Hannah was just 17-years-old when she found out she was pregnant. Completely numb, she grappled with how this would impact her future as an aspiring Astrophysics university student but felt reassured by her mother that everything would be ok. Seven years later, Hannah is incredibly grateful to live a blessed life with her little boy Arlo in Huddersfield, England.
What’s your name and who’s in your family? My name’s Hannah and my little boy Arlo is 7-years old!
How did you feel learning you were pregnant? I’d been dating my boyfriend for about 6 weeks and it was a huge shock to both of us. I had skipped two periods and simply thought that I was feeling run down due to the stress of exams and pressure from college. It only crossed my mind that I could be pregnant when a friend announced that their sister was pregnant. I found out in my boyfriend’s bathroom and felt completely numb – I could not believe that this was happening because I was a smart and ambitious young woman who had just decided on a career in academia and felt that a pregnancy would put my whole life plan in jeopardy.
What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up for you? Pregnancy was very difficult for me. I felt a great deal of shame directed at me from the communities where I grew up – I heard whispers wherever I went, at college and the clubs and even walking the dog around the block. I was lucky to be supported by my parents who, although wouldn’t have chosen this path for their daughter, would constantly reassure me that everything was going to be fine and that sometimes life throws us curveballs. I do regret not allowing myself to enjoy my pregnancy. I didn’t take many pictures or document it in any great detail because I was embarrassed about feeling excited when it was seen to be such a negative thing.
How old were you when you fell pregnant? Were you at school/working/studying? I was 17 when I found out I was pregnant, and I had just applied to do Astrophysics at uni. I ended up staying at college and had my 12-week scan in the middle of my January exams and then finished my A levels at 36 weeks pregnant. It was a very strange experience taking an A level physics exam in a room full of students who sporadically turned around and stared at me as I could barely fit my bump under the exam desk.
Did you feel supported during pregnancy by your family/partner/medical team? My boyfriend and his family very quickly decided that if I continued my pregnancy, they would not be a part of our life, so knowing that I would be a solo parent was an equally daunting thought. I had also been referred to a group of midwives that specialised in pregnancies in young people. They were supportive but I also found their approach at times very condescending – I was young but not stupid or ignorant of the impact a baby would have on my life.
How old were you when you gave birth? What was your experience like? I went into labour less than 2 months after my 18th birthday. I was 39+3, I started with mild contractions through the night, they felt like regular twinges but nothing I couldn’t bear. My sister then came home drunk from a party and woke me up (I had a downstairs room), so I decided to go to the toilet and on my way, I looked down and was worried I hadn’t made it! My waters had broken, and I knew we were in business.
My mum was my birth partner. We went into the hospital together at 9am but the midwives examined me and said I was only 2cm dilated so they sent me home. The contractions started to ramp up and I was very active – I liked rocking my hips side to side and pushing or leaning against the walls or door frames. We went back to the hospital at about 4pm and they said I was only 4cm, I was so disappointed because the contractions were coming strong and fast, and I was already pretty tired. I hadn’t written a birth plan, and I hadn’t been given much guidance or given much thought to the whole birth process really, I knew what would happen to me but had never seen it as something I was in charge of, something I now look back on and regret. I wish I had realised how much control I really had over my birth experience.
As my labour progressed, I was moved into a room with a birthing pool and was given a tens machine which I loved. I was examined again at about 10pm only to be told I was still 4cm, so they moved me back into my original room so someone else could use the birthing pool. I felt my labour speed up considerably, the contractions were coming on strong and when I tried to tell the midwives how I was feeling they just reassured me that it was going to be some time before baby would be here. When they left, I turned to my mum and started begging for an epidural, I think she realised that I was in the transition phase and moments later I felt the urge to push, my mum screamed for the midwives who all came running and quickly confirmed that baby would be here very soon. I kneeled pushing for all of 5 minutes before a perfect 8lb arrived! He was magnificent.
Unfortunately, I bled a little more than was ideal and my plan for delayed cord clamping had to be put to one side. I can remember asking the midwife if I could hold him after he was weighed and she looked at me and said, “Of course you can, he’s your baby!” and that was the first time it really hit me, that the baby in her arms was my son! He was and is absolutely perfect.
Were you able to debrief your birth experience in a way that helped you to process the experience? When I reflect on my birth experience, I think my age played a factor in how my labour unfolded. I found myself having a lot of questions afterwards – why wasn’t I allowed to stay in the room with the birthing pool when I was clearly in active labour? Why wasn’t I believed when I said that I felt as though labour was speeding up and intensifying? I felt that my feelings were invalid. But in the end, I had a drug free labour and was very in tune with the whole natural birthing process, and for that I’m grateful.
