Teen mum: fitting in, at last

It’s a wryly funny and notable thing that sometimes, within a phase of my life, I have become suddenly and almost poignantly aware that I am living through a time that will become one of my best memories. I don’t mean a day or a week, like a wedding day or a holiday. I mean an era, an overall impression of a long space of time.

The memories seem to form as they happen – a quality of the light on a particular day, or a song on the car radio, make so suddenly and so permanent a mental link to a history that is still in the process of forming. It’s like deja vu, this feeling, but it’s sadder.

The couple of years leading up to my 26th birthday feel like this for me when I think back. I almost cannot bear to think of them, the bubble of unspoilt joy they contained.

The chaos and sadness that accompanied my son’s birth and medical diagnosis had slowly faded, and life had eased out in the way that it does. Again, we both drifted upwards into slightly better-paid jobs. Again, we bought a house we could ill afford – a big wreck of a Victorian place, with high-ceilinged bones we could upholster over time into a happy family house – floorboards, picture rails, Minton hall tiles.

I entered the final year of the last section of my endless postgraduate studies and then I decided, very suddenly and very firmly, that I wanted to have another baby. The urge was sweeping and visceral and unfamiliar.

I stopped taking the Pill, and before I had the chance to have my first non-chemically-induced period, I was pregnant. I had known that I would be. I believed this baby was meant. My first two pregnancies were anxious, fretful times, with life encroaching upon them throughout, but this pregnancy was perfect.

I moved gently and happily through my life. I loved being with my older children and I loved my bump. I took classes in hypnobirthing and listened to self-hypnosis tracks on my chunky white iPod. I read stories to my little boy and did homework with my eight year old eldest, patiently. I ate organic food, swam, cycled.

I was calm and happy all the way through my pregnancy and when my youngest child finally arrived, another round and pink baby girl, it was after a ferocious fifty-minute labour with no pain relief at all. I loved that labour. I felt like a fucking warrior: invincible, powerful, fearless. The healthy glowing baby my entirely deserved reward.

I knew she would be my last baby, and I revelled in her. I took a longer maternity leave to cuddle her more constantly and for longer. She breastfed and slept easily and lived in a sling, on me, all the time. When she was nearly two years old she went with her siblings to sleep at her grandparents’ one weekend and I missed her so badly that I persuaded my husband to do a three-hour round trip to fetch her on the first night.

I felt like I had finally, fully, learned the neat trick of mothering, and all my photos of these years show me smiling. I shed the grimy skin of shame that teenage motherhood had left on me, and I began contentedly to live the middle-class life I seemed to have drifted into, with its Kitchenaids and Emma Bridgewater and vegetable boxes and holidays to Cornwall and Tuscany. I was all right with it.

I fitted in just fine, really. A bit younger than everyone else, a little bit less life lived, perhaps, but no matter – everyone’s equal in a Boden A-line skirt at the Eden Project.

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