Life Update

I know a while ago I posted an update warning that posts may be few and far between in the coming weeks. So far, I’ve managed to keep up (mostly) and bring out new posts once every day, or once every couple of days, and I figured it’s time for a mini update on where we’re at with life and – well, everything really!

So the big focus of that last update was my health. I’ve cut out gluten and dairy almost entirely, and it’s made a huge difference to my IBS – I feel like I have so much more energy. However, it’s made no difference to the pains I’ve been in and out of hospital with, effectively confirming that those aren’t IBS pains. I’m still taking Tramadol, but I’ve reduced it quite a lot to avoid getting addicted to it.

Of course, everything always comes in threes, so on top of that, I’ve also had a sudden hypermobility flare-up (if you imagine every joint in your body deciding it’s going on holiday at the same time, you’re pretty close – SB dislocated my thumb entirely the other day, which was a new experience and not one I’m eager to repeat, and I managed to click my elbow out of joint just by opening my arms to hug her), and I came down with a weird flu-like virus. I started having palpitations, crazy dizzy spells, unable to catch my breath and feeling like I was going to faint just for raising my head, and I was starting to panic. That same night, SB came out in a slapped cheek rash, and my mum confirmed that I’ve never had it either. The NHS website informed me that it can cause severe anaemia in some adults, and seeing as I’ve been anaemic since I was fourteen, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened – it just totally depleted whatever iron I did have, leaving me feeling horrendous.

I’m coming out the other side of all of that though, and starting to feel human again, which is always great. SB has been a little trooper – while I was curled up on the sofa feeling sorry for myself, she’s been quite happy to play and chatter. She’s such a chatty little soul recently, there’s no shutting her up (not that I’d want to – I love our little barely-intelligible conversations!).

In terms of what else is happening in our lives, I have good news! I have a job induction next week, and a university interview on December 10th. I went ahead and submitted my Masters applications, so now begins the anxious wait to find out if I’ve gotten in. Things are really starting to look up on that front.

Daf is working hard at his essays and his dissertation. At times I think it’s getting on top of him, but I know he can do it, and I’m so proud of him. I’m trying to help as much as possible – either by giving him some academic writing tips, or by reminding him to take a break and play Minecraft for a bit every so often, to stop him from feeling like he’s drowning in work!

Meanwhile SB is just her gorgeous little self. She’s coming out with more words every day and more signs to accompany them, and although she’s a cheeky little thing – her forte is doing something she is definitely not supposed to be doing, and then giving us a grin like it excuses it all (which it often does) – she’s also so sweet, and loves waving, blowing kisses and beaming at everyone she sees.

I can’t believe we’re almost at December! It’s crazy to think about how quickly this year has gone. By the time we reach January, there will be less than four months until SB turns two! How crazy is that?!

Run Jump Scrap!

Young Mums Need More PND Support

First of all, that title doesn’t tell the whole story. Everyone needs more support with postnatal depression (and postnatal anxiety, and antenatal depression and anxiety too, and all aspects of perinatal mental health, for that matter). There are certain obstacles, however, that make it harder for younger parents to access the help they need.

Let’s look at the statistics first. The Young Mums Together report put together by the Mental Health Foundation states that 53% of teenage mothers (that is, women who became mothers between the ages of 15-17) experienced post-partum depression, according to one study. As for young mothers (that is, mothers under the age of 20) – well, I’ve looked and I’ve looked, and I can’t find any statistics for this at all.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why tailored support is so hard to come by? Young parents exist in some kind of flux state; constantly told we are too young to have a baby, but unable to access the same support offered to our younger, teenage counterparts. Although availability varies by area, there are support groups for teenage mothers that offer emotional support and friendly faces to talk to, all of whom understand what it is like to be a teenage parent.

As a young parent, you can’t access these groups. You have to go along to the ‘normal’ parenting groups. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to interact with parents of all ages – but it’s hard to strike up a conversation when they’re talking about enjoying their maternity leave, and you’re trying to cobble together an essay during 2am feeding sessions, or looking at having to return to your part-time job in a couple of weeks to keep money coming in. Add that to the fact that the overwhelming majority of these groups take place on weekdays, when many young parents are in work or college or university, and you’re left with a group of young parents unable to access the support and community that they need.

I know I talk a lot about the stigma young parents face, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in discussions of perinatal mental health. Many young parents are concerned that from the moment their pregnancy is announced, they’ll be on the radar of social services, purely because they are under 20. This simply isn’t true – your midwife may contact them if she has concerns or feels that you need extra support, but for the most part, your pregnancy will be treated no differently to any other woman’s of any other age.

However, because of what we’re told about social services near enough every other day – that they latch onto any opportunity to swoop in and take your baby and give it to a nice middle-class couple in their 30s – it’s not hard to see why lots of young parents are on high alert for anything that could put them on the radar of these services.

