Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Young mothers"...

A rant. *

I'm 31. My oldest child is 12. If you'd rather not do the math in your head, I'll tell you that I was 18 when I was pregnant with my son, and he was born the day after my 19th birthday. This is not a confession, an excuse, or an explanation. It's simply a fact, and whenever I mention it to anyone, I present it just that way. Often, when I mention it, it's part of another conversation. Such as a discussion of whether wine is safe to drink while pregnant, and I say, "Well, I didn't drink when I was pregnant with Chad, but that's because I was only 18." Just the truth - not looking to shock everyone. But as soon as those words come out of my mouth, the conversation is no longer about whether drinking in moderation during pregnancy is okay, but about how young I was when I was pregnant, the tragedy of young motherhood, and unsettled disbelief. This is fine, really, and I know nobody is trying to offend me. In fact, they may actually be trying to offer some kind of comfort or support, and usually the only reason it gets to me is because it's changed the whole focus of the conversation to me and my parenting.

Maybe I am just overly sensitive. When Chad was a baby, I was talked down to everywhere I went. The obstetrician called me "Kiddo." When I took that long trip on the Greyhound to NC, I was repeatedly approached by strange older women I did not know, trying to take my crying, overstimulated and extremely tired baby from my arms, saying, "Let me try, Sweetie," or offering advice on what I might be doing wrong. With his first ear infection, the pediatrician explained to me in slow, careful language how to read the bottle of infant Tylenol and how to use the dropper, while I looked at her like she was insane. Acquaintances who were older than me often gave me parenting advice, forgetting I suppose that their babies were actually younger than mine. I stopped going to mommy groups and playdates after being repeatedly snubbed and ignored by groups of older moms who were fond of saying things like, "When you're older, you'll know," and, "I'm glad I finished my education before having children, because educated mothers..." Well... those particular women were just bitches, but you get the idea.

The only person that offered full support and a feeling of complete confidence in my competence as a parent was my grandmother. My grandmother was pregnant at 18. "Of course, I was married," she never neglected to add. She was 19 when her first child was born, many years ago. And here lies my point (I'm sure you're anxious for me to make it already). I hear so much about "young mothers these days" as if having a child before the age of 25 or 30 is some kind of societal tragedy. In the 40's women were trained for marriage and motherhood in high school. It was completely normal to marry your high school boyfriend the second you were graduated. And have a baby, because that's what you did. Get married, have a baby. Most women looked forward to it with gleeful anticipation. If you weren't married by the time you were 30, something was probably wrong with you. A result of a now-outdated patriarchal view of an ideal society, possibly, but there it is. It was normal, even expected, and completely acceptable.

There's not a sad and catastrophic increase of young mothers nowadays. In fact, the average age of American women having their first child has actually increased in the last 30 years. And a leaning trend toward older mothers through the decades does not magically make 18 younger than it was 50, or even 30 years ago.

People tell me I was "just a baby" when I became a mother. They say they "just can't imagine being a parent so young." They mean well, and I know that. But I fell in love with my husband when I was 16. I was still in love with him when I got pregnant at 18. I'm still in love with him now, 12 years later. Had I never gotten pregnant, I probably would have eventually married him anyway, because I loved him. Pregnancy simply moved our plans forward a bit. I don't need sympathy or pity because I "had to" get married and have a family so young. I just can't imagine spending the last 12 years of my life without the love, comfort and joy of a family, no matter what age I was when it all started.

*Certainly not meant to offend anyone, in any group, but simply for the purpose of blowing off some steam and pent-up frustration.


Frankie said...

My mother put the fear of God (or fear of MOM) into me about having a career first, school, yada, yada. She had my brother when she was 19.

She was miserable and divorced when baby number 2 was born a year later.

She took her misery out on everyone else--it's wrong to have a baby so young, etc.

One of my biggest regrets in life is waiting to have babies. I was 30 when T was born. Had I started earlier, I probably would have had more. I didn't have a healthy uterus, plagued by fibroids at a very young age (20s) and surgery, I was lucky to have T. We then tried for another, lost the baby, and, well, it's just meant to be for me to only have one.

My point is that I envy you. You had a baby when you were fresh and healthy and probably full of energy. At 30, I was exhausted, took a long time to recover, etc.

I will say this. Some of the ways you were talked down, I experienced as well. I think you probably got it worse because you were younger, but I got it A LOT as well.

Everyone thinks they're an expert and they aren't afraid to voice that when they see a first-time mom. One time at a mom's group I was in, we spent the entire two horus bitching about idiots who approached us about our parenting. It happened to all of us, and it actully infuriated all of us.

Mama B said...

I think the hardest thing for my sister to do when she was a young mother (1st baby at 17) was to ask for help. Technically she still is a young mom I guess - though she always be "younger" because I'm older. And our older/younger difference seems less now that we are well...a bit older.

