Too young to question, Not old enough to be a mom
There are many things that I know now that I didn’t when I first became a mom. The one, most important thing that I wish I would have known was that no matter how young I was, I could be in control of my pregnancy and child rearing. While I was pregnant, I was referred to an OB/GYN, which I didn’t question. There was a definite communication barrier, and I always left her office feeling frightened and confused. Had I been confident that this was my pregnancy, and I had a right to make my own decisions, I could have looked around and realized that there were alternatives. I could have requested a new doctor, or even looked into getting a midwife. Instead, I felt ashamed of my pregnant state, and too embarrassed to rock the boat. I was sent for test upon test, and never explained what they were for. Well, maybe it was explained to me, but I didn’t understand. I spent my prenatal appointments cowering in fear and shame. I didn’t know that there was anything else I could do.
When it came time to give birth to my son, it was the same way. I had to beg my mom to bring me to the hospital. She figured I should labour at home, rather than spend hours upon hours in the labour room. What she didn’t know was that I was already 10cm dilated, and the baby was coming right away. When we got to the hospital, I had to walk from the free parking into the ER. My mom said walking would make me feel better. Not necessarily true when you have a baby trying to come out. The rest of my labour happened so quickly that I barely knew what was going on. All I remember were nurses quickly wheeling me to delivery, telling me to lie still, don’t push. My entire body was urging me to push and my baby was ready to come out. But I wasn’t allowed to push. Not because I was going to tear, or it could cause problems to the baby or myself. No, it was simply because my baby and I had to wait for somebody else to arrive, the doctor. When the nurses finally realized that my baby was coming out now, I was given “permission” to push.
After my baby was born, I was given a few moments to meet him and show him off to my family and friends before he was whisked off to the nursery. I was moved to a recovery room on the maternity ward. I asked to be able to walk, assisted by my mom and boyfriend, but my request was denied. I thought it would be good for me to get on my feet, my legs were cramped and aching from lying still. But, apparently it was necessary for me to be rolled into my room in a wheelchair as if my natural, easy childbirth experience were a disease that left me unable to move on my own.
At some point before I was allowed to see him again, he was given a bottle of formula. I hadn’t expressed my wishes as to how I’d like to feed my baby, and I was never asked. It was just assumed that I would bottle feed, so that’s what I ended up doing. I asked the hospital staff to wake me when my baby was ready to eat so I could feed him and bond with him. They assured me that they would, but I awoke the next morning at around 5 am to find out that the nurses thought I needed my sleep, so they kindly fed him for me. I was furious, but didn’t make a fuss about it. I didn’t feel that I had the right. After all, I was a 17-year-old girl and they were maternity ward nurses. They knew better than I did, right?
I only wish that I had known that I had a right to make a birth plan, and to request that it be respected. I knew about birth plans, I just didn’t think one would apply to my situation. I felt that I barely had a right to be having this child, who was I to say how he or she would come into this world.
When I brought my baby home from the hospital, I soon discovered that there were a lot of people waiting to tell me how to raise my child. From “now that you’re a mother, you shouldn’t be doing….” To “well, you know, it’s better if you bathe him like…”. Every aspect of my life was up for scrutiny, and I though it was for the best. After all, what the heck does a 17 year old know about what a mother is supposed to be?
I tried so hard to avoid being the “stereotypical teenage mother”, that I thought I had to do everything the adults’ way. If I questioned it, it would be defiance, and defiance is a trait of teenagers. I couldn’t be a teenager, because teens aren’t good parents. I was going to be the exception, I could do it, I could rise above. I was a teenager, I was pregnant, I was a parent. That is the situation I was in, but I was in denial. I wish I had known then what I do now.
They say that hindsight is 20/20. I am now 22, and the mother of three. I have come to realize that being a pregnant 16-year-old, I had the right to have control over my pregnancy. I was competent enough as a mother to be to question the information and care that I was given. I was capable of making decisions for my self and my child, even if those decisions contradicted the norm. Before I became pregnant, I was always the one who opposed conformity; suddenly I felt that I had to be a chameleon, for fear of being exposed as just another pregnant teenager.
I loved my baby more than anything, and I welcomed mothering him. But, I know that I would have been a better mother to him from the time he was born if I would have acknowledged that I had what it took, at the age of 17, to be a mother. I should have worn that teen pregnancy like a badge of honour, instead of hiding it away in shame. I buried my teenage years too soon. I grew up too fast, not because I had a baby, but because I thought that’s what good teen moms do. I took away a part of myself that I can never get back. I gave away a part of my son’s life because I didn’t think it was for me to give to him. I wasted my pregnancy being ashamed and contemplating how I would escape the stigma of being a teen parent.
I’ve met many teen moms that are good moms. In fact, I can’t think of one teen mom I know that doesn’t love her child beyond words, feed, clothe and protect her child as much as she possibly can. I am in awe of the young moms I know who had the confidence to shout to the world “Yea, I’m a teen mom, and I’m a great mom”. I am envious of the ones who realized from the beginning that no matter what their age, this was their pregnancy and their child. The ones who knew that they could question what they were told, and demand what they and their children needed. The ones who didn’t morph into a totally new being upon having a child. Yes, motherhood changes us all, but it shouldn’t erase the person that we used to be completely.
If only I’d known then…
If only I could get back who I was…