Teenage tearaway

..or magnificent mum? You decide...

Published by: Karen Armstrong and Alexandra McGowen
Published on: 31st March 2010

Being a teenager is a lesson in survival on its own. From what you wear to the music you listen to, get it wrong and you’ll be called a geek, a saddo, or worse – a failure.
So, aged 14, how the hell was I meant to survive this…? ‘Pregnant?’ I gulped. ‘Are you sure?’
The school nurse looked at me sadly. Of course she was sure, she was holding my pregnancy test.
But at my age, how was I supposed to cope with this?
My biggest worries until now had been whether Dad was ever going to get around to fixing my telly, or how to sneak in after my 9pm curfew from seeing my boyfriend, Alec, 16. Oh God, Alec… I’d need to tell him.
We’d been together a year. It would be great if I could say we’d been careful, but that would be a lie. Now I was going to pay the price for being so lax.
One thing was for sure, though, I couldn’t cope with this alone. So I met Alec in the park after school. I settled down on a swing – soon it’ll be me pushing a baby on these…
‘I’m pregnant!’ I announced.
He looked at me like he’d been hit over the head with a breeze block, all dazed and confused.
‘W-what do you want to do?’ he asked. In that moment, I knew. Yes, we were young, but I couldn’t go through with an abortion.
‘I’m keeping it,’ I whispered.
He nodded.
‘People are going to call me a failure for getting pregnant so young,’ I continued. ‘But I’ll prove them wrong.’
I wasn’t going to fail at being a mum! ‘Let’s tell our parents,’ suggested Alec. ‘Maybe we’ll get more support than we think.’
I nodded silently, not convinced. Dad was going to go mental. When he was watching soaps and they ran storylines about teen mums, he always tutted at the screen.
By the time I walked through the front door, I was trembling. He and Mum had divorced years ago. She lived miles away, he was all I had. I needed his support.
There was no dressing up what I had to say so, once again, I got straight to the point.
‘Dad… thing is… I’m pregnant! And I’m keeping it.’
For a second, he froze. Then he was jumping up, running towards me – and hugging me!
‘We can get through this,’ he soothed. ‘We’ll be fine.’
‘I’m not just going to be another statistic,’ I promised. ‘I’m going to be a great mum.’
For the next six months, I tried to ignore people’s stares and whispers in the street as my belly grew.
It was far too easy for people to judge me. They didn’t know I was going to be the best mum I could be, though. Luckily, I could still study for my GCSEs, but it was odd talking about breast-feeding and French homework in the same breath.
In so many ways, I was still so young – I didn’t have a clue what to expect with labour, thinking it would be like really bad period pains! I was wrong…
After a 14-hour labour, our son Declan was born weighing 7lb 14oz. For the next six weeks I didn’t live, I just existed. Alec moved into my dad’s house, and we muddled through.
It was hard though. Being 14 and adjusting to living with your boyfriend is hard enough. But while I should have been playing music at top volume, I was listening to my baby cry.
‘Make him stop,’ Alec pleaded.
Declan was bawling his eyes out. ‘Come on, poppet, Mummy’s here,’ I soothed, bouncing him on my shoulder.
As if by magic, he stopped. In that moment, I knew I could be the best mum around. It didn’t matter what age I was. Declan would only ever have one mum – and that was me!
Soon I was a dab hand at changing nappies, and making up baby formula.
I couldn’t even boil an egg before that!
A year later, and Declan was toddling around.
Alec had a good job at a DIY store, and life felt good.
Then I missed a period.
‘No way,’ I said, staring at two blue lines. We’d been here before.
Our second son Keegan was born in September 2003, when I was 17.
But things were going to be a lot tougher when it came to looking after him because he was suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a chronic muscle wasting disease.
At my age, I should have been trying to understand the opposite sex – instead I was getting my head round life with a disabled child.
‘Is there anything you can do?’ I asked the doctor.
‘No,’ he said sadly. ‘It’s unlikely Keegan will live past his teens.’
No! He’d only be my age when he died.
But in some strange way, I could relate to Keegan’s situation.
I hadn’t experienced my teen years. My childhood had been cut short, but I was happy.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I told Alec. ‘We’re going to give Keegan the happiest childhood we can, the one I missed out on.’
It’s true, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. As a young teen, I was even more determined to be a great mum to my two boys. There was still those who judged, though…
‘It’s nice of you to get the tea in for your mum,’ the shop cashier smiled. ‘These two your brothers?’
She meant Declan and Keegan.
‘No,’ I said firmly. ‘These gorgeous boys are mine and I’m making them spaghetti bolognaise tonight.’
I felt smug seeing the look on her face. Aged 17, I was bringing up two children and was still with their father Alec – there weren’t a lot of teen mums who could say that.
But I still had to grow up fast when we lost our third child Rudi.
I miscarried him at five months, and it hit us hard. At 21, I had two children, one with a fatal condition, and we were burying our third.
I thought the tears would never stop.
Still, looking at Declan and Keegan, we had a lot to be thankful for. I’d kept my word, survived being a teenage mum, and brought them up the best I could.
Yet I still had a little bit more love to give, because last February I gave birth to our little girl Roxanne, now one. ‘Our beautiful family’s complete,’ I said to Alec, as the midwife placed her in my arms.
I know a lot of people my age are busy at college and partying at the weekends, but I wouldn’t change being a mum for the world. My children are happy and that means I’m happy. We’re a success!
It would’ve been far too easy to right me off as a 14-year-old failure, but I’ve triumphed as a teen mum!
Rachel Dixon, 25, Doncaster, South Yorkshire