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Having a baby at 15: ‘I will always be amazed that I didn’t guess I was pregnant’

Going back to school was hard. As a girl, you’re seen as feckless and out of control. But I was determined to be the best mother.

Having a baby at 15: 'I will always be amazed that I didn’t guess I was pregnant'

Chelsie Pryer with her daughter, May. Photo: Robert Ormerod for the Guardian.

was a teenager, growing up happily in Devon with my mum and two older brothers. School was going well and I was ambitious. My whole world was family, friends and my boyfriend. But one day while playing football, I came down with bad stomach cramps so bad that I had to go to the doctor. It was there, in one dizzying moment, that everything changed – I was pregnant. I was 14.

Pregnancy came as a total shock; I still don’t know how my contraception failed. My periods didn’t stop, I was as slim as I’d ever been and I had no other signs, so I never suspected that I was expecting a baby. I know I was young to be having sex but I wasn’t alone – most of my crowd of friends were in relationships and having sex, and I’d been with my boyfriend for a year and a half.

When I was sent for an ultrasound, it was as if everything around me went into slow motion. When they told me they’d found a heartbeat and showed me the unmistakable image of a tiny baby inside me, I was stunned.

The doctor explained that the baby was lying towards my back, and that was why I had no bump, even though I was six months pregnant.

Trying to get my head round everything was impossible. The situation almost seemed to have nothing to do with me, all I could do was go home and lie on my bed. It was about 4pm and my mum, Ruthie, and brothers, Rory and Callum, were out.

I didn’t lie there worrying that I’d ruined my life – I was too busy thinking I’d ruined my baby’s life to consider what other people would think of me or where my future was heading. Instead, I had this endless question going round in my head: was I going to keep my baby?

It came down to a very simple belief that I wasn’t good enough to be a mother and that the baby would be better off being adopted because he or she deserved the world.

I just wanted my mum to come home. It was nearly two hours before I heard her come in. She saw immediately that something was up. “What’s wrong?” she said.

I burst into tears and said: “I’m really sorry.” That scared her and she rushed over, sat on the bed and had to ask again: “What’s wrong?” I finally managed to get out that I was expecting a baby. She just gathered me in her arms.

My dad left long ago and Mum brought me and my brothers up alone, so we’re very close. That helped. None of them criticised me or made me feel worse than I already did. They just looked after me while I tried to decide what to do next.

I didn’t have to wonder about an abortion because I was so far into the pregnancy that it was too late. I had three months to get my head round the fact that I was about to have a baby – and I still had to tell my boyfriend. I was so anxious about it that, in the end, it took me a week. His response wasn’t very positive – both he and his parents were stunned, as you can imagine.

I went back to school, life went on around me, I carried on seeing my boyfriend, but I still couldn’t decide whether to keep my baby or give her up for adoption.

I talked about that to my mum and brothers and they listened time and again as I went over my worries. They’re all very sensitive, and they reassured me about my capabilities but they didn’t try to make my decision for me.

Finally, when May was born, I fell in love straight away, as you do, and that made the decision about her future even harder. But Mum was there for me and she told me how upset she was at the thought of putting May up for adoption, and that she knew I would do everything in my power to create the best life for her. Still, though, I couldn’t make a decision.

I wanted to go back to school but because I was under 16 there were no benefits I could claim or any help I could get, so that was possible only because I had help looking after May from both families. I’d care for her until it was time to go to school, and then my mum or my boyfriend’s family would take her until I came home.

I was upset by the gossip that I didn’t know who May’s father was. I’d only ever had one partner

Going back to school was hard. I’d wanted to be a dancer but I quickly became aware of how the teachers’ perceptions of me had changed. Half were supportive and encouraging and the other half just believed that my life would be a disaster – that I’d had a bright future and thrown it away.

It was then that I understood how bad the general perception is of teenage mums and unplanned pregnancy. Ten years on, I don’t think much has changed. Most of the criticism is still aimed at girls, whereas boys are almost expected to want to have sex – and certainly aren’t considered to have wrecked their lives if they father a child. As a girl, you’re seen as feckless and out of control, spoken about in the same hushed breath reserved for discussing people with alcohol or drug problems, and certainly seen as running wild, with no sense of responsibility. I was young, but I wasn’t irresponsible.

I was upset by the gossip put about (not by my closest friends) that I didn’t know who May’s father was, but in the end it made me realise that some people will always try to be nasty. I’d only ever had one partner, but you can’t retaliate – you just want the talk to go away.

If I’d had the choice, I would never have got pregnant. But that’s very different from actually giving my daughter up, and so I finally realised that if she was with me, I’d give her the best I could manage.

Although I was worried I wouldn’t be good enough, I would try with the support of my family. Mum and my brothers were thrilled I’d decided to keep her and have always supported that decision, emotionally and practically.

I was 15 when May was born, but at that age you have such low self-esteem and you don’t know yourself. Being thrown into such an adult situation was difficult, and a supportive family made such a crucial difference to my confidence.

At the same time, something like this can also make you very resilient, so when my relationship with May’s dad ended (we had grown apart, as so many teens do) I decided it was time for a fresh start. When May was 18 months old we moved to Edinburgh, but the separation was hard for Mum and, about six months later, she moved her whole life to be closer to me.

I was doing a nursing course and had started working in a hospital when I met my partner Phillip. He and May are really close and when I got pregnant with our son, Freddie, who’s now 18 months, she was thrilled and came to all my appointments with me.

The day Freddie was born, I took May to school, Phillip came with me to hospital and we were back home when she rushed in from school. It was all very different from that first scared time. Back then, my worry about keeping May was all about how good a mother I would be, never about how much I loved her. Once I made that decision I was determined to be the best, which really spurred me on in my studies and ambition. The difference the second time round is confidence – now I know I can cope. Now I know I am enough as a mum.

When I look at photos of myself when May was a newborn, I’m stunned at how young I was, but at the time it wasn’t so much my age but that it had happened at all that stunned me. I will always be amazed that I didn’t guess I was pregnant, but I’m happy being a young mum – and I’m proud of the life I gave May and proud of my family now – we’re a real team. My kids see me in a good relationship, with a good career, giving them love, time and attention – it’s what every child wants. May knows she can have that, too, if she wants.

But I’ll never forget that assumption that getting pregnant so young was like the end of my life when, in reality, it was the beginning of something wonderful.

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK


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