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.