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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
The reality of being a teen mum
By Sue Mitchell
Producer on It's My Story

Jenny, Olivia and Zoe
The girls enjoy motherhood
With teenage girls now choosing pregnancy as a "career option", according to a leading charity, three young mothers talk about how they dealt with the experience.

Britain has the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Europe and they cost the country about 63m a year.

Many young girls even see having a baby as a better option than a low-paid "dead-end" job, recent research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests.

But with 40,000 teenagers giving birth in Britain every year what is the reality of having a baby so young? What challenges do such young mothers face and how do they cope?

Housewife

Zoe and Jenny were just 14 when they got pregnant and Olivia 15. The three girls met at Cyfle a special educational unit in Wrexham, north Wales, for young mothers. Cyfle provides support so they can continue with their education, while looking after their babies.

The girls are transferred to the unit in the later stages of pregnancy and usually return two weeks after the birth. An on-site creche is provided so the girls can bring their babies with them. They are usually taught at the unit for a term, before returning to their normal schools.

Georgia, Zoe and Gemma
Zoe's twin helped her cover up her pregnancy
Zoe, from Wrexham, managed to conceal her pregnancy until just two weeks before giving birth with the help of her identical twin, Gemma. At school her sister stepped into her place when it came to sports lessons and at home the youngsters managed to fool their parents and younger sister.

"I didn't want anyone to force me into an abortion and I felt sorry for my Mum - she always tries so hard and I didn't want to disappoint her by telling her I was pregnant," she says.

"I was scared though - we were both scared. The longer you go on without saying anything the harder it is to tell someone."

Choices

Zoe's mother, Collette, finally realised what was happening during a family holiday in Spain, when it became impossible for Zoe to conceal her pregnancy with baggy clothes. Just two weeks later she gave birth to Georgia and went to Cyfle to study for her GCSEs.

The unit was set up by a former secondary school teacher, Teresa Foster Evans, who was concerned that girls getting pregnant whilst still at school are often forced to leave without finishing their education.

Olivia also attended the unit. She had been at a private girls school in Chester when, on the brink of starting her GCSE year, she told her mother that she needed to pop into a supermarket to take a pregnancy test. She came out of the store in tears and announced that the test, which she'd taken in the shop's lavatory, was positive.

Sara, Holly and Jenny
Jenny wanted to be a mother and housewife
"In some ways I wasn't surprised," says her mother, Anne Malcolm. "I was shocked of course and a lot of things crossed my mind but there was no question of not keeping the baby. Some people suggested a termination - I wasn't one of them."

Olivia has no regrets about having her daughter Ayeasha at 15. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me," she says. "If I had to do the same again I would. I don't have contact with Ayeasha's Dad but I have help from my parents and there's nothing else I wanted to do with my life.

"I don't want a career - I want to bring my little girl up and I still go out and have fun."

'Better lives'

Teenage pregnancy rates in north Wales are particularly worrying. The most common scenario is for the daughters of teenage mothers to go on and repeat the same pattern as they grow up. This was the case for the third of the girls, Jenny, who set out to get pregnant when she was just 14.

"I wanted a baby, I wanted to be a housewife and I thought it would bring me and my boyfriend, Danny, closer together," she says. "He was 17 at the time and he wasn't saying I had to use contraception. But once I got pregnant he wasn't happy then and told me to get rid of it."

Jenny, however, chose to go ahead with the pregnancy and now lives alone with two-year-old Holly. She's supported by her own mother, Sara, who knows what it's like to bring up a baby young and on your own.

Teresa Foster Evans
Foster Evans: 'Education is key'
"It's not what I would have wanted for her, she knows how hard it was for me and how poor we were but still she went ahead and did it," she says. "She so wanted it to work and she thought she'd be with Danny for the rest of her life, even though I knew it would never work out."

Teresa Foster Evans believes a large part of the work going on at Cyfle has to centre around helping these teenage mothers lead more fulfilling lives so their own children can be given more choices as they grow up.

"Education is the key to it," she says. "If we can get them through their GCSEs and help them finish their schooling we can give them and their children far better lives."

It's My Story - Classroom Babies and Beyond will be broadcast on Thursday 27 July at 2000 BST on Radio 4.


If they didn't have kids whilst they were still children themselves, there would be no need for such units. Good that a few want to continue education, but sadly it is too few. Education on how to avoid kids may be more worthwhile
anon, UK

its worrying to see that britain is the teenage pregnancy capital of europe.this is not just about pregnancy but a whole host of issues about psychological trauma, role confusion, support systems and the very concept of a family.its sad that no mention is made of the resposibility of the male gender and how education and support has to adress their role and resposibility. its not about creating babies,but caring nurturing and developement.another issue is also about how a single teenage parent is able to handle this.
ram shankar, newcastle

