Christina gave birth to her little boy Dom when she was 21-years-old. Two weeks prior, she and her boyfriend separated and she grieved not having a stable mother-father relationship for her son. Christina drew upon her studies in natural therapies to help her through the challenging times, which included a bad case of mastitis and feeling lonely and isolated during postpartum.
What’s your name and who’s in your family? My name is Christina. At the time I was pregnant, it was me and my boyfriend. When our relationship ended, I moved home with my parents. A couple of weeks later my bubba was born and we lived with them for a couple of years until I set up my own business. My siblings and their families all lived interstate, but we saw them often, so my son had a lot to do with his cousins and uncles and aunts. My son’s dad and his family were all keen to keep in contact with him, so that was good. Later, my son and I created our “friendship family” – you know, we call them “friend-lations”. I eventually met my partner and both he, and his family were very welcoming and inclusive of us. So, we were lucky to have a pretty big “family circle”.
How did you feel learning you were pregnant? Happy. Excited. Definite. Purposeful. Energised. Joyful. Like life had taken on a whole new level of meaning.
What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up for you? It wasn’t a planned pregnancy. There was no question in my mind about whether or not I’d have the baby, I just didn’t know if I’d be doing it on my own or not.
How old were you when you fell pregnant? Were you at school/working/studying? I was 20 years old and working a couple of part-time jobs and studying.
Did you feel supported during pregnancy by your family/partner/medical team? I felt supported by my mum. I was the youngest of a big family, and she was the eldest of a big family, so she had lots of life experience and understood that people’s lives don’t always follow that “classic plan” – having come across lots of different family scenarios with my older siblings and cousins, meant she was non-judgmental about the situation and was simply ready to be there for me and my baby.
My boyfriend and I separated about 2 weeks before my son was born. There wasn’t any support in that area. I think it was a difficult time for him, as it wasn’t a planned pregnancy. Because it was unplanned, I had no expectation of us staying together, though I would have liked us to have separated earlier in the pregnancy. I’d tried to discuss it, but it never really went anywhere – I imagine he felt torn between “wanting to do the right thing” and not wanting to “settle down” and knowing that I wasn’t the one.
I had a great GP at the time who was very caring and matter of fact. She asked me if I minded if I saw a male or female obstetrician. I didn’t mind, so she referred me to the male one (likely because he had more availability). That didn’t go so well though. When I had my first appointment with him, I was there on my own, with an open mind and ready to learn. Unfortunately, my experience was not pleasant. From things he said and his manner and demeanour, I felt very judged for being an unmarried young mother. I decided I didn’t need that attitude in my life and changed to the female obstetrician. It took a while to get an appointment as (not surprisingly) she was very popular. I went to medical appointments on my own. My boyfriend did come to antenatal classes with me, but I don’t remember too much about them. I had already been studying anatomy and physiology and knew a fair bit from books and magazines I’d read. I don’t think they added that much extra value – except it was good to go together with a “support person”. To be honest, I had thought about inviting my mum, which would have been of more support to me, seeing as my boyfriend and I separated before the birth anyway.
Later on, I found out that someone in our social circle was saying to him that I’d planned to get pregnant to catch him. Which I just thought was so immature, stupid and definitely not supportive. Who says that sort of stuff?
Anyway, all the support I received was very “practical” in a mechanistic sense – this is the medical approach; prepare your birth plan (only option was the hospital, no alternatives). I found the birth plan part a bit comical. I had a sense it would all go out the window on the day. There was no real consideration for the whole person. No real emotional support. No real care for the mother – or the father for that matter.
How old were you when you gave birth? 21 years old! I thought I was quite mature at the time – which I was for my age, but still, there were SO many things to learn! Mostly about myself – how to advocate for myself through various situations and reflection on who I really wanted to be, for myself and my bubba.
What was your birth experience like? It was pretty good overall. But there were definitely elements of stress. I feel deeply for so many women that have traumatic experiences, and/or who are unsupported at that crucial time in their lives. I had wanted a homebirth. My son’s father and his family were not keen on the idea and although he and I went to see a homebirth midwife, he was not impressed (she was a bit too hippy for him) and she lived over 120km away. I did not feel supported in my choice or confident in the situation and so I had a hospital birth. I must say later on I was I bit pissed that I’d considered him and his opinion as we separated about 2 weeks before my son was born, so he wasn’t even there for the birth. We did contact him to let him know – but as he was working out on a property, it took him a fair while to get there. While I was happy for him to meet our bubba, I didn’t really want anyone in the room that I didn’t feel 100% supported by.
