If we are completely honest with ourselves, we all know the teen mum stereotype - chav tracksuit, no qualifications, hanging around the 'dole office'. Not to mention, it is automatically assumed that they are bad mothers. So, when I sat in that doctor’s surgery at 3am, aged 18, and was told that I was pregnant, I stepped into my own living nightmare. The doctor gave me a look that said, 'say goodbye to your gap year travels, your university place, your future.'
I was devastated. On the drive home, I simultaneously tried to convince my mum that I was still a virgin, but also that I was probably about six months on. My head was spinning as I remembered all the things I'd done. The nights out. The 'Jaegar-Bomb Queen' title. The A levels. The trip to Israel where I rode camels through the desert. The abseil down the Europa Hotel…
I was constantly carrying another human, but I’d never felt so humanly alone. It should have been the happiest news of my life but everyone’s reactions were to console me or avoid me. The amazing new life inside of me was overclouded by my young age. I only truly accepted that I was going to be a mum when I went into labour. Reuben’s gigantic head was making its jolly way through my cervix and that's when I informed my mum, and the midwives, "I don’t think motherhood is for me".
But oh my. One look at that deliciously-beautiful yet hairy new-born of mine, and I knew it was so for me. He was so for me. The beauty of having a baby so young is that quite often, that baby is your first real experience of true love. When I looked at Reuben, I wasn’t a teen-mum anymore. I wasn’t a stereotype. I wasn’t a statistic. I was just Reuben’s mum. And I was going to give this motherhood thing everything I had.
Of course, that hasn't been easy. I’ve been winging my way through motherhood. I worked part time, repeated A levels, and completed a counselling course to get into university. I’ve learned that just because something isn't conventional, doesn’t mean it can't work. I’m now 21 and we live in Belfast where I go to Queen’s University to study Theology. Reuben goes to Queen’s crèche and he is only ever 20 yards away.
Anyone who knows me, will know that I am strong-willed. Some would say annoyingly stubborn, but I prefer 'unwaveringly-determined'. If there was going to be a single-teenage-mum studying for a degree – I’m your girl. However, I worry that people see me as the exception to the rule. But my story is the same as everyone else’s. And the truth - the truth that I rarely tell anyone is, I didn’t want my baby. I wanted what society told me was a quick fix - I wanted an abortion.
I wanted what society told me was a quick fix - I wanted an abortion
Even after my delightful Reuben was born, I still struggled to cope with my reality. In my darkest moments I began to believe the lies that were spoken over me – 'what a shame this has happened so early in your life', 'what a waste of potential' and 'how could you make such a mistake?'
I was told about a young parent's group at Surestart and I begrudgingly went along, annoyed that I was expected to be friends with these people just because we all got knocked up before the culturally appropriate age. They soon became a massive part of my life, and we were in this together.
I began to find hope. After becoming a Christian, I stopped believing that motherhood or Reuben were an unfortunate mistake that could have been avoided. I started believing that Reuben had a purpose, and so do I. After coming face to face with the extravagant love of Jesus, I could love Reuben more than I thought possible.
I may no longer be a teen mum, but I'm also no longer ashamed. I no longer stand under the labels of 'wreckless', 'worthless', and 'failure'. I stand under the labels of 'loved', 'strong' and 'valuable'. I wasted too much time mourning the life that I could have had, and it robbed me of the time and energy to live, enjoy, and make the best of the life I have now. Sometimes I think back to the quivering, uncertain mess I was during my pregnancy, and I think 'Girl, you did good!'
I want to empower women to pursue their dreams, dare I say it – with their baby.
I am passionate about encouraging those women who are the same quivering, uncertain mess that I was. I wish it was my job to greet every woman who comes out of a doctor’s surgery after receiving their news – and do you know what I would do? I would congratulate them! I want to empower women to pursue their dreams, dare I say it – with their baby. Unexpected pregnancies are not a cautionary tale to tell your daughters.
Sure, as I write this, Reuben may have peed on the carpet, and just last week I had a spectacular breakdown about his behaviour. But getting pregnant at 18 didn’t mean my life was over. It meant that I get to do life with Reuben. I spend most of my time doing all the Fireman Sam related activities…but I still do everything I used to. I have pizza nights with friends, I travel to new countries, I cry about assignments, I stay up too late, I binge on chocolate… I do everything, but I do everything with Reubs. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Which is good because the way my mum brain is going, I probably won’t remember it any other way.
Rebecca is a theology student at Queen's University in Belfast
This blog was provided by Both Lives Matter - a group campaigning to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland. For more information visit bothlivesmatter.org or click here to read their latest report titled 'One hundred thousand'.