A few months ago Charlotte Philby from Motherland asked me if I’d like to write a reflective piece about making the most life changing decision of my young life, having a baby at 23. Here I openly discuss the highs and lows of what it really feels like to be caught somewhere in the middle of motherhood – too old for the teenage groups but too young for NCT.
Photo by Philippa James
“September 2006: My boyfriend and I had been living in our rented flat in Bristol for just six weeks when it happened. Like all couples who had just moved in together, we found ourselves doing the obligatory trip to Ikea. We wondered around staring at all the mock kitchens and bathrooms, fantasising of what we would like our own ‘dream home’ to look like. We took the short cut through the kids’ department, heading for the checkout, when it suddenly dawned on me. I was late. Like, really late. Whether it was the Ikea nursery equipment that jogged my memory or the overwhelming smell of Ikea meatballs that made me heave, I just knew there and then I was pregnant.
We had left university three months previously. My boyfriend had a degree in Business Management and was working in recruitment; I was a newly qualified midwife about to start my first job. We were doing what most 22 and 24 year olds would be doing… going out, having fun, planning our future together. It was just the start of our lives.
Once I did a test later that evening, my suspicions were confirmed. Two bright red lines standing side by side staring at me on that plastic stick. I felt devastated, and really angry. Devastated because I knew from that moment on, my life with this man who I was madly in love with was going to change forever. And angry because I thought we were being careful. As a newly qualified midwife I should have known better. I had to tell him, he knew something was wrong the moment I came out of the bathroom. He turned a ghastly shade of white, sat down and said ‘what do you want to do?’
I didn’t want to be pregnant but I didn’t want to make the decision not to be pregnant. It was eating us alive, this huge secret neither of us seemed able to face.
I had no idea, I didn’t want to make either decision, I didn’t want to be pregnant but I didn’t want to make the decision not to be pregnant. We carried on for another week, not really talking about it, acting as if everything was fine. But it was eating us alive, this huge secret neither of us seemed able to face. Until one evening I said “I’m going to see the girls” and walked out. The ‘girls’ were in their final year at uni and lived around the corner from us. He knew I would tell them, I needed someone else to know, to share this heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
The girls were amazing, they hugged me which is exactly what I needed; I don’t think since I had found out I was pregnant my boyfriend and I had hugged once. They all reassured me that whatever decision I made they would support me and be there for me. I suddenly didn’t feel so alone and was able to talk about it openly and honestly.
I booked an appointment at the Marie Stopes clinic for the following week, just to have something to aim towards. Not really knowing if I would even go, I think my boyfriend was relieved that I had made the decision and not him. In all honestly I hadn’t made any decision.
Two days before the appointment I started bleeding, quite heavily. I called my boyfriend from work and we went to the early pregnancy unit, a place where I had spent many weeks during my midwifery training. And here I was on the other side. I felt really guilty, I kept thinking ‘maybe the baby knows it wasn’t meant to be here so that’s why my body was trying to get rid of it’. I was being punished. We asked for the monitor to be turned around so we couldn’t see. We both felt it would be better that way. I had already decided I was having a miscarriage, so when the sonographer said the baby was still alive, I couldn’t believe it. My boyfriend and I just looked at each other, we were both crying.
We drove home via his parent’s house to tell them. I’ve never seen my boyfriend look so scared. There were more tears, lots of hugs and his Dad opened a bottle of champagne. It finally felt like we could celebrate this pregnancy, it also felt so surreal. We were going to be parents.
It took longer for my family to accept what was happening, I think they were more protective of me – their youngest daughter of three – but the decision was made. I asked my Mum to tell the extended family before we planned to spend Christmas together. I was already beginning to show by then and I didn’t want to make anyone feel awkward. I’m sure deep down they thought it was a bad idea and probably thought my boyfriend and I wouldn’t last. Not because we weren’t right for each other, but more realistically that the odds were stacked against us.
I had a relatively easy pregnancy, maybe being young helped. I continued to work 12-hour shifts on the labour ward right up until 37 weeks. I actually found being a midwife somewhat reassuring whilst pregnant. It made me feel totally normal, as I was surrounded by other pregnant women of all ages and background. I think that’s what I yearned for throughout this whole period: normality. I was a woman and my boyfriend and I were having a baby together.
We had some help with buying things for the baby from family; it’s funny looking back on that time as we hardly had any money yet it didn’t seem to matter. I was so focused on meeting our baby and making everything be OK.
I went into labour five days after my estimated due date and gave birth in a midwife-led suite where I had been working prior to finishing for maternity leave. I had a natural birth with the help of some gas and air and lots of help from two amazing midwives and, of course, my wonderful boyfriend.
We moved to London six weeks after our daughter was born and my husband took a new job which meant he travelled to Holland four days a week, leaving me holding the baby. All my friends were living their lives to the max, living together in London, starting new jobs and earning their first real income since graduating. I felt so out of the loop, joining baby groups trying to meet other mums, but everyone was in their late 30’s and I never really felt like I fitted in – too old for the teenage groups but too young for NCT groups.
I longed for the life I should have been having as I watched my girlfriends having what seemed to be the best time of their lives, but on the other hand I adored my baby daughter so much I never wanted to contemplate her not being here. I almost felt that because I had made this huge decision to have a baby in my early twenties, I had to do it right and I should never appear to not be coping or enjoying it.
Eventually, I met a few great mums, who to this day I still consider some of my best friends. And it really is thanks to meeting these mums which have got me through some of the best and worst times of being a mother. It’s made me realise it doesn’t matter what age you are when you become a mum or how much money you’ve got in the bank, because we’re all in this together. Broken sleep, teething, weaning, potty training and toddler demands, we all know how amazing it feels one minute and how shit the next.
That baby girl turned 8 two months ago, we now have another daughter who is four and have just found out we’re expecting twins early next year! And I’m now proud to call my wonderful boyfriend my wonderful husband. If someone had told me I would be a married mother-of-two at the age of 30, I would have laughed in their face. But sometimes laughing in the face of it all is the only way to get through the weekly Sainsbury’s shop with two kids, scraping dried porridge off the ridiculously expensive wooden high chair you fell for buying because it looks nice, and the lack of sleep, which never gets any easier.
I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved. We certainly had doubts about the choices we made along the way, but we made choices that felt right at the time and we made them work. People often say having a baby changes your life no matter what. But weirdly for us we didn’t really have that life, we only had a year and a half together before our daughter was born. Maybe that made it easier somehow.”
Check out who Motherland who featured Gas&Air in their best parenting blogs online!