parent opinion

'The sacrifices aren't what you think': 5 things I learned from having a baby at 17.

Although our bodies are ready to become mothers in our teens, after 17 years of motherhood I have learned that, while my body may have been ready, my mind was not.

I had my daughter when I was 17. I had two children by the age of 20. 

As I’m sure is the case for most teen mothers, though I didn’t actively set out to have a baby, I certainly didn’t prioritise contraception. I was well aware of how babies are made. I was damaged, as we all are to varying degrees.

Watch: Laura Byrne talks about the pressure to be a 'good mum'. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Whether it was trauma or a teenage mind, I can’t be sure but my memories from that time are fuzzy and a lot of the time, I was dissociated. Not in a good place to be making decisions that impact on so many other human beings.

With my daughter now the age I was when I gave birth to her, here’s a little of what I’ve learned in the last 17 years:

Love isn’t all that matters

When my daughter was born, I felt filled up and complete - everything I had ever dreamed of came true. 

I felt real love both received and given for the first time in my life. That feeling didn’t last. 

It turns out true happiness does not come from the outside, not even through love and other humans. 

I began to resent my baby and her happiness and it took so much heartache and 16 years before I found real inner peace and acceptance. 

In the meantime, I had created another human who was without her own inner peace, love and acceptance.

I wish I could go back and tell young me to learn how to care for and love myself before giving my life over to the monumental task of trying to get another human right, of creating my own family to fill the void I had inside, of trying to give my lost self a purpose.


Presence comes in two forms

I was always the best mother I knew how; I was always present.

But I now realise, no matter how hard I tried, I didn't understand needs at all - especially not my own - and so I was not really there emotionally.

I have now learned to feel myself, to listen to my heart and to truly love and accept myself as a human being regardless of what I have or achieve. I am worthy. 

This is something that I now have the capacity to share with my children. 

Children need emotional regulation

Because we no longer live in collective societies, it is much more important for parents to have a high level of emotional intelligence in order to raise happy, healthy children into well-balanced adults. 

Image: Supplied.

Unfortunately, when I had my kids, my level of emotional intelligence was probably somewhere around minus 50 and I see the scars they carry in their anxiety, low self-esteem, emotional instability, and aggression.

As I grow my own self-awareness, they are growing with me but I know from personal experience it’s a long hard journey.

A true sign of emotional intelligence when raising children is ensuring you have adequate support around you because it really does take a village. 


Parents meet children's needs, not the other way around

I knew I was having a baby for me, not for the world, not for the baby, and not for her father. 

I didn’t want to admit that to myself and I didn’t know how selfish that truly was - I just knew it made me feel better to feel her growing inside of me.

I know now that having a baby to meet my own needs for purpose and belonging was not the right decision to make. 

Now I've done the work, and both my children have been on that healing journey with me. 

But this isn't always the case and the cycle of damaged humans continues to perpetuate. 

Many of my friends are still struggling to find the inner acceptance that their parents just weren’t able to provide.

The sacrifices aren’t the ones you think they are

When people told me I was giving up my freedom and youth I never heard them because I knew they just couldn’t see that having children was the one thing in the world that would make me happy. For that, I was willing to sacrifice anything. 

Now I’m 35 and I see I put my happiness ahead of my children’s. Now, I would sacrifice anything to make their lives easier, to take the burden away that I so recklessly offloaded onto them.

Because I live in a country where social security payments exist, I just figured it would all turn out okay. 

But having a baby and not being able to work left me watching my friends buy new cars and go on holidays with great envy. 

There is no taking back my decision to have two babies before I was 20, and we shouldn’t put the blame on parents who weren’t perfect because that doesn’t help. We are all damaged in our own way, even our own parents. 

It’s been all the unwavering support of loved ones and strangers that has led to my healing and breaking the cycle for my kids.

I would certainly make different choices back then if I had all the wisdom I now carry. But if I had all this wisdom back, then I’d be almost ready to have a child and raise her with all the emotional self-assurance she deserves, so who knows.

Andi Saunders is a life coach with personal experience of drastically changing her life. A passionate advocate for mental health and sobriety, she loves helping people find their Absolute Self.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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