Becoming a mother at 16 and then again at 18 was the best thing that happened to me, and I really feel that despite my age, mothering always came naturally to me.
It shouldn’t come at a surprise that now, at 21, I’m seriously considering having our third baby even in the midst studying third year law full time. Motherhood has brought me so much joy and given me so much direction and determination.
Before falling pregnant at 15 years old, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life – which is pretty normal for any 15-year-old.
But after having my daughter Ruby, now 6, I knew my biggest goal was achieving my dream of getting into law at university and being the best mum I could be.
What I didn’t know about getting pregnant is that I would lose every single friendship that I had ever made before falling pregnant.
Out of all the advice I was given from everyone to try and prepare myself in becoming a mum, I wish someone would have told me how lonely it was going to be.
I think that motherhood in general, no matter how old you are, is so isolating because physically you are at home the majority of your time, feeding and sleeping (or lack of).
Most of my friends stuck around for the first few months, maybe even the first 12 months of my daughter’s life but after that everyone moved on with their lives.
These 16-year-old teenagers weren’t interested in sitting at home with me (not that I blame them) and they were out being social, working part time as well as studying full time.
After realising that I could not go to school five days a week as I had planned to (with a six-week-old baby), I started doing much more work from home. The days became long and lonely and I felt so disconnected with my peers and the world in general.
I ended up being diagnosed with post-natal depression and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). I really struggled even before I had Ruby, and in those last few months of pregnancy I slept a lot and cried a lot, and after Ruby was born things just became much worse.
I was stuck in a rut for months and had no connection with my friends from high school. When you become a mother, your priorities change and you do what you can to provide the best future for your baby.
That meant whilst I was worrying about raising my child, or paying bills or going to doctor’s appointments or getting my school work done so I could graduate, everyone else was busy partying and we just had nothing in common anymore.
I was in a very dark place until I graduated Year 10 and moved out of home into my own little two-bedroom unit.
There’s no one ‘look’ of post-natal depression. Listen to Kirsten Bouse discuss the many shades, and how to cope, on Year One, Mamamia’s podcast for new parents.
I was starting at a fresh school (Year 11 is separate in most schools in Tasmania) and most of my pre-baby friends were going somewhere else. This meant I could make fresh friendships based off who I was and not what I was known for (the girl who fell pregnant at 15 years old).
It was hard at first but I was so determined and organised to be independent without my mum’s help, I would get up and pack my lunch and Ruby’s bag for daycare and successfully attend school five days a week.
Hardly anyone knew I was a mum – none of my teachers and very few students. This was probably to my disadvantage though, because most of the teachers were very understanding and would have allowed more flexibility in my work given my circumstances.
It was still hard to connect with people and for the first six months I would sit in the library eating my lunch pretending to catch up on work. But I eventually learned that I was my worst enemy and by sitting in that library with my head down I was feeding the vicious cycle of isolation.
I soon pushed myself to interact with people and made good friends with a bunch of girls who were really focused on their grades for university.
So, with my sights set on law I fitted in surprisingly well.
My outlook on life really changed after learning to not give in to my fears of what people might think of me and how disconnected and irrelevant I might be.
It was really me who held the power to change what was happening in my life, as cliché as that might sound.
I still really struggle with making friends now being in university, as 98 per cent of students don’t have children. But I’ve learnt that if I want to make friends, sitting on my own in the library won’t help.
The best advice I would give to someone struggling with isolation is to be purposeful in your interaction with people, and don’t let your fears let you from staying connected.
Another piece of useful advice I was given from a maternal health nurse was to always get up for the day and get dressed and look presentable, because if you are dressed and have made a conscious effort you are much less likely to go back to bed and hide from the world and feed your own depression.
If you are out of bed – you’ve already won half of the battle.
My advice is only ever based off my experience and I’m certainly no professional, but if my story can help just one person – my job is done!
If you or someone you know is suffering, for help and advice in Australia, contact:
Lifeline 13 11 14
The Gidget Foundation www.gidgetfoundation.com.au
PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) www.panda.org.au