Becoming pregnant at 21 was not part of the timeline I had planned out for myself: go to college, establish a successful career, get married, then have kids. This timeline is a pretty basic structure that most people in the United States are expected to follow. However, in reality, people’s lives follow all sorts of different paths that deviate from the chronological norm that has been laid out for us. For me, having a baby came shortly after the first item on my timeline: college.
I found out I was pregnant on the day I flew home to New York City after visiting a friend in West Virginia. My period had always been somewhat erratic, so I wasn’t too surprised when it didn’t come like clockwork that month. Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to know. I dashed over to the drugstore after dropping my luggage off at home. The morning sun streamed in through the bathroom window, and I was so impatient that I took the test without turning on the light. The plus sign showed up immediately, and I thought it must be some sort of visual trick. I turned on the light, and the plus sign remained. My friends and family reacted with shock, as I expected.
In some parts of the U.S., and it many parts of the world, becoming pregnant at 21 is a totally unremarkable occurrence. In New York, though, I was a statistical outlier, with the average age of a first-time mom being 31, according to the New York Times. All parents share many common experiences, regardless of age: we wipe up poop so much that it ceases to be gross, we lose sleep, our hearts melt when our child smiles at us for the first time. But young motherhood comes with its own unique set of benefits and challenges. Below are some of the best parts about being a young mom that I’ve experienced so far.
1. Getting to Grow Together
I am often asked if I miss having the carefree attitude of my childless friends or if I feel like I won’t get to form my own identity. Of course, I’m not carefree! I care so much about this little human. Instead of feeling like I’m missing out, I feel like I’m getting to experience the joy of being a mom that much sooner. I still have a lot to learn about myself and my aspirations, but for me, I am perfectly content with the fact that staying out late at bars won’t be how I “find myself.” I am so happy I get to learn about the world alongside my son.
Instead of feeling like I’m missing out, I feel like I’m getting to experience the joy of being a mom that much sooner.
2. Having More Energy
Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest hurdles people talk about when it comes to having a new baby. And while being young certainly doesn’t make you immune to that, based on what I’ve heard from other moms, it does give you a little boost. I found that even when my son was waking me up every two hours or less during his first few months, I was still surprisingly functional during the day (although I was still exhausted, of course).
3. Giving Him My Full Attention
I want to preface this with the fact that moms of any age can give their kids their whole heart! However, I have seen moms with successful careers being pulled in all different directions, pressured to work overtime, juggle their jobs and care for their brand new baby all while still recovering from childbirth. Even for moms who don’t work outside the home, it can be a very difficult identity shift because they already have an established lifestyle without kids that they’re accustomed to.
I don’t feel pressure to combine the old me with the new me because entering adulthood and parenthood at almost the same time means my life is still highly flexible and adaptable.
While the good outweighs the bad a million times over, being a young mom also presents its own unique set of challenges, which I’ve listed out below.
1. Being Broke!
The flip side of the third benefit above is that my family is still finding our footing financially. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful, and less job experience means lower pay.
2. Meeting Other Moms
Meeting other moms has required a very conscious effort on my part. I don’t just happen to have other friends having babies, and before I got pregnant knew almost no one with a young child. After many months of actively seeking out mom friends, I have been able to find a really good network, but it wasn’t easy. A lot of the mommy-meetups and classes I attended in my son’s early weeks were full of parents I couldn’t relate to. One woman asked how old I was and when I told her, she replied, “Wow, you’re a baby with a baby!” Unsurprisingly, some of them were pretty judgmental.
3. Feeling Isolated in my Postpartum Body
After my son’s birth, I felt really alone in my experience postpartum. My body was so foreign to me that it took months before I truly recognized myself in the mirror. Extra skin, engorged breasts, and a crotch that hurt to sit down on weren’t exactly struggles that my friends could relate to. Not all older moms have friends with kids, but the chances are higher that you have more people who can commiserate with you on the foreign state that is one’s postpartum body.
One thing I know for sure about motherhood is that nothing can prepare you for it: not your age, not babysitting experience, not even having younger siblings (I have two who are half my age).
Ultimately, I wouldn’t change the timing for the world. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my son giggle during peek-a-boo or watching his face light up when I read him a story at bedtime. My absolute favorite part about being a young mom is that I don’t have to wait for that feeling.