Life As A Teen Mum

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27 Weeks by Sara Neff (CC BY 2.0)

Over the ages, particular groups of people have come under fire – people of colour, then interracial couples and then those who are gay. But as time has progressed society is now more accepting and judging people based on their skin colour and their sexual preference is of the past. However, teen mothers have always had it tough. From the days where young girls would be hidden from the public and disgraced by their family for falling pregnant out of wedlock or at a young age – the negative stigma is still attached to young mothers. But why? Why as a society do we look at young mothers and look down our noses at them? Is it religious beliefs, do we think they are stupid or skanky or are we simply stuck to old values?

One of the main reasons that society has a negative attitude towards young mums is because of the poor depiction of this group. Studies and websites that surface often highlight that teenage parents are neglected by family, have little or no income, have no education, go out all the time and come from ‘rough areas’. However, Josephine Nguyen couldn’t be more opposite. 

Josephine 7 months pregnant. Source: @josephinenguyen

After falling pregnant at age 16, Josephine (Josie to her friends) was faced with the life-changing decision – to keep her baby or have an abortion. Before making the decision Josephine told the father and her friends at school about the pregnancy.

“They said, ‘look it’s up to you, what do you want to do?’ They kind of helped me and laid out options, like how your life is going to be.”

Despite booking appointments for an abortion three times, she chose to keep the baby. After making the decision to follow through with the pregnancy, Josie told her parents when she was twelve weeks pregnant as her parents are firmly against abortion. She said this made her decision to keep her baby final.

“My parents they are very anti-abortion so I knew when I told them that there was no going back and at that point in time, I thought if I tell them they’re not going to let me have an abortion.”

During her pregnancy, Josie completed year 11 before giving birth to her son Leo aged 17.

“My school was extremely supportive. Once they all knew, I’d be very tired and they would extend deadlines for me and everyone was really nice.”

Following Leo’s birth, Josephine dropped out of high school to care for her newborn son.

Dropping out of school can often be perceived as a negative by wider society. A possibility for this is due to a poor depiction of young mothers on TV programs. MTV’s Teen Mom follows a group of young American teenage mothers and the issues they encounter and more often that not, these programs are edited to depict financial struggles, poor living conditions and the poor mental state of the parents. Because of this, Josephine believes a majority of teen mothers have an unfair reputation.

Josephine with her son Leo. Source @josephinenugyen

 “I think the media has portrayed us as mums that always go out, don’t care about their kids, don’t want to work and want to live on the dole. And I’m not going to lie, there are a lot of teen mums out there that are like this, but there are also 30-year-old and 40-year-old mums that can be a negative influence.”

For the past two years, Josephine has been in the workforce to ensure that she can provide for both herself and son. The crucial thing to note is that she doesn’t rely on her parents for financial support whatsoever – this is something that is very important to Josephine. 

“Financially, I don’t ask for their help at all, I earn my own income and I do everything myself. But I know 100% if I were struggling they would be there for me.”

“Everything he wants and everything he needs, I provide.” 

What many don’t understand is that education often has to take a back burner to income. These days, childcare is more expensive than ever and with extensive wait lists, parents are forced to work to pay for the rising cost of living or stay at home. This is why young parents often put off returning to study; while others take parental and maternity leave from work, teenage parents are taking leave from education.

Now that Leo is two years old, Josephine has begun researching options for her to return to education to help better the life for both her and Leo.

“I’m definitely considering it, I’m just looking at my options right now I’m not too sure where I want to go or what I want to do yet.”

Online study has a rising popularity. Source: John Loo

Whilst completing secondary education can be challenging whilst caring for a newborn, higher education and alternative pathways are more accommodating than ever for young mothers. Now that Leo is two, Josephine is now researching options to help her complete higher education. Thanks to the support of both her family and friends, Josie has a strong support network she and Leo can rely on during this transition.

A majority of university campuses around Melbourne have flexible study options to cater for any situation, including young parents. From part-time study, online course options and childcare centers on campus, young parents have the ability to receive an education whilst caring and providing their child.

The main universities in Melbourne (Deakin, Monash, La Trobe, Melbourne, RMIT, and Swinburne) all have on-campus child care centers where both staff and students can enroll their child; meaning that students can still study on-campus if they wish. Whilst these centers are not exclusive, majority offer discounted fees for students and offer priority enrollment over non-university members wanting to enroll from the area. In addition, parent rooms are located throughout campuses providing parents with private areas to attend to their children’s needs.

On-campus childcare allows young parents to experience university as their peers would. Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Another option for young parents is to complete online courses. Online sites such as Open Universities and Open Colleges have established partnerships with various universities and TAFEs, which allow people to complete degrees online. This is the perfect option for time-poor parents, as they can complete degrees at their own pace.

Josephine and Leo. Source @josephinenguyen

Although Josie has not made any commitments to further education as yet, she is determined to get back to study as soon as the time is right for both her and Leo.

“I want to do it when he’s a bit older, so I can talk to him and he can understand that I have to go back to school for him as well.”

And as for the negative stigma attached to young mothers, it’s important to recognize all those who work hard and do their absolute best to provide and nurture their children like Josie. And who knows, maybe all it does take is time for attitudes to change but if you take the time to look beyond the common misconception, you’ll find great mums who are doing all they can.

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