Teenage pregnancy – let’s care about the mums, not the targets

I’ve been having a bit of a teenage pregnancy week this week, influenced by stories in the news and events in my own life. Although it’s 14 years now since I became a mum at 17 to Bee (pictured right as a baby), having been a teenage parent is still a hugely defining part of who I am and I feel an ever present determination to prove to the world that teenage pregnancy doesn’t mean a wasted life.

Of course if you believe the media, teenage pregnancy is the root of all evil, both the cause and the symptom of a society whose morals are crumbling faster than my house, (chunks of which have recently started appearing in the garden).

Jan Moir has vented her fury against teenage mums today in a particularly ignorant and disgusting fashion. I really can’t even begin to respond to her vicious rant without wanting to stab pins in my own eyes with frustration. Suffice to say Jan:

  • I was 16 when I got pregnant, which is quite legal thank you very much.
  • I was not drunk.
  • I remained in a stable happy relationship with the father for several years.
  • I have never lived in a council house, but if I had, that would have been my absolute right.
  • My life has been full of opportunities for fulfillment and excitement.
  • And I have most definitely managed to get myself “on the career ladder, be independent, promoted AND valued.”

Despite Jan’s prophecy of me wallowing forever in misery and housing benefit, I even managed – shock horror – to get a degree! A first class degree in Economics no less. Hard to believe I know that a teenage parent would even dare to have any kind of ambition or aspirations, or go as far as to consider making a good life for herself and her family.

And I’m not the only one. My friend Camilla had her baby while she was at university and lo and behold she isn’t wasting her life “from now until the grave…in a council house papered with State handouts and increasing despair”, as Moir so eloquently puts it.

But enough of my bitter sarcasm. I know I was lucky in that I had fantastic support from my family (pictured left – My Mum, Gran, Me and my sister), but can we please just all realise that, although obviously not ideal,  having a baby as a teenager doesn’t automatically spell disaster?

Women have babies at all ages and manage to maintain interesting careers and social lives. How about, as Camilla suggests, we think instead about supporting young mums? Rather than just dumping them on the educational scrapheap, we could offer these young women incentives and practical support to continue their education, ultimately facilitating their long term financial and emotional independence.

We could even celebrate the achievements of  teenage parents – congratulate them for the fantastic job they do juggling families, schooling and work, all while having their confidence, ambitions and parenting skills constantly undermined by a predominantly ignorant media?

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52 Comments

  1. 26 February, 2010 / 10:33 am

    Here is my story about teenage pregnancy.
    http://typecast2000.blogspot.com/2009/07/from-young-mum-to-young-grandparent-in.html

    I have ranted about JM in the past (see my blog archives) and she certainly knows which buttons to press to annoy me but then that’s good journalism if it opens up discussions (whether they are negative or positive). Good blog posts and good discussions come from a passion that is deep-rooted.

    And well done to you for achieving everything that you have so far. I’m studying for my degree now – something I wish I’d done 15-20 years ago but at least I know I can do it.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 10:56 am

      That’s a fantastic post Nickie, an amazing and inspiring story. Lots of love to you and your family xxx

  2. 26 February, 2010 / 10:33 am

    I couldn’t believe some of the comments left in response to the (so-called) article – this was a particular gem:

    “I think the women & their children should be put in work houses like the olden days…”

    At least the Daily Mail is consistent – the consistency of liquid shit!

    Loving the hair by the way! ;)

    • 26 February, 2010 / 10:52 am

      I’m not sure I’d be a great asset to a work house!

  3. 26 February, 2010 / 11:06 am

    Well said! I was a teenage mum too – 19 when my oldest son was born – I continued with my education and became a designer and then went back to uni at the age of 30 because I wanted a career change. My children are all doing very well, are healthy and well adjusted and haven’t taken up lives of crime.

    I’m not denying there probably are some girls who superficially fit the stereotype Jaundiced Jan spouts about, but I think it’s likely to be due to a lack of real support and encouragement from those around them. In other words, they are shoved into the category marked failure and left to struggle alone.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 11:27 am

      That is so true Kate – when you label someone ‘failure’ before they’ve even tried it is really hard for them to come back from that.

  4. 26 February, 2010 / 11:09 am

    Thanks for this Jo,

    I’m the opposite of a teenage mum, being 37 when I gave birth to my little darling, but I used to work at nacro as a Young Mums-to-be Trainer, helping to keep pregnant teenagers and teenage mums, some as young as 14, in education, trying to break the cycle of teenage parenthood/poverty/teenage parenthood and at least showing them that they had a chance to achieve and were not victims. Some had the support of their families, others did not, some were in a stable relationship, others hardly knew the father, some were truly excellent mothers, others found things a little more difficult. So just like any mums of any age then!

    Everyone knows who Jan Moir is! A bloody-minded bigot!

