BECOMING a first-time mum is a challenging time in any woman's life.
But for those in their teens, it can be a particularly terrifying and confusing prospect – with new figures revealing that more than half of pregnancies in under-18s in England and Wales are aborted.
Thousands of pregnant girls are forced to confront cruel comments and disapproving looks as they prepare to switch schoolwork, partying and days out with pals for changing dirty nappies.
Some are victims of horrific abuse, carrying babies fathered by rapists and older men.
Over the past decade, teenage pregnancies have more than halved – partly credited to better sex education, teens socialising more online, and improved access to contraceptives.
Yet our rates are still among the highest in Europe.
Official figures released this month show there were 16.8 conceptions per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17 in 2018 – with conception rates twice as high in the most deprived areas of England as in the least.
But it was those living in more affluent parts who were more likely to have had an abortion.
Here, three teen mums from different decades who chose to go ahead with their pregnancies reveal how they overcame social stigma, no money and even rape to achieve remarkable things.
'I escaped rape, drugs and prostitution – now I help other abuse victims while bringing up my sons'
Forensic psychologist, author and university lecturer Dr Jessica Taylor, 29, lives in Derbyshire with her partner Jaimi, 22. She has two young sons, aged 11 and nine.
Jessica says: "I grew up on a council estate in the West Midlands. It was a deprived area and, in my teens, I started smoking drugs and drinking. I'd sometimes turn up to school smashed.
I was also being abused by boys and men in my town who preyed on my vulnerability. I was just 12 when I had the contraceptive implant. Looking back now, nobody should have put an implant in a 12-year-old.
One of the local men was particularly abusive.
He raped me while holding a pair of scissors across my throat, threatened to slit my neck, forced me to give him oral sex, and shoved me under heavy objects until I thought my skull was going to crack.
He was also emotionally manipulative, always putting me down.
I kept the abuse hidden from everyone, including my family.
At the beginning of Year 11, I left school and got a full-time job as a hotel waitress instead. I was used to work, having shifted in pubs and restaurants since the age of 13.
However, I'd always done well at school and was still really determined to do my GCSEs. I came into school especially in jeans and a T-shirt, and got 11 B grades and 2Cs.
I fell pregnant for the first time at 16, but suffered a miscarriage. I soon fell pregnant again – and had my son at 17
I was 16, and living away from home, when I fell pregnant for the first time.
By this point, I'd been taken off the implant and put on the pill.
I suffered a miscarriage, but soon fell pregnant again – this time, with my eldest son, now 11.
He was born naturally in September 2008, when I was 17, with no pain relief.
I remember the nurse saying to me, 'Look, you’re 17, you’re on your own, we want to give you painkillers'. But I argued with them, insisting I wanted to be aware of what was going on.
Suddenly, with a newborn baby, I felt a huge weight of responsibility. I wasn't only responsible for my own life anymore – and I had started to realise that I was the victim of serious abuse.
When my son was about three or four months old, I rang the police about the abuse I'd endured and one man was charged with more than a dozen offences, including rape and sexual assault.
But to my dismay, the case never made it to trial and the charges were dropped.
Juggling life as a single teen mother and work at a gambling firm, I spiralled badly into debt. I didn't understand how money worked – I thought credit cards were free money.
I went into prostitution aged 18 to try to make ends meet – my first client was my bank manager
I even went into prostitution briefly aged 18 to try to make ends meet.
My first client was my bank manager, who I had begged for an overdraft, telling him about my abuse and my little boy. He had said no, and I'd cried in front of him.
Later, I'd got a text from an unknown number saying, 'I can give you the money if you sleep with me'. It was horrendous. But once I’d done it once, I thought, 'this is an easy way to stay afloat'.
I’d been raped and abused so many times already.
I've since learned lots of abused girls and women think like that – you see yourself as an object.
Eventually, still in my late teens, I escaped the abuse and got into a whirlwind romance. I soon married my new partner and we welcomed our first child – my second son – in January 2011.
Now aged 19 and a mum of two, I thought, 'I've got to do something with my life'.
I started doing voluntary work with domestic violence victims – while still working my day job – and, after seeing a TV advert for The Open University, I applied to do a degree in psychology.
Despite having no A-Levels, I was accepted on to the course.
My attitude towards jobs was, 'F*** it, I'll have a bash at that'
Over the next few years, I studied tirelessly at weekends and nights – while my career took off.
Aged 20, I became the assistant manager of a magistrates' court. Then, at 21, I got an area manager role in the criminal justice system. My attitude was always, 'F*** it, I'll have a bash at that'.
