‘Mum, I have something to tell you’

How would you react if your teenage daughter announced that she was pregnant? One young grandmother relives her experience

Baby being heldThey were words I had not expected to hear, not then at least. After all, we were sitting in the sun, having cleared a space in our day to discuss the exciting but perplexing choices confronting my 19-year-old second born. Should she take up that university place at the end of her gap year, or, radically, forgo higher education (for the time being at least) in favour of an exciting prospect in Paris?

What was not on the cards was what I sensed, somewhere deep in the back of my mind, I was about to hear. But maybe I was wrong, maybe she was going to tell me that those pains in her legs she had been to the doctor about were worse than just muscular. Perhaps she was seriously ill. Much better the first thing.

All of this flashed through my mind in seconds. But I remember those thoughts clearly today, nearly a year later. What my daughter said next would change everything. I knew that, and I felt strangely calm. Whatever she had to tell me, we would handle it.

‘I’m pregnant.’

My reaction? Relief. Thank God it was not the other possibility. But then came concern; what if she was going to tell me she did not want the baby? How would I deal with that?

Apparently what I said next was an expletive, but at this point my memory gets a bit hazy. We talked a lot. She cried. She had a scan photo to show me – a 17-week-old baby, lying there curled up and looking just like those photos I had lovingly kept of her and her sisters.

Seventeen weeks! How did that happen? We had been on holiday together, she and I, only a couple of weeks before. A mother and daughter bonding trip she had said, before everything changed and she went off to her new life.

She had lain beside me on the beach every day with that perfect body of hers and that washboard stomach, receiving admiring glances, and never once, not even when we had dinner together in the evenings and chatted about all sorts of things, never once had she hinted, or had I suspected, that she was already several weeks pregnant.

This was not meant to happen to a girl like her; the clever one of the family, the gifted and talented child who rarely had to work hard but managed to achieve good results nonetheless; the brave, adventurous one who had travelled through Asia, Australia and America, making friends and gathering admirers for her quick wit and beauty; the one with the lovely boyfriend from our village (and who now faced the prospect of leaving him, temporarily at least, to go on to the next phase of her life); the one who had so easily secured a place at university to study business but who somehow, without even trying so it seemed, had impressed her godfather so much that he wanted her to move to Paris and join his graduate (yes, graduate) trainee scheme instead.

She had been to Paris, and had spent a week working in that business, further impressing people and coming home with a new iPad bought for her by her wonderful godfather. She had had a fabulous time, the only glitch being that time when she returned to their flat after a stuffy metro journey and was sick. But then that’s what happens when you eat too much delicious French food and get into an airless train carriage. Isn’t it? So obvious now perhaps, but it wasn’t then. It wasn’t even on our radar.

And then the next clear thought I can remember: I am going to be a granny! That was exciting – wonderful actually. And a young granny too. After all, I was only 50 years old that summer. But what if she had decided on an abortion? What then?

But she was ahead of me, as she so often is. Her mind was already made up: she was going ahead with the pregnancy. How could she not when she had just spent a week sharing a room with her godfather’s beautiful 7-month-old daughter? How could she terminate her own baby after a week of joy and delight sharing someone else’s?

Intense relief poured over me. So we would not have to go down that road – I could close that one off in my mind. But the other road, yes the other road – full of excitement, the prospect of a new life, our family being extended for the first time into the next generation. A child. A real child was coming to join us. And I couldn’t wait – that is the truth.

I had never rehearsed this one in my head. I firmly believe there is no point in thinking too much about things that might not happen. Much better to save your energy for handling it if it does. Yet, if I am honest, I do not think I would have imagined reacting the way I did. Certainly the joy (because very soon the excitement tinged with a little fear grew into a hopeful, if slightly fragile, joy) was a bit of a surprise. And the peace; apart from some anxiety about how to tell her father and, as importantly, my parents, I felt a deep well of calmness about this, a certainty that it would be ok.

We would all cope – we would more than cope – because this was in fact a very good thing. Not a planned thing. Not the way we would have wanted it, ideally, but a very good thing nonetheless, for it was a new life.

And cope we did. With her boyfriend moving in to our home a few months later. With redecorating her sister’s old bedroom (so graciously offered by our eldest, now living in London) and transforming it into a beautiful nursery (all their hard work, completed whilst the rest of the family enjoyed a break in Turkey over half term). With health scares during the remainder of her pregnancy, including several trips to a cardiology unit to check out the heart palpitations she was experiencing. With the adjustment it entailed for the rest of the family, not least her 14-year-old sister who had been expecting to have the house to herself that autumn when her sister went to university or Paris. With people’s reactions, not all of which were positive. With all the preparation that goes into getting ready for a baby to come and change everything.

After a fairly long and most definitely difficult labour (the baby was back to back) a beautiful baby girl was born at 6.00am on Monday 6 February 2012. And she has become the focal point of the family – the whole extended family. Not only do her grandparents and aunts and uncles adore her, but she has charmed her great-grandparents and great-aunties and uncles and all their offspring too. Because she is, of course, the most beautiful baby ever.

She lights up our lives in a way we could not have envisaged (mainly because we never thought about it). We rush home from work or shopping or dinner parties or whatever just to look at her. Never have we spent so much time doing very little all because of one small person.

And I am proud of my daughter. She is a wonderful mother, a natural mother. She adores her daughter and tells her all the time. Yes, she has found it painful to lay aside her hopes and dreams for the future, for now at least, and to hold her head up when people assume she is a single mother and feel pity for her or find it amusing that she, the smart one, got ‘caught out’, and going to baby clinic in her mum’s car because she never did get round to retaking that driving test she narrowly failed before she went off travelling.

She has had to gain the respect of healthcare professionals who saw ‘teenager’ on her notes before they saw her as a person, and build a healthy and happy relationship with her boyfriend, the father of her daughter, living under our roof and contending with our influence and involvement in her life every day. Yet she has done it. She has become a mother and she and he have given us the most precious gift we could have received – the gift of a grandchild.

Heather Boal-Russell

About Heather Boal-Russell

Like many women of my age (52 – just), I have had several careers, including lawyer, sales manager and teacher. I am also a wife and the mother of three daughters, and recently added grandmother (of the wonderful Alettia) to my list of accomplishments. Having grown up in Northern Ireland, my heart is still drawn to the sea but I now live in beautiful rural Sussex - ideally placed for Gatwick Airport (travel definitely broadens the mind) and those inspirational shopping (and, of course, cultural) trips to London.