Before the birth, one of my sisters came to visit. It was a big thing for her as she lived around a 10-hour drive away and had a big, beautiful young family of her own. She was also advanced in her own pregnancy at the time. She was away from her own family for just under 2 weeks and I am so grateful to her, my brother-in-law and my nieces and nephews as well, I’m not sure how they all managed to be without her for so long.
My sister was very experienced with homebirth, having had all except her first child at home, and with the support of my brother-in-law. She understood my choice and prepared to help me throughout the birth, be it at the hospital or home. As it turned out my bubba had other plans and was overdue, so she had to go back to her family before he was born.
When I went into labour, I was away with my parents in a neighbouring town. There was some sort of “holy day of obligation”, and I remember being very uncomfortable in the church and trying to find a good way to sit on the seat in the back of the car on the way home. Later that evening, I remember going into the kitchen and having a chat with mum. I said: “If this is labour, I can handle it, and if not, I’m not sure what I’m going to do”. I think I said it that calmly that mum didn’t think I could be in labour as she had always thought I had a low pain threshold. Anyway, that night I laboured quietly, on my own in the lounge room of my parent’s place. Occasionally making my way to the bathroom and thinking, why the hell did no one tell me that labour could feel like the baby was coming out my rectum? On second thoughts, better not to know in advance, and just deal with it at the time instead!
I got through it ok on my own as the pain made sense to me – there was a good reason for it – so I didn’t need anything for it. This pain had purpose. I knew it would end within a certain amount of time, and I was just in “mum mode” rationalising things and being “purposeful”.
In the morning I was still ambling around the lounge room. It was spring, but a cold climate, and I was taking comfort from the warmth of the cosy wood heater. My dad, always an early riser, came out after finishing his coffee and breakfast in another room right as my water broke with a sudden splash on the tiles around the heater. I am sure this freaked dad out, but he tried to hide it. He managed to say matter-of-factly, with a bit of a gruff edge to his tone, something along the lines of “you should be in the hospital already.” Then he went straight to the shed to get the car. Mum was still in bed at that stage (not an early morning person) and so while dad got the vehicle, I phoned the hospital. And the line rang out! Not that reassuring. Haha. But I didn’t worry too much.
Through my previous job, I’d met a wonderful woman who was volunteering in her retirement at my workplace. She’d offered her support before, and I had no hesitation phoning her when the hospital phone was unanswered. This awesome angel understood my situation. She knew I had wanted a homebirth, that my relationship had recently ended and that it wasn’t that easy having had moved back home with my parents. She’d also met my mum before, and they got on really well. Once I’d called Jan, I didn’t need to do anything else. She said, “Just come straight in, I’ll meet you there. Leave it to me, I’ll let them (the hospital) know you’re coming”. I felt everything would be fine with Jan there – she knew all the nurses and doctors. She also knew that, as my doctor happened to be away on holidays, the other one (who she knew I hadn’t had a good experience with originally) was on call. So, Jan was my main support person, I think mum arrived a bit later.
When I was examined on arrival, everyone was surprised and pleased that I was fully dilated. I think I gave birth within 40 minutes or so of arriving in the hospital. Jan and the nurses had let the doctor know that they’d call him if required. The nurses remembered that I’d wanted a homebirth and did their best to help me feel at ease and supported. So, I felt respected and considered in that regard. The hospital was not equipped to do different birthing positions and I don’t understand why for so long, that women have been encouraged or required, to work against gravity and their anatomy and to labour lying down, but that’s the way it was for me.
I would have liked to take more time and breathe, but I was told to push as my son had the cord around his neck and he needed to get out. I tore pretty badly. I was offered stitches later and declined. I did not want to be touched in one of my most private places, at one of my most tired and vulnerable times, by a man whom I felt judged by. Looking back, I am not sure if that was the best thing to do or if I could have found support and aftercare some other way. But at the time it was the best for me and my highly sensitive being not to be intruded on by a person I did not trust and who I felt disrespected by. When resting in bed hours later, I remember falling asleep with my hand wrapped tightly around my baby’s crib.