I was overseeing 51 staff and dealing with major cases like trafficking, homicide and manslaughter. I had to make sure staff were preparing victims and witnesses properly for trial.
I later worked as a rape centre manager – before graduating from university with a 2:1 degree in 2015. I've since achieved a PhD in forensic psychology, specialising in victim blaming of women and girls.
In 2017, I quit work completely and set up my own company, VictimFocus.
It provides research, consultancy, writing and speaking in forensic psychology, feminism and mental health – and has taken me to countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
I've also written five books, and although my marriage didn't work out – we divorced last year – I'm now engaged to a new partner, Jaimi, whom I had been friends with for years.
We make each other really happy and love spending time together.
Today, I've come a long way from a teen mum with nothing.
I consider myself really lucky – but I do know I've worked really hard.
I don’t see being a teen mum as a disadvantage, though. It baffles me how the stigma sticks on girls, when many teen pregnancies are fathered by adult males, and rapists.
We assume these girls are destined for a s**t life and are 'incompetent' parents. But they make up most of the influential, strong women I know."
'I went from a skint teen mum borrowing money from my son to running six-figure business'
Wedding photographer and mentor Natalie Watts, 37, is single and lives in Bedfordshire. She has an 18-year-old son, Danny.
Natalie says: "I fell pregnant with my son after my first year of A-Levels, when I was 17.
I had a boyfriend at the time and was a typical teenager I suppose – going out with friends, attending parties. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life.
My partner and I had only been together about six months, but his parents were really happy about it. My mum was also supportive but my dad was not.
I was told numerous times that I was a disappointment.
Right from the off, we decided we were going to go ahead with the pregnancy. I left college straight away and got a full-time job at H&M to pay for things for when I had the baby.
Sometimes, people would look at me because of my age, but not to the extent I thought they would.
I have always looked a bit older than I am.
I lived with my mum and brother during the pregnancy and everything went smoothly. Then in March 2001, I had my son Danny, weighing 8lbs, 10oz, without pain relief.
Seeing him for the first time felt a bit surreal. I remember thinking, 'Oh gosh, is this really my baby?'
Becoming a mum at 18 was daunting.
The first time I had to change a nappy in the middle of the night, I felt like, 'I'm going to break him'.
Becoming a mum at 18 was daunting – the first time I had to change a nappy, I felt like, 'I'm going to break him'
My boyfriend and I took it one day at a time. I drifted apart from friends a little bit. Everyone was doing their own thing, going to college or studying for A-Levels. Nobody else had a baby.
When Danny was six or seven months old, his dad and I split up. A couple of months later, I made the decision to go back to college because, frankly, every day at home was like Groundhog Day.
I did a foundation degree in fine art specialising in photography – which I really enjoyed.
I felt like I was getting my identity back. My college fees were paid for me because I was a single mum, and Danny, by then a toddler, went to nursery on the Milton Keynes campus.
At the end of the degree, I got into my first choice of university, further north. But studying for a BA in photography was tough. Sometimes, I’d have to take my son with me to lectures.
I remember one instance in particular, in my final year, when the lecturer sprung something on us very last minute and said, 'You need to get it to us at 6pm'.
I said I need to get my son home to feed him. The lecturer looked at me and said 'Priorities, Natalie’.
Obviously, my priority was to feed my son.
I had no disposable income whatsoever – I even had to borrow money from my son to cover the rent
After graduating from university with a 2:1, I got a job at ASOS as a photographer.
I moved down to London and got Danny into a primary school there.
I'd have to take him to breakfast club, then run to the Tube station to make it to work on time. I was paying £1,400-a-month rent on a flat, and had no disposable income whatsoever.
At one point, I even had to borrow money from Danny's child benefits pot – which I had been keeping safe so he'd have a bit of money when he's older – to cover the rent.
After a couple of years with ASOS, I was headhunted by a lingerie company, based outside of London.
Suddenly, my childcare and travel fees went up even more.
Eventually, in 2010, I went self-employed as a fashion and portrait photographer.
It was a huge leap of faith, but I knew something had to give. I didn't want to give up photography – and obviously couldn’t give up my son. In 2015, wedding photography became my main business.
Today, I've shot more than 220 weddings in places like Hawaii, Vegas, new York, Iceland, Venice and Santorini, as well as celebrities like Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Kelly Holmes.
My work has featured in Brides magazine, ELLE UK, Vogue and Cosmopolitan, and last year, I was named one of New York's Rangefinder magazine's '30 Rising Stars' – a huge honour.
My business turnover is now in the six figures.
