I was 16, in Year 10 attending a Catholic school. My then boyfriend Dave and I decided to take ‘the next step’. Even though we practised safe sex, the condom broke!
The day I found out I was pregnant, Dave and I were working at Wendy’s. I vividly recall how one minute I was sitting in the public toilets looking at the white stick and seeing the two blue lines appear – signifying a positive pregnancy test. The next minute Dave and I were serving ice cream with lollies and handing them to kids– it was so surreal!
The best way to describe it is “I wanted yesterday back.”
I knew I had to tell my Mum and Dad and Dave’s parents. I was so scared. They’d be so disappointed and ashamed of me!
I was a ‘good girl, from a good Catholic family.’ This sort of thing didn’t happen to ‘good girls’!
My father literally screamed out in the middle of the main road ‘My 16-year-old daughter has had sex and now she is pregnant!’ and my mum, although supportive, became very sick from shock. At the time Dave’s Mum said I would never get an education and never have a career. Her words stayed with me for a good nine years of my life, it was hard to hear that as a 16-year-old pregnant girl. I understand now, that she was concerned for her son and didn’t know that someone in this situation could have a good future.
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At the same time, I was so ashamed of myself. I felt like everyone would be thinking awful things about me, impure things about me. I didn’t want people to label me with awful names, (you know the ones I mean!) That was not me; it never would be.
I felt like I had no-where and no-one to turn to until I saw my Year 10 Co-ordinator – I was scared he would react like everyone else. But he didn’t. The words he said changed my life. “Bernadette, the journey might be different now but the destination can stay the same.”
I would not be the person I am today without this conversation. I somehow knew that I was going to be ok and have this baby.
I didn’t stay at school for very long after falling pregnant because I had pretty severe morning sickness, so I finished about six weeks short of the end of Year 10. I was around ten weeks pregnant.
Mum made an appointment for me to see an obstetrician. It was the same obstetrician who delivered me! His first words were “It’s a bloody shame, but you’ve made the right decision.” He told me about a Young Mums Group that the Mercy Hospital for Women (in Melbourne) ran.
As my pregnancy progressed and I’d safely passed the first trimester I decided to attend the Young Mums group. I asked the nurse if she knew of any books or stories about teenage Mums who had finished their education. The nurse said there weren’t any.
This was the first time that I doubted my ability to finish my education as a teen mum. It seemed that everyone else thought it was impossible.
Throughout my pregnancy, I received many disgusted looks and scathing comments such as ‘babies having babies’.
Even some family members were embarrassed about me. I recall when I was seven months pregnant I offered to pick up the mail for a relative and she said: “You can hide behind the fence if you like; you might be embarrassed about people seeing you pregnant.”
It was hurtful when many people looked at me critically and judgementally and made me think that I should be embarrassed and ashamed. I desperately searched for support and inspiration from others who had been in my situation but found none.
However, as I attended a young pregnant group in Melbourne, I realised I was in a pretty good situation – meaning, I had a pillow I could put my head on at the end of the day. Other pregnant girls in this group were homeless, with some disowned by their families or others simply in a place of isolation.
Thinking about these other young people, I promised myself three things –1. That I would be a good mother; 2. Complete my education; and 3. Write a book to help and encourage others in my situation.
And I have fulfilled those three promises – and still have so much to achieve!
I’ve written a book called ‘Brave Little Bear” (Brave as a Bear is the meaning of my name, Bernadette) which is the story of my own teenage pregnancy. It details my experience of being a teenage mother to qualifying as a Registered Nurse and ultimately to becoming the Barnardos Australian Mother of the Year. It is a message of inspiration, hope and perseverance to women facing teenage pregnancy and motherhood.
After the launch of my book, I would receive emails from many young women, men and families facing teenage/unplanned pregnancy in Australia asking where they could find secondary schooling opportunities and support where they lived.
This was also my inspiration to started the Brave Foundation – which launched nationally in November, 2015 by the Honourable Jeff Kennett. During these years I’ve completed Business studies and was awarded a scholarship from the Office of Women to complete the prestigious, Company Directors Course. Given all of this though, it still feels like I’m at the beginning and there is so much work to do!
There is still a lot of stigma associated with a teenage pregnancy. Brave Foundation’s mission is to build a village of acceptance and support around every person facing teenage pregnancy and parenthood so they have the opportunity, with time, to grow a happy, healthy, skilled family, with healthy children. This will be done by providing them with the resources, referral and education opportunities that they need.
We are launching our signature national fundraising initiative, the World’s Biggest Baby Shower throughout the month of May, highlighting Mother’s Day.
Anyone can register to host their own baby shower which can be held at your home, workplace, outdoors. Hosts are encouraged to fundraise and attendees will give coin/note donations to the Brave Foundation. Your fundraising will make a big difference to the lives of thousands of teen mums.
You don’t need to be pregnant or even know someone who’s pregnant to hold a baby shower!
I married my husband Steve in 2000 and we have two more children now (Baeleigh and Flynn). It was so different having a baby as an adult, in contrast to when I had Damien at 16. The main thing I noticed was that I didn’t have to contend with society’s judgements; it also made me realise just how unfairly targeted young parents really are; and made me feel so much more empowered to speak to young Mums and let them know again that a good future is around the corner. One Mum is no different to the next Mum, regardless of age. Parenting is the most rewarding and challenging role all in one and we all need the support and encouragement of others, regardless of age.
The facts on teenage pregnancy:
- In Australia, in 2012, 24,000 teenage pregnancies were recorded. This figure is estimated from rates of live births, deaths and induced abortions.
- Young pregnant mothers face a higher risk of complicated pregnancies and low birth weight as well as poor nutrition, abuse, neglect and abandonment.
- Teen parents commonly feel that they are being judged and face a lack of understanding and acceptance from family, friends and the community.
- Teen parents are also less likely to finish school and this can lead to long-term unemployment or jobs that are not secure or well paid.
The numbers of teenagers giving birth has decreased significantly since the 1970s. Nationally, the rate of childbearing among teenagers peaked at 55.5 births per 1,000 females in 1971, falling to 16.3 in 2003 (ABS 2005) and it continues to fall. In 2010 it was 8.9 per 1,000
Australia’s teenage birth rate is lower than some comparable countries in the developed world but still much higher than those with the lowest rates. In 2012, 16.1 live births per 1000 were recorded for women aged 19 and under in Australia. Whilst this figure is less than the UK (19.9 per 1,000) and the USA (29.4 per 1,000) it’s much higher that other advanced economies in Europe and Asia. In France and Japan, the rate was 6 per thousand; in Denmark, 5 per thousand and in the Netherlands, less than 5 per thousand.
Statistics show that pregnancy rates are higher among teenagers whose lives include:
- Low socio-economic background
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status
- Family situations with regular conflict; family violence or sexual abuse during childhood
- Unstable housing arrangements/ living in out of home care
- Poor school performance and attendance
- Family history of pregnancies at a young age
- Low self esteem
- Living in rural and remote areas
- Having a mental health diagnosis
Statistics also show that there are significantly higher birth rates for teenagers living in remote areas. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young women, especially those in remote communities, have the highest rate of teenage births in Australia. In 2010, births to teenage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women accounted for 20% of all births to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In comparison, births to all teenage women in Australia accounted only for 4% of all births.
For more information about the Brave Foundation and the support and services it provides and the World’s Biggest Baby Shower please go to: www.bravefoundation.org.au