From a very young age I, and many of my female friends knew that if there was anything to avoid it was having a baby too early. With the influence of my education, peers and mentors I developed a fear of becoming pregnant too early as well as before I accomplished everything I wanted to. I’ve had so many people tell me how important it is to wait to have children. Stories of girls that dropped out of school and missed opportunities after having a child early on surrounded me. With all of these influences, I also developed a belief that it would be better for every woman to wait, to abide by the timeline crucial for a successful life. My question now is what is too early – and who gets to decide and what determines success?
Many of us, who consider ourselves open-minded liberal folk, also share the belief – that it’s better for women to wait, wait and wait more. Having a baby too early is seen to ‘get in the way’ of a young woman’s life. A good friend of mine shared these beliefs with me for a long time, we were wild, adventurous and excited young women who scoffed at those who wanted children too early (or what we had determined as too early), or felt sympathy for those that had babies, because we believed – it could have only negatively impacted their lives. We believed you had to experience everything you could before settling down, and ‘settling down’ was something we wanted nothing to do with anytime soon.
You can imagine my surprise when this friend told me that she was pregnant our senior year of college, and that she was keeping it. Shock was all I felt for about two weeks. I was perplexed by her decision. Didn’t she know it was a huge, life-changing decision? (Yep, she did.) Was she aware of the hard work it takes to raise a baby? (Mhmm, she was.) Had she really thought this through? (Sure thing.) Thankfully, I bit my condescending tongue before hurting someone close to me and chose only to offer support. While I couldn’t imagine raising a baby at this stage in my life, it finally dawned on me that she could, and she wanted to. For a while I couldn’t see past the sacrifices she would have to make. Then it dawned on me, that I was being judgmental because I feared all of the changes that our friendship would endure, and because I had learned to associate early pregnancies with negativity even if the person having it didn’t.
As I watched and listened to her go through her pregnancy, the roles swapped. I didn’t see her as someone I felt bad for. She was settling down in the best way, taking care of her body, making good financial decisions, cooking, reading, reflecting and building a stable life for her, her boyfriend and her soon to be baby. She didn’t stop dreaming about her career, in fact she was making strides towards it, networking and planning. I started defending her to all the people that felt the same way I initially felt, because I saw all the good this choice was doing her. Her family was supportive and so were her friends, it was exciting! Who were we to judge? Did I have my life together because I could still drink and eat pizza as often as I wanted? Nope.
Watching my friend go through this transformation has inspired me to keep working on this open mind I claim to have. It’s challenged me to think twice about the timeline that is so strictly followed by so many of us stumbling through early adulthood. I want the best for my friend, and with that I want more affordable childcare, I want her to have a system of people that help her nurture this new life instead of thinking ‘I told you so’ when she faces hardships, and I want to shake all of these high-hat folks that will try to demean her choices.
I am not advocating for young women to get pregnant, because it is a huge commitment not to be taken lightly. I do believe that there are many positives to teaching girls to delay pregnancy – but my friend isn’t a girl anymore. She’s finished with college, she’s independent and has been for years. I am advocating for a world that is more understanding, supportive and loving of all choices. In no way do I believe that motherhood is easy, but I wish there were more systems in place to make it easier for mothers to have the support they need to access jobs, education and assistance instead of creating a society that makes motherhood so difficult and expensive. I don’t like how career and family are pitted against each other because I refuse to believe that women can’t do it all, and don’t all the time. There are so many cultures where women are having children earlier and just because society encourages a certain life path doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
Stigma goes both ways and sometimes I forget that my own community can be just as holier-than-thou as everyone else. I want to fight the idea that everyone should follow the same steps in the same order because life is chaotic and personal. I am filled with feelings of admiration for my friend, because she knows that she can do this. She is strong, brave and motivated, and her baby girl is going to have a relatable, kick-a** mom who might be laughing at all of us when we’re forty and still raising children. I raise my glass to my girl, who is a constant inspiration for me to remember that I am in control of my body and that nobody’s opinion is more important than mine when making difficult decisions. As Bon Jovi once said, “It’s my life!”