Teenage pregnancy rates have declined, as teens prefer to spend time with their families and are less likely to have sex, a study has revealed. Articles have suggested this is because teenagers appear to be more sensible and more focused on their education and future careers.
But should we be careful about our attitudes towards teenage pregnancy?
The worst thing about being a teenage parent for me was feeling that my daughter and I were simply written off by society. I was a few days short of my 18th birthday when my daughter Lara arrived, but I looked even younger. Perhaps that was why I was even more conscious that I was facing the even harsher judgement – people could assume I was an underage single parent.
I had a particularly horrible boyfriend at the time – he wasn’t Lara’s dad – he had long gone. I stuck with my boyfriend for longer than I should have, because I was worried that no-one else would want me. I slipped into a horrible world where I accepted living the life society expected me to.
During that time, the Government was concerned about the rise of teenage pregnancies and they released some statistics which suggested “the children of teenage single parents are likely to under-perform at school.” So, that was my daughter written off as well as me now?
I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was probably a pivotal moment for me.
I started work, which was really hard. I don’t mean hard graft, it was just an office job – I mean, getting out of the house with a toddler at 7:30am was hard. Getting onto a bus with a massive buggy was hard. Getting off the bus and walking 15 minutes uphill to the childminder’s was hard. It was also hard getting onto another bus, and walking a further 20 minutes in the wind, rain and snow to get to work. And it was hard financially too – especially because there was no 15 hours of free childcare in those days. After paying my childminder and four bus fares a day, I was about £10 a week worse off than when I stayed at home and claimed benefit. That was hard.
I was continually subjected to unconscious prejudice from people: “My daughter would never get pregnant at 17,” was a very common thing I’d hear.
So why did I bother working? Because I loathed that unconscious prejudice I was being subjected to. I knew I was worth more, and I knew my daughter was worth more. And I wanted to prove it.
One Sunday I visited my dad. I browsed the jobs pages of the Sunday Times, and I was attracted to a marketing director role. He didn’t think I was crazy or try and put me off. So I decided to start studying marketing. That was hard too. Weekends, evenings and even holidays – every bit of spare time was spent reading books and studying for exams.
Alongside my studies came new job after new job, promotion after promotion. Breaking the stigma of being a single teenage parent could only be as a consequence of my own actions, and my own attitude. For years I didn’t even take a day off sick. I never came in to work with a hangover and I was never late for work.
Perhaps it was precisely because I was a single, teenage parent that I pushed myself so hard in my career. Once I realised what I was capable of there was no stopping me.
I’m now the owner of my own marketing consultancy and enjoy a wonderful life.
And my daughter? When she joined reception she was the first in her class to be given a reading book. When she was six she read the E. B. White classic Charlotte’s Web in a single day. In her first school SATs, her grades placed her in the top 2% in the country at English and maths. She’s not only a mum herself now – making me a very proud nana at just 45 – but she’s studying a law degree and has already identified what her future looks like working with disadvantaged young people in a supporting environment.
So no, when you become a teenage mum, it doesn’t mean you’re a write-off.