At some point between finishing my last HSC exam and starting my first day of uni, I got pregnant. It wasn’t a Schoolies pregnancy – I’d been with my high school boyfriend for two years, which was a very long time at that age, but I was 18 years old.
It wasn’t the plan. I’d done well at school, was very ambitious, and had my whole life ahead of me. I listened to Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach and just cried a lot. And everyone was surprised when I decided to keep my baby. Especially me.
Some people were also surprised that I stayed at uni full time throughout the pregnancy and after Julian was born – he arrived in October 2001, conveniently in the week between the end of lectures and my first year exams. Their surprise shocked me; of course I wasn’t going to stop my education just because I’d become a mother. I found myself having to stand up for what I thought were good choices. After all, everything was going to be fine! I was lucky to have the support of my parents, my boyfriend, and a beautiful new baby.
Perhaps I was naive, stubborn, or full of that 19-year-old fearlessness, but I really thought I could have it all. Then my world started crumbling around me. Julian became seriously ill and we had to spend several weeks in hospital. His father and I split up when Julian was six weeks old. Juggling uni and a baby was more difficult than I’d anticipated, and I had to get welfare payments.
I also found myself more and more disconnected with my friends. They were living their carefree teenage existences, staying out till dawn, while I had to stay home with my new friends colic, vomit and nappy rash. I didn’t understand their lives and they didn’t understand mine.
It felt as if I was sacrificing my dreams and replacing them with Wiggles DVDs
Meeting new people was also tricky because I started coming up against something I’d never expected: judgement. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, "But you’re too young to have a child!" I’d be a very rich woman today.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 16 in every 1000 babies are born to a teenage mother in this country. The media calls teenage parents a serious social problem, and teen pregnancy is labelled a health issue. I had to battle a negative stereotype and found some people were dismissive of me – socially, intellectually and romantically. I started keeping Julian a secret from new acquaintances because I didn't want to be judged as someone who made poor choices. I wanted other people to see me for who I was first; my motherhood was just peripheral. Most people spend their early twenties trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. I spent mine trying to do all that with a toddler.
I also found myself getting left behind career-wise. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was seven years old, but I was now so time-poor I barely had a chance to write a shopping list, let alone something of any value. It was difficult watching my peers start to be successful while I had to wait. It felt as if I was sacrificing my dreams and replacing them with Wiggles DVDs.
Things seemed hopeless, and I started to feel that perhaps all the people who'd said I was ruining my life were right. At the time, I thought I needed to give up on my dreams – but all that actually happened was that I took a different road to get where I am today.
I’m now 30 and Julian is turning 11 this year. People still tell me I’m too young to have a child, but instead of feeling as though I need to stand up for myself, I just agree with them.
Julian and I have been through so much together. We've grown up together, and have a beautiful, special bond. Thinking about how much I love my son makes my eyes well up; he makes my heart leap to a stratospheric place.
I finally met a man who has become Julian’s dad, and I'm now at an age where I'm considering having another child, but I'm not sure what to do. I never thought I’d have to worry about my biological clock. On one hand, I'd love to do it all again with the man I love, plus my friends are starting to have kids too. But on the other hand Julian will be 18 when I'm 37, and I'm finding myself tempted to not have more children. Imagine the freedom of having no more day-to-day parental responsibilities in your mid-thirties, but not having to worry about never experiencing parenthood. It’s becoming a difficult choice.
I never regret deciding to keep Julian, but sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t had him at 19. I wish there'd been more positive messages about being a young mum, not just newspaper reports about it being a serious socio-economic problem, or drama-filled TV shows like MTV’s Teen Mom.
And I wish I could go back and tell 18-year-old me that everything is going to be fine ... but I have a sneaking suspicion she already knew.
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This article first appeared on Daily Life.