I fell pregnant at age 16 (22 years ago) and gave birth to a beautiful boy called Damien.
I was a 'good girl' from a 'good Catholic family'.
"This sort of thing didn't happen to good girls," my father screamed in the middle of the main road.
"My 16-year-old daughter has had sex and now she is pregnant."
My mum, although supportive, became very sick from shock.
At the same time my boyfriend's family wanted me to end the pregnancy. His mum said I would never get an education and never have a career. Her words stayed with me for a good nine years of my life. I understand now, that she was concerned for her son and didn't know that someone in this situation could have a good future, although this was hard to grasp as a 16-year-old girl.
At the same time, I was so ashamed of myself. I felt like everyone would be thinking awful things about me, impure things about me. I didn't want people to label me with awful names. (You know the ones I mean). That was not me. It never would be.
I felt like I had nowhere and no one to turn to. Until I saw my Year 10 Coordinator. I was scared he would react like everyone else. But he didn't. The words he said changed my life.
"Bernadette, the journey might be different now but the destination can stay the same."
I would not be the person I am today without that conversation.
In Australia, in 2012, 25,000 teenage pregnancies were recorded (19 years and under). That's around 70 teenage pregnancies every day.
Research shows us that when a pregnant teenager engages with support and education the generational risk of teenage pregnancy is reduced dramatically.
I experienced first-hand the stigma associated with a teenage pregnancy and the value of support and education opportunities for anyone in this situation.
Throughout my pregnancy, I received many disgusted looks and scathing comments such as 'babies having babies'. It was hurtful when many people looked at me critically and judgmentally, and made me think that I should be embarrassed and ashamed. I desperately searched for support and inspiration from others who had been in my situation but found none.
I promised myself three things:
- That I would be a good mother;
- That I would complete my education;
- That I would write a book to help and encourage others in my situation.
And I have fulfilled those three promises.
I turned what many people saw as a setback into a happy and rewarding life. I qualified as a registered nurse and became the Barnardos Australian Mother of the Year.
I married my husband Steve in 2000 and we have two more children now. It was so different having a baby as an adult, in contrast to when I had Damien at 16. The main thing I noticed was that I didn't have to contend with society's judgements. It also made me realise just how unfairly targeted young parents really are; and made me feel so much more empowered to speak to young mums and let them know again that a good future is around the corner.
One mum is no different from the next, regardless of age. People often ask me now as a 'parenting specialist' what my advice is as a parent. My answer is: "I've never been a parent to a 22, 14 and 11-year-old before -- I'm still learning!"
Parenting is the most rewarding and challenging role all in one and we all need the support and encouragement of others, regardless of our age. Through perseverance and determination you can overcome life's challenges and fulfil your dreams.
There is still a lot of stigma associated with a teenage pregnancy. I hope to build a village of acceptance and support around every person facing teenage pregnancy and parenthood so they have the opportunity, with time, to grow a happy, healthy, skilled family, with healthy children.
The best way to achieve this is by providing resources, referral and education opportunities to those facing teenage pregnancy and parenthood.
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