The truth is that social services will do everything in their power to keep a family together. That isn’t to say that they are faultless, and they haven’t made mistakes, but these are very few and far between, and while the media is only too happy to print stories from people who have been wronged by social services, we need to remember that we are only ever hearing half of the story.

Of course, it’s all well and good for me to say this now. In the early months after SB’s birth, I was terrified that if I gave even the first suggestion that I needed a little help or support, SB would be taken away from me. Part of that was the depression and anxiety itself talking – another part was me believing everything I’d heard about social services as evil child snatchers.

In hindsight, I realise that doctors won’t automatically refer you to social services if you tell them you’re depressed. A referral to social services doesn’t automatically mean your children will be taken away – quite the opposite, in fact. It means you’ll receive every support possible to keep your family together. It also means you can access treatment to help you get into a better frame of mind.

I cannot imagine how it must feel to have been let down by social services, but I can imagine that you would want the world to hear about the injustice. The way you voice it, however, is very important. So many people – no doubt in anger, rather than out of malice – declare that social services are kidnappers and evil and not to be trusted under any circumstances, because they’re just waiting to snatch “pretty white babies” (direct quote there) and give them to other couples.

That’s not in the job description of a social worker. It’s not like some big stock room where they look through the cupboards and think “Oh dear, we’re short on pretty white babies, we’d better go out and steal some more”, and claiming that they do work like that is damaging to other parents out there.

The media should shoulder the vast majority of the blame, however. They take any opportunity to portray social workers as villains, creating a culture of fear and mistrust surrounding the people whose job it is to support parents and keep families together. I think when we’re discussing the causes of postnatal depression and anxiety, the media have a hell of a lot to answer for – but right now, we know they’ll never change. They never do.

That’s not to say that all media outlets are responsible for this. Some are excellent at supporting young parents, like Visit From The Stork. Others aren’t targeted at parents, but they report sensibly, without the drama llama-ness and scaremongering found in – well, I’ll go ahead and say it, The Daily Mail.

PND is a major problem across all age groups, but young parents are at particular risk of feeling cut off from all services and groups designed to reduce the isolation and loneliness, and are at added risk of feeling that they can’t seek help for fear of involvement from outside agencies.

Right now, I don’t know what the solution is. Groups specifically for young parents? That requires funding and volunteers, two things that are in short supply these days. More perinatal mental health midwives? That would be a great start, but given the well-publicised issues the NHS is facing right now, I think it’s possibly dreaming a little too big.

All those of us who are young parents can do is continue to talk about our experiences, on every platform we can find, in the hope that other young parents will find it and feel a little less isolated and a little more supported. We can dispel the myths about going to the doctor and admitting that you’re struggling. We can provide listening ears and supportive words to pick people up and be by their side – virtually, if not physically.

A Bit Of Everything

Stigma Is Alive And Well

Just in case you were fooled into believing that society as a whole has accepted that some people have babies young, think again.

I was starting to feel increasingly positive, actually. I see a lot less cries of “TEENS HAVING BABIES FOR A FREE COUNCIL HOUSE!”, and a lot more support for young parents. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a funny look or a pointed comment suggesting that I’m “too young” to have an 18 month old – I was really starting to wonder if maybe we’re beyond that now (or perhaps the bigots are all too busy condemning refugees and the working class to care too much about a few 20 year olds popping out sprogs).

This post has been rattling around in my head for a while now, but I think it’s something that needs saying, because we can’t become complacent. We can’t think that there’s still no stigma against young parents, because there is.

A couple of weeks ago, my brother and sister won awards, and we went to their school – my old secondary school – to see them receive their prizes. We also made the most of the opportunity to see some of my old teachers, most of whom were absolutely lovely and made a fuss of SB, and didn’t bat an eyelid when they found out I had a baby (although many of them had been told by my brother and sister already).

However, one of my old teachers approached – before seeing the toddler in my arms, making a scoffing sound of disgust, rolling her eyes and walking away. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what she was saying, because she’d never made much attempt to hide her contempt for young parents even when I was a pupil there. To see it so blatantly, though, was a little bit of a culture shock.

I could blame the area. The school is in a very rural, religious area, whereas we now live in a big town with a fairly low average age for people to have their first baby, and no huge expectation on people to be married first. But the rest of the teachers didn’t scoff or roll their eyes. They didn’t make it clear that they were judging me. So I don’t think we can say it’s the fault of the area, or the school, or anything but the teacher’s own prejudices and opinions.

It’s hard, when you’re faced with that kind of reaction. In a way, the people who roll their eyes and walk away are harder to deal with than those who judge you to your face. If she’d come up to me and said “Oh god, not another feckless young mum”, I could’ve told her about my first class degree, my intention of doing a masters degree, my successful blog and the book I’m writing and the other things I’ve achieved as a younger mum. Because she walked away, I had no chance to defend myself.

Of course, I could be projecting. She could have just been unhappy to see me in general (I was a bit of a shit at times in secondary school). However, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that she smiled at me, until she saw SB in my arms. I don’t think it takes a genius to work out why she reacted the way she did.

But I don’t need to defend myself to people like her, and nor does any young parent. Yes, it’s tough having to bite your tongue and let people walk away thinking they’ve won, but you know that they are wrong. It’s not a debate, it’s not a matter of opinion – they are wrong, and you know it. That’s the important thing.

So I didn’t let this experience get me down. Instead, I used it as a learning curve. It has reminded me that the stigma against young parents is still very real and very prevalent, and there’s still a lot of work to do to educate ignorant people. It’s made me concerned that someone like that is teaching young people, but as long as she’s not leading hate campaigns against young parents in between classes, her personal views are her own and she’s perfectly entitled to them.

Hopefully one day, people will know better than to make silly assumptions about young parents. Until that day, however, all we can really do is remember that while ignorance may be bliss, it is not an attractive trait, and says a whole lot more about the holder of the beliefs, than it does about you.




“Who I Was”: The Speed Bump extract #3

Here’s another extract from my upcoming book, “The Speed Bump”. This is all about who I was before I got pregnant… and let’s just say, I wasn’t the nicest of people…

who i was

There are certain types of people who you don’t expect to do certain things. Take becoming a young parent, for example. If you live in the UK and are over a certain age, you’ve probably seen the programme ‘Little Britain’, which parodies a young parent in the form of Vicky Pollard; a tracksuit-clad chav with several children, no father on the scene, smoking and drinking and speaking unintelligibly. It’s an extreme parody, but it is representative of how many people feel about young parents.

A few years ago, I felt the same. I was quite vocal about my feelings on young mums – I subscribed to the whole “they’re doing it for a free council house” belief, and was adamant that the sort of people who get pregnant at a young were a different ‘sort’ of teenager. They were the no-hopers – they lacked drive and ambition. They didn’t have the skills to do things like go to university and get good jobs; they just weren’t intelligent enough. They had babies so that they could stay at home and claim benefits and child maintenance, and use their kids as accessories.

I, on the other hand, was a different sort of person. I’ll go ahead and admit it – I thought I was a better person. I thought I was better than the girls who get pregnant in their teens and early twenties. I was ambitious and smart – I’d just finished the first year of a degree, with an overall 2:1. I had a great group of friends, a happy social life, and I was succeeding. I had ambition; I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I didn’t have time for obstacles like a baby. I’d been with my boyfriend for two and a half years, and although we knew we wanted children one day, that ‘one day’ was years and years and years away. We had a lot to achieve first.

Obviously, I was also a bit of a twat. Cocky and self-assured, with a definite air of undeserved superiority, I definitely thought I was better than young parents, and I wasn’t quiet about it. I’d get involved in twitter debates, I’d post on forums – I even wrote blog posts on previous opinion blogs which, thankfully, no-one ever read condemning young parents, blasting them as stupid and irresponsible and congratulating myself on obviously being a more superior human being.

I look back on all of that now, and I cringe. I wish someone had come along, slapped me in the chops and told me that I’m no different to the girls who became young mothers – just like them, I was only one mistake away from being a young mum too.

I’d probably have laughed in their face though, the smug little shit that I was. After all, I was clued up on contraception. I knew what all the different types were, and I was going through different Pill types, trying to work out which one would be best for us. I’d originally been on Microgynon, but it had killed my sex drive and made me severely depressed, so I’d changed to the mini-Pill, Cerazette. It had started fine, but I’d begun noticing a few issues – it was making me feel quite sick, my sex drive was starting to wane, and my normally-clear skin was coming out in spots. So, I stopped taking Cerazette, started using condoms, and planned to head back to the GPs to see what other options were available.

So it might seem pretty hard to see how I, this smart, ambitious girl with good knowledge of contraception and no desire to have a baby any time soon, could possibly have become pregnant at the age of nineteen. In fact, it’s quite simple. You see, for an intelligent, ambitious young woman, I have frequent moments where I am a complete and utter plank. My boyfriend, Daf, is very similar – he is clever and mature and responsible, but sometimes, his common sense flies out of the window.

Normally, this isn’t too big an issue – if one of us is having a Plank Day, the other will keep them on the straight and narrow, and remind them to be sensible.

Unfortunately, on one particular day in early August, the stars collided, and we were both as reckless and stupid as each other. Just once wouldn’t hurt, we figured. People try for years to get pregnant. What are the chances that if we just do it without a condom, just this once, that anything will happen? Practically zero, right?

Yeah. Right.

Ethan & Evelyn

Mummy and Monkeys