I was 19 years old, sitting in my doctor’s examination room wearing a Willie Nelson tank top that read, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me” when I found out that I would become a young mom. Needless to say, I looked (and felt) a little unfit for the job. I was a sophomore in college, and my boyfriend and I hadn’t even been dating for a year. “My mom is going to kill me,” I thought to myself as I drove to the nearest Bill Miller’s BBQ and ordered an embarrassing amount of fried chicken. After devouring my first chicken leg, I somehow mustered the courage to phone my mom and fill her in on my situation. Her reaction? “I know.” We discussed the options available to me and, ultimately, my boyfriend and I decided that we could make it happen. We’ve been making it happen ever since.
However, the 7 months that followed were some of the hardest. I discovered I was pregnant just a few days before the Fall semester began. I had to make a decision about whether or not I would continue my education. I decided to keep at it. In my naivety, I assumed things would resume as they normally would. The only difference was I’d have a baby during the Spring semester, right? Wrong. Suddenly, I had to explain absences to professors who were not always understanding. My friends were few and far between and no one asked to study with me like they did before. No one touched my belly and asked when I was due. Instead, people looked at me sideways as if to say, “Why are you still here, 9 months pregnant?” These looks, real or imagined, made me want to give up on trying to be social. I will say, I did end up meeting a couple of pretty rad girls that were also student mommas. I just had to open up a bit to find others with whom I could relate.
I gave birth to my son, Cash, on a Thursday and was back at school the following Tuesday because I had an exam. No questions were asked in my classes; no congratulations were given. It was weird. One girl did ask me about the grade on my exam and when I told her, she said: “OH, she probably went easy on you because you just had a baby.” Or maybe she didn’t.
The irony is, the professor who was accused of going easy on me had called me into her office some months before and asked for the scoop on my pregnancy and my life. I was always a lazy student, but she told me I was actually pretty smart and I should put more effort into my education. She told me I would be a better mother for it. I’ve made straight A’s ever since and the same professor is helping me choose graduate programs.
Outside of school, life was good for me. I had a supportive “baby daddy” who has always encouraged me to keep working towards my goals. My family was extremely supportive as well and still are. They lend a hand when we need one, they let me cry when I need to, and they love the three of us very much. My sister always said “it takes a village to raise a child” and I never realized how right she was until now.
What A Young Mom Needs
Honestly, the point of sharing my story, which is one that mirrors the story of so many others, is to express young moms need support. Even when I felt alienated, I still had my family, one caring professor, and a small group of friends to turn to. As it turns out, they were all I really needed.
My son turned two recently, and with each birthday comes a great deal of reflection. We’ve both grown up so much since his birth. I am graduating with my Bachelor’s in psychology in May. I am so happy my son gets to be there to see it. To get to this point, I needed a lot of help and encouragement from the people around me. A few kind words from a professor was enough to change not only the course of my education but the course of my life. I understand not every woman is granted the same set of circumstances as I was. I recognize I am extremely privileged to have access to a college education, a family that cares for me, and a partner that works two jobs to support the three of us while I pursue my dreams. However, I still feel that even if my circumstances were different, having someone to point me towards services and information that could benefit my son and I would have been absolutely invaluable. I encourage those of you that are parents or friends of a young mom to offer up some of your wisdom to help them figure things out. Letting young mothers know that they are doing alright and cheering them on is the best thing you can do for them. They need to know that people are rooting for them. But isn’t that what all mommas need?
Fighting the Stereotype
This is the part where I tell you what a young mom doesn’t need. They don’t need your assumptions about the quality of parenting they provide. They don’t need your doubt or your judgment. They don’t need your questions like, “So are you and your baby daddy still together?” They don’t need childcare providers questioning every choice they make regarding their child.
Unfortunately, I still come across criticism often. I’m not always accepted in the older mom circles in my community either and sometimes I think it’s because they’ve made up their minds about me. The piercings, tattoos and my alternative attitudes towards parenting don’t exactly work in my favor either.
Yes, some tend to conform to the negative stereotypes we have about young moms, but don’t use those stereotypes to evaluate every 20-year-old mom you come across. We are not all the same and that goes for any mother of any age. We’re all just here, trying to make it happen for our little ones and that really is enough.
Emily is a 22-year-old mama to a 2-year-old boy and is currently living in Texas. She considers herself a riot grrrl at heart, even if she was born a few years too late. In her spare time, she enjoys obsessively organizing her vinyl, drinking cold Shiner Bock, and watching old episodes of The Golden Girls.