parent opinion

'I got pregnant at 21, on purpose. This is what I wish people knew about being a young mum.'

I was 20 years old. I had the world at my feet... and the one thing I wanted more than anything, was to have a baby.

It’s not your usual scenario at that age, right? But for me, the craving to have a child was all-consuming.

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When I told my now husband what I wanted, he resisted. Being nine years older than me he knew what I’d be sacrificing to dive straight into parenthood. He encouraged me to travel, start my career, to experience the world. 

But my mind was made up. I’d done some travel, I had a decent job under my belt. Most of my friends had packed their bags and headed straight to uni – a path I knew just wasn’t for me.

Yes, I craved having a child. But I also craved a higher sense of purpose. 

And look, I get that there’s a certain naivety that comes with being 20 and making that kind of decision. Cards on the table? I don’t think I ever fully understood what it meant, or how it would impact my life overall. 

It just felt right. I wanted to be a young mum. And I wanted to enjoy that youth alongside my son. So I steered our path in that direction.

My husband and I got married when I was 21 – and we’d been trying to get pregnant for a few months before. So nine months and five days after our wedding, our son Tex was born. In that moment I held everything I’d longed for, for as long as I could remember, in the single crook of my arm. 

Falling pregnant in 2006 and giving birth in 2007 came with its own unique set of benefits. Facebook was just beginning to take hold and social media was nowhere near where it’s at today. It meant I could write my own book on how I wanted to parent, instead of constantly comparing myself to the shiny, immaculately groomed mummy bloggers that have since descended across our socials. 

Of course, 100 per cent French linen baby rompers and perfect brows weren’t the only things I was lacking. I was at home, wrapped up in my baby bubble, when I saw my friends’ photos popping up all over MySpace and Facebook.

There they were, backpacking across Europe, eating pizza in Italy, drinking beer in Germany, climbing mountains in Thailand. All the things most of us do in our early twenties, right?

Not me. I was on the couch breastfeeding my baby, while watching The Simple Life and The Hills

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Did I regret my move into motherhood? Not for a second. But I did quickly come to realise that you can’t raise a child without a village. Lucky for us, the year after I had Tex my Mum retired, meaning I could go back to work and have him lovingly cared for without navigating the childcare system.

Let me emphasise the first word in that sentence – lucky. Hell yes, we were. It’s important to acknowledge this was an enormous privilege. For me, it was a blessing. It also meant my son became best friends with his Grandmother. The gift of me being a young mum? My mum also got to be a young Grandma.

Without both her and my mother-in-law, my husband and I wouldn’t have been able to return to work, we wouldn’t have felt so supported, and our experience of parenthood would have been very different. 

Of course, with the ups came the downs. 

I hadn’t realised that choosing to be a young mum also meant I was giving up a sisterhood. 

After having Tex, I went along to Mothers’ Group. Standard procedure. What wasn’t standard was my age. I walked into the room and almost instantly felt a quiet void. I was so much younger than everyone else – usually 10 to 15 years younger.

I’m not saying I felt judged, not at all. But I could tell we all felt uncomfortable.

Image: Supplied.

That quiet void followed us to Tex’s first day at school, too. I stood waiting alongside my fellow mums at pick-up time, eagerly anticipating that first post-school cuddle. But I knew instantly, the women surrounding me at that school gate weren’t my sisterhood either. 

I felt it before I saw it. It was like I didn’t quite fit in with the motherhood community, and that stung. So much so that I recently questioned having another baby so I could play catch-up, and experience those moments all over again, but this time alongside my 30-something friends. 

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That thought, it wasn’t a fleeting one. It ran deep. I remember when I was a kid – we’d go camping with my folks’ friends and all the children who were the same age, they formed their very own wolf pack. And while Tex has always had his friends over, we’ve never had that deeply woven 'family friend' category of connections.

But while I mourned the loss of that really sticky, beautiful side of community, there were other parts of it I could do without. Like the stares, the silent questioning, the glances from me, to Tex, and back again while we walked down the street.

“Could she be his Mum?”

“Maybe she’s the nanny?”

Team that with the flippant comments people said to my face.

“You’re far too young to be a mum.”

Those ones hurt the most – an attack wrapped up as a compliment, that’s what it felt like to me. The worst part? These were the conversations I battled almost every day.

Now at 35, I battle them less and less. But when people find out Tex is 12, they do the sums and the cycle begins all over again. Except now there’s an added second layer, you know, just to keep things interesting. And this time it involves the child’s father. 

See, people assume that having a child so young must have been a mistake, or an accident.

“Are you still with his Dad?”

“Do you manage to stay in touch with the Father?”

Just two of the many varied questions I get asked a lot. And yet I can’t ever imagine that question being asked of a parent the next age bracket above. Throw the whole ‘only child’ scenario into the mix and I constantly felt judged, questioned, misunderstood, and out of place. 

Image: Supplied.

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It took me a good number of years to manage my response to the comments, questions and stares. At first I’d feel my adrenaline spike, a fire would burn in my gut and I’d shut down my dialogue. 

But as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to communicate with empathy and understanding. I try to remind myself that people don’t fully grasp the impact of what they’re asking and you need to hear them without defence. After all, these are the questions society has raised us to ask. All of us are essentially following a script.

So it’s about perspective, empathy, and balance. Three things I have zero doubt being a young mum has taught me by the bucket load. 

I got to grow up with Tex. I get to discover adulthood with him. And I’m learning to be the very best version of myself for him every single day. 

For all those things I am grateful. It’s forged an openness between us, a deep playfulness in our connection and the most rewarding and intimate friendship I could ever hope for. 

Tex gets my undivided attention and I have the mental space to nourish him as his own individual unit. I also have more time and space to myself, enabling me to own the role of ‘mum’ without the strain of being pulled in a million different directions. 

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a hugely fulfilling career that can see me juggling back-to-back deadlines, appointments and meetings on a daily basis. What I will say is I feel more connected to the purpose of that role, more empathetic to other business owners and more compassionate to other human experiences overall. 

Sure, I used to look at my friends travelling across Europe, or even going out to breakfast, and feel that deep pang of jealousy. Let’s face it, taking a baby to breakfast is a total pain in the arse right? 

But you know what? In the here and now, we’re living our best lives. We go to breakfast whenever we want and we walk on the beach at sunrise. 

They’re not little wins. They are great, big, gigantic wins in my book. 

So let’s shift our perspective when it comes to talk of first-time parenthood. Because all too often it’s surrounded by the feeling that ‘you’re not ready’. But if being a young mum has taught me anything, it’s that no one is ready. Seriously. You’re never ready. 

And I don’t think too many people start out thinking they’re going to nail it, either. Because it’s not about that. It’s about showing up. Owning it. Swimming in it. Embracing it. 

It’s not the end of your life. It’s just the end of what you know. 

Odette Barry is a public relations specialist based in Byron Bay. She is the founder of PR agency Odette and Co and the creator of the Hack Your Own PR Program. You can follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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