Charlie reflects on what it was like having a baby at 17 whilst living in a mother and baby hostel, 17 years on. Here she talks about the challenges of teen pregnancy and of being a teen mum.
Having a Baby at 17
I was 16 when my social worker took me to a family planning clinic. I’d mentioned that I was now sexually active and she recommended arranging a long term, reliable contraceptive method. My life changed forever at that appointment – I was already pregnant.
I was in an unhealthy relationship with a ‘bad boy’ and my family set up was far from ideal for my own wellbeing, let alone to bring a child into. I now have a wonderful relationship with my mum but at the time we lived in poverty and coped with all that comes with that. I’m the eldest of four children and was a difficult teenager.
By August 2004, I was living in a mother and baby hostel in a large town away from the council estate I knew with no family and friends around. I was surrounded by crime, violence, drugs and abuse. Despite feeling very alone I made ‘friends’ and adapted well – I figured this was my life now. For girls in my situation at the time, options were very limited. As I was still a child myself, I couldn’t claim benefits. I also couldn’t work whilst living in the hostel and there was a low weekly rent to pay, as well as my own food to buy and a baby to prepare for. I joined a young mums-to-be course which paid around £40 per week and it was brilliant. It was run by the kindest, most wonderful lady who is now a lifelong friend.
Wyatt, my son, was born on the 1st December 2004 just a few months after I turned 17. What a whirlwind that was! I don’t remember much but I do remember one night in the hostel, all alone with my newborn baby, who screamed for hours without stopping. I shut the door and slept in another room as I just couldn’t cope. We weren’t allowed visitors. I was not a good mum by any standard but we survived, though I don’t know how. Eventually I just got on with it and actually found parenting easy. I did what I thought was best, I was a good cook, had always done housework and looked after my younger siblings a lot so it came quite naturally.
We were offered a council house in April 2005, when Wyatt was 4 months old, however within the same year moved into a privately rented home. I was obsessed with not repeating history and for me, living in a council house represented everything I didn’t want for my son.
I started college in September 2005 and got a part time job too. This was the beginning of over a decade of working to prove a point; that I could do it all and provide without handouts. For the most part I succeeded and there were huge highs – holidays, days out, we even spent Christmas one year in Lapland! But there were also HUGE lows and at 21, I had a breakdown. Not because of my child, but in spite of him. I spent the majority of my twenties very unwell. I was often medicated and in and out of bad relationships and risky situations. Life felt very negative and I was consumed by feeling as though I didn’t deserve anything good to happen to me. Having a child to care for was what saved me but none of it was easy. I don’t know adulthood without being a mother.
It’s only now that Wyatt is the same age that I was when I had him, that I realise how crazy it all was. I have gone on to have two more children at a ‘normal age’ and met the most amazing wonderful man and father. I had, came off the meds, and life was better. I think that played a huge part in being able to have a healthy relationship – I needed to work on myself first.
I don’t have many pictures from this time as there were no camera phones or social media back then, but I do have one of my proudest moments ever: June 2019, the day we got the keys to our very own home. Since Wyatt was born we have moved 13 times but finally, it was ours.
I wish I could go back and tell my 16 year old self that it would all be okay. That I do deserve nice things and am capable of having a loving family with a good man. My life isn’t perfect now and like everyone, some days are harder than others but for me, having a baby at 17 gave my whole life perspective and now I have happiness I never thought possible.