I got pregnant at 19 with my son. I was entering what was supposed to be my last year of college and living at home with my parents. Up to that point I had always said I would NEVER have kids. Well, never say never. In June of 2011, my first little monster was born!
My motherhood journey has been a beautiful, difficult, and rewarding one. However beginning it so young has affected me in ways I didn’t realize until recently having a newborn home again. As I reflect, I have a lot to say to my younger, new mom self:
Your Age Does Not Invalidate Your Ability To Parent
One of my first thoughts when I found out I would be a mom was “What if I break it?” — yeah “IT”. I had been around plenty of babies. My mom used to have a home daycare, there is a 12 year difference between my younger sister and me so I was old enough to help with her, and my older sister had just had her second child. But none of those babies were my responsibility and I had no idea how I would do this. I didn’t feel confident and I didn’t always feel like I had room to make decisions as a parent. I was still a kid myself in many ways and relied heavily on my parents.
To my younger self: Being young does not equate to not being able to make decisions as a parent. Trust yourself and ask for guidance, but do not allow anyone to choose for you. You are your and your kid’s biggest advocate. Doing things differently doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Find your parenting style and use it.
Postpartum Doesn’t Discriminate
Postpartum depression affects new moms shortly after birth. The common signs and symptoms are:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Low moods that last longer than a week
- Crying a lot
- Frequent irritability
- Panic attacks
- Sleeping problems
- Feelings of inadequacy
- And more here
Depression is difficult to discuss, especially if you’re young or black. Being both, I found it difficult to understand and express my feelings. Having this rush of emotions after giving birth was draining. Looking back I now know that I had a run in with PPD and it lasted for months. I just masked it well by cutting myself off from people and diving into my school work.
To my younger self: PPD does not affect just one type of person. It can and will show up for you. Ask for help, find a therapist, and don’t feel alone. It is common but also commonly overlooked.
*If you or someone you know are suffering from postpartum depression please find help here.
Stop Feeling Out Of Place Around Older Moms
Moms come in all different forms– young, old, in between, working, staying at home, one kid, ten kids, whatever. But something about taking him to his mommy and me swim lessons or mommy and me gym classes always gave me a little anxiety because I was the youngest there. All of the moms appeared in their late 20s or early 30s, married, and established. I would feel like eyes of judgement were upon me most times. It may have been all in my head but I felt extremely out of place all the time.
To my younger self: What appears to be isn’t always what it seems. Older moms may look like they have it all together but in reality no mom has it all together all the time. If you feel judged, ignore it. You have every right to be in that space so be proud of the activities you’re doing with him. This time goes fast, focus on the fun with your baby.
Nobody Knows What They’re Doing The First Time Around
Again with the appearances! The comparison was real. I would see women posting their well groomed children in their clean homes and they looked so put together. If I only knew then what I know now! Talk about a highlight reel! First of all, my feed looks a lot like the ones I used to envy and wonder, “How do they do it?” not realizing that those snippets people allow you to see are not the whole story. You can see a picture of me now in my kitchen, but you won’t see the dishes piled up in the sink. Or you’ll see a picture of me standing outside, but you won’t see the tornado that went off in my house that forced me outside to take the photo. Comparison is the thief of joy. I would compare myself to other moms on social media and real life thinking they knew some secret to motherhood and for some reason I was left out of the conversation.
To my younger self: Mind your business and do YOUR best. If he’s fed, burped, changed, and generally happy, everything is fine. Do what you can to make it through the day. Will you rub him down with soap by mistake because you thought it was lotion? Yup. Will you repeat that same mistake in nine years with your daughter? Yup. The first time around, second time around, or even fifth time around won’t be easy and it might look like other moms “get it” but we’re all just trying to shower and get a full night of sleep uninterrupted. When you accomplish that then you can say you know what you’re doing, sort of.
Don’t Be Mad At Your Friends For Living Their Lives
I often see posts that say things along the lines of, “You find out who your friends are when you’re pregnant.” I used to like all of these posts and feel like it was true but as I grew I realized I cannot be mad at my friends for continuing to live their lives. That’s insane and narcissistic behavior to be honest. I’m younger than all of my friends and went to college 10 minutes from Atlantic City, NJ. When they were all turning 21 and finally getting into the clubs, casinos, and bars (legally lol) I was either pregnant or home with my newborn. I had FOMO before I knew what FOMO was and couldn’t even participate even if I didn’t have my son because I was too young. When I did turn 21 nobody threw me a celebration or asked me to go out or bought me a drink. I was in my bedroom at my parents’ house holding my son in one arm and doing analytical chemistry practice problems with the other. I love my friends, they never switched up. So much so out of my best friends I am still the only one with kids. But during that time I felt isolated and excluded in many ways, mainly because I self isolated when I could have just told them what I needed.