    • 26 February, 2010 / 11:28 am

      That’s true – everyone can struggle with being at parent at any point, regardless of age. I find it much harder now in my thirties than I did ten years ago!

  5. 26 February, 2010 / 11:18 am

    Jan Moir is a c##t. I think we should all just ignore her from now on, she’s clearly a deranged idiot. (According to her, we can blame the demise of society oh no on: Ashley Cole, teenage mums, homosexuals, yummy mummies, women, men, teenagers, children and McDonalds.)

  6. Lucy
    26 February, 2010 / 11:20 am

    Well said Jo. (And I LOVE that picture of Bee as a baby, she looks SO CUTE!!!!)

    • 26 February, 2010 / 11:29 am

      She was a GORGEOUS baby. Not than I’m biased :-)

  7. 26 February, 2010 / 11:20 am

    PS: Stephen Fry said this about the Stephen Gately thing: “I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathsome and inhumane.” which I think pretty well applies for ANYTHING published by her?

    • 26 February, 2010 / 11:30 am

      Ha ha! What a fantastic comment – I love that attitude – perfect!

  8. Gipsy
    26 February, 2010 / 11:24 am

    How ridiculous it is to talk of teenage mothers though. In my mum’s day (she is now in her 70s) it was perfectly normal for women to be married and having babies when they were 17, 18, 19 years old.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 11:32 am

      EXACTLY. People talk about teenage pregnancy as though it is some kind of new thing, as though suddenly thousands more teenagers than ever before are getting pregnant, but it’s just not true. My understanding is that teenage pregnancy rates are actually the same now as they have been for decades.

  9. 26 February, 2010 / 11:58 am

    Yes, I absolutely agree (applauds)

    Why does it have to be such a disaster? All this hand wringing when a very young woman becomes pregnant does nothing to give her confidence in her decision, or her mothering.

    Let’s mother the young mothers and provide them with the support they need to make a success of their lives.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 4:51 pm

      Nothing is going to undermine someone’s confidence like having everyone gasp in horror when you announce your pregnancy is it??

  10. 26 February, 2010 / 12:48 pm

    I haven’t read Jan Moir’s ranting because i hate that woman and she makes me want to go out and strangle kittens just to vent some of the rage.

    a great post, some excellent points made.I’m so sick of people trying to pigeon hole mums, too young, too old etc, makes me all so sad.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 4:51 pm

      Old mums, young mums, working mums, stay at home mums – I don’t think we can really ever do anything right!

  11. 26 February, 2010 / 1:43 pm

    God love you Jo I think I would weep if I read that silly cow’s rant so I’m not going to, how anyone could think any mum -whatever their age – will have a “wasted life” is beyond me.
    Get in touch with Joanne Mallon and ask her to put this on Parentdish as top blogging of the week.
    More power to you, Missus and the gorgeous Camilla too. xx

    • 26 February, 2010 / 4:52 pm

      Thanks Linda! I will get in touch with Joanne, thanks for the support xxx

  12. 26 February, 2010 / 1:52 pm

    Hi Jo
    Don’t listen to Jan Moir…she talks a load of rubbish! What you have achieved is amazing and you have a beautiful daughter to be proud of and proud of yourself. What can Jan be proud off, causing controversy and judging people…pah!!!!

    • 26 February, 2010 / 4:53 pm

      Thank you! She is rather gorgeous, even if I do say so myself :-)

  13. 21stcenturymum
    26 February, 2010 / 3:12 pm

    Hi Jo

    When I was a teenager I couldn’t look after myself let alone a baby. I wasn’t in a stable relationship until my mid-20s and having a baby was the furthest thing from my mind until I reached my 30s.

    At the risk of putting the cat amongst the pigeons, I think in many cases teenage pregnancies don’t have a fairytale ending and I do think teenagers should be discouraged from having babies so young. I definitely wouldn’t want my daughter to have a baby when she is a teenager. Obviously your experience was very different and sounds like it’s been very positive.

    I also think people’s opinions are often down to personal experience. My mum had me when she was slightly older – she was 20, and my dad was 21, 4 years later my parents were divorced and my mum spent the rest of her life struggling as a single mum, despite getting a lot of support from her family.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 5:00 pm

      I agree Janine – having a baby as a teenager before you have established your own life is far from ideal and I certainly wouldn’t wish it on my own daughter.

      What I find frustrating is that teenage mums seem to be given up on, labelled as failures before they have even started. When you set someone up like that to fail it’s no wonder things often don’t work out well. If we could see past the label and instead look at supporting women of all ages, we might see that young mums still actually have an awful lot to offer.

  14. 26 February, 2010 / 3:22 pm

    Thanks for the mention Jo! It’s been interesting reading all the comments. The press seems to have been full of vitriol this week for teen mums (dads generally glossed over, as per usual) despite the fact that the figures released say teen pregnancy rates are falling.