I'm in the position where I can say to Danny, 'Anywhere in the world you want to go to, we can'. I've taken him to Vegas, Bali, Marrakesh, Malta, St Lucia and Rome.
I've also bought him a car and I'm currently looking to buy my own house.
Teen mums and single mums can be a success and overcome the odds to financial freedom
Danny, who does see his dad, finished his A-Levels in the summer and did really well.
He's now doing a finance apprenticeship at a bank. I'm so proud of him. I want my son's life to be easier than mine – but my ultimate goal is for him to just be happy. That's all that matters.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding teenage mums and single mums. But my story is proof that they can be a success and overcome the odds to financial freedom.
We should be celebrated."
'I was forced to live in a hostel while pregnant – now I juggle mum life with college, work and my own business'
College student and beauty business owner Poppy Witton, 19, lives in Sidcup, south-east London, with her partner Bradley, 21, and their 18-month-old son Bertie.
Poppy says: "Growing up, I hated going to school. Any chance I got not to go, I wouldn't.
At the weekends, I was always out with my friends. We'd spend hours walking around the local shopping centre, sitting in McDonald's, not doing anything really.
After getting my GCSEs – but not Maths or English – I left school. I had just turned 17 and was working in retail when I fell pregnant with Bertie. It was a shock, but really good timing.
My granddad had passed away a month earlier, so it was like filling a hole that was missing. I felt my son was given to me for a reason, and my family now call him our 'angel baby'.
I'd been with Bradley, Bertie's dad, since I was 13. We were using protection, so it was a really weird situation to be in. But we never discussed getting rid of our child.
One of my relatives had struggled to get pregnant, so for me, getting rid of a baby didn’t seem right.
As soon as we found out, it was like, 'How are we going to tell everyone?'
We knew it was frowned upon to have a child young.
But when I told my friends, they weren't that surprised.
I ended up in a hostel while pregnant – we lived in one room with a sofa, beds and a sink
I'd always been the 'mum' figure in the group, making sure everyone was OK at house parties.
During my pregnancy, I ended up in a hostel with my mum after we got evicted from our home.
We were in one room with a sofa, beds and a sink. There was a shared kitchen and toilet area between us and another flat. The caretaker wasn't nice and was quite abusive to tenants at times.
I didn't feel safe being there while pregnant, and spent a lot of time at my boyfriend’s.
At the time, I was working at a high street store and looked really young. Usually, I’d get my nails and eyelashes done but while I was expecting, I wasn't really caring for myself.
Sometimes, I'd be out and people would give me funny looks. I tried not to notice it too much, though I did wear baggy tops and jumpers for a while so my bump couldn’t be seen.
Whether you’re 17 or 27, you’re going through exactly the same thing as a first-time mum
I also went on maternity leave quite early because I didn’t want to go to work heavily pregnant as a teenager. I felt uncomfortable and was scared of what people were going to say.
Our beautiful little boy Bertie was born on September 24, 2018, after a 16-hour labour.
When we left the hospital, I went back to my partner’s mum’s house with him and our son.
I was really scared because there were a lot of things I didn’t know – but when it’s your own, you just know. Whether you’re 17 or 27, you’re going through exactly the same thing as a first-time mum.
After Bertie's birth, I suffered from postnatal depression. Over Christmas 2018, Bradley and I split up, and it got really bad in the January. I wasn't eating properly or taking care of myself.
My mum told me I needed to get help. She said, 'You're not being strong for your child'.
I ended up going to the doctor's and was diagnosed with the condition and given tablets.
Becoming a mum was the best thing to ever happen to me, despite my age
Today, I still have down days but I’m in a lot better position to what I was.
I'm back together with Bradley – who is now 21 and works in security systems – and our son is really starting to get his character. He's very cheeky and loves climbing.
Not long after having Bertie, I decided I didn't want to go back to retail. I enrolled on a beauty course at college instead – which is obviously a big leap when you have a child.
I also decided to start my own business, Poppy's Pampour Parlour, offering dermaplanning facials, waxing services, eyebrow and eyelash tinting, and massage, among other treatments.
Before Bertie, I didn’t have a purpose.
But now, I'm juggling mum life with being a part-time college student, running a beauty business – and also working 20 hours a week for a modelling and acting agency, which I do admin for.
I rent a room in a shop for my business, and am also studying Maths and English at college.
I'm constantly busy, but I want to do the best for my family.
Becoming a mum was the best thing to ever happen to me, despite my age. Without Bertie, I wouldn’t be where I am today. A lot of people doubted me, but I'm so proud of myself and how far I've come."
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