Okay so maybe I’m not fresh out of middle school doing-homework-in-the-waiting-room young (not that it’s anyone’s place to judge me if I were), but I’m still young enough to have copped an extra serve of side eye throughout my pregnancy. I was pregnant at 20, and had my daughter at 21, and the amount of negative remarks I received from strangers, mind you, was uncanny. I’m 5’1, so I’ll cut some of them some slack and I suppose when I’m fresh faced, I do look a little younger. Despite being engaged, I also received my fair share of single mum judgement, which I found a little…bizarre. What I also found bizarre, was the young-mother judgement I faced from (ex) acquaintances, who are simultaneously against abortion. It seems are if we were both a little confused there.
For the most part, I travelled alone so perhaps this was a contributing factor. I attended appointments, lab work and ultrasounds unaccompanied, which added a whole new layer to the pity I seemingly received. My partner – and daughters father, was still living and working in the United States. Visas are incredibly expensive, and my insurance in the USA did not cover pregnancy, so, alas, we were forced to live apart until 10 days before the birth of our daughter – but that’s a whole other story.
Every appointment I was met with “where’s dad?” (the babies, not mine of course) which I had anticipated, so I’d repeat the script I had mentally formulated explaining my situation – which was always met with a lot of questions and aww-ing. I could tell they didn’t believe me. We were faced with a lot of unfortunately timed set backs, so he was unable to attend any of my appointments at all, and each time I’d remind the doctors (or midwives) of my situation they’d ask “so when will he be here?” From about 15 weeks onward, I’d usually respond with “hopefully in a few weeks”, and in all honesty, I don’t blame them for thinking there was nobody coming, but, they didn’t have to make it so obvious. There was always a long pause followed by the tone. You know the one. Cousin Marys’ gold fish has just died and she’s throwing a funeral for it. You attend to support her but your words of comfort are forced, disingenuous and you’re slightly judgemental of the whole situation but you’re trying to be there for her anyway. That tone. One doctor even made sure to tell me how her mother was a single mum and it’s tough but you get through it. Not in a story sharing kind of way, but in an attempt to be encouraging (I appreciated that, kind of).
Worse still, an ultrasound technician during one of my early scans followed up our conversation on why I was “alone” by asking my age – at the only ultrasound my mother was able to attend with me mind you – and before I could answer she glanced at my paperwork, skim read her way to my date of birth and let out a “oh thank god, we’ve seen a few kids having kids today”. Ah, sorry, but what? My mother and I glanced at one another clearly with the same thought running through her mind – “did she just say that?” and sensing that we were now slightly uncomfortable, she quickly announced that “baby has a lot of hair!” That’s fantastic Judge Judy I’ve just bought a few cute bows – but I really hope you keep your comments to yourself in front of mothers born after ’99.
At the hospital I was advised prior to birth that I’d be meeting with a social worker prior to being discharged. Odd, I thought. When I asked why this might be being that I had never been in trouble with the law nor failed mandatory drug tests, I was told it was “to make sure I didn’t have a seizure whilst holding baby and that there was someone with me at all times just in case”. This was very obviously fabricated for several reasons. First and foremost, no social worker is capable of “preventing a seizure”. They aren’t even capable of proving first aid in the event of one. Secondly, I was under the care of a fantastic neurologist who has kept me seizure free for over seven years. Seven years. Finally, did we forget about her father? Who, at the time, was in the room instead of joining us via Facebook messenger video link. I questioned this, and there was a subject change before she hurried out of the room and sent the student midwife in to finish up. Her unwillingness (or inability) to explain any further was a bit indicative of the fact that my seizure disorder was being used to cover up the real reason, which I’m convinced was a combination of my relationship situation as well as my age. Though this I cannot prove.
I however go on to ask a few of my younger mum friends whether they saw a social worker and unsurprisingly, they all said yes. For various flimsy reasons. No support was offered nor was baby looked at, they had come to check for a tidy home and a child that was wearing clothes. The single ones were even “checked in on” every few days for the first few weeks. I then asked my older mum friends – those in their late twenties and early thirties and interestingly, no social worker. Each of us (6 of us total) gave birth in the same hospital, four of us under the care of the same obstetrician. Peculiar, right?
So, to the nitty-gritty. Are things harder for me? Do I have any regrets so far? I’d have to say no. I live independently, and own my own vehicle – separate of that of my partner. I am educated, I am engaged to someone that I have been with for several years. I have the privilege of living in a country that allows you to begin work at age 14, so I managed to save enough money to purchase all of my baby items early without too much stress. A change table, crib, toys, clothing – you get the idea. This also gave me the opportunity to grow up a little. I had responsibilities outside of the home, people relying on me and a need to be punctual. I do feel as though working young (whist simultaneously studying a certification) helped shape me into a focused and responsible young adult as well as providing me with some degree of financial stability, and without this experience my situation may not be what it is. But, because I am (now) 22, it’s assumed that I am not ready. That this must have been an oops baby. Insert eye roll here.
Do I “miss out on living my life” or “enjoying my youth?” – This is a common comment I’ve received from (typically) the baby boomer generation. What is “enjoying my youth” exactly? Every time I ask this in response to the somewhat rude comment on what was at the time, my pregnancy, I get a vague answer. Generally “living” and “experiencing the world” consists of partying, dating freely, clubbing and pub crawls. Is that really better than what I have? Do I need to experience those things to make me “ready” to settle down? Thing is, I did experience all of those things. They weren’t for me. I have also travelled the world. Holidayed in Thailand, Europe, Malaysia, and, even lived in the United States for a year. Those were experiences I wanted to have before settling down, and I had them. That being said though, had I not been able to travel in my teenage and early adult years, I may have a yearning to do so now. I would encourage anyone to get some travelling in prior to children if that was something they were hoping to do someday.
So, to the point of this rant(?). Whether someone is “ready” to have a child depends solely on them and their relationship, wants in life and ability to provide for a child, emotionally as well as financially. It’s simply case-by-case. Not all thirty-somethings are responsible wealthy happily married home owners and not all twenty-somethings are not. We must get out of the habit of judging other pregnant women – or teens, and instead, support them. Pregnancy is hard. It’s an emotionally taxing roller-coaster. Bodies change, mindsets change and relationships will change. It will not be an easy road for any new or expectant mother regardless of her circumstances. The last thing any pregnant woman needs is the negative remarks from strangers attempting to guilt her because she is having a child. A child that they’ll likely never meet. In particular those same strangers that are more often than not pro lifers. I apologise for the ranty nature of this entry, but please, be kind to others! You can’t be truly happy harbouring hatred in your heart.