To my younger self: Get over yourself. You chose to be a parent and this comes with the territory. You can’t make it to everything, you can’t party on a whim, and you can’t blame your friends for doing everything you’re missing out on. Your friends are still your friends and love you but you are in a different space than they are. Support them through whatever they’re doing. Don’t shut down but instead include them when you can for some fun with the little one. It’s not fair to expect them to read your mind and know what you’re going through. Open yourself up to new ways of spending time with your existing friends and be open to making new mom friends!
You Don’t Have To Get Married
When you’re pregnant everyone assumes you’re married. It’s not a bad thing but it wasn’t my case. I was in a relationship with my son’s father until right before his 2nd birthday and we even got engaged shortly after he was born. Not to speak for him but I think we both felt some sort of obligation to do that because we had our son. You receive a lot of unsolicited and unwelcome pressure to get married just because you have a kid. I know I’m not the only one that has been in that situation. It happens all the time. Whether it’s from the other person in the relationship or outsiders– that pressure will be there. A baby does not mean you have to get married.
To my younger self: A baby is a wonderful blessing but will not make a relationship work that was not meant to work. Furthermore, getting engaged and planning a wedding won’t suddenly make it better either. It’s okay to end the relationship and learn to co-parent instead. Which brings me to my next point…
Learn Communication & Co-parenting
Society tells us that when there is a split you have to hate the other parent. What good is that for the kid(s)? Are the early days hard trying to figure out a new normal? Absolutely. Does it have to turn into a drama-filled hate fest? Hard no. Figuring out schedules, payments, and overall how to parent between two homes is difficult enough without the added layer of drama. Being respectful goes a long way on both sides and makes for an easier transition for the child to go back and forth between houses.
To my younger self: This is going to be difficult because you’re a know-it-all when it comes to your son, but dads matter too. Learn to communicate and work together. Listen to understand not to go for his neck. You can get your point across without yelling (most times lol) and when you do apologize.
Work Life Balance Is Important
I mentioned I was pregnant during what was supposed to be my senior year of college. I majored in chemistry so I opted to take an incomplete for my lab classes, lighten my workload, and return the following year to complete my coursework. Those two years my grades were the best they had ever been in college and I picked up a second minor. I worked so hard to graduate and landed a job as a junior analytical chemist before school was over. A week after graduation I started my new job. Three months later I started grad school. I worked all day, went home to work some more because momming is a job, and after getting him to bed I worked all night on homework. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of support. A huge blessing I’m forever grateful for! But I mean how did I avoid burnout? Or did I just ignore it for the sake of working towards better for us? I feel immense mom guilt because his whole first year was a blur.
To my younger self: Slow. Down. He is only this little this one time. Be present. Your goals and dreams are important but more than that, spending that time together is invaluable and you will miss these days. You can be ambitious and still go after everything you want. Just learn some balance.
Budget, Save, & Spend Wisely
Diapers are expensive. Formula is expensive. Childcare is outright robbery. Kids are truly little broke besties. I don’t think I was ever fully prepared for the cost of raising a kid. “They grow so fast,” is not just a phrase; it’s a warning that you’ll be buying a new wardrobe every other month. In addition there’s all the adorable little outfits they make that I just had to have for him. While I was learning all of the costs of a new baby I was also learning the cost of adulting. I moved out of my parents’ home when Elijah was 9 months old and had to learn about paying bills, grocery shopping, and all of the other adult expenses. A year after that I officially moved on my own and became a single income household so I had to relearn everything with only my income covering the home expenses.
To my younger self: Staying home is the cheaper option but independence is priceless. Learn to budget ASAP and save as much money as you can. Don’t go into debt. That car isn’t a reward, it’s a trap. Learn self care in forms that don’t require you to swipe your card. Also, the expenses never stop. They go from diapers and wipes to cleats and school supplies.
Your Life Is Not Over
Would you believe me if I told you someone told me to my face that my life was over when they found out I was pregnant? I’m sure a lot of younger moms feel this way already and don’t need to hear it but nevertheless there’s some self righteous idiot that just has to say it. I’m glad I didn’t believe them! My son helped me elevate my life in so many ways. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be half of the woman I am today or worked as hard to accomplish the things I have. On the contrary my life had just begun with the birth of my son. And not to toot my own horn but…. BEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
To my younger self: You’re going to finish school and finish strong, twice. You’re going to start a job you hate but that’s okay because you will learn skills that will get you to the next job you hate and repeat two more times and then you’ll land the job you love. You will more than double your salary within 5 years of entering the workforce and learn how to manage it so you don’t dwell too hard on the broke days. Your son’s teachers will tell you every conference that he is the sweetest, kindest boy and always tries to help a friend. Your son will adore you and tell you you’re the best mom ever several days a week. You will co-parent effortlessly. You will get married and your son will have four loving parents to spoil him. You will travel to new places and get to bring him along. You’ll want more kids to have a “do-over” of all the things you think you did wrong. But the reality is, those experiences shaped the mother you are today. Be proud of yourself. I know I am.