I'm sure there will be many comments denouncing these girls, but I feel sorry for them. Imagine, at the age of 14, thinking that being a housewife is your most exciting option in life. These girls have never had their dreams nurtured, have never aspired to anything. Their choice to have a child wasn't the sober decision of an adult aware of the world's opportunity; it was the depressing outcome from a restricted mind that was never given the option to think that something incredible might come of their life. Poor girls.
Dirty Idea, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I think that this is frightening. Another massive drain on all our pockets to fund young mothers, who would prefer to have a child than find work. How many of these new mothers would be able to cope without the support of their family and the benefits available to them. I suppose that they qualify for free housing too. It's a disgrace.
David, Frodsham Cheshire

Thankfully there are people out there helping these young girls to finish their education. Being a young mother is not in its self a problem but the poverty that goes with it when they are eventually desserted by their boyfriends that entraps them.
Fiona Beukes, London

Olivia says she does not want a career, she wants to stay home and bring up her daughter. How is she expecting to make any money to bring up her daughter or even to feed herself? She will not always have mummy and daddy to rely on, one day sad to say they will be gone and she needs to think about supporting herself and her child and take some responsiblity for earning a living for both of them.
Lily, London

I found out I was pregnant when I was 16, after being with my partner for 8 months. I decided to have a termination and he stood by me completely. I never told my parents out of fear of disapointing them. I completed my education, got a good degree and am now about to start my dream job. I couldn't be happier...and i'm still with the same partner planning to start a family in the future when we can offer it a safe home and loving envronment to grow up in without us worrying about money.
Regina, Grantham

Am I the only person who read this, whilst rushing my lunch at my desk, who thought 'why am I and other hard-working tax payers funding these people' ?? I work 11 hours a day and last year paid 40k a year in tax. Why should I have to pay for these mums to 'have fun' and stay at home simply because there 'was nothing else' that they wanted to do with their lives? I had Better get back to work, or they won't be able to afford to have the next baby...
Tony, UK

i like the commitment to bringing up their children and there is no doubt they will be loved and cared for. as a parent myself these young women need to know of the cost implications as we all want the best for our children and this can be exspensive. we need to push this point through education so that we dont develope an easy "handout" culture at the cost of the taxpayer. these young women could cost the system a lot of financial strain if they are hell bent on becoming housewives with no intention of working in the future.
carl grogan, derby

If welfare help for singles mums dried up - so would the problem. In Holland they set up hostels to house and educate under-age pregnant girls, this acts as a deterrent. In Britain we furnish them with welfare benefits and a council flat - any wonder there's a problem here?
Steve Lee, London, London

It's distressing that we have girls who "don't want a career" or "set up to be pregnant by the time she was 14" or believe that their boyfriend when they are 14 is going to be the one that stays for the rest of their lives together. I agree that education is the key, but we should be educating them about the harsh realities of life. Being honest, how many of these girls even going on to get their GCSE's will then go out and get a career anyway with all the responsibilities that they will have for the next few (16+) years? Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an easy way out of this cycle.
Colin Sidwell, Farnborough, Hampshire

It's distressing that we have girls who "don't want a career" or "set up to be pregnant by the time she was 14" or believe that their boyfriend when they are 14 is going to be the one that stays for the rest of their lives together. I agree that education is the key, but we should be educating them about the harsh realities of life. Being honest, how many of these girls even going on to get their GCSE's will then go out and get a career anyway with all the responsibilities that they will have for the next few (16+) years? Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an easy way out of this cycle.
Colin Sidwell, Farnborough, Hampshire

I don't think children younger then 16 should have a child as 16 is the legal age for sexual intercourse. I give credit to all the teenage mums out there who are coping and enjoying their lifes with their children. I'm a mum myself and it's hard work. I work full time so I can afford things for my son. I'm still living with my mum and I wasn't expecting to be a mum at 21. But I wouldn't change anything!
Kathy Lee, Hayes

What's missing from this article is details of teen preganancies who haven't just settled for being housewives and nothing more. My best friend couldn't have cared less about her education or career at school but had a baby as a teenager, and it shocked her into looking at her life and what she wanted from it. Without much support from her family or boyfriend, she decided to study on the job for professional qualifications whilst bringing up her little girl. I admire her more than anyone I know, especially as she broke away from the stereotype of the motherhood 'career option', i.e. living off benefits. Just because you had a baby at a young age doesn't mean to say you have to write off your entire life.
Jane , London

I myself was a very young mum and also very naive. I never set out to get pregnant, we even used a condom which burst! My daughter is now 23. I look at these young girls and think to myself you don't have a clue. I was never on benefits and worked in a factory to give my daughter a better life. I just cannot understand how they can set out to deliberately get pregnant...it is not a picnic!!
Jules , London

Of course, it is important for these girls to finish their educations but a job with training and progression is a more vital factor in giving girls something meaningful to do. Babies grow up and leave - I thought women were being encouraged to define themselves by who they are not what they are (wife, mother etc). A post-16 framework is the vital missing link (for boys as well as girls) to give young people self respect and a place in society.
Kathy Burgess, Dunfermline




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