In my community this is one of the most heavily loaded words in the collective vocabulary -- especially at my age. Anytime I announce the fact or I feel sets of eyes on my (rather obvious) belly, I brace myself for the reaction. And to be honest, most of the time it's not even to my face. I don't have a problem with the belly touching or the unwanted advice. Instead for me it's the rumors and discrimination -- or even the attempted forced inclusion.
I had my first daughter at 19. She was not a mistake, an accident or "unplanned." (I'm not trying to have a dig at others here so I apologize for any offense in advance.) I was happily engaged and while we weren't expecting to fall pregnant so soon, we were very excited.
We were allowed to be excited for all of five minutes. As soon as we started to let people know the wonderful news, we caught the backlash. "But you're so young," "You don't know what a mistake your making," and my personal favorite, "Are you sure its yours?"
Suddenly my age was all people saw. Even though many people had never met me before, they decided to judge me this way. People treated me like I was stupid and ignorant.
And then the rumors started. People would wait until I was absent to have a talk to my fiance (now husband). "You know the baby's not yours, right?" "She's just trying to trap you. Everyone knows she's a gold digger." "She just wants your car." "She's cheating on you." One person even had the nerve to inform my (now)husband that I was not pregnant and in fact could not have children (apparently both the urine test and the blood test that he was present for were faked).
The irony in these statements was that we were both recluses and rarely left the house. And at that stage, I was the one with the money. Many of these people I didn't even know.
And then there were the professionals. So many times I had to fight to not be signed up for "young mother" programs instead of the mainstream programs. I don't have anything against these programs for what they are, but they were lacking in information, restricted, heavy on counseling and basic life skills, like hygiene classes. They were classes for the many young mothers in my community that simply "don't know."
For instance the young mothers birthing classes went for two one-hour sessions and only covered a third of the topics that the mainstream ones did (which went for six two-hour sessions) -- and no, you could not take both. Because I refused the dumbed down class, I was refused all classes.
Now halfway through my second pregnancy, no one cares that I am married, financially stable or that I have raised my one-year-old thus far without any incidents and only one cold. They have never seen us at home, or caring for our child. Most of them don't even meet my husband whom I share care with. It seems the simple fact that they know how to draw my blood means they can basically tell me what an idiot I am.
My grandmother was 19 when she was engaged, 20 at marriage and 21 when she had her first child. My mother was similar, as were most of my aunts and uncles and other extended family. When did it stop being acceptable for a woman to have children before a career if she wanted to? Or before 25 years old? When did it become unusual to marry young? I have qualifications. Several in fact. I'm married. I did all the things that should have made it "acceptable" for me to have a child. But people still see my age.
For Heaven's sake, how does being 20 make me stupid? How does it make it OK for everybody to talk about me and say whatever they want to me?
Oh right, because I'm pregnant.
Photo Credit: helga.
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