In the cool late autumn of 2003, I was in a hospital bed, wearing green pyjamas with sheep on them. It was expected. Routine. Nothing serious. The end of life as I knew it. That year, when I was 20, I had a baby.
This was not my original plan for my 20s. My first year out of high school was a thrilling work-by-day/party-by-night routine that became a months-long blur. I had expected to travel the world, go to university, maybe start a band or write a book. I had moved out of home, got a real job, abused my first credit card and had my heart broken.
Then I met a nice guy and we fell in love. To our surprise, we duplicated. And once we’d had one baby, we decided she was quite good and we had another baby.
While I was wrangling nappies and trying to teach a toddler not to climb into the fridge, I was barely out of childhood myself. I went to parent-teacher interviews and told bedtime stories and slept on the floor holding a tiny feverish hand. I fed them. I bathed them. I loved them.
My friends didn’t have kids; when we asked how the other was going, we both said, “Tired,” and meant something different. I didn’t resent it. Mostly. No more than any other parent sometimes thinks it’s a bit unfair that they haven’t showered alone for six years.
But while I happily channelled my limited energy into keeping my kids away from busy highways and poison, I realised I had missed, somewhere between being pregnant at 19 and divorced at 24, the part where I learned my place in the world. It had simply passed me by.
Most people who’ve been pregnant teenagers will tell you something like this: the baby and I grew up together. Sure, the literal children were learning how to digest food and use language, but I wasn’t that far ahead. I’d been planning to use my youth to find answers to life’s big questions. What’s a Jagerbomb? How do you do a tax return? What do Mediterranean men feel like? What are dreams, and how do I get one?
I was a kid role-playing motherhood, and I kind of got stuck there. Between finding a T-shirt without vomit stains and listening to lectures about formula feeding, there’s not much opportunity for self-reflection in the early days. I forgot who I was and, worse, who I had planned to be.
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