Mother claims there’s a STIGMA to having a child in your twenties

Mother, 27, who is mistaken for her three-year-old son’s nanny claims there’s a STIGMA to having a child in your twenties – even though it was the norm just a generation ago

  • Amy Nickell, 27, claims she’s been mistaken for her son’s nanny many times
  • She had her son Freddy at age 24 despite believing it would kill her career 
  • The Leeds graduate recalls feeling ashamed after discovering she was pregnant
  • She was working as a reporter and her son’s father chose not to be involved
  • Amy shared how she turned being a young single mother into a positive thing 

At my son Freddy’s nursery summer picnic, I draped my (slightly scruffy) blanket on the grass and looked around warily. With their floaty Boden tea dresses, cute little raffia bags and blow-dried hair, the other mums looked immaculate — and at least ten years older than me.

I’d rushed straight from my desk and felt like a fish out of water in my crop top and trainers. The fact that my old English teacher was to be seen psyching himself up for the father’s race didn’t help my cause.

Nevertheless, I smiled encouragingly as one of the other mums eased her Laura Ashley picnic rug into position beside mine.

‘It’s a shame Freddy’s mum couldn’t be here,’ she said, smoothing out her skirt. ‘I guess she works full time does she?’

Amy Nickell, 27, (pictured with her three-year-old son Freddy) became pregnant at age 24. She shared the stigma she’s experienced for having a baby in her twenties

‘Well yes, actually she does and … here she is,’ I countered, trying not to show my embarrassment. It’s not the first time I’ve been mistaken for Freddy’s nanny and I know it won’t be the last. People assume that because I had him when I was 24 (I’m 27 now), I can’t possibly be his mother. There’s no way, they think, that an articulate, university-educated career woman like me could have a baby.

But while people are quick to react with incredulity — and latent disapproval — they seem to forget that having a baby in your 20s was the norm not so long ago. And who’s to say older mums are necessarily better?

For the first time in history, women are encouraged to view their 20s as a time to ‘find’ themselves; travel the world, party hard, spend frivolously and be generally self-orientated.

But is that really so sensible? After all, we are physically designed to have babies in our 20s not our 30s. As is confirmed by stories of women struggling to conceive later in life.

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I can vouch for the physical advantages of having a baby earlier. I don’t want to sound smug but my body bounced back in weeks. I don’t have a single stretch mark and no ‘mum tum’. Honestly, my figure is the best it’s ever been.

Then there’s the fact that hopefully I’ll be around longer for Freddy. My own mother was 42 when she had me — I’m from her second marriage — and I’m all too aware that I’ll likely have less time with her than my friends will have with their mums.

That said, I can’t pretend I didn’t hold similar views to my critics before I conceived.

Like most other bright, middle-class girls of my generation I’d been brought up to believe motherhood was akin to domestic slavery and would kill my career stone dead.

My mum, Patricia, 71, a retired secretary, drummed into me that having a baby before 30 would be a disaster, guaranteed to lead to a lifetime of penury and misery.

Amy (pictured) says she was living the dream working as a red carpet reporter for Yahoo.UK before discovering she was pregnant in January 2014

After graduating from Leeds University, I landed a job as a red carpet reporter for internet company, Yahoo.UK. I lived the dream, sharing a flat in North London with Lorcan, my best friend from university.

My proud mum could barely keep up with all the stars I interviewed. There I was on camera with Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock, Robert Downey Jnr,, Woody Allen — the list went on. If I thought about babies at all, they were long in the future and came with a wedding ring and a well-heeled husband.

So, when I discovered I was pregnant in January 2014, I felt shocked, ashamed and absolutely terrified of other people’s reactions.

I’d only been in a relationship with Freddy’s father for a few months so it was hardly planned. I suspected from the start that Freddy’s dad wouldn’t want to be involved. And so it proved. He asked not to have his name on the birth certificate and has never offered to help financially.

In some ways I can’t blame him. After all, the decision to keep him was unilateral on my part. But his reaction was — and still remains — disappointing and I do worry about the impact on Freddy when he’s old enough to understand.

Mum was with me when I took the pregnancy test. The look on her face said it all. Like most people she assumed I would have an abortion. Before I became pregnant, that’s exactly what I’d have thought, too.

Amy claims she began to view being a mother during her relative youth as a positive thing after considering all the cons

Nevertheless, almost from the moment I saw the blue line on the pregnancy stick, I had an overwhelming urge to keep the baby.

I vacillated for days, worried that single parenthood would be an insurmountable challenge and that it would be unfair on my baby to deprive him of a father.

But after considering all the cons — including having to move home, abandon a burgeoning career, curtail my carefree social life and the risk of embarrassing my parents — I decided the pros outweighed them.

In fact, over time, I began to view my relative youth as a positive thing. Despite the opprobrium it seems to incur these days, most of my friends’ parents were in their mid 20s when they had them. And they were able to return to careers at a relatively young age.

