Welcome back to week #10 of the #YoungMumsProject. This week we are joined by the lovely Ray from Lukeosaurusandme.
Q1. Can you describe your personal experience of life as a young mum?
I’m very happy with my life at the moment. I’m 25, I have a beautiful 3 year old son who turns 4 soon and will be starting school this year. I couldn’t be prouder of him! I am also immensely proud of my own achievements that I have accomplished on my journey through parenthood. I wasn’t always this happy: after Luke was born, I had bad PND and spent the first few years of his life feeling very low and lacking in any form of confidence. Being a young mum made me feel embarrassed, victimised and patronised by the people in my community, including the nurses in the hospital that I gave birth in! My experience of being a young mum wasn’t always good and there were some really tricky moments and emotions that I had to overcome to get where I am now.
Q2. How did you feel when you found out you were pregnant?
I had been feeling really tired and a bit sick at work for a few weeks, so I definitely suspected I might be pregnant – especially when I counted the weeks up. When I found out I was pregnant, it still came to me as a bit of a shock. I was sort of expecting it from all the symptoms, but seeing that little plus sign in front of me filled me with fear and anxiety. I don’t remember feeling happy when I first found out, just terrified – mainly of what everyone would say, like my friends and family! But after a few days, the idea started to sink in and I became a bit more relaxed and less terrified. Then the excitement and the buzz started to kick in and I came to terms with the idea of having a sweet little bundle of joy quite quickly.
Q3. Do you feel like life has been harder because you had children at a young age?
I think life has definitely been harder, yes. But it’s one of those things you wouldn’t change. When I got pregnant, I was working, I had lots of friends, I was 20 and enjoyed all the things most 20 year old’s enjoy. During the pregnancy, things changed a little bit, but I found that after giving birth, it all went a bit down hill for a while. I wasn’t in a very supportive relationship and I had very bad PND. I lost all of my friends, I ended up breaking up with Luke’s dad when he was 4 months old and I was very lonely and depressed for a very long time. In some respects, these experiences have made me a tougher person, but I still do remember struggling for a very long time. Luckily, I had family close by to help out as much as they could. Even now I meet people who don’t understand the commitment and responsibility I have as a parent, surely because I’m 25, I should still want to, and be able to do all these things that they invite me to. Sometimes I feel like I am missing out, but as I have said, I wouldn’t change anything. I’d rather have my beautiful boy than be drunk somewhere staying up until 6am! I’m also a lot happier now, so I can look back at my experiences and process them in a positive light – something you can only do once you have come out the other side. Having a child young is very difficult, but it does get better!
Q4. Did you ever feel judged by anyone? If so, how did you deal with it?
I felt judged by everyone. I remember my friend at the time sitting there telling me that I “had” to carry on with the pregnancy when I told her about it. In fact, I didn’t even want to tell her, my boyfriend at the time took it upon himself to do that! I felt judged and pressured to “do the right thing” by her because “some people can’t have kids”. I also felt judged by my other friends. I was terrified to tell my family and I remember shaking as I told my dad. I felt like the more extended members of my family were judging me and I couldn’t face telling them myself. I even felt judged by my GP and the hospital staff. I remember going for a cervical sweep and the lady tutting and remarking that I was “too young” to be having a baby. Someone that I worked with told me I was going to ruin my life, someone else at work told me that “kids shouldn’t have kids”! It was a hard thing to deal with. When you’re already struggling with ever changing hormones and trying to get your head around what life is going to be like from now on, dealing with people’s snide remarks is really soul shattering and my confidence plummeted. I don’t think I dealt with it very well; I already had low confidence as it was, and going through this experience was difficult for me so I remember just crying a lot and ranting at my sister loads.
Q5. Do you think there are any advantages to being a younger mum?
Definitely! You can keep up with your kiddo, for one. You’re younger, fitter and healthier. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people seem to be having children at a younger age now, so making “mum friends” is a bit easier (although still super daunting!). There are other things too, like maybe one day you could get away with sharing clothes (I can’t really get away with that with my boy!) and I can just about remember being in school and doing the exams, so that should come in handy with homework.
Q6. What are the best and worst things about being a young mum?
Best: Having your health, your skin is a bit stretchier so it kind of bounces back a bit better, and having the energy to fill your days with fun times and creating lots of memories. I think having the energy is the best bit because, as we all know, parenting is exhausting! Worst: Being judged by literally everyone! Also, finding it very hard to have savings. Everyone I know is always saving for a new car, another holiday or for a mortgage on a house. These things will have to come a little later on in life for me.
Q7. How do you think we can challenge the stigma that surrounds young mums?
I have written about this on my blog a few times before. The stigma surrounding young mums is ridiculous. More and more women seem to be having children at a younger age and yet the stigma is still there. You should be able to celebrate motherhood, no matter your age. When I think about how victimised I felt within my own community sometimes, it’s no wonder that I preferred to stay indoors rather than go to the park with my son, or go to soft play, or attend baby groups. Something needs to change, it’s not just the mum’s life that is being damaged by this prejudice – it is also having a direct impact of the life of the child. I think we need to challenge the stigma by educating people with facts: not every young mum is a teenager, not every young family is on benefits, not every young parent is doing ‘nothing’ with their lives. We are still living, working, human beings. We have feelings, we have aspirations, and we all have personal development goals. Sometimes I think people view young parents as a “waste of space” or a “drain on society” but really, the actual teenage pregnancy rates that people associate with these two phrases is a lot lower than most people believe it to be.
Q8. What are the main issues that young mums have to deal with, and how do you think they could be better supported?
As I’ve mentioned, I found that being judged by what I thought was everyone, was very difficult for me and really knocked my confidence right down. When you couple that with very little money and friendships falling apart a little bit because of lack of communication or common interests, it does all become a bit difficult. I think finding “mum friends” is a bit easier when you’re a young mum, but that still requires the confidence to push yourself out there. I’ve heard that there are some groups available for first time mums, or mums who have started to feel a bit alienated and lonely, which aim to boost that confidence back up again and make you feel better about yourself. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are many of these groups around which is a real shame because I could have certainly done meeting up once or twice a week in a relaxed, non judgemental environment just to have a (hot) cup of tea and a chat, or even a rant, to like minded people. I think it would be nice if there were more ‘real life’ networks and groups for young mums, in addition to those online.
Q9. Do you think that the support for young mums has improved over time?
I think there is the same support for young mums that there is for other mums. I don’t particularly think that young mums have any more, or any less support in terms of services available to them. The problem lies more with people’s attitudes towards having a child at a “young” age. We aren’t likely to attend baby groups, sure start centre activities or join support networks if we are still feeling judged by other parents there. It is because of this feeling of being judged and a drop in our confidence that some young mums end up avoiding and not using these brilliant services. Luckily, I think that social media has played a huge role in joining young mums together and forming support groups via Facebook and other networking sites. I don’t think that the support for young mums will particularly improve until we get rid of the stigma surrounding young mums.
Q10. If you were approached by a young mum asking for advice, what advice would you give them and why?
I would tell them to ignore anyone who judges them or criticises them. How you parent – whether your child is bottle or breast fed, whether you have a bit of a mum tum, or whether you snap back into shape straight away, whether your boy has long hair or short hair, whether your girl is wearing a ‘boys’ top – these things are all your choices. No one else gets to tell you how to do things. There’s no guide book for parenting and although sometimes “advice” is offered, it does not mean you need to take it. Just smile, say thank you, and carry on doing what YOU believe is best for you and your child.
If you want to know more about Ray and her family, you can find her here.
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