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‘You’re so young! I thought you were the nanny!’

Mum and daughterI found out I was pregnant at 17 years old, in hospital with a kidney infection. This was not what I had planned for my life. I remember thinking of teen mums as losers who couldn’t be responsible enough to use a condom. Then I became that loser who hadn’t been responsible enough to use a condom and my entire perspective changed.

Automatically I assumed I wouldn’t continue the pregnancy. I was 17, had no money and I was between moving out of home and into my own place. I hadn’t even finished my HSC and my boyfriend and I had been an item for all of three months. I was not in a position to be raising a child. But then we gave it some serious thought. I realised that I was strong and smart and loving and I knew that I could do it and do it well. So we moved into our own apartment, finished our education, worked and raised our gorgeous little girl.

During this time, we struggled certainly. We struggled with our gender roles, making time to study, toddler sleep patterns and our tiny apartment. But what I struggled with most was not money or the juggling of responsibilities, it was the judgement. The judgement staring at us from other parents as we pushed our daughter to the grocery store or on the swing. The cliché remarks as if my life was open slather for all to comment on, “You’re so young!”, “How old are you?!”, “Oh I thought you were the nanny.” The judgement when I got my first job as a waiter my new boss said, “Oh you’re too young to be a parent in my opinion,” or when distant relatives told us we were ruining our lives.

These things hurt, but it wasn’t so much what they said, but what they didn’t say. The strangers that glared at us. At my perfect little angel. All day, every day, for years. Without the slightest knowledge of who we were as people.

Just like most parents I was eager to fit in and to do everything the best way. I wanted to breastfeed for the right amount of time, start solids in the right way, get into the best sleep pattern for her, and join the local playgroup to make friends just like everyone else. But as an 18-year-old parent in a wealthy area in Sydney, I struggled to find my identity.

FORUM: If you’re a young parent you can connect with others in our Young Parents forum

Sometimes I think it’s hard enough to live your life, without trying to find the best way to describe it to others.

“Yes I’m 18 and still finishing my HSC.”

“Yes I’m 45 and needed an egg donor to have Archie.”

“Well actually my husband left us last week, so its been a rough week.”

“I can’t make playgroup this week, because I’m juggling three jobs to put food on the table.”

The search for perfection is so strong in our society, that for the most part we criticise and alienate imperfections to what we perceive to be the gold standard. When really the beauty is in our honesty, our authenticity and our cracks.

My partner and I finished our schooling of course. I became a midwife and did half a Masters before deciding to open my own business. At nine years old now, my daughter is the perfect image of a surfie child. She’s happy, has an incredible level of emotional intelligence, does acrobatics and has loads of friends.

I hope all that comes out of my experience is to enlighten others that taking a route different from the status quo doesn’t mean you are less than. Wait before passing judgement, because you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.

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