I was 20 years old when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. My age wasn't something I thought too much of as my then-husband and I moved forward in my pregnancy. My age wasn't a concern until I started meeting other moms and they were constantly pointing out how old I was — or more accurately, how young I was. More often than not, my age was used to put me down, discredit my opinions, and keep me silent. When I found out I was pregnant for a second time, I was 21 going on 22. Again, I didn't think about my age. In my mind, I was a mom, and my age didn't play a role in our person decision to grow our family. But sometimes I feel judged for being a young mom.
The first time I got into an argument with an woman who was older than me, we were standing at the playground while our children played together. I'm not even sure I could call it an argument, since she didn't really give me a chance to share my thoughts. I made a comment about something, and to this day I can't actually remember what it was, just that it had something to do with parenting. What I do remember is her looking at me and laughing. She said, "It's not like you would understand or know, you're too young for that." Her dismissal really bothered me, since I was a parent just like her. Regardless of my age, how could I be too young to understand how parenting worked, when I, myself, was raising two children? From that moment on, I stopped seeing myself as an equal to women who were older than me. I started second guessing myself whenever I was around older women who also had kids, afraid they'd brand whatever I did or said as "immature."
I didn't realize I was missing out by choosing to have a child.
Going from a a 19 year old in college and surrounded by peers to a 20 year old who just found out she was pregnant was kind of overwhelming. I had to adjust to an impending life of new parenthood almost overnight. I went from having people who I could relate to to feeling like I had no one my age to connect with. I didn't even realize that being pregnant at 20 was young. It wasn't until my pregnancy became visible that people started to comment on my age and the fact that I was going to be a new mom soon. At doctors' offices, nurses would make comments about my age out of pity for me. My doctor even tried to assure me that because of how young I was, giving birth would be very easy. It wasn't. Women in stores would stop me, asking how old I was. And when I told them that I'd just barely turned 21, they'd laugh and tell me how "lucky I was to be getting the job done early."
Then they'd get serious and ask me how I felt about giving up my early 20s to be a parent. The only problem was, I didn't realize I was missing out by choosing to have a child. But with their words in my head, I began to think that maybe I was.
By 22, I'd given birth to my second baby. I stopped trying "fit in" to motherhood the way everyone told me to. I stopped trying to be part of moms' groups because I felt uncomfortable by other women and their hyper-focus on being motherhood. I didn't want my babies to be the sum total of my life — I wanted them to enrich my world and make it greater. Plus, more often than not, I felt the crushing weight of their judgments on me as a new mom. It often surprised people when I'd talk about having a husband, especially after they found out I was 22 with two children. They'd all wrongly assumed that I was a single mother. People would even go so far as to say, "well, thank god you're married at least!" like my marriage somehow made the fact that I was a young parent forgivable. But truth be told, it was the "at least" part of their comments that bothered me most. That's probably the first time I ever thought about the stigma attached to being a young mom.
Their pregnancies were celebrated, but all I got were side eyes and condolences.
When friends visited me, they'd come over and tell me they were "sorry" I had my children so young. Other older women I met with kids would laugh off my ideas surrounding parenthood. I felt robbed of the chance to enjoy being a mother to my kids like women who were older than I was. Their pregnancies were celebrated, but all I got were side eyes and condolences.
The truth is that I've loved being a young mom. My parents are 40 years older than I am, and my mom's side of the family has a history of Alzheimer's. I grew up without a relationship with my either of my parents' parents. Grandparents didn't mean the same thing to me as they did to my friends. So I knew from an early age that I wanted my children to know my parents, and I wanted whatever kids I had to understand that grandparents were an extension of their parents. Even though I didn't plan to have children young, I was relieved when my then-husband and I found out I was pregnant. I was grateful. So after a point, whenever I felt someone was judging my choice to become a young mom, I'd tell them how important it was for me to have children who knew their grandparents.
Now that I'm 29, with a 6 and 7 year old, I'm much more confident and comfortable when it comes to talking to older parents. It's not that they've stopped making jokes about my age, or stopped trying to shame me for when I decided to bring children into the world — it's just that now, I care less. That's the best thing about age and getting older: You grow into yourself. So on one hand I do understand what people mean when they tell me they couldn't have been a parent at 20 or 21. But even though I get where they're coming from, that's not true for everyone. I had my kids super young, and I don't regret it at all. Yes, I didn't know how I'd do it, but I did it. And that's enough for me.