Teenager – noun
A person aged between 13 and 19 years. Synonyms: adolescent, youth, young person, minor, juvenile.
Mother – noun
A woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth. Synonyms: female parent, matriarch.
Ninety-nine percent. It may as well be one hundred. Or so I thought before I fell in that one hundredth percentile. I knew, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself. After a week of denial, I had to do something. Two blue lines – Positive. Still in denial – another two blue lines.
Swallowing the growing lump in my throat and desperately trying to hold back my tears, all I could hear was silence. At night, my pillow was soaked with tears of dismay and overwhelming change. Recognition that nothing in my life would ever be how I had planned or imagined. I was afraid.
At work, I couldn’t concentrate. My mind was overcrowded with questions and completely void of answers. I had never experienced such a lack of control. I felt alone and without help to gain the control and understanding I craved. I called one of my sisters. She was as shocked as I was; her eighteen-year-old sister was pregnant. She didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t matter. She listened to me cry. I wanted empathy without pity. I wanted help making sense of my own thoughts. And that is what I got.
Abortion. Adoption. Teenage mother. These are real decisions. Not just a social justice assignment. Abortion and adoption were never conclusions I could stomach. Teenage mother – Could I? What a concept for an eighteen-year-old, not yet one year out of high school. I hated myself for not wanting to be pregnant. That guilt was unbearable. I was going to have this baby and I was going to do a damn good job of raising a happy, healthy child. I believed that I had created a life, a human being. One that, in my mind, was as alive as I was. I believed that it was my responsibility to give this little human the best life possible. Having experienced such a situation with indescribable emotions makes it glaringly apparent that people don’t have a right to judge as an outsider. I always knew this… in theory. On reflection, I realise I ignorantly judged people all the time. Sometimes I still do.
Sharing the news. Someone told me once that if you’re not surprised with how well parents react to news difficult to share, then they are not doing their job as parents. My parents had always done a good job of being parents, and this time was not any different. They were shocked. Mum especially. They took a few days to calm down, stop bombarding me with questions, and accept the situation. Following that they were incredibly understanding of what I was going through and began to get excited about being grandparents. I didn’t realise at the time what a challenging experience that would have been for them.
I moved into ‘The Little House’ out the back of Mum and Dad’s and slowly it felt like a home. The fear that was creeping in now was that I wouldn’t be able to handle motherhood; that I wouldn’t be able to live up to expectations. Mainly my own, but of course those of everybody else. Having always struggled with anxiety, and in the last six months being diagnosed with panic disorder, I questioned my capability to be a good parent. That fear was placated somewhat as a select few of my family and friends filled me with confidence, and assured me that I had the skills, the temperament, the determination and the huge support network required for successful parenting.
These next few weeks were thus far the most difficult with my situation circulating as the latest gossip. The opportunity for me to share my news with people was stolen from me by those sniggering behind my back sharing my news with a tainted tongue. Thankfully I had many people who demonstrated admirable support, one friend in particular was at my beckon call lifting me up at every opportunity. I would not have navigated this time in my life nearly as successfully without her friendship.
When I was 10 weeks pregnant I went to a party. It was like a scene from a movie; girl walks out of bathroom into the crowd of guests who have just been discussing her unfortunate situation. The regular sounds of party mingling are drowned out by the whispers and sniggers that have suddenly been amplified. It was horrible. People’s inability to be happy for me was the most frustrating aspect of my pregnancy. People were understandably shocked. However, just because something is unexpected doesn’t necessitate pity. Being pitied was a new and unwelcome experience for me; it was appalling.
Choosing to be happy and positive was my focus. I put aside the dwelling on the immediate and inevitable future compromises and looked forward to this new adventure, this new responsibility. I acknowledged I had absolutely no idea what was to come. I knew it would be the ultimate challenge. I also knew I could do it and I knew it would be one hell of an exciting ride.
I didn’t need help with the worrying. Pregnant teenagers most definitely don’t need assistance with second guessing themselves. It frustrated me that the ‘Congratulations’ were infrequent and people’s sadness, disappointment and pity was voiced often. It was horrible. How easy would it have been to give a smile or a hug? Or nothing at all! Few people focused on how lucky I was to be able to have children, or how capable I was of raising a child. Every waking moment I was fighting the doubts in my mind that I would be a good mother. I needed those around me to fight them with me. When you’re already struggling with fighting negative thoughts and feeling incapable, it takes an awful lot of support, comfort and reassurance to pick you up. One negative thought or comment, even a misinterpreted glance, is all it takes to punch you back down. I despised being looked at or spoken to as though I was dying. I usually managed to channel this into determination. I shudder at the thought of the detriment this could have caused a different teenager.
