As a 20-year-old woman, I was born with a mindset which believed in two ways of life; either you go to university and in turn start a career, or you have a child. These are not the only options of course, but for some reason I only ever thought of myself as a mother or a student; I never dreamed of work placements, apprenticeships or any other route towards a stable lifestyle. For me personally, it was a baby or a degree and this started from a very young age, before puberty for sure. Now, this is not something my parents have instilled into me, however, when you look at your fellow girl friends from secondary school, there tends to be two main routes. Either you hit the books, or you start a family. But why is this? I decided to investigate this phenomenon to see if it has any backbone or structure.
Nearly 1,700 teens aged 15-17 give birth every week in the UK.
I am in no way disagreeing or condoning those women who do decide to have a family at (in my opinion) a young age, however, it is interesting how some girls choose to focus on career and family later, whilst other girls decided to follow the more traditional route. For some, it is completely unthinkable to raise a child at 20, to commit to a life form for the next 20 odd years and, in some cases, to put your own goals on hold. I am one of those girls; I could not imagine raising a life, having a small family at the age I am now but that’s mostly due to my drive for education and my desire to advance my own life. For others, having a family seems right at this age. Some have been with their partners for years, while some have not, and some do it alone as a single mother. I think, with my whole heart, that all these women are incredibly strong. However, why is it that half of young girls have a desire to advance in their education and put their ‘baby-making machine’ on hold, whilst others thrive for a family lifestyle or are placed in the lifestyle, not by choice.
The most obvious reason for girls wanting to have a baby at such a young age is due to them being in stable and long-term relationships. At 20, young adults begin working, earning money in order to save up, and rent a place to call home. Once they have ticked ‘find a home’ off the checklist of adulting, there comes a point when the only thing left to tick is either marriage or a baby — the latter being a more conventional decision that marriage — again interesting! For most women, early marriage is instilled into their life through culture and tradition. It, therefore, isn’t crazy to want a family at such a young age when your culture, religion or traditions have led you down that route.
I was in a four year relationship, from ages 15 to 18 and at the time I would certainly have said I would have a child by 20; but now being out of that relationship — after some self-discovery and a new long-term relationship — I know that I want to wait a while and focus on my degree and education first. However, if I was still in that relationship, I wouldn’t be where I am now but most likely taking my child to nursery and maybe even be expecting another! I think having a stable relationship makes having a child seem… almost easy. Almost as if it’s the next step.
I decided to interview several mums.
‘I was with my partner for two years before I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified of course but I knew he would support me and us. He had a good job and decent pay, so I wasn’t worried about leaving my job to be a full-time mummy. Without him — or if we had not been as stable as we are — I certainly wouldn’t have been as calm as I held the pregnancy test in my hands. I would have regretted not having my little girl and I am so glad it happened the way it did. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.’
So why isn’t every girl in a long-term relationship wanting to start a family at such a young age? The answer could be the change in education. This year, the number of girls studying maths at A-level was nearly double the number of boys studying it. I find this absolutely amazing, and do you know why? It is brilliant because for generations, girls have been directed towards the Arts degrees; music, film, drama, and English. There has been a huge spike in the number of girls studying traditionally male-dominated subjects. This spike shows that girls are focusing on a new path which they have traditionally been steered away from; they are proud to be allowed to study alongside men, in fields they were once banned from for their sex. So, of course, there will be girls who will put a family aside for a few more years to go into fields that their mothers and grandmothers were not allowed to study!
There was a 14% increase in female students studying maths in 2019 with 24.9% of the female students achieving A’s compared to 20.8% of male students achieving the same grade.
Another obvious reason for teen pregnancy is contraception not working, or not being (properly) used. Some young mums — especially the ones I have spoken to — admit that they did not use the correct protection or simply thought ‘it won’t happen to me’ and then mother nature intervenes. This is mostly due to the lack of openness around sex, meaning young girls shy away from talking about contraception, especially with their own partners. With the added catalyst of alcohol and partying, the likelihood of getting pregnant accidentally is high, however, these girls have the decision to continue or to terminate the pregnancy. So why do they decide to continue the pregnancy when it wasn’t planned, or when the father figure is not in the picture? For some girls, they cannot go through with abortion due to their personal beliefs on the matter, and some girls decide that they cannot take a life. These women are extremely strong, by putting their child’s life first. But I will also say, girls who decide that this moment in time is not the right one to raise a child, are just as strong. Both parties have huge decisions to make and their decisions are the correct one for their situation. For other girls, they simply want to forget about the fact that they are pregnant or simply do not realise until it is too late to terminate the pregnancy — and this is more common than you think!
72% of teens surveyed agreed that teens that are sexually active should have access to birth control.
‘I did not know I was pregnant until I was about 6 months. I barely have periods anyway so I did not think that I could be pregnant. One day something told me that I should take a test — something innate I guess, inside me telling me that I was pregnant. When I found out I was pregnant, I was so confused. I didn’t know how far along I was or who the father could be, I felt ashamed as I had not been taking care of my body in the ways you should when you are carrying a child. Once I found out how far along I was, I contacted the father (who didn’t want anything to do with myself or his child) and decided to change my life around for my baby. And I do not regret anything. Never have.’
However, there are also rare cases — or rather believed to be rare but happen much more often than you think — where a young girl will go through with pregnancy due to being pressured by her family or partner. These pregnancies are the most heart-breaking in terms of the mother’s emotional and physical struggle. Those finding themselves in an abusive relationship may not leave because they feel too afraid to, too humiliated and with a child in the middle of the picture, things can become very toxic. Here’s one woman’s experience…
‘You never believe that your partner is abusive. You never fully accept it until it’s too late. I found out I was pregnant and his first thought was to abort it, which I was in two minds about. I did not want to take a life which was not my own yet, but did I really want to raise my abuser’s child? People always told me I would look into the eyes of my child and see him. The fear, the pain both physical and emotional; but it was a risk I had to take and in the end my partner did not want me to abort either. The advice others gave was crap, I have never looked at my son and seen the man who made me fear for both my own and my son’s life. I see a baby boy who has given me a new life.
As soon as I knew I was pregnant and keeping my son, I moved away from my partner, built a strong circle around me and told him that he could see his child but only under supervision. Yes, I did agree to what my ex-partner wanted, if he had certainly wanted to abort the baby, I do not think I would have had the strength to disagree, but I am glad that he didn’t and that I was strong enough to get away from that situation. To any girl who is in an abusive relationship and finds herself pregnant, young or old, make the decision to keep or not to keep your baby yourself. If I never had my son, I do not know what I would be doing, I’d probably still be under the thumb of my abuser.’
About 77% of teenage pregnancies are unplanned.
I am in no way saying that having a child at 20 or under is a bad thing or is only due to misconduct. Some people plan a family at a young age because they are prepared for that lifestyle and commitment and well done to them. They are able to bring a life into this world and support them through thick and thin. For other girls, they favour their education, aiming for a high-paying career before settling down with a husband or wife and having (or not having) children. It is a personal preference at the end of the day and all parties have every right to live their life how they please.
Thank you to all the mums who shared their experiences with me.