Anyway I'm always in the mixed place of wanting to offer a hand IF one is desired but not wanting to overstep when I'm not needed or wanted.

I run into a fair number of young moms it is always fun to watch them respond to a simple hello with no judgements (sp?) attached. Or an genuine inquiry toward their little one. Having my sister next to me in my mind makes me bite my tongue on the advice.

Andrea R said...

Amen and amen.

I have 4 children, ages almost 21, just 18, almost 16 and 7.

I'm 38.
My mom is 55.
Her mom is 72.

It kinda runs in the family. :D But! I am not a grandma! I kinda want to be now... anyway, my convoluted point...

I am astonished at how many people get flabbergasted when they see how "young" I am. i mean, I can see them thinking that I seem perfectly reasonable, happily married, sane, knowledgeable, but... they can't seem to reconcile that in their heads.

My mom always says that 20 years later, it doesn't matter you were a teen mom. And it *doesn't*.

Melissa said...


I'm a lurker, but I do understand enough to step out and say aye. I was 20 when my oldest was born, and my parents were very convinced that I couldn't do anything right. Not to mention people I didn't know...the ugliness. And I had been married for 18 months when he was born. I can just imagine the fluff you got.

But he was (and is) my sunshine, my motivation, my everything. I know so many young mothers who are full of love and energy and are great moms. I also know so many older parents who regret waiting so long.

Ami said...

You know, I have said that phrase myself.

"It would have been so hard to have a baby at that age."

Thing is, it's almost always admiration,(except for my little cousin who has a very large problem with addiction and is not a very good person) because having babies is TOUGH no matter what one's age, and most of the people I know who have had babies young are really amazing.

It never occurred to me that it would be insulting or condescending to say it, either.

I will never say those things again, even privately. I just have to say that I wasn't intentionally being a jerk when I said it.

christine said...

wow, I can't believe your daycare called your mom! That's just downright rude, you were an adult.

Katherine said...

I could not agree with you more. I think it is unnatural to wait till you're 30 to get pregnant. I am of the opinion that becoming a parent is the very thing that finishes you off. (double entendra aside.) And that you actually can not fully mature until you have a baby. I have encouraged my sister to get pregnant as fast as she reasonably can. I've been telling her this since she was 16.

All of this ties in, for me, with the dumbing down of children in our society, the lack of meaningful education in our system, and travesty of the long adolescence our society creates. Your basic 16 year old should be a competent capable reasonable trustworthy human. Oh, I could rant and rant.

Women who have their first at 32, like me? Way too old! Too tired, for one thing. And look at all the time wasted! I wish I'd had my babies when I was younger.

Have a baby and grow up already! That's what I tell my sister and her friends. They all look at me like monkeys are flying out of my fanny.

Cathi Weasley said...

I had my first son a week *before* my 19th birthday. It's amazing the comments you get from people and what they think of you. Your rant has came into my mind many times over the years. I am 37 kids are 18, 16, and 12. I am the youngest mom in our teen homeschool group. I get very tired of the questions.

Vent all you need!

Wendy Hawksley said...

You have 'em when you have 'em. My sister was pregnant at 19, having her first at 20, her second at 22, her 3rd at 25, her 4th at 28. Four kids, three different dads, no marriage. No tragedy, no right or wrong. She had children and has dealt with being a single mom the best she can.

Me, I was married at 18 and knew I might want a child. Maybe. Potentially. Someday. We chose to wait. The Gavinator was born 4 days before my 28th birthday.

Neither scenario is right or wrong. We have to do what is best for us, and the fact that people feel that they have a right to comment on our choice or path in life is incredibly annoying.

People should hold the condescension and let others live their lives.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have my kid until I was 33 and I was in no way ready at 18 but that doesn't mean other people should do what I did. Each person's situation is different. People talk about choice, but they sure do hate it when folks make a different choice than they do.

I like your historical point and I think you are onto something but it is more about the extension of childhood and adolescence so that 18 now does seem younger than it did 50 years ago. The age of compulsory education is longer (and in some jurisdictions is being changed to 18); and more people are staying in education to 18 and even beyond.

Also, I think a lot of people get tied up in consumerism. So they think they can't have babies until they can "afford" them. But affording them means things like being able to buy your own home in a "nice" neighbourhood, have 2 cars, and good furniture and a holiday somewhere "nice" every year.... Most people at 18 can't do that. But then a lot of people can't at 30 either.

Seems like you have a better sense of what is important in the parenting department -- love.

Anonymous said...

I so understand people forming judgements they have no right too. My children are 7 years apart, I get asked alot if they have the same father! Umm we just had some problems getting #2 here! I was 28 when I had my first and 35 at my second. I sooo wish we had started at a younger age! Now had you been 13 or 14 at the time I can see people treating you this age but come on.......18 your legal to vote, graduate, move out on your own. Some people! I know some 30 year olds that NEVER should of had kids, always in the bars, pawning kids off on everyboody. Age does NOT make the perfect Mother, knowing how to love and care for your child do!

shay said...

