For most seventeen year olds life is pretty exciting. School is all but over, adventures and experiences beckon as a whole new world opens up.
Driving, travelling and partying are all a part of the journey to adulthood.
But for some seventeen year olds growing up can be fast tracked and the experience is quite different to that of their peers.
Far from being ‘care free’ some young women and men must face the reality of becoming a parent.
We spoke to Reanna about some of the challenges she faced when she fell pregnant at age seventeen.
A journey through uncharted waters
Reanna, like most young women who find out they’re pregnant, was awash with fear.
“I was just scared. Really, really scared and very worried about what my parents might say,” she said.
Before the dust had even settled after that bombshell Reanna was found there was already pressure on her to make a decision over whether or not she would keep the baby.
“The father’s mum came straight over and told me I had to have an abortion,” she said
Luckily for Reanna, her own mother was much more understanding and supportive.
“My mother collected some information on abortion, adoption and keeping the baby. She brought it all around for me and allowed me to make my own decision.”
Her father was not quite as supportive though.
“My father did not speak to me throughout the entire pregnancy,” she said
“It even took him a while after the birth to speak to me or hold the baby.”
At the time of falling pregnant Reanna was in the midst of a panel beaters apprenticeship which she decided not to continue and instead took a job in a supermarket to earn more money.
“I was working in double shifts; I would start at 2.30 or 3.00am in the bakery and work right through till 9.30 or 10.00am in the deli section.
“I took on a lot of hours which created some complications later on in the pregnancy, I actually ended up in hospital because of over working,” she said.
As the pregnancy progressed, Reanna faced a myriad of challenges. One of the biggest was feeling she always had to defend herself when strangers would make comments.
“People were quick to comment and they wouldn’t hold back. I was in such a vulnerable state and really didn’t need to hear that stuff,” Reanna said.
“I would often get the ‘kids having kids’ comment made towards me.
“A lot of people told me that I was just too young and that I have ruined my life, different things like that.”
After toiling for nine months Christmas was approaching and Reanna was about to get a very unique gift this year.
“It was Christmas Eve when I went into labour and I had my daughter on Christmas day,” Reanna said.
“I was pampered quite a lot and there were lots of gifts from the hospital.
“They gave my visiting family a roast dinner which made it a very nice occasion.
“It was a very good experience.”
Reanna said she was very thankful that her time in hospital was enjoyable but does have some regrets over the decisions she made once it was time to leave and take baby home.
“I think I made the wrong decision not going home to my family home,” she said.
“I went home to my partner’s parents’ home and found having a baby really hard work, up every two or three hours throughout the night.
“Having to do all that on my own without my mother’s support was really horrible, I’d never experienced anything like it before.
“I should have gone straight back to my family home.”
Once Reanna and baby were finally home and settled she found herself having to deal with the same old attitudes and stereotypes from strangers.
“A lot of people thought the baby was my sister, not my child,” she said.
“People tended to tell me what they thought straight away because I was younger. That was hard because I felt I constantly had to live up to everyone’s expectations.”
It was this need to constantly live up to others’ standards that led Reanna to make some parenting choices she wishes she could change.
“Because I always felt like I had to live up to everyone else’s expectations I went back to full time work pretty much straight away,” she said.
“I didn’t want to be a typical teenage parent.
“I tried to do everything the ‘right’ way and I’d bought a house by the time I was 19.
“But I think I lost sight of what I was meant to be doing as a mum.
“Being a proper parent is really just being around for your baby, that’s what I think is most important now.”
Reanna also enrolled in a correspondence course through Cyril Jackson Senior Campus studying accountancy and geography while her baby was only one year old.
“It was held at Trinity Uniting Church in the city, they look after your baby at the church while you study upstairs,” she said.
“I received distinctions and was offered a scholarship for the following year.”
“Because I had the house I decided to go back to work and earn some money.”
Light at the end of the tunnel
Realising that she was missing out on all this adventure was hard for her.
“It’s so hard being a teenager with a baby; your own maturity is a very big challenge,” she said.
“All I wanted to do is go to parties and be where all my friends were.
“I wanted to have a babysitter all the time; it’s hard to see yourself as being a ‘mum’.”
Despite, or perhaps because of all the ups and downs Reanna has encountered throughout her pregnancy and early parenting experiences, she has learnt many valuable lessons.
“My best memory of the whole situation is actually having my child,” she said
Now 12 years later Reanna has another beautiful baby to call her own. She also has some advice for any young women who might be facing the same situation.
“Ignore rude comments and other people’s judgements – it doesn’t matter what they think or say. Just try to be the best mum you can possibly be and do the very best you can for your baby and everything will work out.”
A bit of advice for others
Reanna’s experience has taught her that communication with your parents is very important. Her advice to any parent of expecting teenagers is to keep the lines of communication open.
“That period when my Dad wasn’t talking to me was very difficult, so I would urge parents to openly communicate with their children.
“Make sure they know that you are there for them and that they can come to you to talk about whatever is on their mind.”
As for anyone who has a friend that is expecting a baby, Reanna says the best thing you can do is stick around and remain a friend to them.
“I kept some friends during my pregnancy but once the baby was born I didn’t see them or hear from them.
“Friends are important to everyone but they are particularly important for young parents who may start to feel isolated because of their baby.”
And finally Reanna has a message to the strangers who make the lives of teenagers going through this experience more difficult.
“Leave them alone! Everyone is in that situation for their own personal reasons.
“Everyone is entitled to live their lives their own way and having people make comments on something they don’t understand is not fair, they deserve a chance.
Being a mum at any age is rewarding but hard work, but even harder when you are young, so if the baby is either there or coming, nasty comments won’t achieve anything but undermine the parent’s confidence. If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all!”