Written by Helena Venables
Illustrated by Zoe Boltt & Shay Smyth
We spoke with a first-time mother in her 20s about the added pressures of being young and not altogether financially stable whilst navigating a monumental life transition.
The first response to revealing the news you’re starting a family is often: ‘was it planned?‘
It’s a disheartening question for any young couple who’ve eagerly awaited the moment they could reveal their news.
Then, when the time finally comes, the isolation can be a shock to the system:
“Despite spending all day every day with your baby, no one tells you that motherhood can be lonely.”First-time mum
Becoming a parent, whether meticulously planned or not, is not a decision to be taken lightly. It comes alongside a myriad of life considerations and alterations, no matter your age or background.
Often parents in their 20s are not entirely financially stable or at the top of their chosen field yet, or they may even still be studying. Should this deter younger couples from starting a family?
If you’re responsible for one child or children under 16, you’re eligible for child benefit in this country. If you’re a first-time parent, this allowance totals at £20.70 per week.
However, childcare is expensive. Most nurseries outside of London will charge £50-£70 per day. For many young parents, this is entirely unaffordable on top of all of the other living expenses which come with a newborn. These sorts of costs stop at least one parent from going back to work or back to school for further study.
Every first-time mother needs support as they embrace immense changes to their lifestyle in a totally unfamiliar world.
Unfortunately, for younger mothers, social groups aren’t catered to them and they face judgement from all angles. Whether that be from other mothers at the nursery, family members and friends, or even health professionals. People pass judgement and yet fail to consider the circumstances of those they judge – particularly when it comes to breastfeeding.
“I couldn’t even count on both hands how often I have been aggressively asked the question – are you feeding your daughter? But what they mean is, am I breastfeeding her? Obviously I am feeding my daughter.”First-time mum
Many mothers struggle with breastfeeding. It comes with numerous challenges. Perhaps their newborn won’t latch on, or maybe the nipple bleeding is too painful to endure so their baby loses weight even beyond their birth weight. It’s a highly stressful process, especially for first-time mothers.
And yet, the prospect of giving a child a bottle or a dummy brings criticism from strangers. This makes mothers question themselves: ‘am I a bad mother? Am I a lazy mother?‘
It isn’t uncommon for women to feel they have to make excuses for switching to formula after two or three months because they think other mothers will shame them.
‘My daughter kept losing weight‘ or ‘the midwife suggested it’ are common excuses.
Parents should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding their children and not feel compelled to justify it.
In spite of this, women are often shamed for publicly breastfeeding. Last month, Dutch airline KLM caused controversy after asking a woman to cover herself up whilst breastfeeding her daughter on a flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam. They later released a statement endorsing their female attendant’s request of their customer. Sadly, this is not an isolated or unique experience for mothers simply trying to feed their babies.
Women who decide to have children in their 20s are often perceived to be less knowledgeable or capable than older women who make the same choice. This furthers the difficulties faced by women having their first child or the ‘mum guilt‘ they experience.
Mum (or ‘mom’) guilt is a term which often arises in discussions concerning maternity leave, but it transcends just the world of working parents. The phrase can be experienced across a whole range of issues.
Social work professor Brené Brown at the University of Houston wrote in her 2012 book Daring Greatly about the role of empathy in recovering from intense feelings of shame:
“Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy — the real antidote to shame.”Brené Brown
During her humorous and uplifting Ted Talk, Listening to Shame, she discusses this idea further:
The most important take-away from our conversation with a young mother was to celebrate small victories and uplift one another – because the mum gig is tough!
“People need to talk more about how difficult it is, and stop the mum guilt. We are all in this together. You do what works for you and that is absolutely fine. You’re keeping another human being alive – go you!”First-time mum