End of the world?

While many young girls who have babies find their lives
stalled amid poverty and dependence, having a baby as a teenager need not spell
doom. Here, young people tell Linda Green how, with the right kind of support,
they can pick up the threads of their lives and move forward.

Syndie was 12 years old when she discovered she was
pregnant. But far from thinking her life was over, she saw the pregnancy as a
positive thing. Two years on, she is working towards her GCSEs and is devoted
to her one-year-old daughter Grace.

The fact that Syndie
has been able to cope so well with being a school age mum is due in part to the
level of support she has received from the Leo Kelly Centre in Manchester.

The centre, part of
the Manchester Hospital Schools and Home Teaching Service, offers full-time
education for pregnant schoolgirls and schoolgirl mums. Qualified nursery
nurses look after the babies in the unit nursery which the mums can visit
during lesson breaks.

Syndie continued in
her mainstream school for a short time after discovering she was pregnant and
tried another pregnant schoolgirl unit before she found the support and
educational opportunities she was looking for at the Leo Kelly Centre.

She says: "My
old school was good, they helped me out with a lot of stuff. They bought me big
jumpers and things that would hide the pregnancy so I wasn’t made fun out of.

"I moved to a
pregnant schoolgirl unit when I was five months pregnant because I was getting
tired and I couldn’t climb the stairs very easily at my old school.

"But after I
had my baby, I was the only mother at the unit and they only offered half days
and I needed a full education. I wanted to be with more people who’d had
similar experiences to me."

Syndie voiced her
concerns and was offered a place at the Leo Kelly Centre. She says: "I
liked it when I came here because there were more girls my age and more babies
for Grace to play with. The nursery nurses also seemed well trained.

"I’m getting a
full education and I’m doing a full range of subjects. In the other unit I
could only do maths, English, science and computer studies. Now I’m doing
humanities, drama, art and everything else."

Syndie admits that
she knew little about contraception before she became pregnant. "At school
when it was time for sex education lessons I never actually did that. I wrote a
note from my parents telling the school that I couldn’t do it. I was a tomboy
and I didn’t want anything to do with that because I thought I wasn’t going to
have kids or even a boyfriend.

"I was quite
happy when I found out I was pregnant. Although I wasn’t happy for my parents
because of how it looked. I was 12 at the time so it was quite hard for them.
It was my decision to have the baby and I was happy with it."

Syndie, now 14, says
she liked being a mum straight away and thinks she coped very well, aided by
the support of her family and Grace’s father. She remains positive about the
future. "I’m really glad that I continued my education. I want to go to
college and get a job working in a nice office."

When Nadine became
pregnant she felt she wasn’t given enough time or information to make the
biggest decision of her life. She explains: "I was 14 when I found out I
was six weeks pregnant. I went to a clinic at about six o’clock in the evening
and they basically said I could either keep the baby or they would book me in
for an abortion in the morning. That’s what made me decide to keep him.

"I left school
very quickly. I told one teacher I was pregnant and by the next day it was
round the whole school. I think it would have been a problem to continue there,
it was much better when I came to the Leo Kelly Centre. It helped me to be
around other girls and their babies because it meant I was used to holding,
feeding and changing babies before I had Connor."

For Nadine, now 16,
the biggest problem with being a young mum has been trying to get health and
medical professionals to take her seriously.

She says:
"Connor was really poorly last November with bronchitis. The first doctor
I saw told me it was a chest infection and four days later I saw an emergency
doctor in the early hours of the morning and he also said it was a chest
infection. Twelve hours later I was rushed into casualty with him.

"The doctors
didn’t take me seriously because of my age, they were talking to my mum about
Connor instead of me and I was saying: ‘Hello, that’s my baby. He’s my son and
you can talk to me about him.’

"It happened
all the way through when I was pregnant, doctors talking to my mum instead of

Fortunately Connor,
now 15 months old, has recovered well since and the staff at the Leo Kelly
Centre have helped Nadine to get him a nursery place when she starts her
A-level course at college in September.

Trudy didn’t realise
she was expecting until she was six months pregnant. At 14 it came as a
terrible shock. She says: "We didn’t have much sex education at school. We
had one lesson and that was it. Looking back now I think we should have had

She opted to go
straight to the Leo Kelly Centre rather than return to school and says she
found it easy to make friends and the staff were very supportive. But nothing
prepared her for the actual birth.

"I was in
labour for 18 hours. I had to have a Caesarean in the end, it was horrible. I
didn’t find looking after a baby that difficult because I’d helped to bring my
little brother up and my mum gave me a lot of help as well. The most difficult
part was when Amber was crying and I didn’t know what to do."

Trudy, now 15, is
grateful for the support she has received from her mum and her boyfriend’s mum,
who she and six-month-old Amber live with. And she says having Amber has made
her more determined than ever to go to college to study child care and get a
job working with children.

Some names had
been changed to protect identities in this article.

My life

A fourteen-year-old girl describes how it felt when a close
friend went off the rails.

Keeley has been part of my friendship group ever since
primary school. We’ve always been the good kids in the class, the ones who handed
in homework and did as we were told. Last year though, Keeley failed a maths
exam and moved down a set. She never acted upset, but it obviously affected
her. Gradually, she stopped working so hard – what’s the point of trying if you
fail anyway?

She started to
change as a person as well. She told us that we should stop hanging round
together as much, because other people thought it was weird to be so close. It
felt horrible to hear her say that; we’ve never cared about what anyone else

To prove her point,
she started sitting with a girl called Shelley, who is nice enough, but the
sort of girl my mum (and Keeley’s) would call a bad influence. She also turns
her charm on and off – she was never really friendly with any of us apart from

Before long, Keeley
and Shelley were going to town together after school, hanging round bus stops,
and chatting up boys. Keeley has never acted like that, not ever, and it was so
surprising to see her change. Even worse was when Shelley persuaded her to truant.

She started forging
notes from home so that she could leave school just before PE, or during
assembly. Then she started to miss important classes, like maths and English,
without bothering with the fake notes. Shelley walks out of school all the time,
so Keeley thought it OK to do the same. I don’t agree.

It was on one of
their school-time trips into town when Shelley taught Keeley how to shoplift,
beginning with small things and building up. Last time they went
"shopping" together, Keeley stole £85 worth of cosmetics from big
chain stores in two hours.

The thing I find
most shocking about my friend’s demise is the speed at which it has happened.
Six months ago, Keeley would never have even considered missing a lesson, never
mind walking out of school for hours. Now, she does exactly what she wants to.

It upsets me when I
see what she has turned into. It’s scary when I hear people talking on the news
about teenagers truanting from school and turning to crime, and suddenly
realise that they’re talking about one of my best friends.

Names of children mentioned here have been changed to
protect anonymity.


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