Last week I started a series of guest posts about fertility – stories of hope and sadness; real stories from real women, whose strength and courage defies what we often think is humanly possible. This week’s guest poster is a very dear friend of mine, Katrina. She is one of the smartest, warmest and most honest people I know. The notion of living an authentic life is one that has been caught up in new age bullshit and hype, but as Katrina tells her story below, I think you’ll agree she is someone who is above all, real.
I moved out of home when I was 15. I met my husband when I was 16 years old. We had our first daughter when I was 17 years old, became engaged and moved into together when I was 19 years old, had our second daughter when I was 21, purchased our first home when I was 22 and got married when I was 23. I am now 43 years old and I am going to be a grandmother in 14 weeks time. What a whirlwind the last 27 years has been. Life is good. My husband and I now are empty-nesters, and very much looking forward to the next phase of our lives as grandparents.
When telling this story to people who don’t know me, I am often met with a look of shock. Actually, not just one look of shock but many looks with varying degrees of the shock element as the story unfolds. The first look is usually in response to a casual conversation about how I am going to be a grandmother soon. I receive the usual ‘no way you don’t look old enough to be a grandmother!’ – I like that part. I am sure that the person then thinks I will then tell a story about having a much older husband and that my step child is expecting. Instead, I tell them that I have a 26 year old daughter, followed by me feeling the need to overshare with the detail just to clarify that I wasn’t 13 or 14 when I had my first child, I was 17. Three or four years for this conversation topic makes all the difference. After the shocked look usually comes a comment like, you have done so well, must have been difficult being a teenage mum, how did you manage … I am appreciative to these people for their empathy but my first response is usually, not really, we all have our challenges in life. I guess it was difficult, but lots of things in life can be difficult. To me, life is always challenging and difficult for each of us at various times. I usually finish off this conversation stating that we will all be sitting in the nursing home together talking about our lives, challenges and our achievements. It is likely our journey will be much the same, just experienced in different ways and at different times. Being a teenage mother is not especially good or bad. Parenting is a wonderful experience, a challenge and and a reward, no matter what age you are when you become a parent.
As I wrote this piece I wondered why people would want to read about my experiences as a teenage Mum. I searched on the internet for information about teenage pregnancy and being a teen mum, and there is a lot of information available. A lot of it was quite horrifying data about the negative issues surrounding teenage pregnancy and the children of teenage mothers, low socio economic status complications and cyclic generational teenage pregnancies. Lots of scary stuff that if I had of read 27 years ago, I would have gone into a deep, dark depression about having a baby at 17 because the studies showed that it was all going to go badly.
All that research really does beg the question: do I regret having a child when I was a teenager? I think about what I might have missed out on. What were my friends doing whilst I was raising a child? Going to university, partying and having late nights, sleeping in, going overseas. The truth is, I didn’t really missed out on any of that. I still socialised with my friends, but I just had some additional complexity in planning and preparation to ensure a stay at Nanna’s that night for my daughter. I have always studied and I am still studying now; and these days, whilst many of my friends still have small children, I am able to enjoy an occasional night out and sleep in the next day for as long as I want! I have also travelled extensively, having had a job for about five years where I was required to travel overseas at least three times per year. I really don’t think I have missed out on too much, and actually I feel very lucky to be blessed with a wonderful husband (well, wonderful most of the time) who I am still excited to see every day, as well as two beautiful daughters who are successfully building their lives and careers, accompanied by two of the best sons-in-law I could have hoped for. And now a grandson on the way – life is so very good, it would seem ridiculous to say I regretted the way it all started out.
Although being a teenage mum didn’t ruin my life and I can honestly say I have no regrets, I was also, for many reasons, keen for my daughters to follow in my footsteps. Whilst I love my life, there were some really awful moments, particularly when I found out I was pregnant, that I didn’t want my daughters to have to experience. I therefore ensured I instilled into them from from a young age that the birth control pill may not be effective if on one day you take it at 4pm instead of your usual 8am time; and that I strongly recommended that they did not fall pregnant at 17 and not to tie themselves into relationship too early. I jokingly told my eldest daughter a couple of years ago that although I hadn’t wanted her to be a teenage Mum, it was now time for me to have a grandchild. I’m so glad she listened to my advice.