Child: Mia, 18 months
Location: Wythenshawe, Manchester
Expectations of motherhood: I thought it would be easy!
I’d always wanted a baby, and when I fell pregnant I was so excited, but at the same time really scared. I was 16 and still living with my mum, with no place of my own and no financial security. I did think it would be fairly straight forward though because my sisters all have lots of kids, so I’m used to being surrounded by children.
When I was pregnant I didn’t know whether she was a boy or girl, so by the end I was couldn’t wait to find out what I was having. My sister came along to the scans and although I hadn’t wanted to know the sex, my sister tried to get the sonographer to tell her the sex of the baby secretly. He did look but he couldn’t see because Mia had her legs crossed.
During my whole pregnancy my mum was really ill and I was her main support - my brother lived with us, but he was rarely in. Then she ended up being taken to hospital and I ended up having to travel from Moss Side to Wythenshawe hospital regularly to visit her. Money was tight because as a pregnant 16 year old I was not eligible for any financial help. I was having to steal lifts where I could to go and see her, and grabs little bits of money off her for food, etc when I could. She had lots of animals so would always give me cash to feed them.
Reality of motherhood: Not easy at all.
I loved the birth. The second I went into labour I was so excited. It was amazing - I was going to find out whether I was having a boy or girl! I was in labour for 24 hrs, and it did hurt, but it was fine really. I think the pain was exaggerated by the fact that it was my first baby and I didn’t really know what to expect. At the end I was knackered but I can’t wait to do it again - I loved it!
Despite loving the whole pregnancy and the labour, I’ve found raising Mia really hard. I love her to bits, but being a mum is so exhausting. Recently Hassan and I have thought about trying again for another baby, but then we decided that Mia wasn’t quite old enough. I had to be realistic about the amount of effort involved and the fact that I actually don’t get any time to myself. She still needs so much of my attention - I think another baby right now would be too much.
Mia is a really good girl though and she sleeps really well. I had to wake her up this morning; she slept through till 12pm! I find routine really important for both of us - every night it’s bath, bed and bottle for 7pm so that I can watch the soaps. I feel like I need ‘mummy time’. Sometimes you have to be strict because otherwise they can walk all over you, but there are times when I’ll ease off and let her come and join me in the evenings for a cuddle if she wakes up.
Taking her home: It was scary taking her home. She was born on her due date and when she came out she seemed so tiny and fragile. In the hospital they’d shown me how to bath her and had taught me about breastfeeding - I was totally prepared - but being left on my own was quite daunting.
At first I stayed at my mums and remember spending a week sleeping on the sofa with Mia in a moses basket next to me. I was so tired that I didn’t even bother going upstairs to my bedroom other than to get nappies or clothes. Mia was pretty good early on and behaved how you’d expect a newborn to - waking and feeding pretty regularly - but I remember finding breastfeeding so exhausting. Hassan helped me out so much and would take her off me in the nights during those first few weeks. He was, and still is, really good with her.
I was offered a place to live when I was pregnant, but wasn’t allowed to move in till after she was born. A week after she arrived, I moved into my own place. It felt good to have my own tenancy with my own name on the contract. It did feel strange though. I’d been used to cleaning the house and cooking for lots of people - for my mum, my brother and his friends while my mum had been poorly - but this place was just for me and Mia and it was new to me to be doing it all on my own.
Best and worst advice: Since finding out I was pregnant with Mia I have always had the same health visitor, she’s from the ‘Family nurse partnership’. The Family Nurse Partnership help with young first time mums and you get assigned one of their health visitors when you’re pregnant. They visit you till the baby is 2. She’s helped me get a grant for college equipment, she’s helped me make appointments and has been there to push certain people when they need a little nudge. She’s always there with help and advice.
My social worker did help me with financial support - I had to ask for the help, but I was entitled to money. It was weird that they didn’t make it apparent to me despite knowing I was struggling with money. It was only when the health visitor said, “Ask your social worker for the money - it is available,” that I knew to ask for help there. I didn’t understand the benefits system at all because I was 16 - it’s all so complicated.
Some of the (government) support I’ve received has really helped, but I didn’t need it all. They didn’t trust that I could ask for help myself. They didn’t believe that I’d be responsible, so that’s the reason why they gave me supported housing. To prove them wrong I just make sure that I use every bit of support to my advantage - if it’s there it’s definitely worth using.
Regarding good advice, my sisters have been really helpful. They all have 4/5 kids each and when I was buying stuff they’d warn me about the things I shouldn’t bother buying, like changing tables. I ignored them and bought one anyway, and well, they were right - it’s hardly ever been used. My family really do leave the parenting to me though and they trust that I know what I’m doing.
I don’t get much time on my own either. It’s only recently that I’ve started to get any time to myself. In those early months I didn’t put make up on or do my hair. I never had time to look after myself, but that was quite unlike me. It’s been nice to spend a bit more time on the way I look now she’s a bit older and less demanding.
Losing my mum has been hard too. She’d always been in a wheelchair, so she’d never seen my place - it’s a shame. She did get to see Mia lots when when I took her over though. It was in November that she died, just before my 18th birthday. She’d promised she’d buy the drink for me to have a party, but died just before and she didn’t get chance to celebrate with me. I’m the youngest of her kids; her baby. To remember her, on my birthday I went to go see her and shared a drink with her on the grave so that I could mark my birthday with her. I still don’t think I’ve come to terms with it though.
We do have family support though from all of my sisters, and Hassan’s mum lives nearby. I’d known a few of his brothers and sisters before I was pregnant, but I only really met his mum when I’d had Mia. We do get on really well though and Mia goes over to stay now and again.
The best parts of being a mother: Little things that they do. The milestones too, like walking, her first birthday, saying, “mama” and getting her first tooth. You think, “Wow. This is what it’s all about.” It has been amazing to just watch her turn into a proper person.
Has being a mother changed you: I’ve learnt a lot. I’m still the same person, but I’ve had so many new experiences. I look back at the younger me, and back then I thought I knew it all. Now I’ve experienced motherhood I feel a lot wiser. You have to adapt and learn - find your own ways. I imagine that once you’ve learnt how to be a mum it it’s like riding a bike.
Hopes for your family: Eventually I’d like to have 4 children - 3 more after Mia. That will be my family. I’m from a big big family, so I love being surrounded by kids.
Career-wise I want to own a big health spa. I’m very ambitious. I’ve started my beauty therapy course - currently doing level 1, and then hope to carry on the level 2, 3, and then want I want to do Holistic therapy after that.
I’ve planned it all out, but in the end I want to own a house and move out to France.
Also, I’ve looked into surrogacy because I enjoyed the pregnancy and labour so much. I think I’d love it. Right now I can’t do it because I’d have to stop smoking and I don’t think I’d succeed in quitting right now, but I’d love to give someone a gift like that one day.
Advice to new and expectant mums: Do what you feel is right and don’t be scared by what other people say. Everyone has different experiences of pregnancy, child birth and motherhood.
To mums in my situation, well, good luck! It’s been hard. I would say, push yourself and never give up. If you want to do something and it goes wrong, don’t give up, try again the next day, and if that doesn’t work try the day after. Wake up everyday thinking, ‘Today’s the day‘. There is nothing that a young mum can’t do that an older mum can.
Frances and Mia featured in photographer Len Grant's award winning blog http://herfirstyear.co.uk - a wonderful piece of work and well worth a read.