Women are ready for motherhood at 14, claims a leading author. What dangerous nonsense, says this former teenage mum.
Watching my daughter Olivia and her friends preparing to celebrate her 15th birthday last week, the bathroom awash with false lashes and lip glosses, I couldn't help but smile. I'm thrilled to see her so happy and carefree.
But, as I watched Olivia and her friends giggling about boys and swapping make-up tips, I realised with a tinge of regret that this was an experience I had never had.
Olivia's main worry is finding enough money to buy a new top for Saturday night. At her age, I had totally different priorities. I was busy preparing to have a baby - Olivia.
Now, 31, when I could still be dreaming about babies on the far horizon, I find myself the mother of a teenager. Looking at my little girl suddenly brought with it a searing sense of loss over my own interrupted youth. There is no way Olivia could deal with becoming a parent right now. So how on earth did I manage it? And, much as I adore my daughter, what would life have held in store for me if motherhood hadn't kidnapped me so soon?
Booker Prize-winning novelist Hilary Mantel said recently she is convinced she would have been 'perfectly capable' of being a mother and running a home at the age of 14.
She went on to say that 'having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society's timetable'
All I can say is she has clearly never tried it. Yes, I was capable of being a mother. But there is a vast gulf between being a capable mum and a good mum.
Olivia is a confident, well-rounded A-grade student. Proudly watching my daughter take her first tentative steps into womanhood, I know I succeeded. But it wasn't without huge heartache.
And now, at 31, I can see only too clearly just how tough it was and how many mistakes I made through childish ignorance. I was never short of love for Olivia, but my age meant I lacked so many other maternal attributes.
I'd been dating my boyfriend, who was four years older, for more than two years when we discovered I was pregnant. I was 16 and he was 20, my first love.
I'd visited my GP to get the Pill at 15. But, when she prescribed antibiotics for a minor ailment, she failed to warn me that they might affect the Pill. And I was too young and inexperienced to ask.
I was already four months' pregnant when the nurse at the family planning clinic broke the news to me - and, thankfully, to my mother.
Mum, a teacher, had taken me to the clinic because I'd missed three periods and had been feeling under the weather. I had seen my GP, who assured me repeatedly I had a stomach condition that could also cause my periods to stop. But Mum had a sixth sense and requested a pregnancy test.
I will never forget the panicked look on her face when we learned it was positive. Now, as a mother myself, I understand it. How was her baby going to cope? At the time, I was offended. I imagined myself grown up. But now I can see that's what I was - a baby.
My reaction was one of stunned shock. I felt numb. Most women have trouble grasping how irrevocably becoming a parent will change their lives. As a teenager, I didn't stand a chance. I also felt incredibly ashamed that I had let everybody down.
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