Growing up, I had a strained relationship with my mother, spending a lot of time in the care of my grandparents. Having a family of my own did not figure on my to-do list; instead, my focus was on continuing my education away from my hometown and carving out a career and life for myself.
I met Don in September 1995 when we both started at university. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight… in fact, possibly the only thing we had in common was drinking, hangovers and an occasional lecture thrown in for good measure.
Nevertheless, over time we grew very fond of each other, and in December 1996, I discovered I was pregnant. Whilst the news was a surprise, it also was a relief – I had really started to think my sickness was a consequence of too much partying and not looking after myself.
Prior to seeing my GP I had repeatedly Googled my symptoms and was convinced I had something much more sinister. I can honestly say that none of the Google search results returned ‘pregnancy’ as a potential reason for the headaches and severe sickness that I was experiencing.
Being told you are pregnant, especially when you are not trying for a child, will always be a shock but as I said above – this soon subsided and those fears I had about being a Mother myself disappeared instantly. I was suddenly excited about the prospect of creating my own family unit, as was Don.
Just before Christmas, I returned to my Mother’s house and told her the news. She told me that I was a failure in everything I did and that I had effectively thrown my life and opportunities away. She also told me that once my Grandparents heard the news that they would disown me too. I left the house shortly after to stay with a friend and did not return that Christmas.
The following day during a break at work (I worked in a residential home during my holidays); I phoned my grandparents and told them. They were, as always, supportive and I arranged to stay with them for a few days after Christmas and into the New Year.
I returned to University in early January and on the advice of my Grandparents, I met with my lecturer to discuss my situation. I had been expecting a reaction similar to my Mothers and was worried that I might be asked to leave my course, which I loved. However, I couldn’t be more wrong, The university were both thrilled for me and offered to support me throughout the process wherever they could.
For example, my due date was in July and with the exams being in June, they told me that they could place me near the exit in case I needed to use the bathroom on multiple occasions during the 3-hour examinations. Alternatively, if I had already had my baby by then, the possibility of deferring my examinations until September and sitting them with the students that were retaking exams.
They also put me in touch with the accommodation office to see if they had any rental accommodation suitable for a small family. I had not really thought about some of these practical aspects, but I left that meeting much more aware of what was ahead of me, even more upbeat and of course grateful for my Grandparents advice to speak to the university.
However, just days later my Grandmother passed. She had been unwell over Christmas but had typically put a brave face on things, instead, making sure I was well fed and looked after. Unbeknown to me she had bowel cancer, and even more surprisingly, she had left me a generous financial gift in her will. I do not know if she changed her will after she learnt of my pregnancy or if it was always intended, but her gift put me in a good situation financially to pay my rent, bills and childcare so I could return to my studies.
My university experience changed dramatically with my pregnancy. I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum or severe morning sickness, and literally simple odours like coffee or a whiff of the bin would trigger bouts of vomiting. I needed frequent fluid hydration throughout the pregnancy and my social interactions decreased dramatically as a result.
My friends were supportive – I think by the second year many of us felt we had done our fair share of drinking and partying the year before, and in that sense, we were happy to step back a bit. Also, there was some novelty around me being pregnant and I had lots of promises and offers from people willing to babysit once the baby arrived.
Connah was born in August and just over a month later, I returned to University for my final year. Whilst that sounds straightforward, it wasn’t and my body was still recovering from the long-term effects of having this severe morning sickness throughout the entire pregnancy and from an emergency procedure that I required at the end of August (I developed an infection due to retained placenta).
Studying with a newborn is extremely tough. Suddenly you have someone that requires constant attention and so I took the decision of employing a childminder for 20 hours a week. This time meant that I could attend my lectures and get a few extra hours study in at the library. Whereas friends would go for coffee after a lecture, I no longer had the luxury of time and would hurry off to the library to do some research. I could not justify paying for a childminder to have my son whilst I was having a coffee.
What kept me going was my Mother’s words ringing in my ears, and the thoughts of the generous financial gift my Grandmother had left me, and how I could honour her memory best. My hard work paid off and I graduated with a 2:1 the following May.
For some strange reason after completing my degree I decided to complete a Master’s degree and history repeated itself at the end of this course; as I became pregnant with my daughter, Lily. Not only had I left university with an advanced degree but I also had created my own family unit and found true happiness.
For those who know me, they will know that I believe that we need to have a plan in life if we want to be truly successful (I am also a qualified Prince 2 Practitioner). I had a plan when I was a teenager but my plans changed and I embraced it.
At times, it was a lonely, daunting journey but I never gave up. Whilst the one person I had wanted to be there for me wasn’t, I realised that was just one person and there were many others that I could turn to for guidance and support. I also learnt that we should not be afraid to speak up or be ashamed of the situations we find ourselves in – in my case being an unmarried mother-to-be.
If I could replay my life, I would not change a thing. We often worry about things that never happen or things we cannot change but life shapes us, and I am so proud of what I have achieved.