There’s an off- the-shelf life story that society seems to prefer: finish school, get a job, find a boyfriend, get married, have kids. At 19, that was the society I’d been brought up in – and the life that I’d, however naively, presumed was my future.
Fate had other plans for my boyfriend Gary and me – and the course of our lives was completely altered by a little pink line on a pregnancy test in the midst of me trying to become an actress, and him focusing on his music career in Glasgow.
We’d been together for eight months. We used protection. But here we were, faced with the daunting prospect of becoming parents just when we’d never had more freedom. Music drew us to one another. I used to go to a club where he DJ’d and, after learning the hard way that table dancing to Rehab isn’t a way to win a guy over, I asked him out on a date. He eventually agreed and I took him to the movies to watch Juno (the irony of this was not lost on us later).
We fell madly in love and, within two months, I turned up at his house with a suitcase. We brought out the spontaneity in each other and thrived on new adventures.
Although I decided to go through with my pregnancy very early on, and Gary was fully supportive, I was only just figuring out how to be a responsible adult. Life had to change. I swapped auditions for a dull debt- collecting job. Gary dug out his suit and started work in pharmaceuticals so we could buy our first house together.
But I was having an identity crisis. I worried I couldn’t help a child establish its place in the world when I hadn’t worked out who I wanted to be.
When my mother had my brother at 29, she was classed as an older mother, whereas now it’s the norm to have kids in your thirties and it’s young mothers who are judged by society. At 19, I trusted my instincts, but it’s frustrating that no matter how much you want to become a mother, you’re labelled ‘not ready’.
Despite the friendships that dropped off the radar once my ‘fun party girl’ tag fell by the wayside, it was the public response that made me insecure. I remember being in Topshop, surrounded by size 6 teenagers, feeling uncomfortable about my expanding body. I was sure that pity filled their bright eyes. Until, one day, I discarded my fears and squeezed my bump into a short black dress, Chelsea boots and oversized sunnies and a woman remarked, ‘You are the most beautiful pregnant lady I’ve ever seen.’
A lot of pregnancies, regardless of age, are happy accidents. Just because you are a younger couple doesn’t mean you’re any less capable of being good parents. Yes, data suggests young parents struggle more – but there are always exceptions to the rule.
So, I had the baby first, then bought the house, then got the ring, finally the career. All in reverse. In an alternative universe, I should have been focusing on my studies, but instead I picked one of the toughest but most rewarding courses there is: motherhood.
Growing up pregnant felt like I was living on fast-forward. I needed to learn to cook, drive, pay bills on time, get a proper job... All the things you get good at eventually. At times I would have done anything to swap lives with my friends, to feel that freedom. To be dressing up for a night out instead of doubling up on breast pads for Netflix marathons in bed. But did this set me up for failure? No. Having my first child as I entered my twenties gave me a grounding I’d never had before. I learned to appreciate money, relationships, kindness, and to accept that perfect is an illusion. I found my purpose in a 7lb baby boy. He hasn’t stopped me from getting what I want out of life.
Your identity doesn’t need to change when you have children, you’re not ‘just a mum’. Life isn’t necessarily put on hold, you just adapt to the ups, downs and challenges it brings. It can be hard being responsible for another life, but isn’t everything worth doing worth the work? I’ve experienced a sense of love and deep joy like never before.
Now I am 27 and Oscar is eight and every day we learn from each other. It gets easier as he gets older. I’m back to writing and one day I hope to be back on stage. I want Oscar to know that I didn’t give up trying, because I would never want him to give up on his dreams because life didn’t go to plan.
How you view the pink line on your pregnancy test is up to you, not anyone else. Despite some initial (normal) doubts about being ready, the decision we made to become parents was one made out of love. We entered into parenthood as a young couple who may not have had all their ducks in a row, but we knew we could do it, together. Support is the key word. Every new parent should be surrounded by support, not judgement.
Deirdre’s book, ‘Growing Up Pregnant’, is out now (£9.99, Pinter & Martin)