Being a parent can be tricky at the best of times, but being a young parent can present additional difficulties. We spoke to one young parent called Claire who told us what it what like to find out she was pregnant at 16, how she overcame the stigma attached to being a young parent and her hopes for the future.
How did you feel when you found out you were pregnant?
My son Thomas is now 14 months I was 16 going on 17 when found out I was pregnant. To say it was a complete shock wouldn’t really describe it; although my boyfriend had seen the signs, we ended up did the test in a public toilet! When I first found out I was scared, not so much by the Idea of having a baby but what people would think. I knew that everyone would be disappointed in the fact I got pregnant young and not followed what I guess is the normal thing of going to college and then having a career first. I guess that there is a stigma around a young mum that they can’t cope, and not maybe following the path that your parents expect of you.
Then I started thinking of the fact I was going to have a baby. I was just dazed. I knew the best thing for me and my baby was to carry on with the pregnancy, I didn’t consider an abortion but started to think about whether I would keep the baby once it was born or for someone else to adopt him. I knew that I would be looking after a little life with me the 9 months, but I hadn’t thought any more than that.
How did you tell your parents and what was their response?
My mum and dad didn’t even know I had a boyfriend, it was very hush hush. Once I knew I was pregnant I kept it to myself for about a week. I hadn’t really made a decision on whether I was going to keep the baby or not. I remember asking my mum if I could talk to her, she sat on the end of the sofa looking at me and then I just said I was pregnant. She looked shocked and didn’t say anything for about 5 minutes; she then looked back at me and smiled.
She said ‘I didn’t even realise you were having sex’. She then held onto me and told me she would support me no matter what I wanted to do. She never gave her opinion on what I should do. I told her that I wanted to have the baby but that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the baby or give him to another family.
My dad and mum were going through a rough patch at the time and living apart. We met with my dad and I told him the news. My dad was so happy. He just said that he always knew I’d be a young mum. I think really he was just happy that we were all together. The baby really did bring us together over the course of the pregnancy. My boyfriend was also accepted into the family like he always been there, once my dad had a talk with him!
What support did you have when you were pregnant?
When I was pregnant I got so much support from my boyfriend and all my family, they were there whenever I needed them. I also got a lot of support from the midwife who looked after me. I must have asked the wildest questions but they were always happy to answer them.
I also did go to parent craft group which I found helpfully. They prepared me for labour and my boyfriend was at my side for every one of them. He had to juggle his work around attending but made it every time, he was the only man there for most. At first I was quite intimidated as I thought the other mums would all look down on me for my age but they didn’t. It was mostly first time mums, so they were all on the same boat as me. We could all talk openly about the things we were worried about.
How did you feel when you first held you baby?
The first time I held my Tom was incredible. He was a heavy baby at 7.10 but he seemed so small. He had the smallest fingers. At first I was a bit scared of holding him when my whole family were there, they were all used to baby and there was me, I didn’t even know what to do with him. I was scared of hurting him and doing things wrong but after a couple of days I didn’t want to put him down so it was just about getting used to caring for him.
What is the hardest thing about being a young parent?
I think the hardest thing about being a young mum is everyone else opinions of you; what you should and should not do; the looks you get; and everyone feels that they should be allowed to give you their opinions of how to look after your child. Sometimes I would be so busy trying to prove to people that I could be just like the other mums that I lost sight of the important fact that I was a young mum, which is no better or worse than other mums.
I’m lucky as my partner is a few years older than me and has a stable job but I know one of the big problems for young mums is housing and getting benefits sorted out. Me and my partner split up for a short period of time and I had to sort all these things out and the way you get treated by some people is terrible but then there are people that really help. I was helped by the target youth support team who were incredible; they helped me sort through all the paper work.
I think the way services and organisations support young people needs a lot of work. I wish people would stop and think before they judge. The fact that younger people are having a baby doesn’t mean they are taking the easy way out but they are brave to have made the decision that they are going to take care of their children no matter what people say. Being a young mum doesn’t make you a bad mum.
What is the best thing about being a young parent?
The best thing about being a young mum is the fact that I’m going to get to spend longer with my little boy and watch him grow up; yes I may not have lots of stories and experiences to share with him, but I still have some. People think that I am missing out on living my life but I am still so young that when my family has grown up, I will have all of the time in the world to do what I like.
There is such pressure on young people today to do well, to go to college and uni but I’m so glad I opted out of that way because I know that when I do get to the point in life where my children are grown up, I will be able to do what right for me.
Another good thing about being a young parent is I feel like it OK for me to ask questions, I think that older mums feel like it is wrong to ask question, but at the end of the day no matter how old you are, having a baby is nothing like anything else so better to have as much information as you can.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan for the further is to have another baby and get married. I also hope to be able to influence and improve schemes for young parents so they don’t feel ashamed for keeping their baby but instead feel supported in caring for their children.
Looking back, what support or information would have been useful when you were pregnant?
I think if there was more out there when I was pregnant maybe a class for younger people as I felt left out of all the other classes. A class which shows you very practical things like how to change a baby or bath a baby would have been useful – and also before the baby is born to have attended a young parent’s breastfeeding class which shows the different styles and how to get baby to latch on, rather than waiting until in hospital for this.
What one piece of advice would you give to another young parent?
My bit or advise would be just to enjoy it, don’t always listen to other people’s advice – you have to do what is best for you and your baby.
Also talk to your partner and parents because they may surprise you – remember you’re not on your own. It is OK to be scared because most new parents are whether they are 16 or 30.
Just make sure your baby is well loved and cared for, and everything else will fall into place. No parent is always right, things go wrong, that’s life but how you handle it at the time will make you a good parent. When your child grows up and looks back they won’t think ‘My mum and dad were well young’ they will think ‘My mum and dad loved me’. There is no right way of bringing up a child because everyone is different. As long as you are happy and can say you did your best, you’ll probably find that your child will be happy.
Claire attends a Children’s Centres Young Parents group where she meets other young parents and receives information and support from Children’s Centres staff, and Thomas has great fun playing with children of similar ages at the groups.
If you are a young parent and would like to find out more about information and support available to you then you can call us on 01743 254400 or email email@example.com
There are also a number of FREE young parents groups running throughout Shropshire including
One based at Market Drayton Infant & Nursery School, Tuesday mornings from 10-12
One based at Pontesbury Youth Centre, The Old Bakery, Main Road on a Monday morning from 10.30-12.30
One based at Woodside Primary School, Oswestry on a Thursday afternoon form 1-3
One based at Whitchurch C of E Infant School on a Thursday afternoon form 1-3.