I wasn't as young as you were but I was young enough to be so glad to turn 30. People could stop looking sideways at me about how young I was and how many kids I had!

Now that I am older and my kids are older, I am soooo glad to have had them young. I run into so many ladies who say they would have had 4 if they'd started earlier. It made it tougher financially but I wouldn't change it either.

Bless you! And thanks for the reminder to include the younger moms.

Anonymous said...

I was 23 when I was pregnant with my first son--but I looked like I was maybe 16, 17 tops. The stares and the sideways glances were a bit much.

Then I was 25 when I was pregnant with my second (and last) son. It occurred to me about halfway through that long and nauseated slog that I would only be 43 when he turned 18 and (presumably) became responsible for his own life. I decided then and there that I would buy myself a Jaguar XKE to celebrate my baby's official transition into manhood, and immediately felt better for the rest of the pregnancy.

Also: my sister had her first baby when she was 29 and is due to have her second at age 31. She is utterly exhausted and kind of wondering why she didn't get the whole childbearing thing over with earlier.

The Mom said...

I was 33 when I had Kiddo. We tried earlier (we were married when I was 20) but had no luck and were told by more than one doctor that we'd better adopt or get used to being childless.

Lo and behold...13 years into marriage, I was 33 and DH was 43 and we were blessed. And sooooo tired! Even now with Kiddo being 7, DH is turning 50 this year and has said more than once that he can't keep up most days. Ah, now there's a darned good reason to have your kids when you're a bit younger, huh? lol.

For us, it is also the age thing between our friends children and our own child. Most of them have just sent their last child off to university or Kiddo plays with their grandchildren. It would have been nice in that aspect to have had him when we were younger.

Yet, family wise, it has drawn us closer to DH's nephews and neices, all of whom have children around the same age as Kiddo.

But I had to laugh at your comment about the doctor calling you kiddo. My doctor called me kiddo throughout my pregnancy as well - and she was younger than me! lol It wasn't until after Kiddo was born that we both realized that her clerk had typed in "1978" rather than "1968"!

Guess I should be flattered that she thought I looked young enough to pass for 23, huh?

MOM #1 said...

I have no super-wise words of wisdom. I had Baby Boy when I was 21, actually I think I was 20, about to turn 21. Yes, I was young, but Baby Boy and I had a great time. I loved taking him everywhere with me and we sort of grew up together. He's my best friend, and I think that comes from just being young and energetic when I had him.

I used to be grossed out by pregnant women over 30 because I just thought it was too old to be getting pregnant.

Now I just guess everyone has to live their own lives and do whatever is best for them. Sometimes people make bad choices, sometimes we just have to live the cards that are dealt to us.

I know I'm too old to have any more children, because I'm already almost done with Baby Boy and Mom #2 and I are extremely set in our ways, LOL. Besides, our granddaughter lives here part time, so I guess it's like having the best of both worlds.

Speaking of it, my step-daughter is a young mom, she just turned 19 a few days ago. She and her boyfriend have made some mistakes, but they are on the right path heading directly towards self sufficiency and they are excellent parents. This baby has more love than she can handle.

I don't mind young moms, old moms, or whatever moms. As long as the child is loved, wanted and well taken care of.

People should just mind their own business.

sarah b. said...

I appreciate this post, from the child's perspective. It was always a little weird telling my friends how old my parents were, and it still is. I was born when my parents were nineteen; they were high school sweethearts and got married early in my mom's pregnancy, about a year after graduating from high school. I know that they planned on getting married anyways, and it's obviously worked out pretty well for them. I am now 22. They went on to have six more children after me and have been married for almost 23 years.

Just a random fact: female fertility starts declining at age 27...

dawn said...

I am all for people having babies early if they are ready for it (okay who really is no matter what age). At one point a few years ago, all my kids were planning to marry early and have kids. Our son was most adamant about it. They don't talk about it now because it is getting closer and one kind of has to have someone in mind and they don't yet, but I would not be against it. I have a friend who had her first at 18. She is a home school mom with 9 kids and is now 40, happily married to the same man. I have other friends who were married around that age as well. You are right about the way it was a hundred years ago, same with the educations system. Most of the thoughts on those areas are more current than not. I hope I have prepared my children to run a home and to mature and have good character. Life will be much easier no matter when they choose to marry.

N said...

I just found your blog and I'm enjoying it!

I have a friend who also had her kids young and she doesn't like to say how old she is due to that look of people doing the math in their heads. Her 9 year old is happy to shout out that "She's 27!" though. Ah well.

Sometimes I'm a little jealous, though, wishing I'd started younger myself.

I also liked what you had to say about socialization. We're homeschoolers, as well.