Once I’d made my decision, both Mum and my dad, Rupert, 61, a retired construction manager, were fully behind me.

‘I’m not sure I would have made the same decision but don’t do anything that would break your heart,’ my wise mum said.

Amy admits she pretended to have discovered her pregnancy too late for a termination when asked about being a first time mum

Nevertheless, I was stunned by how ashamed I was made to feel by others. My mum grew up in the Sixties where, if girls got accidentally pregnant, they would be packed off to mother and baby homes or forced to give their babies up for adoption. She knew two girls who had succumbed to this fate.

Today young single mothers might not be carted off to mother and baby homes but the stigma is still very real. One colleague said: ‘You’re not from a council house. How could this have happened?’ I was 24. Not 14 for heaven’s sake.

Conflating my experience with that of a gymslip mum only highlights how skewed our view of young motherhood has become.

Virtually every day, people commented: ‘First time Mum? You look so young to have a baby.’ Turn the tables and imagine saying to a woman in her late 30s or early 40s: ‘Aren’t you a bit old to be a mum?’

My embarrassment was so acute I started pretending I’d discovered my pregnancy too late for a termination.

Meanwhile, my parents invited me to move back in with them in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, so they could help with childcare and I could save on bills for a while.

Amy says there are days when she longs for a partner to share the burden with as Freddy’s father chose not to be involved in his upbringing

And so it was that I found myself going into labour in my new bedroom — which happened to be my mum’s old walk-in wardrobe.

Freddy (named after my mum’s dad who died when she was 30) was born at Watford General Hospital on September 10, 2014 with Mum and my best friend Lorcan at my side.

The second I looked into Freddy’s eyes, the love was overpowering. And I took to the day-to-day care of Freddy like a duck to water. I’m not sure my youth made my pregnancy or birth significantly easier but I’ve definitely got bags of energy and stamina.

Of course there were days when I longed to have a partner to share the burden with. But I have never regretted my age. Perhaps the doubters made me all the more determined to succeed. I signed up for every class going. Baby Yoga, Baby Swimming. Baby Music. You name it, Freddy and I were there at least once.

But total strangers regularly assume that, as I’m a young mum, I must be incompetent.

Only last week I was in a restaurant with Freddy and a girlfriend. He was having a tricky day and was creating a fuss. Rather than ignore us, or smile kindly, the middle-aged couple on the table next to us started tut-tutting loudly.

Amy claims older mothers patronize her with suggestions on how to look after Freddy

Even more annoyingly, a 30-something mum on another table with two perfectly behaved children (of course) said: ‘Have you thought of feeding your son?’

Can you imagine anyone patronising an older mother like that. But it happens to me all the time. And when we flew to Spain last year, like most children, Freddy found the air pressure uncomfortable and started crying, an older man turned round in his seat and said: ‘Can’t you control your child you silly little girl?’.

Thankfully, though, I managed to maintain my old friendships, despite the fact that one sent me clothes for a four-year-old when Freddy was born — ‘Babies grow fast, don’t they?’ she said — and another gave him five pints of milk when babysitting.

‘I thought that because milk is good for babies, he could have as much as he wanted,’ she said. But I appreciated their efforts — however cack-handed.

Meanwhile, things aren’t going badly for me. Although I gave up my job after Freddy was born because the hours were unsustainable, my career is flourishing. As well as writing a book off the back of a newspaper column, I have regular broadcasting stints.

Amy says dating when you have a child can be difficult and she experienced one man being outraged to discover she has Freddy

I earn enough to pay for our little rented flat in Berkhamsted — just two streets away from my parents. Freddy goes to a private nursery, which I pay for.

I have also been enjoying a great social life. Admittedly dating when you have a child can be difficult. I met one man on an internet dating site who was outraged when I told him that I had a child. He accused me of misleading him. ‘It would be like me announcing out of the blue that I had an illness like Crohn’s Disease,’ he said.

Imagine comparing a baby to an illness. But that’s the trouble with trying to date men my own age who have no clue about children.

I did enjoy a two-year relationship with Oliver, a 31-year-old actor, which ended recently when we realised we didn’t have enough in common. But it was nice to know there are decent guys out there.

Although Freddy was reluctant to share me with anyone at first, he was content to do things like go rollerskating with Oliver.

I know that I can never expect anyone to love Freddy as much as I do but Oliver summed it up neatly: ‘I love you and, if you didn’t have Freddy, you wouldn’t be you.’

I certainly didn’t plan to have a baby at 24. But it’s been the best thing that’s happened to me. And I believe I’m doing a good job.

In fact I would say that, in my experience, your 20s is the best time to have a baby.

After all, look how impeccably our mothers and grandmothers raised us at the same age.

Perhaps it’s time to accept that young mums — even single ones like me — can be every bit as good as older mums.

Confessions Of A Single Mum by Amy Nickell is published on July 12 by Headline at £16.99. 

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