Young mums need our support, not our shame.
My sister ran away from home when I was only nine years old. She came back to us six months pregnant, giving birth to my nephew just two months before her 21st birthday.
I was only a child at the time, but now I’m an adult I can finally fully appreciate just what a hell of a job she did raising a son so young.
To start with, there were the questions. The rude, intrusive, judgmental questions. I remember, at age nine, bragging to my school friends that I was going to become an auntie. The girls at my school asked questions like “How old is your sister?” and “Is she married?” Eventually, the questions became less and less delicate — before finally reaching the blunt “was it an accident?” stage.
I quickly grew tired of this question, and my responses varied between anger and embarrassment.
Then there was the sudden change of identity she endured, and then embraced.
When she fell pregnant, my sister had just turned 20. She was ridiculously intelligent, studying to become a forensic scientist, liked metal music, and was a bit of a punk-rebel. She was hardly what I would’ve described as ‘maternal’ — but of course she wasn’t maternal, she was almost still a child herself. Having a baby changed all of that.
University was put on hold. It was time to be a grown up. Caring for a brand new little human literally turned my 20-year-old sister from a young girl into a mother overnight.
When my nephew was born in January 2005, the pure joy blew us all away. It was as if all of the anxieties and pressures in the anticipation of this event were washed away and replaced with immense love. Here was this beautiful, squishy, soft, pink, perfect little man. How could anyone feel worried what people might think in the face of this miracle?
And of course, he is a blessing. But it wasn’t easy, over the last 10 years, for my sister to spend almost every day as single parent and provider. A few years ago, she returned to university where she is currently studying a double degree. She also works long hours on top of this to pay the rent and provide as much as she can for her son. As if that wasn’t enough, she has an autoimmune health condition known as Hashimoto’s disease.
She’s dealt with all of this, and you would never know she was having a hard time. My sister is quietly humble and modest, never asking for help or handouts even when she might need them. In her shoes, I don’t know if I could be so graceful.
My sister may be raising her son alone, but she’s not alone in her experiences as a young mother.
My sister’s struggles are emblematic of an entire nation of young mums in Australia trying to pay the rent, fill the pantry, register the car, save for Christmases and birthdays and pay school fees. The list goes on.
These women must care for their children at the same time as working or managing on measly welfare payments, which must be subsidised by part time or casual employment.
The dark side of becoming a young parent is the social stigma we attach to these mums. Labelling unmarried young mothers as ‘stupid,’ ‘careless’ — and worse, ‘slut-shaming’ them or assuming that falling pregnant at a young age is an indication your intelligence and ambition.
It’s up to us to stop shaming and to start supporting.
Today, I imagine being my sister at my age, having a six-month-old baby at the centre of my universe and the ripple effect that would have on everything I do.
I am in the last semester of my studies, a stage I would not have been able to reach had I fallen pregnant. My biggest problems revolve around saving for my next travel adventure, juggling uni and work and my robust social life. I think I am busy, I think I have problems, but at the end of the day my responsibilities boil down to not a whole lot.
So to my sister and to the other young mums who’ve made countless untold sacrifices to deliver and nurture and feed and raise their babies years before their peers even considered it; I take my hat off to you. Most of us will never know how hard it is.
You sacrificed your young-adulthood to raise a child.
You should be proud.
Do you judge younger mums?