    Jan Moir does not talk from a place of knowledge or understanding and appears to have had a compassion bypass. Consistent though.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 5:02 pm

      The press are properly gunning for us this week aren’t they? It’s easy to just think ‘I won’t read it’, but terribly frustrating to think of all the people who WILL be reading it and believing it :-(

  15. 26 February, 2010 / 4:36 pm

    I hate that our society has to generalise about people due to cirumstance – be it teenage mum’s, single parents, the unemployed etc. It wasnt that long ago that all women had their kids young. My mum married at 18 and had me at 19 – it wasn’t (as far as I know) frowned upon I assume because she was married but now even the late teens are critisized for having kids. Don’t judge everyone as the same because of 1 trait, everyone is an idividual! Don’t know if I dare go read this Jan Moir article, might want to slap her lol!!

    • 26 February, 2010 / 5:02 pm

      You definitely would want to slap her – guarantee it!

  16. 26 February, 2010 / 5:40 pm

    Please write to that ignorant cow Jan Moir ….I know the Mail will not print your letter as it does not fit in with their bigoted views but still maybe she needs to get in touch with reality that some people are not defined by their circumstances and make the best of it. All I can say is I really admire all you have achieved.

    • 26 February, 2010 / 7:08 pm

      Perhaps I should send her a blog link…

  17. 26 February, 2010 / 6:46 pm

    * I was 16 when I got pregnant, which is quite legal thank you very much.
    * I was not drunk.
    * I remained in a (rubbish) relationship with the father for several years.(because I thought that was the ‘right’ thing to do. I wish me and my son had left earlier and not worried about what other people thought.)
    * I lived in a council house for a year, (and it was the worse place I have lived in my life). At 26 I bought Patricia Hewitt’s house!
    * My life has been full of opportunities for fulfillment and excitement.(definitely!!)
    * And I have most definitely managed to get myself “on the career ladder, be independent, promoted AND valued.”
    Respect to Young Mums!
    Thanks for this article Jo. x

  18. 26 February, 2010 / 7:42 pm

    Too often teen pregnancy is seen as the quickest escape from a bad situation at home stateside; perhaps in the UK, too. Girls set about to get pregnant without regard to continuing their education, emotional growth or pursuing their career goals; but in an effort to garner independence that is an incognito crutch. It’s unfortunate that more time isn’t spent educating youth on personal empowerment; that waiting to propagate has its benefits, too. Government benefits are sometimes also seen as an escape from home; once you have a child, the government will pretty much look out for his/her welfare at the same time enabling the teen mom to realize her vision of independence.

    Very sad that for some young women who think their only claim to fame is reproduction. Perhaps broadening their perception of personal potential is the key.

    • 27 February, 2010 / 10:07 pm

      You are quite right Susan – I think broadening young women’s personal perception is so important. Teenage mums need to realise they are more than just council houses and benefits.

  19. teachermum
    26 February, 2010 / 9:34 pm

    Well I know a teenage father quite well – he is thriving in his first year at Oxford!

    My Mum ws 25 but I had many friends whose mothers married and had children in their 20s. Indeed support to make the most of their lives is what all young people, including parents need.

    We had to take in a young father into the uppser sixth because his school had expelled him. Is this the 21st centuary?

    • 27 February, 2010 / 10:08 pm

      Excellent! You are so right – support is absolutely key. I couldn’t have acheived everything I did without the support of my family.

  20. 27 February, 2010 / 1:29 pm

    I take my hat off to you Jo, you have done really well.

    My only concern is that there are some teenagers out there who sadly as Susan Kirkland above points out their only goal in life is to get pregnant so they can get a council house, benefits and a life away from the sad existence they lead.

    These girls tarnish all teenage pregnancies with the same brush – not that I am or would ever stick up for JM, good God no!

    My 18 year old daughter told me last Christmas, as I was bathing my own 5 month twins, that she was pregnant, scared and confused.
    I held her and said I would support her whatever her decision. We spoke of her options and what they all entailed and she decided to keep her baby. Today I’m nanna to Gracey and they’re all very happy.

    The only thing I hate is the fact they all live in Italy and are too far away for me to enjoy on a regular basis.

    I live in North Kent and when I go into our local town centre I see hoards of teenage mums, fag in mouth, swearing loudly in the street, baby in buggy with a bottle propped up on a blanket so he can drink without being held. They all stand together and believe me I can’t wait to get past them as they ‘scare’ me with their agressiveness and in your face attitude.
    I’m sure my area is not the only area and it’s this that I don’t like to see.

