Friday, 22 January 2016
A Young Mother
I have been thinking about this lately. I know a lot of people who are expecting, around my age, 33 ish now and it's great. Lots of summer babies expected. These are people who are in stable relationships, homes of their own, some with children already excited to welcome another bundle of joy into their family - traditionally the "right" time to have babies, I suppose.
It got me thinking about what the right time, and if this age and time is the right time, then when I had Emily at 21, was this the wrong time?
We dug out some old photographs last week. I flicked through them, circa 2004 photos taken on a throw-away, back in the ancient days before mobile phone cameras (or at least before I bothered to catch up with the times.) Photos of myself and Emily. Emily covered in chocolate, Emily being bathed in the sink. Me, long black hair all ready to go out. Me and Emily cuddling. Emily laughing, eating crisps. Emily just being a usual two year old child. Me being a usual mother.
I didn't think anything of it at the time. But when I remember how I was treated....
The first midwife I saw at the hospital had her little pen and paper, looking down at me through her glasses. I sat cross-legged, hair dyed bright orange and wearing ever-so slightly too much gold. I was 20. A bit nervous. Probably chewing gum and apprehensive. The woman filled in her little form with all of her ever-so intrusive questions. Was I using contraception? Was I still with the baby's father? How did I feel when I found out I was pregnant? Why on earth would I be shocked that I was pregnant if I wasn't using any form of contraception?
My answer was "I don't know" as I looked at the floor. What was I supposed to say to this woman who already had me measured up before she started talking to me. I felt terrible. Like the worst human being who had ever walked this earth. When I think back it makes me angry. Emily might not have been planned, but once women find out they are pregnant the fact is they have choices. I very carefully weighed up these choices, and I decided to have a baby. How I felt when I found out is irrelevant, and how on earth could I predict or control what would happen in a relationship after that. I didn't want to talk about it because I didn't know any of the answers.
The sonographer at my first scan was impatient and short tempered with me because I had drank too much water beforehand. (How was I to know not to? They recommended drinking lots for the first scan.) I just let her do her job and just thought she was having a bad day.
The midwife who answered my alarm in the middle of the night because Emily wouldn't breastfeed shouted at me. She plucked my nipple out of the babies mouth, squeezed it and said "YOU have to feed YOUR baby."
The midwives the next day told me I would have to breast feed. They brought in two breast pumps without telling me what they were going to do and milked me like a cow (no milk came.) Alone, frightened and vulnerable, one of the older midwives came in afterwards and whispered "Just be firm and tell the you want to bottle feed love - they won't let you out until you do - there is a big push on breast feeding."
I cried for hours because I felt like a failure.
I get angry when I think of all this now.
These people. They didn't know me. I was too young and weak to say anything. I never stood up for myself.
I was a lone parent for about four years. I worked my absolute arse off to get promoted, buy a house, learn to drive, buy cars (several bangers - I was never loaded, just comfortable.) Started my degree and generally doing really well, as I'd planned when I decided to have my baby. I never thought about how I was treated by health professionals and people in general. It never interested me, because that time was gone and I was never having any more children anyway...
Oh skip forward a bit.... Age 29. Married. Hooray, I'm pregnant. We have a house, stable family environment, good jobs. We've both worked hard. Planned this little baby and really looking forward to the impending arrival of Alice. Lovely. Oops age 31, pregnant again, a lovely little surprise. Baby Rosie.
Without going over old ground, as soon as I ticked the box that said "married" or "stable relationship" or whatever their definition of the best conditions to have a baby are... my care was perfect. I was never questioned about my intentions. Never questioned about how I felt when I found out I was pregnant. Never forced into doing anything I didn't want to do.
Now many years had passed since I had Emily, I know that. Times change. It was also a different borough, different hospitals. So there are a few variables. However, at age 21 I feel that these people felt like I was not up to the job of parenting. Or maybe that wasn't their intention: but that was my perception of their actions. They were quick to judge but slow to care. I was never offered any parenting classes, baby yoga, baby massage. I wasn't pointed in the direction of the nearest mother and toddler clubs - I was just left to it. I remember phoning my Mum from the hospital after changing my very first nappy. "Mum can you bring new nappies...these ones are all faulty." (I'd put them on back to front.)
I wasn't the perfect mother. Nobody is. But I was exactly the same mother that I am now. A ring on my finger did not change any of it. I loved my children, and I know it is naive to say that love is enough - but love was what made me get moving with my life, it is always my love for them that makes me get on and gives me the drive to do what I do. I am the same now as I was then.
And so, what is the best time to have children?
I don't know.
I don't think there is one.
I think it's great that some people meet the love of their life early on. They start a family early, or later - whichever. That didn't happen for me, and it doesn't for a lot of people. We don't know this at the time. I like the phrase "you have to kiss a few frogs." Of course, no-one wants to kiss any frogs. But it happens. And there are a lot of frogs out there.
And once you decide to have your baby then life changes, you change, you learn and you grow. You've not made a mistake, you've chosen your path.
So this judgemental crap doesn't help anyone, and it still makes me angry after all these years. I needed support, not judgement.