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What does Empowering young mothers really mean?

“I didn't pick the battle to breastfeed or meet up with friends or wear what I wanted but I did pick the battle to continue my education.”

When I found out I was pregnant at 16 I assumed it was ok for people to look down at me because girls like me weren't meant to get pregnant... Girls like me were meant to go to university and travel and be popular and cool and happy. And I was so close to being that girl until I met someone who only wanted me for their own gratification and to ease their own insecurities. So for a good while my aim was to not let on that I wanted my old life back. Then I got pregnant. There was no going back now. I felt like I sleepwalked through by pregnancy. When we first met, my partner used to cover me with love bites to visibly make his claim on me. I felt like my growing stomach had the same purpose. Living with a partner who wants to control your life you have to pick your battles - I knew that. I didn't pick the battle to breastfeed or meet up with friends or wear what I wanted but I did pick the battle to continue my education. It wasn't the easiest battle to pick but one thing I didn't lose was my stubbornness to finish what I'd started.

Young mums aren't allowed to say they are proud of giving birth. I mean it's not like you have much of a choice once you're in labour. It's not something you can necessarily 'do well' at. But I don't know how else to explain it. I was so bloody proud of myself I couldn't stop smiling. I felt like I could cope with anything now because I had my son and I loved him so much. And I felt I had a reason not just to keep going, but to be the person I knew I could be.

“I sometimes felt guilty though that we didn't look like other families.”

I was still learning who that was though. And trying to separate my own goals from other peoples. I got married in a false hope that it was best for my son - I wanted him to have everything I'd had; Stable middle class parents. I couldn't be further off if I tried! Marriage did little to change this. I left after a year when I realised I could be a better person on my own.

I sometimes felt guilty though that we didn't look like other families and sometimes I felt a bitterness towards those who did, especially when they could be so proud of their families and no one implied that they were giving girls 'the wrong message'. Or if they mentioned how tired they were no one told then they should have kept their legs crossed! I soon learnt that the rules were different for young mums. I may have left a controlling relationship but the messages from the media and wider society couldn't be escaped; Young mums had done wrong. And we weren't allowed to forget that! Being single too now made me even more exposed. I learnt to pick my battles again and sometimes this meant staying silent when people in authority were openly putting young mums down, even though my cheeks were burning and my body shaking... But how can you speak up when you are one of the people they say needs fixing? Who would listen to an unfixed person right?

“Many young mothers have already had to overcome a lack of choices and control over their lives. But young mothers can be capable mothers, they can be role models and they and their children can achieve”

Even though there are many benefits of having children early in life, there are so many things that make it harder than it needs to be. When young mothers are viewed broken or damaged or vulnerable victims it removes their sense of agency. The young mothers I know are all strong women, but often this is in spite of those who tried to belittle and silence them. Many young mothers have already had to overcome a lack of choices and control over their lives. But young mothers can be capable mothers, they can be role models and they and their children can achieve.... Instead of trying to prevent them from being the amazing person they can be why don't we start to listen and support them instead?

Follow @Prymface on twitter for more information on her blogs and her work to change public perceptions of young mothers.

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