My name is Rita, I’ve been married for 35 years to my husband Michael and we have 10 children. I’ve also had 5
When I was 17, and in my last year of school I fell pregnant to my 18 year old boyfriend. We had been dating for over a year but I’d never really expected we would be together forever or anything. At the time I hadn’t even met his parents. They were from Pakistan and had always expected their son would return home for an arranged marriage when he was older, so they would not be happy to know about me.
I’d known something wasn’t right when I started throwing up in the mornings. My periods had always been unreliable so I couldn’t use them as a benchmark. After several negative home pregnancy tests I went to the doctor and had a positive test confirmed. I was in shock.
When I told my boyfriend I saw the look of fear in his eyes and he asked me if it was his – I’d never been with anyone else and he knew this but in the moment I think he was latching onto any way for the ‘problem’ to not be his. It made me feel very alone.
I contemplated the options (1 – keep the baby, 2 – adopt the baby out, 3 – terminate the pregnancy) and decided the only one I personally could live with was to keep the baby. But, in my fear, a small part of me wished I would have a miscarriage so I wouldn’t have to be responsible for this choice at 17.
My parents had been separated for years and I lived with my mum. I was too scared to tell her straight away so kept on with life trying to pretend everything was normal. But she could hear me being sick in the mornings and one day asked me straight out if I was pregnant. I reluctantly said yes. She was disappointed but promised to be there for me as much as she could. I was too scared to tell my dad so mum did it for me. He was upset and disappointed in me but came around in the end.
At about 9 weeks along I went back to the doctor to get a referral to an obstetrician and find out what to do next. I remember this doctor telling me that I may as well quit school now as I wouldn’t be able to cope with it while pregnant – she pretty much said that I had ruined my life. I was a stubborn teenager though and her comments made me even more determined to finish school despite being pregnant.
My mum came with me to my first obstetrician appointment we got to see the baby on an ultrasound and hear it’s heart beat. It looked like a jellybean with arms and legs. But it made it all so much more real. We got a print out of the scan to take home and when I showed it to my boyfriend it really hit home with him too. Whether we were ready for it or not, we were having a baby.
The first time I met my boyfriends parents was scary. Not only did we have to tell them that their son had been dating someone outside of their culture without their knowledge, but that I was now pregnant. His parents were both very upset and tried to convince us to have an abortion but I knew that I would not have been able to do that. He stayed with me often after that while his parents adjusted to their new reality.
As I started to show, my mum and I knew we would have to tell my school. I went to a catholic girls school and wasn’t sure what their response would be. My mum called the office and told them. I remember being called into a room with one of the teachers to talk about it and I put my head in my hands and cried because I was scared, and ashamed. When I looked up the teacher was also crying – she told me how she and her husband had been trying for years to have a baby and how she’d give anything to be in my shoes. She was the first person to help me see that my baby was a precious gift and not a mistake to be managed.
The school agreed that I would be able to stay and complete year 12. As time went by, my belly grew and I had to stop wearing my school uniform as it no longer fit. I stood out like a sore thumb at school and people seemed to approach me in one of two ways – either they would gossip about me, (I once overheard the library ladies discussing how I should be ashamed of myself) or they would show a lot of interest in how I was and ask to feel my belly as the baby kicked. Whilst I lost one friend who told me she couldn’t handle me being pregnant, I had several other great friends who supported me regardless. But it was sometimes hard to be on the outside as they got ready for things I couldn’t be a part of – like schoolies.
I was due 3 weeks after grade 12 was due to finish. I studied hard, often falling asleep with my face in a text book. I graduated year 12 with relatively good marks and waddled across the stage at the graduation ceremony. My mum always tells me how proud of me she was at that moment.
When my beautiful girl was born, she enchanted everyone that came to see her. My partners parents especially had a dramatic change of heart – when they came in to meet her at the hospital, my boyfriend said he had never seen them so happy. We all fell in love with this little girl at first sight.
I lived at home with my mum and sister until my daughter was 8 months, then we got our own place. Having a baby was hard work, and certainly harder than I’d anticipated. I quickly learned that my plans for starting full-time uni would have to change. Instead I took a year break after school and then started part time when my daughter was 15 months old and able to attend the local daycare.
My boyfriend struggled more with how out of step we were from our friends. We had great family support with both his mum and mine happy to babysit for us when we needed help. But he started going out with his mates more and more and spending less time with me and our daughter. By the time she was 2 years old we had decided to separate.
At 19 years old, I was a single mum and a uni student on welfare. Money was very tight, but we scraped by. Little kids don’t notice if they don’t have expensive toys and clothes, they just want your time and affection. We always managed to find something fun and inexpensive to do – whether that was picnics in the front yard, going to the park, the library or going to the local swimming lagoon. My daughter could find joy in the smallest of things and it was so beautiful to be around her and see the world through her eyes.
After the breakup, my ex’s mum would babysit every Saturday night which gave me some time in my week to just be young and go out with my friends.
I graduated uni and got a full time job in my field by the time my daughter was in grade 2. It may have taken me longer than my classmates, but I got there in the end. For the first time, we were getting ahead financially and I felt that I had proved to myself that I hadn’t ‘ruined my life’ as I’d been told during my pregnancy.
In time, I met and started dating a lovely guy from work and I fell in love with him even more when I saw how kind and caring he was towards my daughter. We married a few years ago, bought a house and have since had two more precious babies. My eldest daughter is now 18 and has grown into a beautiful woman. She graduated from school last year and is studying business and working part time. The little ones absolutely adore playing with her and she helps us out by babysitting them sometimes too.
Having a baby young, hasn’t stopped me from achieving my career goals. Throughout my career, I’ve worked for two major oil and gas companies, doing production planning and scheduling. I’ve been responsible for determining how complex industrial facilities should operate to maximise value, and I have also led negotiations with overseas customers regarding scheduling of multi-million dollar product shipments. I really enjoy what I do and find a lot of security in knowing that I can support myself financially.
Looking back on my life, I can honestly say I am happy with the choices I made. Rather than ruining my life, having my daughter so young has enriched my life in so many ways and I think that having her young meant we have an especially close bond. It wasn’t always easy, but so often in life, it’s the things that require hard work that are the most rewarding. I’m grateful each and every day for my beautiful children and the joy they have brought into my life.