Pregnant during my GCSEs
A thousand anxious thoughts entered Ashleigh Bates’ head when the pregnancy test turned blue. But she didn’t have time to stop and think as the school bell had just rung for her next lesson. This was the scenario in 2007, when, aged 16 and just months before sitting her GCSE exams, she discovered she was expecting her first child.
Ashleigh had only just started to get her life back on track after a troubled time in her early teens. She was dreaming about the future and a successful career but the unexpected news threatened to shatter her plans.
“A lady in school gave me a pregnancy test and I went down to the toilets by PE and took it and it came up that I was pregnant,” explained the former Welshpool High School pupil. “I sat there for a bit and thought oh my God and I went back up to see her and showed her the test and I burst into tears and I was like what am I going to do and what am I going to tell people? I then went home and told my ex partner and he was just like what are we going to do? And we decided to keep it and that was it. It was a scary, scary day.”
Although shocked by the news, Ashleigh’s family and former partner, who she was living with, were supportive but her school friends were more scathing. And as well as coping with all these emotions, and, before she could even start planning for the big day, she still had her GCSE exams to sit.
“I was 4 months pregnant when I sat my GCSEs,” said Ashleigh “It was weird because I was treated so differently to everyone else. GCSE PE had to stop because I couldn’t do it. All the teachers had to be informed that it didn’t matter what they were in the middle of doing – if I needed to go to the toilet, be sick, go home early to have a sleep I could. I sat my GCSES in a room by myself because of health and safety in case I tripped up on anything. I felt weird. I felt everyone looked at me in a funny way – not in a disgusting way but as in oh my god she’s having a baby.”
A now heavily pregnant Ashleigh then drew more disapproving looks from other mums when she went to pick up her exam results.
She said: “I was quite massive with Archie and I remember walking across the car park to the school and there were mums who were with their kids to find out their results and the looks when I walked past –you knew they were thinking I ‘m glad that’s not my daughter.”
Then during the months and weeks leading up to the birth her anxious thoughts spiralled.
“It was more of the thought of pain for me,” admitted Ashleigh. “Because I was so young I’d never experienced anything like that in my life. I’d read books and that and I’d spoken to so many people but I was still constantly worrying. I went into slow labour with him so I didn’t have time to worry that much because I was two weeks early.”
Archie was born in Shrewsbury on November 6th, 2007.
“My ex partner and my mum were there when I gave birth and I cried,” beamed Ashleigh, who won an award for being the youngest breast feeder in her area. “It was amazing just like when you ask a 40 year old woman how they felt when they seen their baby – it’s amazing and the love is there straight away.”
Having a baby meant the young mum and her partner grew apart and then split up. But they are still friends and Archie’s dad is always there for his son. Now 20, Ashleigh, who lives in a village near Welshpool, says she’s enjoying being a parent.
“I absolutely love being a mum and as soon as I brought him home I knew I was going to love it,” she said. “I’m enjoying watching him grow up and watching him communicate with other children. A lot of people thought how naughty I was and undoubtedly thought Archie would make or break me and he’s made me who I am now. I’m a good mum. I know I’m a good mum because I’ve put my life into Archie.”
Ashleigh is hoping her experiences will help other mums and has already asked the BIG-funded Open Door Family Centre whether she can be a peer mentor when they open a support group in the area.
“I want to help young mums,” she explained. “When you’re a young mum you’re put in a box. You feel that people are constantly watching, waiting for you to trip up or shout at your kids in public because you shouldn’t be a mum at that age.
“Some people look at you like you muck on the bottom of their shoe and you are frowned upon. No one will say it to your face but you can tell by the way people look at you and it’s a horrible feeling. I love Archie to death and I’d do anything for him but people think you feel differently because you’re young but they’re wrong. I want to help young mums see the positive side of being a young mum and help reverse some of ways society looks at them.
“Every teen mum programme is about bad young mums, getting young mums to stop smoking because they don’t realise smoking is bad for their child. I have never watched a programme about young mums that shows a good mum that is using common sense to bring up a child – it’s always about those who start drinking or don’t know who the father is and things like that. That’s how people see it and that’s sad.”
And Ashleigh said she was delighted the new £12 million Big Lottery Fund programme, Bright New Futures, would help support young parents.
“This lottery money to support young parents is really good. I was too embarrassed to go to antenatal because I would have been the youngest there and thought other mums would be looking at me thinking I’m far too young to be having a baby so any money that can help bring young mums together to take away any pressure or embarrassment would be fantastic.”
Now looking forward to the future, determined Ashleigh, who passed five GCSEs, has just finished a three-year hair and beauty course at her local college – successfully juggling studying, working and being a parent. She works at her mum’s salon in Welshpool and one day aspires to own her own business. And because she been able to pursue her dreams despite obstacles on the way, she’s confident her son, who starts school this year, has a bright future.
“Like every parent I want him to do well in school,” said Ashleigh. “I want what every mum wants. I feel proud of him – I feel I’ve done what I was meant to do with him – I’ve done it in the right way. I want him to have a good life, I want him to have a good childhood, I want him to stay young for longer than I did. I want Archie to know I was a proud young mum but I also want him to know how hard it was. I want him to know everything I’ve missed out on because I was a young mum. I’ve loved being a young mum but I don’t want people to get pregnant at 16 when their doing their GCSES because it’s not a good situation to be in.
“But I’m lucky to have a lovely son and I want stability for him – it’s a big year for Archie with starting school this year and he needs his mum and that’s it.”
Read a comic strip story about Ashleigh and listen to a podcast interview by visiting www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/brightnewfutures and clicking on the case study tab.