Last week, I was asked to contribute to an article about becoming a mother at a younger than average age. It stemmed from a statement made by an obstetrician that encouraged women to start their families younger in an attempt to lower the amount of high risk pregnancies which occur more frequently after the age of 30. At 23 with a 14 month old, I definitely fitted into the “mother at a younger age” category, so I said my piece and went to get some photos done with said toddler for the paper.
I became a mother at the age of 22 and a half – this was not the original life plan, but that is how it worked out. This has led to a complete change in the way I think about the way I do things in my life, and the way other people interpret me and the life choices I make. I consider myself very lucky that my education was complete when I fell pregnant. I had graduated the previous year with my degree in Economics and Celtic Civilisation from UCC. I was also working in a permanent job and in a stable relationship. All things considered, it definitely wasn’t the worst of situations to be in. While the pregnancy was a shock, and far earlier than I thought I would have a family, I have found that being a younger mother does allow me options and has made me think about what I really want to do in life.
There has been some negativity of course. Friends have fallen away as I can’t exactly keep up with the nightclubbing, heading off on random jaunts across the world, making last minute plans lifestyle. That said, the true friends have stayed by my side, there for coffee and chats and the occasional, organised well in advance, night out. I have less in common with a lot of people my age now as their sleepless nights are for completely different reasons to mine – not many of them are watching Fireman Sam at 3 in the morning, reassuring a red cheeked miserable child that he’d be okay, that it’s time for Sleepies. Some healthcare professionals have given the impression that due to my age I would be a less knowledgeable, less competent mother – and the assumption that E’s dad is not in the picture seems to be prevalent purely because of my “younger mother” status, which is really frustrating.
Nobody knows how to be a parent until you are one – regardless of your age. It’s definitely a learn on the job kind of gig. Unfortunately my lack of other life experience seems to put me in a pile for some of these healthcare professionals where they assume that I’m not going to be going back to work, not going to progress with a career, going to live life as a stay at home single mother. All of this assumption by merely looking at my date of birth. I have also found that some of them assume that I’m an over-anxious hypochondriac first time mother who should just shush and listen to what they’re saying to me – despite the fact that they’ve never met my child before so I do actually know what I’m talking about. This kind of stuff is really frustrating and does get to me from time to time.
One of the points made in the article was that women over the age of 30 (the average age of a first time mother in Ireland is 30.3 years) are more likely to have difficulties during pregnancy. While I don’t doubt that as you get older, there is more of a likelihood of difficulties, the statistics do indeed show this, the idea that having your kids in your early twenties means you’ll get away with none of the hassle simply does not apply. I was 21 when I fell pregnant, 22 when I gave birth. In between this time, I had numerous kidney infections, strong morning sickness, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, which meant that I was hospitalised for the last 5 weeks of my pregnancy and a few other occasions before that. I previously would have been a healthy 21 year old woman – I just don’t do pregnancy well, my age has nothing to do with it and it didn’t save me from some of these things which are considered much more common in pregnancy of older women.
The way I am looking at our situation is that when E goes to school, it will be easier for me to follow a career path and by then I will hopefully have figured out what route I want to go down – something I was completely lost about the year after I graduated. It will be a sensible option, it has to be, the bills don’t pay themselves. And, as the quote taken from me in the article says, when he’s 18, I’ll be forty and I’ll have my life back – not that I don’t have a life now; but I’ll have freedom to not be on creche/school collection, doing homework, making sure that everything is just so for someone dependent on me.
I am not advocating that women should decide to drop everything in their plans for career and travel to settle down early and have babies. I won’t lie, it can be tough watching people I went to college with doing things with their lives that I can’t do at the moment because I have responsibilities that don’t allow it – jetting around the world working, doing masters and phds, often in different countries, starting off on career paths that have them working every hour in the day and then some. What I’m saying is that I will get there too; but in my own time. Having a baby in my early twenties will not be an impairment on my life but rather a reason to look ahead at what I can and will achieve to give my child the life I want for him, which is what women who wait and do the career thing first can provide straight away.
(Pictures taken by Daragh Mc Sweeney/ Provision)
For now, all I can do is look forward, as I don’t know how the rest of my life is going to turn out. I can ignore the slightly patronising tone of certain public health individuals who seem to be under the impression that I’m clueless 14 months into the job. I can look ahead at courses I want to do, paths I want to pursue, and know that it is only a matter of time.
Being a young mother might have slowed me down but it hasn’t stopped me in my tracks. Here’s to cocktails on a cruise and freedom at forty!