In episode bajillion of “Things they don’t warn you about being a young parent”, I’m going to start a new series on how it affects your relationships. Having a baby is a major life event, and it has a knock-on effect on everything – and everyone – around you. When you’re young, or your baby is unplanned, that effect can be even more dramatic. In this series, I’m going to talk about how an unplanned baby and being a young parent can affect your relationship with those around you – starting today with how parenting affected my relationship with my partner, and SB’s father, Daf.
Daf and I had been together for two and a half years when I found out I was pregnant with SB. In hindsight, that doesn’t seem like a very long time at all! We met at a theatre group, became friends… and then close friends… and then we got together one New Year’s Eve. It was controversial – I was 16, he was 25 – but my parents were cool with it, I initiated the relationship (and have always pretty much worn the trousers in the relationship anyway!), and we were happy.
We’ve always had a very easygoing, chilled out relationship. We laughed a lot, liked spending time together, went on days out, liked many of the same things – we’d spend hours just jamming on guitars or ukulele, going for drives and singing at the top of our lungs, discussing writing together. We wanted a future together – we talked about marriage and children, and on my 18th birthday he asked me to marry him – but nothing too immediate. We wanted to enjoy being “us”.
When I went away to university, things got tough, but we stuck it out in a long-distance relationship. I encouraged Daf to go to university as a mature student, so he applied and was accepted onto a History and Creative Writing course, and we planned to live together in a shared house with a couple of friends I’d met on my course. This was pretty daunting – the thought of living together so soon – but exciting too. Being in an LDR works out great for some people, but I missed being close to Daf.
Then, if you’ve been following the blog for a while you’ll probably know, that one fateful night at the beginning of September 2013, everything changed. I’d had nausea and dizziness and tummy aches, and assumed I had a UTI. One blue plus sign later and we found out I was six weeks pregnant. Our reactions were very different.
Daf was excited. He was 28 at this point – although it was a surprise, he felt like he was at the right age for a family, and it was a happy surprise. I was 19 and absolutely terrified. This was going to mess everything up – my university course, my ambitions, everything.
I considered abortion. I looked into the process of relinquishing a baby for adoption. Daf supported me through it all, telling me it was my decision whether I wanted to go through with the pregnancy or not, but I could see in his eyes how much it was hurting him. I knew that if I decided to have a termination, our relationship would begin to fray.
As it was, that wasn’t the deciding factor. It was a long and convoluted process, but in the end, I made the decision to go through with the pregnancy. That was daunting in itself – I even told Daf that if he felt I was tying him down, or trapping him, he could walk away now. He looked horrified that I’d even suggested it, and told me he’d be there.
True to his word, he was. Throughout the pregnancy he supported me at every turn – whether it was rushing to McDonalds at 3am to satisfy my nugget cravings, or holding my hair back when morning sickness saw me puking several times a day, getting a job to support us and never once complaining when I couldn’t get my shoes on myself anymore, or couldn’t get up out of bed on my own. He supported me through severe antenatal anxiety, holding my hand when I had panic attacks, not shouting back at me if I screamed at him because I couldn’t cope, understanding when I locked myself in our tiny cupboard to get away from everything.
He was a perfect birth partner; supporting, encouraging and calm. We were a solid unit, ready to face anything that came our way.
Then a 7lb3oz pooping crying reality shock came into our lives, and everything was changed beyond recognition.
Nothing could’ve prepared us for it. This is one of the things they should teach in PSHE lessons in schools – no matter how strong you think you are as a family unit, an unplanned pregnancy and baby will always shake the very foundations of your relationship.
Suddenly, our priority was no longer each other, or our relationship. We were both 100% focused on caring for a tiny baby, and although neither of us resented the other, we still worried that the relationship was faltering. He was working all the hours he could, and was envious of me spending so much time at home with SB. I was getting cabin fever, and was envious of him still having some semblance of a social life.
Sex was 100% off the cards for a long time. I tore badly, so I certainly wasn’t ready physically. Even if I was, we were both still exhausted; emotionally and physically drained. Physical contact was minimal – we barely even cuddled on the sofa anymore.
My postnatal depression and anxiety was having a knock-on effect on my personality. I was constantly stressed and on edge, at the same time as being distant and uncommunicative. Daf tried to support me through it, but at times he thought I was angry at him for no reason. At times he found it so hard to cope with supporting me at the same time as caring for SB. We both felt so indescribably lonely, even though we lived together and saw each other all of the time.
That’s the reality of an unplanned pregnancy at a difficult time, even in a strong relationship. This is what young people should be told about getting pregnant at a young age – not horror stories, not meaningless statistics about young mums being less likely to finish school. It should be honest, practical experiences, and the brutal truth – becoming parents at a young age takes its toll on a relationship.
That said, Daf and I have come through it and we’re still together. We’re stronger than ever, actually, because we supported each other through a really difficult time. Still, it’s a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks that a baby will strengthen a struggling relationship – you’re taking a massive risk, as it could very well have the opposite effect.