Into the second and third trimesters when the social difficulties had subsided there were three things that bothered me most: The inability to sleep on my stomach; the horrifically uncomfortable transformation that my body underwent and the subsequent inability to wear normal clothes; and the constant wondering about life post-delivery. The thought of being a nineteen-year-old mother terrified me. Not because I didn’t think I’d be good at it, I had convinced myself by now that I would. But because I would miss out on those years I had set aside to be irresponsible and selfish and not have to worry about anything or anyone but myself. Those years, that opportunity, had disappeared. They had been replaced with unfathomable responsibility without room for selfishness. I hated myself for wanting to be selfish. The agonising guilt. I managed to convince myself that I could do both – be a responsible mother as well as still have fun times with my teenage friends – I began worrying about the actual labour and whether or not I could handle that!
Regardless of vivid description, you cannot understand labour until you’ve lived it. It’s a phenomenal thing. In an attempt to remain calm, I was shockingly unprepared. I didn’t have a birth plan or a packed hospital bag. I reduced my workload to part time at 36 weeks and stopped work at 38. At 3am on the morning of my due date I was woken by discomfort. A strange tightening. I was awake; hyper aware. I arrived at the hospital around lunch time. Mum drove and we picked my sister up from the airport on the way. Mum went home and my sister stayed. My sister was fantastic and I will always be grateful for her presence, but I do wish now my Mum had been there.
My midwife was lovely. Easy going and calm. Unfortunately, this lovely woman’s shift ended and she was replaced by a woman with her own agenda. My wants were insignificant. I loathed her. I still believe she negatively impacted my delivery significantly. My labour wasn’t exactly straightforward. The baby wasn’t engaged. My contractions were ineffective. My obstetrician broke my waters to encourage contractions to become more severe and effective; and that they did. The baby remained not engaged, the contractions remained ineffective, and the baby was not in an ideal position. I requested an epidural before they gave an injection to intensify contractions. I had so little trust in my midwife that I requested the obstetrician not leave me alone with her.
Once the epidural was administered alarms sounded and the doctor pushed an emergency button on the wall. People arrived from everywhere, tubes and chords went flying. My sister was given the job of holding the baby’s heart monitor and squeezing fluids through my cannula. My legs were thrown up in stirrups and the doctor pulled, so hard I had to hold the bed. He said, we’re need this baby out now. I was terrified. I had to push once to help things along and with a couple of minutes of chaos, the baby was born and taken away. I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl or even if it was alive. There wasn’t a crying gooey baby, no gender announcement, nothing. Just a nurse saying 4:25pm. As quickly as they had arrived, the additional people left.
No hospital staff in the room. What seemed like an eternity later, the doctor walked in holding a baby all swaddled in white. I asked if it was a boy or a girl and he said, ‘It’s a boy’. I started to cry. Whether they were tears of happiness or relief I’m not sure. The red marks on his face and his pointed head were insignificant to me; he was perfect.
I was exhausted. So was baby. Mum and Dad had soon arrived and walked with me up to my room. When everyone left, I was all alone. That first night in hospital was surreal. I starred at this tiny human wondering how on earth I did it. I cried for no reason I could find. My emotions were intense and opposing. I never knew such a thing was possible. My words can’t describe it justly.
The next few days, and weeks to some extent, were much of the same; wondering, thinking, and staring in amazement. There were tears; happy and sad, and some of despair. The fatigue was like nothing I had experienced; mentally and physically. My mind and body ached. Slowly I began to enjoy motherhood. I began to realise the enormity of this responsibility, this opportunity, this blessing. The challenges prior to this were not forgotten or insignificant. They did not fade away. They revisit me regularly and remind me where I have come from. 13 years on they continue to ignite in me the determination to show the world what I can do. They make me relish in the happiness this child brought me and the lessons he taught and continues to teach me. I cannot imagine the person I would be without him. Now the eldest of my four children, I am so proud of him and everything he is and will become. While I know the hard times and self-doubt of parenting will resurface at times, I know I can do it and do it well.