We seem to talk a lot about the effect that pregnancy and parenting can have on our relationship with our partner. What isn’t spoken about as much is how it can affect your relationship with your own parents.
This is understandable. Lots of new parents are in their late 20s or their 30s, and maybe don’t rely on their parents so much anymore. They are their own little family unit, and their parents are part of the extended family. At that age, maybe pregnancy and parenting just doesn’t have such a huge impact on your relationship with your own parents – but I know that in my case, it really did change things forever.
I’ve always had a great relationship with my parents. Obviously we argued and I threw strops, like any self-respecting teenage daughter would, but I’d hear my friends talking about the terrible rows they had with their parents, lasting for weeks, and I’d hear acquaintances saying “I hate my parents”, and it all felt so foreign to me. I know it’s frowned upon these days, but me and my mum have always had a best mates relationship alongside the mother/daughter relationship, and I don’t think our arguments have ever lasted more than a couple of days at the very most.
Even when I went away to university, it didn’t change anything. I’d speak to them almost every day via text or Facebook, I’d Skype them often, and I’d visit as much as I could – I was having a great time, but I did really miss them. I knew I could always ask for advice or support, however, and they’d be there in a heartbeat to try and help. We went away on holiday as a family the summer after my first year and it was great.
I always thought we’d be one of those families that would always have a great relationship with each other – one of those nauseatingly cute, absolutely inseparable families that still do Christmases together thirty years into the future.
Then I came home one afternoon, around six weeks after I turned nineteen, and told my parents that I was pregnant. I hadn’t expected their reaction to be particularly good, but I don’t think I anticipated just how bad it was. My mum was kind enough to chat to me about how she felt when I told her I was pregnant.
When you told me you were pregnant, I don’t remember that being such a huge shock. The surprise came in you having already decided what you were going to do. I realise now that I don’t think you had but it was a way of making the decision your own, without our input or influence and I don’t think thats a totally bad thing. At the time though I felt pushed out, I didn’t want it to be like that, I wanted to share your news and be happy for you both but there was this huge great worry that something would be wrong with the baby.
At the time, I lived with Daf for a week before we moved into our student house together. I needed space, and I couldn’t face being in such a tense, stressful environment. I didn’t think it would be fair on my younger brother and sister to have to deal with that kind of atmosphere at home, and I was more than happy to be out of there. I was worried that our relationship would never recover, but at the time I was more occupied with trying to make some kind of decision about the pregnancy.
I feel very guilty for not having supported you at a time when you probably needed all the support you could get. There was a huge gap between us, we used to speak every day and suddenly we were avoiding each other in case it started another argument.
It’s strange how our perception changes so much over time. At the time, I felt I was absolutely in the right, and I’m sure my parents did too. Now, we all look back on it with regrets about how we acted – I wish I could’ve found a better way to tell them, but I thought it’d be best to just get it over and done with. I think I realise that however I told them, it still would’ve been a shock – but I wish I could’ve explained it better to them at the time, rather than them thinking I’d made my mind up and wasn’t going to discuss it at all!
I didn’t think our relationship could ever recover. Shortly after you told us and you went to stay at Daf’s it became really difficult. We realised that you needed space and time but it was a really tough thing to do. I’d always been the one turned to when things got tough, and realising I wasn’t that one anymore was really hard.
It’s strange reading my mum’s answers now, because I realise that at the time, our feelings were two sides of the same coin. She was finding it tough because she wasn’t the one I turned to anymore, and I was finding it tough because I wanted to turn to her, but felt like she’d never want to see me again after finding out I was pregnant.
The big turning point came when me and Dad asked you both out for a meal. We had talked a lot and realised that whatever choices you made were yours to make, and we wanted to be there to share in your happiness or hold you close when things weren’t so good. Dad walked in and Daf offered to shake his hand, instead he was pulled into a big bear hug, I think that was a wonderful moment and we both seemed to share that feeling.
Daf and I were talking the other day, and we both remember this as a big turning point too. We were both so nervous, but we knew it was important to keep the communication open, so we braced ourselves for more arguing and went. It was actually really lovely to spend time just the four of us, and to get to say the things that had been playing on our minds. I was about sixteen or seventeen weeks at this point, so abortion was off the cards and we could all talk openly and honestly, with the knowledge that we were keeping the baby.
Asking if I’d like to go to a scan was huge for me, it was as if you and Daf accepted me again. And of course, asking me to be a birth partner. Words will never be enough to thank you for that honour.
Even after it all went a bit tits up after telling them I was pregnant, there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted my mum at the birth. I worried for a long time that she wouldn’t want to be there, especially if she was still struggling to accept that I was having a baby, so I don’t think I broached the subject with her for a long time – but I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s given birth four times, so she was able to speak to me from experience. When Daf and I were nervous, she kept us calm and steady. She enabled Daf to be there just to support me and see his daughter being born, rather than fretting about being a go-between for me and the midwives. And of course, she was there to hold my hand through the pushing, and see her granddaughter enter the world!
I think my dad struggled a lot through the pregnancy because he was having to deal with his “baby” well and truly growing up and having a baby of her own. Daf says that now we have SB, he can totally see where my dad was coming from, and the thought of SB ever growing up and having her own child brings him out in a cold sweat at the moment! When my dad met SB however, I think it’s clear from his expression that he fell in love!
And what about afterwards? Unplanned pregnancy takes its toll on the relationship with your parents, but that isn’t the whole story. What happens afterwards, once the baby is born and the lovely newborn haze has worn off slightly?
Well, for us, it’s a happy ending.
I definitely feel closer than ever to you since you’ve had Callie. It’s strange, like we still have those daft moments of writing on each other’s foreheads or throwing scrunched up socks where you behave like a 13 year old again. But then there’s that deeper side, sounds trite but almost as though you understand that secret now, that indescribable rush of love, the feeling that you would run to the ends of the earth if your child asked you to. We share that now and I think you finally understand how much you mean to me. Plus of course, looking at Callie and seeing her do things that you did at her age is wonderful, seeing the pride in your eyes when you look at her. I definitely developed a new found respect for you having been at the birth. Still feels odd talking to my little girl about perineums and stitches but it gives us more things to laugh about too.
Telling my parents I was pregnant at nineteen was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, and I’ll never forget those weeks afterwards where I worried that our relationship would never recover. I remember them differently now, though. I like to see them as proof that my relationship with my parents is so strong that even challenges like that can’t break us.
And of course, they are fantastic grandparents to SB. They absolutely dote on her (even if they do revel in telling us how they’re going to load her up with sugar and send her back to us when she’s older!) and whenever we need someone to look after SB, all I have to do is send a message starting with “Mom, could you…” and the answer is immediately “Yes!”.
If you find yourself in this situation – either worrying about telling your parents that you’re pregnant, or the conversation has gone badly, the only advice I can give is to keep the lines of communication open. Don’t say anything you’ll regret; don’t make any rash decisions to cut all contact. Take time away if you need it, but don’t say anything you’ll regret. Always leave the communication open, so that a conversation can start up again when you’re both ready. Two-and-a-bit years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever have a good relationship with my parents again.
Now, I know that when I get pregnant again, after Daf they’ll be the first to know.