A note to dad: “I’m pregnant”

A sense of fear and dread engulfed Clare when, at the age of 17, she learned she was pregnant.

The teenager had just returned home from Port Moresby, where she had lived for a year with her Mum and Step dad after he was transferred there for work. The father of Clare’s baby was a local who had been in Clare’s school class in Port Moresby.

“It was New Year’s Eve in 2010 and I was in Hobart visiting family,” Clare recalls.

“I bought a pregnancy test and remember those agonising few minutes of waiting. It was even more stressful seeing the lines.”

Clare didn’t tell her family or friends; she was terrified. But she did phone her former boyfriend, who was supportive and wanted her to keep the baby.

“I freaked out,” Clare says. “I was overwhelmed thinking about what it takes to raise a child and everything that goes with it. I thought about the stereotypes of young parents and how society can look down on them. And I wondered how I would be able to give my child a good upbringing.”

Clare was living with her Dad but only told him when she was 12 weeks’ pregnant. She wrote him a note as she was too scared to tell him in person.

She told her Mum on the telephone a couple of weeks later, as she was still in Port Moresby.

While Clare had had a difficult relationship with her Mum through her teenage years, and also struggled with depression, she was close to her father, who came with her to her doctor’s appointments.

“I struggled a lot emotionally as a teenager and my relationship with my Mum was really poor,” Clare says. “I didn’t talk to her about anything and that was the start of her not feeling connected.

“She thought I was making the wrong decision to have the baby.”

Clare visited a family planning clinic with the support of her mother but decided to continue with her pregnancy.

“I saw all the people my Mum wanted me to see, and none of them pushed anything on me, but deep down I knew I was going to have my baby,” she says.

Clare’s Mum accepted and supported her daughter’s decision and attended James’ birth in August 2011.

Today, Clare is talking to “My Family, My Faith” at Karinya House for Mothers and Babies, a community based not-for-profit organisation that provides supported accommodation and outreach support to pregnant and parenting women and their families who are in crisis, on a 24 hour, 7 day a week basis.

Clare is now 20, and in her second year of studying politics and international relations at the University of Canberra. As Clare reflects on the last few tumultuous years, James, who is almost three, plays with staff in the backyard, hiding in the cubby house and darting about in a toy car.

Karinya House has been a lifeline for Clare, who had never heard of the organisation until she was referred by her GP.

“On my first visit I cried the whole time,” Clare reveals. “1 was 12 weeks’ pregnant and lost, but was able to talk through all the issues and underlying feelings with Marie-Louise (Karinya House Director). I was so overwhelmed and scared, about emotional and practical things.

“Coming here made me feel so much more prepared. I attended a group with other pregnant women and mothers and it was comforting to hear their stories, although at times confronting.”

Clare continues to see Marie-Louise and attend mothers’ groups at Karinya House, for support and friendship and also to help her cope with her depression.

It is inspiring to hear this woman’s story. Her motivation is reflected in the fact she finished her high school studies when she was eight months pregnant. And her maturity is impressive. Like any Mum, Clare watches her money carefully, balancing childcare fees as well as food and bills, and she recently moved out on her own after sharing a house (her Mum’s house) with her 17-year-old sister and James.

“I’m making ends meet,” Clare says matter-of-factly. “I’m a good budgeter, and tend to go without for myself, and don’t really spend any money on nice stuff, but that’s okay. I’ve slowed down at uni this year and reduced James’ time in childcare, because one of my childcare subsidies finished and I need to watch my income.

“One day I would like to buy a place of my own.”

Not having James’ Dad with her is a real sadness for Clare, because she loves him and wants him in their life, but she accepts that is a decision he has to make.

James’ Dad is 24 this year and studying IT at TAFE.

“I met him half way through my year in Port Moresby but by then, I had already decided I would return to Australia at the end of the year, to finish my Year 12,” Clare says.

“We were really close and happy, in love. It was hard to leave him and we planned to continue the relationship, but hadn’t made any firm plans.”

James’ Dad visited his son in Australia when the baby was four months old and Clare and James have visited Port Moresby and Bougainville, where James’ Dad is originally from.

“It’s really important that James sees his Dad,” Clare says. “That did concern me for a while, but I make do with what I’ve got. I don’t know if James’s Dad will move here, but I’m lucky that James spends a lot of time with my Dad, who retired last year.

“I have told James’ Dad that I would like him to be here, to have that support for me and James. I think he’s a little bit scared about leaving his own family but I think he’s working towards it.”

For Clare, the hardest part of being a single parent is asking for help, because she doesn’t feel other people should be responsible for James.

As for motherhood, Clare is its biggest promoter. It’s been easier than she thought, she says, and the hard days are okay, because her love for James outweighs them.

“Physically looking after him hasn’t been so difficult,” she says. “It’s managing my time and balancing going to uni with caring for him.

“I have missed out on certain things and probably would have travelled more if I hadn’t got pregnant, but I’m not sad about that. I wouldn’t trade James and motherhood for anything.

“I am a better person now. I cope a lot better with my life. I had a lot of trouble before, but I’ve learned to appreciate life now. I love watching him grow as a person and seeing how he can be so independent but he still loves to be around me and the people he loves.”

Clare hopes to one day work in international aid, maybe for AusAID. Far from letting being a young Mum be a hindrance, she sees it as a positive, because she’s more motivated to achieve her goals.

And her hopes for her almost three year old son? Not surprisingly, they’re the same hopes any Mum has for her child.

“That he can grow up to be a well-rounded person, that he has good values and is a nice person, that he has enough male influences to help him and that he doesn’t grow up too fast, because I think children are growing up too fast nowadays.”

Can you help Karinya House? Project 1000 aims to create a network of 1000 families or individuals to contribute $200 annually. All donations are tax deductible. Currently there are 640 contributors and numbers have plateaued for the last few years. If you are able to become a Project 1000 supporter, go to www.karinyahouse.asn.au If you are a business and can support Karinya House, please phone Director Marie-Louise Corkhill on 02 6259 8998.