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Posts Tagged ‘career’

Too Much Too Young

In the late 1990s, when I was 18, I sat 3 A-levels and got good grades – an A for English Literature, a B for Business Studies and a C for French. I was accepted at my first choice of university to study law and took up my place 6 weeks after getting my A-level results. My degree choice suited me and I enjoyed it. I got good grades, and graduated with a 2:1 Honours degree. I followed the degree with a one year postgraduate diploma in Legal Practice and eventually qualified as a solicitor. I didn’t do anything special, but I followed the path that my peers and I had expected and been expected to follow when we entered grammar school, and I had nothing to be ashamed of in my career. So far, so ordinary.

Here are some other facts about me.

When I was 17 I asked the nurse at the teenage drop-in clinic to prescribe the contraceptive pill for me as I had a steady boyfriend and I worried about the effectiveness of condoms. The nurse, while checking my weight and height, did a routine pregnancy test – and the line turned blue. On my 18th birthday I was 22 weeks pregnant. When I sat my A-levels I had a small baby. I took my daughter with me to collect my A-level results. When I started my degree I had a nine month old baby. When I graduated, I had a four year old and another baby. By the time I qualified as a solicitor I had three children aged 8, 4 and 1. I had divorced a bad man and married a good one and I had a cat and a mortgage. This part of my life was less ordinary.

I don’t think that teenage pregnancy is a good thing. I don’t think that it is a bad thing, either. I love my children and my husband dearly, and my life now – aged nearly 30 – is better than I could ever have dreamed of, even before that pregnancy test changed everything for me. But I cannot deny that I missed out on so much. There was no wild partying or carefree lack of responsibility for me when I was at university; I went there to study and I came home to change nappies and puree pears. On my days off I danced through a carefully choreographed cycle of toddler groups, lunches with other mums, and NCT coffee afternoons. In the evening while my daughter slept I would write up my course notes and do careful budgets with my student loan income to make sure I could afford to buy her shoes. I have never gone for after-work drinks in a sunny beer garden with my colleagues, or hopped on a train on a Friday night for an impromptu weekend away with a friend or lover. From the moment I left home (26 weeks pregnant, 18 years old) I have always, unrelentingly, been responsible for someone other than myself, and that responsibility is tiring.

That is what young girls need to know. They don’t need to know that teenage pregnancy doesn’t equal dropping out, dole queues and cold council flats; it doesn’t have to, of course. But it does mean a head that is never free from niggling worry, even in a nightclub queue on a rare night out (trust me). It means years of not reading a book from cover to cover, or having a lazy lie-in, or spending your last tenner of the month on a halterneck from TopShop. And that is why articles such as Amelia Gentleman’s in the Guardian (or, certainly, the study that it cites), worry me. I can agree that teenage pregnancy is often “more opportunity than catastrophe” – it has been for me certainly and for many others, and honestly, I am grateful this is recognised these days. But it’s a lonely road too, and perhaps one of the biggest problems with the whole situation is that many teenage mums don’t have the maturity to imagine the future properly or think beyond the prospect of a sweet little baby to love. I don’t think I did.

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