I was a teenage mother. That is a fact about me that I could never have anticipated would define me in the way that it has, even now, even when my first baby (born so neatly in the Christmas holidays of my final year of the 6th form) is already years past being a teenager herself.
It is one of the first things I would list when telling you about myself. It still matters so much more than it should or than I ever thought it would.
It was the late 1990s. I was at a selective grammar school that groomed its pupils for redbrick universities and for excellence. My grades were stellar without even trying. I could see clearly the future that I wanted, and I had my eye on it. I had a plan.
It wasn’t enough, though. I don’t fully know why, didn’t know why then,
but it wasn’t enough. I craved more with
a fierceness that kept me up all night.
I wanted drunken nights out, Marlboro Lights on dark benches, vodka in
Ribena bottles, the throb of small-town nightclub dancefloors and oblivion in the
arms of boys wearing Ben Sherman shirts and Cool Water aftershave. I wanted all of it, greedily. Nothing was enough. I wanted to be adored.
I fucked so many boys. And they *were* boys; spotty and clueless, like me. They didn’t love me, or even much like me, but I knew what I wanted and they knew they would like that.
There was a grim and tired resignation in putting on eyeliner and Heather Shimmer lipstick and knowing that I wouldn’t be chatted up or asked on a date. I would be kissed without preamble, dragged roughly to privacy upstairs at a party or on the back seat of a car. I wanted it, I wanted to be seen and to be wanted, but I also hated it. Afterwards, I always hated it.
I was waiting to be loved, so as soon as someone claimed that he loved me, I worshipped him without question. I adored him.
No matter that if he thought I’d done something wrong to him, he would go silent for hours, refusing to acknowledge my presence in the room even if I spoke directly into his face. No matter that he waded, once, into the sea in November because someone had mentioned my UCAS form and he had realised there was a chance I would leave home and him. No matter that he told me, repeatedly, that I was stupid. I just adored him. Everything about him.
I would do anything he asked, anything at all. When we had been together 6 months he stopped using condoms every time but I thought that it was probably fine. I could go on the pill. At some point, I would go on the pill.
I fell pregnant at 17, in 1998, and I kept my baby. Sometimes, now, I can’t believe that I kept her. I love her with a fierce passion and I see now in her 21 year old face the pearly-pink roundly smiling cherub who became my constant companion before I was old enough even to vote, but I still feel detached from and confused by my 17 year old certainty.
What possessed me to smile and turn so instantly away from the termination leaflets the friendly nurse immediately showed me when the test turned blue? How did I know that I would be able to raise a child? What idiotic arrogance encouraged me to think that I could have it all? Because it was arrogance.
I got pregnant and I thought I would be able to stay at school, do my A-levels and go to university and get a law degree and become a lawyer and find real love and buy a house and have more children and be the sort of mother who makes wholegrain muesli biscuits for an evening snack, never shouts, looks serene and young and capable and sexy in dungarees and wrap slings, and can probably do yoga.
The most ridiculous part of the whole story is that I did, in fact, do so many of those things. I was a teenage powerhouse. I got pregnant and it galvanised me.