What were the first few weeks of motherhood like for you? What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up? The first few weeks of Arlo’s life were very hard, he struggled with breastfeeding and we ended up back in hospital at 5 days postpartum because he wasn’t feeding and was dehydrated, and I had developed mastitis. Breastfeeding was very difficult, and I wasn’t supported well enough to continue breastfeeding. My parent’s house was very remote, and the nearest baby café was miles away. I didn’t drive and the idea of taking multiple buses there and back felt hugely unrealistic. In the hospital I pumped and either cup fed or bottle-fed, he took to bottle feeding much easier and I decided that pumping and bottle feeding breastmilk was the best option for us in the given circumstances. I wish I had been given more support to breastfeed from my parents, but they had bottle-fed us and encouraged me to do what was easiest.
How did you find transitioning into parenthood? I joined an NCT class which was a very strange experience as a young single parent-to-be. I felt very out of place amongst the mid-’30s married with a mortgage crowd, but regardless they were lovely, and it was my first insight into the humbling and equalising experience of parenting.
Do you feel that you had a healthy support network? One thing I didn’t have as a new parent was friends who were also parents. I had the mums from the NCT, who were great and we met up about once a fortnight. I also went in search of other local mums, I travelled to at least four toddler groups a week, we spent hours every day on buses going from place to place. I found the local sling library and met parents there who parented how I did – they instinctively slept with their babies close and wanted to hold their babies. Once I had a sling (baby wrap), I could go on and off buses easily which gave me much more freedom. I stalked people on Facebook groups who I thought looked cool and invaded their groups until they let me be their friends!
What challenges did you face in the first year of motherhood? Newborns are divine, but it was tough doing every single night feed, every single nappy change and just doing everything to try and raise this small human to be alive and well on my own. It was hard, so hard, but it created an unbelievably strong bond between us, I could predict every cry, the moment he would wake up and even every bowel movement.
What do you love most about being a mum? For the first half of my pregnancy, I went through a grieving process, I knew that I was giving up the freedom of my young adult life while having to watch all my friends visit universities and halls knowing that I would never have that same experience. I struggled with these feelings until my 20-week scan, when I saw him, properly for the first time, I could see his arms and legs, I couldn’t believe that inside of me there was a baby, a whole tiny human that was just mine. I came home and had a big old cathartic cry and after that, I felt this wave of peace and contentment flow through me and I just knew that we were going to be fine, and at that point, I fell absolutely, unconditionally in love with the baby inside me.
What life lessons have you learned? Becoming a mum was not how 16-year-old Hannah saw herself in the very near future. I think that one of the advantages of being a young parent is that I transitioned from being a child to being a parent instantly. In many ways, I think it’s harder to have been an independent adult, who doesn’t have to answer to anyone, who can leave the house whenever and travel because a baby changes all of that. I never experienced that lifestyle and as such, I can’t miss it because being a mum is all I’ve ever known. Although it was initially hard, I wouldn’t change any of this for a second, being a mum is the most rewarding experience and has been the sole motivator for all the things I’ve achieved since Arlo was born. He is now 7 and I’ve gotten my degree, learnt how to drive, written a play, had articles published and read by thousands of people, bought a house and started a career in teaching that inspires me every day. Without Arlo, I doubt I would have worked with such focus because I knew that I wanted the best life for him – and us!
What’s helped you the most in becoming a mum? Getting a baby-wearing sling! It gave me so much freedom when he was small and as he grew, I could just put him on my back and get everything done. I also received some beautiful advice when my son was 3 days old – “As long as he has you, he will want for nothing” and I think of that often. As long as we're together and I’m present, he doesn’t NEED much else, not fancy clothes or expensive toys, just love and a little imagination. It’s also important to remind myself that I am not just a mum, I am my own person and I have needs, wants, and ambitions of my own, and it is not at my son’s detriment to need to do things for myself.
What do you wish people could understand more about being a young mother? I’ve achieved everything that pregnant Hannah thought would never happen and proved to myself and those who whispered about me, that having a baby young is not a life sentence, it is not a disadvantage and it is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I’m reminded of this every day when he wanders into my bedroom, gives me a huge hug, tells me that he loves me and starts his day. I can’t think of anything that I would swap for that feeling.
Thank you so much Hannah for your vulnerability in sharing your story. Please feel free to leave some kind and supportive words for Hannah 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.