Recently, I was sitting having a conversation with a classmate. Let me just state, for the record, that this was not one of the girls in my program- and as such I have no hesitation about repeating our conversation, verbatim. We were talking about teenaged parenting. This particular person has a job working with different families with a variety of needs. A profession, I would imagine, that requires a level of open-mindedness. During this conversation she turned to me, someone she knew was the parent of a young child, and said " I work with someone who is 22 and got pregnant ON PURPOSE. Like went to a fertility specialist. And WANTED to have a baby. I mean, she was married...but who in their right minds wants to be a parent at 22? People are by no means prepared to be parents so young..I know I sure wouldn't have been!". My jaw pretty much hit the floor. Either I look significantly older than I truly am or this person was at some point kicking themselves for their unfortunate episode of verbal diarrhea.
Let me talk for a minute about young parenting. About the reactions I've gotten, the judgement I've received. And it's been a whole lot, so if you aren't interested in hearing about it- I suggest that you leave now.
I have ALWAYS been extremely candid and honest about the fact that becoming a parent so young was never part of my master plan. Contrary to popular belief- spending my senior year in college pregnant, dashing out of midterm exams so I could vomit, accumulating a ridiculous amount of parking tickets because I couldn't manage to waddle myself across campus...not exactly what I was counting on. Nursing my 4 week old in between graduation ceremonies...lets just say graduation gowns were not designed for this.
There were other paths I could have taken. Other choices I could have made. Perhaps I wasn't strong enough, bold enough- but the choice I made, to commit myself to this child, to love her- was by far the bravest and the best decision I have ever made, in my entire life.
I get judged by doctors, who before hearing I'm in graduate school, have talked to me as if I was ignorant, uneducated. Ignored my concerns, rolled their eyes at my requests. By random classmates, professionals I have job-shadowed & most likely a whole host of people I have never even considered. Because I am young. Because I did things a little backwards.
Yes. There are young parents who are "bad" parents. Neglectful parents. Irresponsible. But last time I checked- poor parenting, abuse, neglect, absences (both emotional and physical) has no age limit. Turning a particular age, wearing a gold band on your left hand... doesn't magically prepare you for the challenges of becoming a parent.
Yes. Young parenting is hard. You are unsure, you make mistakes. You quietly mourn the days when sleeping until 11, nursing a hangover on the couch all day, was the norm. You get jealous at your friends who are "free"- to make a trip to the grocery store without tears, to pick up & go at a moments notice. You worry, debate, get mad. You fail, fall down, get turned around. But isn't that what parenthood is all about? Isn't it a job with a very large learning curve- with no concrete guarantee you are doing the right thing?
When I was in the hospital after having Grace, we became close with one of our nurses. I asked her if she had ever had any particularly difficult patients. She told us that older mothers, who had waited to have children, tended to be more difficult. They had grand expectations surrounding child birth & motherhood that didn't always come to fruition. Physically, the whole process was more draining & damaging for them. I don't judge older mothers. I see the value in waiting, in establishing your lives, finances and career. But a lot of what she said to me made sense.
Although being a young mom may not have been in my original plans, I see some distinct benefits. There is something to be said from making a quick transition from pulling all-nighters pouring over text-books, to waking up every 2 hours to feed a crying infant. I was used to running on little sleep & had more energy to spare in my reserves. I rebounded quickly and easily from Grace's birth. Grace is surrounded by a network of "aunts" and "uncles" who have yet to have children of their own & have embraced her & love her in a beautiful, unique way.
And yes, there is a level of isolation & loneliness in young parenting. I feel like a founding member of my generation's "Mommy club" and wait eagerly for the day when I can welcome new additions...people who can share in the dread of the morning dirty diaper & the joy of that first smile. But I have also found new friends...friends that I now wouldn't give up for all the money in the world. Who have hopped on this crazy ride with me, or have rode this roller coaster once or twice before.
I have no doubt in my ability to teach Grace everything that she needs to know. More than that, what I find most astounding is all that she has to teach ME. She has instilled in me a level of quiet confidence. Pride in being her Mama. She has opened up dreams I never even knew I had. I appreciate my parents in a way I would have never ever imagined. I have seen the definition of love completely reinvent itself right before my eyes.
So before you judge...recognize that age...marriage... finances... does not automatically make a perfect parent. Doing everything you can to make the life of your children fulfilling, enriching and infused with laughter...respecting yourself & your abilities...and worrying if you are doing it right, on a fairly constant basis- that does, as least as far I've learned up to this point. And last time I checked...these things co
me from your heart, not from the date on your birth certificate.
Lonely was the song I sang
until the day you came
showing me another way
& all that my love can bring...