    • 27 February, 2010 / 10:12 pm

      You are right. I’m sure there are some girls like that. I guess it just proves your point that you can’t tarnish everyone with the same brush – you have to judge everyone as individuals. I do wonder if teenage mums like the ones you mention feel automatically defensive – they know society is going to be down on them from the start, so it is easiest to play up to the stereotype and put up barriers? Just a thought. I know I often feel like I want to get in first and defend myself, or pretend not to care, before anyone can judge me…

  21. 27 February, 2010 / 8:29 pm

    I think Ms Moir must just sit there and mull over just what shite she can spout so that people like us continue to talk about her. Damn, it works.

    I love that photo of Bee, one happy looking bub, you must have done something right you crazy teenage mama.

    • 27 February, 2010 / 10:14 pm

      :-) I am a crazy teenage mama – I love that!

      She was absolutely the perfect baby, a complete joy, and still is. She was just the most gorgeous baby you have ever seen, PLUS she slept 12 hours a night from six weeks old – how more perfect can you get?? It was a bit of a shock when Belle was born. She didn’t sleep through the night until she started school!

  22. brokeharvardgrad
    1 March, 2010 / 6:30 pm

    Thanks for checking out my post. I agree that women, even pregnant teenagers, often bear the brunt of society’s aggression toward a woman’s sexuality. Why make the woman the target of such hostility? I find it ludicrous that some people still believe that mothers can’t accomplish much, teenage or not, because we only come into the world through mothers. There is no kinder, gentler or even technological way. Being a mother doesn’t tamp down ambition. It’s society’s lack of support for mothers that hurts them. Didn’t Obama mention that his mother was a teenage mom?

  23. 3 March, 2010 / 11:01 am

    What a brilliant post. You should indeed be proud. Being a mum is hard enough as it is without this constant judgement of others. It really makes me mad!

    • 3 March, 2010 / 11:50 am

      Thank you :-)
      I am probably my harshest critic though – we mums like to judge ourselves by impossible standards don’t we?!

  24. Kerry
    4 March, 2010 / 9:23 am

    It not being a teenage parent that is the issue – I too was pregnant at 16 and gave birth to twins that are now 21. I have a Hons degree and am just completing a masters and have worked since my daughters were 18 months old.

    The issue is lack of support, whether that be family and/or community and a lack of other resilience factors present in children’s lives; this is what affects life chances; not the age of the mum.

    Having my children gave my life purpose and meaning and the motivation to become something – my formal education completely failed to inspire or challenge me.

    Having said all that I wouldn’t have celebrated my daughters having children so young; because I remember the struggle and I wouldn’t have wanted then to have that experience.

    What is really sad is that teenage and lone parents remain the folk devils and scapegoats they were in the 80’s

    • 4 March, 2010 / 11:12 am

      You are absolutely right Kerry. it is all down to support. At the moment we seem as a society to have the attitude that teenage mums somehow don’t deserve support, and the paltry support they do get comes at a price – the label of being a scrounger! I couldn’t have done everything I did without the support of my family, but I know not everyone is so lucky. It really wouldn’t be much of an investment though to offer better childcare to teenage mums would it?

  25. 16 August, 2010 / 1:40 pm

    Thank you for writing that blog up! I’m a single teenage (well, former, but I think that’s something for life) mother, and I really enjoyed reading what you had to say.

    • 19 August, 2010 / 1:05 pm

      I know what you mean – even in my thrities I still think of myself as a teenage mum!

  26. 16 August, 2010 / 1:49 pm

    By the way, if you’re interested in the single teenage mum theme, I’ve just started blogging about it, so feel free to come check it out :) .

  27. 22 August, 2010 / 12:32 pm

    I was moved by this. I agree the incentives programs we have today should be directed at encouraging furthered education. I don’t know enough about the topic, but I just had to say beautifully put.

  28. 11 March, 2011 / 9:43 pm

    I love this post :). I’m not going to read the article, as I’ll only end up steaming from the nostrils and angrily slapping at the computer screen.

    I was 20 when I found out I was pregnant, and 21 when I had my son. As prejudice and lack of support goes, I got the worst of it from my own friends. One girl, to whom I had not spoken in years, had the cheek to judge me on the basis that I had “dropped out of uni to get pregnant so I could get a big house”. One midwife said to me, “You’re only a baby yourself!” I smiled at her politely, whilst inwardly telling her to go fuck herself.

    Now, I am 23 and my son is a healthy, happy, gorgeous and intelligent toddler. My partner and I still live together and we love each other very much. We own our own house. We are not on benefits. We do not smoke. My partner drinks little, and I do not drink at all. I am a full-time student and I’m on track for a first-class degree.

    Is it hard? Yes! Would I recommend getting pregnant young? Hell, no! But do I regret it? Definitely not. My son has given me purpose and direction where before I had none. I adore him and I intend to make him proud of me.

    Your age doesn’t make you a good mother. YOU do.
    xox

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