Were you able to debrief your birth experience in a way that helped you to process the experience? No, not with a medical person. I was so absorbed in all the new energy and happiness of becoming a mum and holding my baby. But I was exhausted and feeling the grief and loss of my relationship with my son’s dad – I felt guilty that my child would not be raised with two happy parents who got along and could communicate well together. Just getting through each day was an effort and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. It was isolating living out of town with no people my age around. My friends had all moved away to go to uni and although we had beautiful neighbours, they were mostly all around my parents’ age. I don’t think I gave writing or journaling a thought. Probably because I didn’t have enough energy, and perhaps I was just feeling a bit dejected – not worth “capturing” my experience (or even the inclination to review it for myself at that time, as I think I was in survival mode).
What do you think could have made you feel more supported during pregnancy and childbirth? A coach or a doula. Someone trained and experienced, someone sensitive, discerning, non-judgemental, warm and caring to be like a wise woman, sharing a beautiful blend of sacred information from the wisdom traditions, as well as modern research. Someone to help me feel fully informed and prepared.
What would have helped you? Someone to listen and listen deeply. Someone to share comforting information – like it’s ok to be a young single mum – it doesn’t determine your life or your child’s life (or children’s lives). Yes, in some ways odds may be stacked against certain demographics, but with intention, determination and support, you can create your own path and be happy and healthy and access and create opportunities for yourself. Later, I found someone like that; a beautiful wise woman, my kinesiology teacher, Parijat. She helped me heal and open myself up to possibilities and create a healthy future for myself and my son.
What were the first few weeks of motherhood like for you? A bit of a blur. I had pretty bad candida and got really awful mastitis. At one point I felt like I was going to die. A bit dramatic I know, but apparently bad cases of mastitis can be like that. Once I got on top of that though, my baby was sleeping well by about 6 weeks, so I was incredibly lucky there. I wasn’t taking any stimulants – zero caffeine and I gave up chocolate during my entire pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding… it wasn’t easy as I was a bit of a chocoholic before that, but I think that was one of the things that really helped.
What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up for you? I actually thought am I going to die? during the worst of the mastitis. It felt so deep in my bones. Other than that, I was completely adoring and appreciative of my bubba. I felt totally in awe but also wracked by guilt and feelings of not being good enough; feeling unworthy, feeling dependent on my parents, and powerless to a degree, feeling sad that it didn’t work out with my son’s dad, even though in reality I knew that it wouldn’t have been the best for any of us. It was more about the idea of being in a loving “traditional nuclear family” that I grieved the most. I was sad that I was not sharing parenthood with a joyful, loving co-parent, who loved and adored me and our bubba.
Do you feel that you had a healthy support network? Yes and no. I had some amazing people in my life. Many of them were very far away though. I was overwhelmed by the number of flowers that had been sent to the hospital – I didn’t know that many people cared. That felt very supportive, comforting and reassuring. But when I went back home to my parents’ beautiful farm, it was pretty isolating. I was so lucky to have my parents helping me. They both adored bubba. And my dad, although he was a very wounded soul, and not that healthy to be around in many ways, he was brilliant with babies. So, in the first few weeks and months, I was very fortunate to have the best of practical support I could wish for in my parent’s home. After that, it was definitely isolating. And as the baby grew, dad started to become more and more critical of me and my parenting. Mum was always an amazing practical support though.
How did you find transitioning into parenthood? Being from a big family and having so many cousins and nieces and nephews, it was all very natural to me. My mum was a trained teacher, very experienced as a parent, and very well-read, as well as being a calm, sensible, and practical person. She was a very close, grounding, reassuring, and positive parenting mentor in many ways.
Did you have strategies in place to manage stress and anxiety? No, not at all. But I had started to study natural therapies and that was an absolute godsend. I’d started studying massage just before I became pregnant. Then I started studying touch for health, kinesiology, reiki, reflexology, metamorphosis technique, iridology, herbs and nutrition. I was an absolute sponge soaking it all up. I studied by distance with periodic in-person training. Once I’d had my bubba, my mum would come and be our “granny-nanny” as we affectionately called her. At first, people who didn’t know me well thought I had a paid nanny. Mum loved the time we had together, getting out and meeting the other students, being a practice client for me when needed and gleaning info about natural therapies, as she also had a keen interest. I was incredibly blessed to have her support.
