Teen mums have got it tough.
But mothers I spoke to at a young parent’s group in Palmers Green claim the hardest part of being a teenage mum is not the bottle feeding, the late nights, or even keeping on top of their college work. In fact, it’s the negative attitudes and nasty looks passed by people in the street.
About 30 Enfield girls ranging from just 12 to 18 years old are signed up to the free Young Parent’s Project in Trinity-at-Bowes Children Centre in Palmerston Road.
The group launched just over ten years ago to crack down on high teen pregnancy rates in Enfield - which were the third highest in London - and provides an army of support workers to help young mothers with practical and emotional advice. Help starts even before the girls give birth, with midwives paying home visits to ensure each teenager is ready and clued up about the next stages of their pregnancy.
Even though many of the girls I spoke to claimed the support was invaluable, what they really seemed to cherish was being able to join a parent group without being subjected to disapproving looks from the 'older, wiser' mums.
One 18-year-old single mother, who wished to remain anonymous, joined after feeling judged in other parent groups and is now a regular visitor.
The switched-on teen said: “I have been to a few groups that aren’t for young mums and I have come out in tears. That’s why I’ve come here. It’s just an attitude and a sense that because you are young you are completely inadequate.”
The young woman, who lives with her parents, was at college when she fell pregnant. She was desperate for her pregnancy not to come in the way of her education, so she continues to study business in the evenings while her parents look after her daughter.
She praised the centre for supporting her from “day one” and teaching her the skills needed to be a good parent, and said she doesn’t know where she would be without it.
The girls attend weekly lunch clubs which gives them a chance to meet other young mums while getting advice from professionals including a sexual health nurse, a Connexions worker, a dentist, midwife, youth worker, domestic violence support worker, and library worker. The children get a chance to play together in an activity area within the church.
Single mother Rebecca Morris, 18, is also a regular visitor to the centre after falling pregnant with her daughter Maisy a year ago. She said her mother only found out she was expecting after a leaflet from a doctor was posted through her door when she was nine weeks pregnant.
The teenager, who moved out of her parents’ house when she was three months pregnant, admitted being a young mother is tough, but said it is made worse by people’s perceptions of teenage pregnancy.
She said: “When you first find out you are pregnant, it’s tough but there are people there who can help. If I didn’t come to the young parent’s project I would have been a lot worse off and more scared about things than I was.
“You know there are people looking down at you, and until I came to the young parent’s project, to be honest, I thought it as well - until I realised it’s not always something you are expecting to happen.
"It’s more their view of it and until they speak to someone who is a young mum they have a set idea of what a young mum is.”
Gloria Bennett, 17, put her education on hold for just one year when she became pregnant 16 months before her GCSE exams. The young mum finished her exams and is due to finish her business diploma next year. Although Gloria is still working out what she wants to do in the future, she is determined to be her own boss.
She said she puts on a brave face and is determined not to let any negative attitudes or judgemental looks get in the way of being a mother. She said: “I don’t take any notice of it, they don’t phase me.”
Project manager Tricia Lewis admitted the girls can face criticism from the public about becoming mothers at a young age. When talking about other parent groups, she said: “The first thing they say is ‘how old are you?’ They do have a very tough time and feel very judged by other people and that people don’t listen to them.
"People are very judgemental and make all sorts of assumptions. They are often very young, managing a flat for the first time and some of them still try to get their college work done with a baby.”
The group is open for any young mother aged between 12 and 18, and Ms Lewis hopes more people will be encouraged to join. For more information call 020 8807 4691 or drop in to the Wednesday lunch club between 12pm and 2pm.