mortified.

The doctor left and I rushed to my daughter and cosseted her as she wept in my arms.  I looked at the lovely nurse and ordered that “that man is never to come near my daughter again”.  It wasn’t me that would have to endure the judgement, I realised, it was my daughter.  And I would do everything in my power to stem that.

Thankfully, through the power of modern day medicine and bed rest, Baby C managed to hold on until 37 weeks and he was born a healthy, bouncing, delightful, very much loved, baby boy.

But the judgement continued.  In Australia, only 4% of babies born are born to girls and women below the age of 24.  Young mothers are on the wane.  And as a society, we consider those young mums incapable.  We assume them to be slappers who clearly screwed around and got themselves into trouble.  And bugger it, we will leave them and their children to rot!

My response is this:  So what?  So what if they are all these things and more.  Does that mean that their youth-fuelled hormonally driven poor choices warrant less support, or none at all?  What gives us the right as a society to imagine that these young girls aren’t deserving of the support or resources afforded to the more mature mum.  What makes us decide that they “got themselves into trouble and now must pay the piper” as one delightful woman told me.

My daughter refused to go to a mother and baby group because the one time she attended she was surrounded by older mothers who did not speak to her.  She felt vulnerable and very much isolated.  And she felt judged.  As a mother, she continues to feel isolated.  None of her peers have children.  No-one her age in her circle can identify with the exhausting needs of a baby and how difficult it is to hold down a full time job, study and look after a very active two year old.  Because that is exactly what she is doing.

Judgement is rife for these young women.  Recently I had to attend hospital as Baby C had fallen and broken his thumb.  The nurse came in, and immediately said to me,

“So, Mum, what is wrong with baby?

Despite Miss J being the one to hold Baby C.  Despite her being the one listed as his mother.  A quick glance at her and her look of brokenness will live with me forever.  When, exactly, is it that we are able to claim our right as mothers?

Can I blame the nurse?  Not really, I guess.  Society’s new more for mothers is in the 30 plus age bracket, with that age bracket increasingly being pushed out beyond 40.

We need to challenge the status quo.  As women, we need to do this. Rather than judge and isolate these young women, we need to empower them, to encourage them to own their right as mothers, to feel confident in their choices, and capable of following it through.  Motherhood is hard, we all know that.  How much harder is it for a young woman who feels so alone?

I am a young grandmother and though it took a little while, I am really proud of that fact.  I get many many years to see my grandson develop and grow and to watch as my daughter does the same in her new role as mother.  We are closer than we have ever been.  But I could so easily have allowed my own judgements destroy that.  So easily have buckled to society’s expectations.

We don’t have to do that.  We can challenge the status quo.  We can support those young mothers that cross our paths.  And let them know that motherhood is a blessing and not a curse, that they have a right to be a part of the only rite of passage we as woman truly own.

Much love,

SHW Signature

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Lessons on teenage pregnancy and becoming a premature grandmother

  1. Luck, fate, providence. This is something that could well have happened to any of us. It could have happened to me or one of my daughters and I would have reacted in exactly the same way. We are so indoctrined to be ‘good girls’ to raise ‘good girls’ and yet we are human and these things do happen. I also caused my mother to be a grandmother at 44. I got married at 21 and pregnant on my first anniversary, boy did my girls love having an energetic, vibrant grandmother. Now when I tell people how old my kids are they give me that-oh you must have been a teenage mum look. SOS and I were just, after spending a day with them yesterday, that we wouldn’t have changed a thing. A mothers love is not age dependent.

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  2. Dear Sarah…let me share.My mother was 17 , and my dad 20, when they fell pregnant with me. After 8 weeks of dating. They married. They had all the world saying it would not be okay. my dad was a musician, a rocker, but also at Uni. My Mum was still in High school.And guess what. They are still married now 44 years later. And they still love and adore each other. I have 2 siblings. For years and years and years, i carried around the guilt of me having screwed up their lives. It was not until i went overseas for a few years, and they came to visit..and i asked each one of my family members to write in my diary…did my mother admit and write, that actually ME, ME ME ..yes ME..is the thing, the baby, that gave their young lives direction, commitment, love, shared future, goals and drive to be the best they could be.I was their LOVECHILD, and i am the reason they have ad the great life together that they have had… and still continue to have.Yes, they made mistakes… and yes there are battlescars…but now , as young parents, they are young grandparents, who do amazing things and have the energy and ability to do wonderful things with my siblings and i and their grandchildren. So….not so bad after all xxxxx

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    • And what a love child you are Shani – an absolutely gift in this world shown so beautifully through your art. Thank you for your wonderful comment and for taking the time to make it. You are an amazing person Shani and I feel very lucky to have met you through this wonderful world of blogging. xx

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  3. Sarah, thank you so much for sharing this story. I agree with you wholeheartedly about supporting mums, regardless of their age, and suspending judgement. And I really love the way you share, so open and real. Thank you. X

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  4. Lovely Sarah, no one could be a better mother than you. You supported your daughter and cherished new baby where many would ostracize, disown and condone or even encourage ending precious new life. All for appearance’s sake…
    And however perfect the “good girls” seem to appear, there is another side to consider.
    My cousin was one of the “perfect girls” (even better than “good”). She did things in “right” order – university, promising career, 2 languages, Phd, research and only then she would think about children… Only by then it was too late. Despite being 29, the ship has sailed for her. Now she is a broken woman, full of regrets, never able to enjoy fruits of her labour…
    There is no “right” way to lead your life..
    A xoxox

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    • Thank you very much for your insight Anya. I feel for your sister. My daughter had a difficult pregnancy and she has been told that it is likely she won’t be able to carry another one to term, so he is our miracle baby. You never know what life has in store, nor why it takes the turns that it does. All we can do is hopefully learn from them and grow better as a result. xx

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  5. I am just blown away by the differences between the way Americans view young unmarried motherhood versus Australians. I would never have guessed so few young women had babies there. In the US over 50% of births are to unwed mothers most under the age of 30. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/us/for-women-under-30-most-births-occur-outside-marriage.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. I think the way you handled this was so wonderful and courageous. It must have meant everything to your daughter. And I think you can take a lot of credit for her decision to continue to love and want the baby despite serious medical issues.

    I became pregnant at 18 during the summer before I was entering college. It was a nightmarish situation because of the hateful way I was treated. In those days, girls were either married off immediately (I did not want to get married) or hidden away until they gave birth.

    My parents sent me off to an unwed mother’s home under an assumed name. They never once visited or contacted me. I was totally alone. I had a painful breach delivery that went on for a very very long time. I heard the doctor instruct the nurses not to give me anything for pain so maybe I would learn my lesson. The only way I was allowed to return home was if I gave the baby up for adoption. When I returned home we never spoke of it again. When I did get married I was unable to get pregnant so I don’t have any children.

    If my mother had stood by me like you did your daughter my whole life would have been different. You are more than just a good mother Sarah-everybody should have a mom like you!

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