18-year-old mother: how one small child changed my life forever

The milestone of turning 18 is usually – in a normal, functioning family unit – one to celebrate. A young adult with so much life ahead of them, so many opportunities to choose from as they embark on the next phase of their lives. I know that my old school friends were about to leave home at 18. Having finished high school, they were celebrating and testing the boundaries outside their family homes. Some went to university; others stayed back continuing with their “in the meantime” jobs, where working at the local supermarket was frowned upon as only being worthy of the school kids as it was a dead-end job. I would see my old friends around town during university breaks and holidays, when they came home to see their families and catch up with each other.

What was I doing at 18? My life was very different to that of my old friends. I say “old friends” because, during my teen years as my life came crashing around me, my friends chose to walk away from me and focused on the path that their parents had laid out before them.

As a small child I had always felt different, the odd one out, often being forced into friendships and situations, which I didn’t feel right about. Following troubled childhood with the teenage years barely survivable, I found myself – aged 18 – having to face one of the biggest decisions any human will face in their lifetime; and I was alone.

I had been with my boyfriend on and off for over a year. Having fun was all that relationship was about, but as we tested the waters we got careless and wrapped up in many moments. One of these resulted in a positive pregnancy test, which would change my life forever. I had left home aged 15 and spent years living all over the place, sometimes being homeless. When I got kicked out of the caravan park I had been staying in because the place got burgled and I was to blame, my boyfriend’s mum reached out and offered me a bed at her place. I took up the offer and so began the next chapter in my life.

The morning I took the test, I came to the kitchen and put the kettle on. I asked my boyfriend’s mum if she wanted a coffee and some toast. As I was making us some breakfast I thought about what I was going to say to people, what they would think of me, how my parents would feel about it. I remember thinking how young I was and how messed up my life was. How could I ever look after another human when I could hardly look after myself?

I was having a smoke after breakfast and blurted out to my boyfriend’s mum that I was pregnant. She was so happy – not the reaction I had been expecting. We spoke about it for a while and she said the choice was totally not hers to make but she made sure I knew that she would support me and be there for me no matter what I would decide.

My boyfriend was angry, angry at me. He said he didn’t want a baby and expected me to deal with the situation “the way it should be dealt with”. I was so confused and upset, I had the same feelings as he did but something inside my mind knew that by aborting this foetus, we were almost running from our responsibilities. See, we knew what could happen if we had sex with no protection. Yet, we made the decision to do it and not just once. The positive test was the result of that decision.

I guess I was raised differently and it was slightly easier for me to accept the positive result and try to find the way forward. I went to the doctor; the scan and blood tests confirmed I was roughly six weeks pregnant. We talked about my options and I felt he was also pushing me towards aborting.

When I was six weeks and six days pregnant, my grandmother passed away. She had been unwell due to a stroke and had lived most her life in a care home as she needed help with everything. We had known for couple of weeks she would not be around much longer and on the day she passed we all got called in to say our goodbyes. Now my nana was often “not all there”, she couldn't really speak and her short term memory wasn’t good at all.

When I walked into the room full of family, my Nana reached out for my hand, as she often did to us all – it was her way of saying “hello”. I went over and she just had this gleam in her eyes as she said to me “It is ok Tracy”. Now, this was a surprise to everyone, she knew my name and she felt so normal at that moment. It wasn’t pleasant how she passed, and as I left the room the tears flowed. At that moment I realised that she knew I was pregnant. I hadn’t told my folks yet and there was no way nana would have remembered, had someone told her. I made up my mind: I was going to keep the baby.

After the funeral I told my parents. They were mad, angry, sad, hurt. It was mostly about themselves, they worried what people would think of them and family. I had already shamed the family by “running off the rails” and leaving home young. Now I was hardly 18 and about to become a mum.

It was a difficult pregnancy, I was sick for six months and lost a lot of weight. I had spent the teenage years fighting with food and was already so tiny that the doctor was threatening to lock me away if I didn’t eat. But I couldn’t, I was so unwell, everything I ate came back up. I struggled through it alone, without my mum. My boyfriend was mostly absent, he partied a lot and was seeing other girls; he drank heavily and smoked drugs. Being so unwell, I was not able to do any of that so my body made the decision for me. Giving up booze and ciggies wasn’t hard, I was physically sick if I went near the stuff. My boyfriend’s mum changed – she controlled everything. She went out and bought the baby a year’s worth of clothes, all the necessary gear and began picking names. She even asked me to keep the placenta so it could be buried in the family cemetery. It felt like I was nobody, like nobody wanted me. I was scared that my baby was going to be taken by my boyfriend’s family.

When I was eight months pregnant I moved out. I got a little cottage to rent and left. My boyfriend followed and I stopped working as I was nearing the due date.

He didn’t change, but I was starting to. I was growing up and preparing to become a parent, having all the worries a parent has about their child’s future. I didn’t want the life we had for our baby, with an absent, drunk and violent dad. The day before our baby was due, my boyfriend went “hunting”, which meant getting wasted or sleeping around.

I had learned to live with what he had been doing, hoping it wouldn’t affect our unborn baby, but this time I was mad. Why couldn’t he just be there for me, for us? Why, of all days, did he have to leave me alone at that moment? We argued and he left anyway, slamming the door in my swollen face.

I calmed myself down and had a shower, I felt ok. I had some dinner and sat down with some pudding to watch one of favourite TV shows. That’s when I felt the first contraction. I sat alone for around 20 minutes as I read all the magazines I had about how to time contractions and when to go to the hospital, keeping in mind I was by myself. I thought I must have been timing them wrong as there were no gaps between contractions. How was I going to drive to the hospital if I couldn’t have a decent break between them?

I caved: feeling scared and confused I rang my mum. She was angry that I called while she was watching her program on TV and said she would drive to town to help me after it finished. I had my bags ready when she got there and told her we needed to leave. She yelled at me to stop being silly, she had had two babies and there is no way a first baby would be coming that fast. I felt silly, young and inexperienced. She made me feel so little.

We got to the hospital and mum spent the next 30 minutes trying to call around and find my boyfriend. We ran out of time as I pushed my baby out: five hours all up and I gave birth to a bonny 8.4lb baby boy. The moment I saw his face, the moment he glanced up, I knew that I had made the right decision and that I was going to give this baby everything I could. From that day on, I’ve had the best friend.

I have protected my son and given him all I could. We have been through a lot of down times together, but also so many good times. His father and I parted when he was eight months old and he has mostly been an absent father since. Personally, I had something to live for, someone to keep me grounded. I fight every day with the darkness and the voices in my head, and it’s for him (and his siblings – but that’s another story). Having a purpose in life helped me stay focused on how short and precious life is, how very lucky we are to have a chance at it.

I have come so very far since I was that scared, lonely 18-year-old, who had no clue about what life was about or which way she was heading. There have been so many trials and tests, obstacles to trip me up along the way but my 14-year-old son has been right there beside me, we have grown up together. The best decision I have ever made in life – he is my rock, he keeps me grounded!

-Tracy Smith