I was also very lucky as I had regular massages while I was pregnant, through all the student practice within my course – everyone wanted to practice on me to get pregnancy massage experience! I continued having regular massages throughout my studies and swapping with other practitioners after the birth of my son. That was one of the best practical supports I had as a new mum, especially as a single parent.
During my pregnancy, I’d also been fortunate to receive some one-on-one lessons with a local yoga teacher. I can’t remember now if I paid or if she gifted that to me, but I loved it and it was such a great help to me. She also, very wisely, tried to teach me to meditate… but I wasn’t a great student at the time – it wasn’t until years later that I practised enough to feel any good at meditation. It was later in my parenting journey that those things (yoga and meditation) became more of a regular practice. Along with kinesiology, CBT, and mindfulness, this definitely helped me grow into the conscious, more mindful parent that I wanted to be.
What challenges did you face in the first year of motherhood? Loneliness. Isolation. Fatigue. Perhaps a bit of anxiety and depression, though I didn’t recognise it at the time – as I think I was experiencing other health challenges like severe candida and some other viruses. Trying to apply myself to my studies, I think I was “keeping up appearances” for a while too. I had some money from when I was working, but when it ran out, I felt very disempowered and not that great about applying for parenting support. I think there was a bit of stigma.
Also, while breastfeeding I got a bit too skinny. It wasn’t that I wasn’t eating, it was just my metabolism – I couldn’t keep up the milk supply! I fed my son until he was about 8–9 months old, then I just couldn’t do it anymore. Around that time, people in the street would ask me if I was anorexic or if I had an eating disorder and if my parents were worried about me. I know that they just cared and were concerned, but I thought it was so rude and inappropriate – it felt like an intrusion and an invasion of my privacy, and I found it very unsupportive and judgemental. I felt like I was failing and wasn’t good enough, because I was “too skinny” and couldn’t breastfeed my kid as long as I wanted to.
What do you love most about being a mum? Everything! It is such a privilege and an honour to be the custodian of another little being. Someone who will grow up to be bigger than me one day! I love snuggles, watching them learn and grow, and observing the joy and inspiration they bring to other people’s lives, like grandparents, neighbours and other community members.
What life lessons have you learned? Too many to name here. Enough to fill a book or two! But mostly, I’ve learned what truly matters to me. I’ve learned how to go with the flow – to let go of trying to control things and to trust in life. To trust in the unique journey of each little being, and more than anything, as a parent, it is our consciousness and presence that counts. Kids don’t need their parents to be perfect, they need their parents to be with them in a kind, loving, supportive and patient way.
I learned to be as mindful as I can with my thoughts, words, and actions. To be open and honest, to admit what I don’t know and that I’m willing to learn and explore together. To admit if I was wrong or too harsh, to apologise sincerely and truly demonstrate how to change and become who I want to be as a parent. To be there, for and with my kid, with loving boundaries. And not to overanalyse everything. To love as unconditionally as humanly possible in any given moment. And to enjoy each precious moment.
What do you wish people could understand more about being a young mother? We might be young, but we are not stupid. We might have a lot to learn (so do most people at any age and stage of life) but it doesn’t mean we are completely naïve. We are strong. We are capable. And with some care and understanding, and the right sort of approach, that’s unique to each person, we can accomplish great things. We can embrace our own creative and bespoke solutions, be fabulous mothers, inspiring community members and phenomenal global citizens. We can be change agents – agents for a more peaceful and sustainable world.
What’s helped you the most in becoming a mum? What’s been most helpful is the very beautiful, really kind, loving, supportive, non-judgemental friends and mentors. Other mums who were also journeying through motherhood and grandmas who had walked the path. Trusting in myself and my intuition and instincts as a mum and investing in myself – investing in my formal and informal education for personal and professional development, these have all been things that have greatly helped me in motherhood.
Thank you so much Christina for your vulnerability in sharing your story. Please feel free to leave some kind and supportive words for Christina below! For more stories of young mamas, click here. You can support The Young Mothers Collective with a small donation. Buying a virtual coffee helps me to continue sharing these stories, as well as offering free individualised and group support to young mums in need Australia wide. Want to share your story? If you gave birth before the age of 24 please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured!