I got involved in a debate tonight.
I know, I know, stupid of me. But SB was sleeping, and D was out at work, and it actually started out as a debate about breastfeeding in public – I was speaking out in defence of it, because I don’t think there’s any difference between whipping a bottle out and feeding a baby in a cafe, like I do, and doing the same but with a breast instead – and that if people don’t like it, they shouldn’t look. But anyway, someone who’d clearly run out of points to make with regards to the breastfeeding debate looked at my profile, saw that I was 19 and a mum, and saw their opportunity.
- “You’re 19 and a mum, so your IQ must be south of 80”
- “I just don’t think someone who has a baby at such a young in this day and age in the UK can be that intelligent”
- ” you’re ignorant and uneducated, hence the baby at 19 etc.”
- “I’m willing to bet that 19 year olds with babies have on average a lower IQ than 19 year olds without babies”
Despite being a maths student at a top 5 university (apparently), this young man was incapable of remembering that you can’t extrapolate data from the tiny sample size of 19 year old mothers you claim to know, and apply it to everyone in that situation. A Level Psychology was enough to teach me that.
So whilst I could mostly ignore this particular idiot (although I got a few choice comebacks in, particularly when he accused me of being an embarrassment to my 8-week-old daughter, for having her whilst being a student), it revealed a worrying trend. Many of our supposed ‘best and brightest’ – the future politicians and decision-makers and ‘great thinkers’ – have an incredibly low tolerance for younger mothers. It’s not an assumption based on one particular person – just a glance through the search function on this particular forum will show that there is an underlying attitude in many members (by no means all) that younger mothers are failures – that they’ve had their babies because they have nothing better to do. The same old stereotypes get peddled – doing it for a free council house (ha! Do they even have spare council houses knocking about these days?), for the benefits (£20 a week, somebody pinch me), because they have no ambitions and no prospects (I’m not even going to entertain that one).
I am a young mum for one reason only – because I had a baby. Nothing sets me apart from other mothers, except for the fact that I haven’t reached some fabled age where it suddenly is acceptable to have a baby (what is that age again? Everyone goes mysteriously quiet when that question is asked). I have had a baby, I care for that baby and raise that baby with my partner – I am a mum. Not a teenage mum, not a young mum – just a mum, like every other woman who’s had and/or raised a baby. I am a mum, and I am also a student. I am a mum, and I am also not yet out of my teenage years (although many argue that once you’re over eighteen, you’re no longer a teenager, but I actually think it’s when there stops being a ‘teen’ at the end of your age).
In years to come, will I be posting advice to people, saying “I was a teenage mum”? Will I allow that – and any other stereotypes attached to it – to define me? I think the real question is, do I have a choice? People will assume based on SB’s age, based on the way I look, and will probably come to the conclusion (thanks to my baby face and tendency to wear my hair in bunches) that I was indeed a teenage mum. Will that change their perception of me? Will they suddenly retract any imaginary MENSA membership I may have acquired? Will my debating skills immediately go down the drain?
Of course not. I’m an individual. I am also a mum. I am also still fairly young. If we allow ‘young mum’ to become our identity, we’ll never shake the stereotypes associated with it, and the discrimination that arises from those stereotypes. But surely the onus shouldn’t be on us to disprove the stereotypes – it should be on those who hold those beliefs in the first place, to accept people as individuals with their own stories, their own personalities. Say tomorrow, I was to meet two other young mums. One could live on a horrendous council estate, be raising her child alone, working desperately hard to provide. The other could be living the life of luxury in a house with more bedrooms than people, the baby being cared for and pampered by adoring wealthy grandparents, with the mother having no need or desire to work. And then there’s me – still at uni, getting by with what money we have, doing our best to raise the baby together. There is no one type of person who has a baby young, and it’s foolish to assume that there is.
I think it’s the passion I feel about this topic that has inspired my dissertation planning – it will revolve heavily around societal attitudes towards younger mums, under the age of 21, and why there is a one-size-fits-all belief about teenage mums, when the reality couldn’t be more different.
Becoming a mum at 19 hasn’t depleted my intelligence. It hasn’t removed my ability to hold a rational conversation, or to hold my own in intelligent debate. It also hasn’t stopped me loving trashy TV like Jeremy Kyle and Dance Moms, and procrastinating with housework, and everything that made me the person I was before I got pregnant, and still am today. Society needs to loosen its grip on the stereotypes it holds so dear – why? Because we know that if we don’t fit that stereotype, it won’t happen to us? I thought that, and now look at me! – and people need to realise that individuals who have babies at a young age are still, first and foremost, individuals. We have ups and downs, quirks and irritations, skills and weaknesses, varying levels of intelligence and wealth, a whole range of opinions on everything.
Maybe, if we stop demonising young mothers and young pregnant women, and stop portraying them as ‘The Other’ – the people to be afraid of, the people to shun because they don’t fit our self-created societal norms, the people whom it’s alright to pick on, and call names, and patronise, because they’re a minority so who is going to speak up for them? – young women who do get pregnant won’t be afraid to seek help and advice. Maybe they’ll approach their parents more readily; maybe they’ll seek help without feeling they have to apologise for their age. Women who planned to have babies at a young age can be unashamed of their decisions, women experiencing unplanned pregnancies can seek help and advice without fear of judgement or discrimination, and younger mothers can voice their opinions on anything, without being shot down for the simple fact of being a mother.
Being a mum – and, separately, being a younger mum – are two aspects of my identity. I’ve never had my intelligence questioned because I wear glasses, or because I have brown hair, or because I like to act, or because I can bend my thumb all the way backwards and touch my forearm (don’t ask). So why can my intelligence be questioned because I’ve had a baby? Why do we assume that there is one type of teenage mother – feckless, stupid and lacking ambition-, just like there is one type of gay man – good looking and camp -, and there is one type of lesbian woman – short-haired and butch -, and there is one type of Christian – overbearing and preachy – when we should really all be aware that people come in all different shapes and sizes and beliefs, and sexualities, and lifestyle choices, and religions, and just because something might seem a little strange to us, because it isn’t what we’d choose from life, we have no right to criticise others for living their lives how they see fit (within the law, obviously).
So, Mr Maths Genius, and all you who stand in agreement with him regarding teenage pregnancy and your feelings on teenage mothers – it seems that you are unable to accept the simple truth that most of us learn at a very young age – we are all born different, we will all remain different through our lives, you cannot judge a book by its cover and just because one person does something, not every similar person will do the same. If you are really struggling to grasp this concept, then I’m afraid I’m not the ignorant, unintelligent, uneducated one here.
My past will not define me, it will only shine a guiding light
My present may define me, but it’s only for tonight
My future can’t define me, for who knows what will come tomorrow?
I refuse to be defined by moments of happiness or sorrow,
I am what defines me, in my heart and in my mind,
It’s the parts of me I’m proud of; being loyal, being kind,
It’s the chances that I’ve taken, and the ones I allowed to slide
I’m not defined by my destination – what defines me is the ride.