I have a confession to make. I have been totally prejudiced against teenage mums. As a young person myself I imagined they were seeking a council flat, had no aspirations and were lazy and from families who had obviously not cared about them. The usually smoked, abandoning their children wherever possible to go out clubbing. They didn’t know how to discipline their children, were incompetent and slept with lots of different men.
All of them except me of course. I was 17 when I found out I was pregnant and had my daughter when I was 18 years old. I refused to go to any “young mum” groups, because I wasn’t like “them”. Of those least likely to get pregnant or even have sex before marriage I ranked probably highest in my school year. I’d met the father at a friend’s party; he was dangerously charming and within six months he had gained total control of me, including his convincing me not to use contraception. Having a Catholic secondary education (contraception is evil) and a Daily Mail reading mother (contraception gives you cancer) contributed to the ease with which I accepted his view that “it’s not real without a risk”.
I married him within months of giving birth. Growing up as a strongly committed Christian left me feeling marriage was the only way forward. Plus the need to not be “one of those teen mums” left me feeling I must get married. At least then I could pull the “marriage card” (or ring as it’s usually known), “See, world! I’m not like the others, I’m married.”
My ex-husband destroyed me; sexual and emotional abuse left barely able to function, constant undermining of my parenting and ongoing sexually relationships with other people. We were both 19 when his abuse of teenage girls led to him being put on the sex offenders register for five years. Yet I couldn’t leave him. Alongside the reality of trauma bonding and his devaluing of me to the point I knew I was worthless; there was a deeply held fear of becoming “one of those teenage mums”. I needed to stay with him otherwise I would be failure; because fundamentally that’s clearly what I thought all those other teenage mothers were.
At 21 I escaped when my son was born three months premature after my ex-husband assaulted me. My son’s birth and subsequent hospital treatment led to me and my daughter living in a hospital over an hour from our home town. This forced separation and my son’s ongoing treatment left me knowing I must speak out, so I reported him to the Police and legal proceedings began.
Many of the doctors and nurses who cared for my son would ask, “Are you on your own?” “Where is the father?” I couldn’t only say, “Yes, I’m on my own. I’m no longer with his father.” I always had to quantify it with, “His father is a registered sex offender.” I had a premature child who frequently almost died, I had a traumatised toddler and we lived in a hospital an hour from anyone we knew and yet I desperately didn’t want anyone thinking I was one of those teenage mums.
I’m now 29, my children are 11 and 8. They are amazing, intelligent, creative and kind people (I know I’m biased, but still…). I married my now husband (the good one) over six years ago. The journey I have walked, sometimes crawled and sometimes been dragged through has and continues to be full of wonder, the mundane, of brokenness and beauty. Through much counselling, prayer and many miracles I am still standing. I am now proud to say I was a teenage mother. I relish the opportunity to stand with all those who I once othered, to challenge anyone who tries to talk about those teenage mothers. I was wrong.
I stayed with an abuser for four years in part because of the messages I received. I was conditioned by the media, society and comments from adults I knew to think that those teenage mums were less than fully human. Media outlets, writers, politicians, schools, musicians, business leaders, each and every person, has a responsibility to consider the consequences of how our prejudices may impact others. Because there is no those, there are only us.