“You’re too young to have a baby.”
That’s what they tell us, at least. Those of us too young for wrinkles or graying hair; those of us who haven’t seen our 10-year high school reunions; those of us just starting out as adults.
“That’s YOUR baby? No way! You look way too young to be a mom.”
I was deeply insecure about my age — pregnant at 21, a new mom at 22, with a running list of questions I felt obligated to answer: “How old are you? Did you ever think about abortion? Adoption? Are you worried about your career? Did you plan this? Is the dad helping?”
I heard the “too young” implication in a variety of ways — from the stunned (“I thought you were in high school!”) to the rude (“Ha, babies having babies. Cute.”). It was said through well-meaning comparisons and back-handed compliments (“Gosh, I never could’ve had a kid at your age, I was a mess.”) It was said through their darting eyes, searching my face for an age.
You hear it in casual conversations all the time: “My god, can you imagine having a baby at that age? I could barely take care of myself at 22! What a nightmare!”
People don’t mean to be rude; from their perspective, they’re being honest. They can’t possibly fathom being responsible for a child at a young age, and so they’re skeptical that anyone else could, either. I doubted my own capabilities, entirely based on my age, and these kinds of comments only reinforced my deepest fears. I wondered if everyone knew something I didn’t. As if one day I’d wake up and realize, Everyone was right. I was too young.
Turns out, everyone does know something … they just fail to mention it. And so I’ll be the one to say it:
We don’t become wise and mature through chronological age; we mature through experience.
Life experience. Deep emotional explorations, character-testing crossroads, painful, scary, heart-expanding experiences. And motherhood? Well that’s one hell of an experience.
I couldn’t know how motherhood would change me back when I was 21 and pregnant. Before I shared my body with a growing, living being, and saw all of these dormant functions instinctively kick in; before I mentally coached myself through labor, discovering a deep warrior spirit, fiercely protective like a mama bear. I came face-to-face with the fragility and impermanence of life — that affected me; it all affected me. I was changed, down to my very cells.
And so now when I hear people scoff at the thought of being a younger parent (“I was way too irresponsible to be a parent”), I think, maybe. But maybe not. Maybe you would have surprised yourself. Maybe you would have figured your crap out — not because of your age, but because you had a small person looking up to you as an example. Your child would have needed you, and you most likely would have stepped up. Perhaps that deep vulnerability to life and death would have shifted something inside of you. Through the course of two or three years, you’d probably see life through a more mature perspective. I’d put money on it.
And when I get emails from young pregnant women, freaking out because they’re “only 23,” and how can they possibly handle being a mom at that age, I tell them that they’re capable of so much more than they realize.
Was I too young to have a baby at 21? According to some people, yes. They straight-up told me so. But regardless, being thrown into motherhood is like plunging into the deep end of life experience — extreme highs and extreme lows, as human nature evolves before our eyes. We’re not too young to be moved by that. We’re not too young to be transformed.
As soon as I saw a second faint line on my pregnancy test, I knew that everything was about to change.
What I didn’t know is how it would change me, too, in the process.