Header & flat lay images: Kerri Walter (@kerriwalterphotography)
My ultimate goal is to be a kick-ass working mother. For me, that is the epitome of an incredible woman; someone who is a doting caregiver (whether this is to her own children, fostering or adopting, anything), excelling in her career, and is a strong, independent female, with or without a partner by her side.
As of last year, the average age UK women enter motherhood is 30, however, I am intrigued by those taking on this mahoosive role a little younger, and how they balance it with everything else their 20s throws at them. For my generation, there is a huge expectation to use your 20s to have the job, the social life, the relationship, the travel, and excel in all these aspects while still getting eight hours sleep a day and enjoying it to the max. It's tough enough as it is, without adding a little dependent human into the mix!
According to the Office of National Statistics (2017), the amount of mothers in employment has gone up by 11 percentage points in the last twenty years. While, this appears to be quite a low percentage increase given the time period, it still signifies progress. Boy, we have far to go, but there is still some hope, eh?
Thankfully, I am surrounded by some incredible role models. My own mother had me at 27, and she has done a damn incredible job (if I do say so myself). She maneuvered the breakdown of a relationship, battled the minefield of dating with two kids, and has had many different careers, all of which she has excelled at.
Two of my close friends, Rachel and Nirvana, are also incredible mothers. They are nurturing, bring up their sons to be solid in their morals and have respect, but haven’t compromised their own quirky personalities for this new life role. I love watching Nirvana’s son dancing to exactly the same music we danced to with his parents in our student union four years ago, while Rachel's son has such an incredible wit and humour about him that I cannot wait to see the young man he grows into.
Rachel was 24 when she had her now nine-year-old, while Nirvana was 26 and her son is now three. Here, they have shared some solid words of wisdom regarding motherhood during your 20s.
On being considered a 'young mum'
"Being a mother is about my relationship with my child, so I just consider myself a 'mum', not a 'young mum'," says Rachel.
"I knew that having my son wouldn’t hold me back from anything - it just meant that I had another person to take on the ride! I think, as a mum in your 20s, you face the same challenges as any other mum, whatever your age. The only difference is when you are younger, other people like to point it out constantly, which can be very annoying by the time you get to month five! That said, I was definitely fitter and healthier in my 20s and I felt like I had more energy to get up and go back then."
She added: "Although, my pregnancy wasn't planned, I was in love and in a relationship I had been in for years, I had a successful job and I couldn’t wait to be a mummy. I expected my dad to be unhappy, but he was actually really excited. Initially, Mum thought that I was too young and wanted me to do more with my life before settling down but, as the pregnancy went on, that apprehension turned into excitement.
"I am planning on having another child now that I am in my 30s and I am worried about whether my body can handle the ordeal in terms of the pregnancy and the energy required to care for a newborn baby. I think I have the nine-year-old bit nailed, but can I still handle a newborn?"
Nirvana added: "I got quite mixed reactions during my pregnancy: some people were very pessimistic - which is quite insulting - while others saw the positives. Personally, I think to become pregnant in my 20s made for an easier recovery and I feel like I have more energy to spend with my son. I also quite liked the idea of 'getting it out of the way' as I know women in their 30s who have struggled to conceive naturally."
On your career
"Having a child at 26 meant having to put my career on hold but, that said, it has now fully dawned on me that I would have had to do so no matter what age I decided to have a child," said Nirvana. "And, actually, having a child doesn't necessarily mean putting your career on hold at all; I chose to do so because I wanted to be at home with him and raise him myself. Prior to having my child, I had 10 years of job experience and a degree behind me, so apart from initial doubts, I felt quite prepared.".
Rachel added: "I don’t think motherhood has had an impact on my career. I’m working in the industry that I want and, while I gave up a management position because I wanted less stress, it more affected my perception on what's important to me rather than what I want to do overall.
"I was lucky to work for a brilliant employer when I got pregnant, so maternity leave and returning to work was seamless. Then I found a brilliant childminder, which meant that I could maintain my hours, be as effective and ambitious as I always was, and have the work-life balance that works for me. The only real change is that there are times where I may want to work late and can't, but it just encourages me to be amazingly organised, so the need to work late is few and far between. I can’t always make after work events, but I don’t think this has affected my career as I have been blessed with understanding employers who know how hard I work and appreciate that I am an asset. I know this isn’t the experience of all mums - I know I am lucky."
On your social life
Having a child in your 20s doesn't mark the end of your social life - not by a long a shot! It just means that some priorities will change.
"I found out I was pregnant on a Thursday, which was a few days before a planned trip with my uni mates, so my first test came early on! I went to Cambridge for a night out on the Saturday - that just wasn’t the same because I wasn’t drinking; I collapsed at the currency exchange on the Sunday because I chose to sleep in, then missed breakfast, so I could get my errands done - but, of course, missing meals wasn’t good for a pregnant woman; and then, by the Tuesday, I found myself in Amsterdam, them all drunk, and me opting to go to museums instead. I wanted to keep me and my baby safe, well fed and healthy, and not be around the smoking fumes. After this series of events, I realised that my priorities had changed in an instant. It was no longer just about having fun and getting on it with my mates; it was about being the best mum ever and I was so happy about it - albeit slightly unprepared at the time!" Rachel recalled.
"I go to the nights out, bottomless brunches and festivals that I can make that work around my child but, as I have gotten older and wiser, I no longer feel bad about saying 'no' to friends and events. Good friends understand that time with my boy is precious. I was the first one in my friendship group to have a baby; everyone was ecstatic when I was pregnant and, even now, my son still gets spoiled by my friends."
You can expand the activities in your social calendar, too. As a group, my friends and I hold an annual Sports Day with our personal trainer friend at the helm. Last year, Rachel's son joined us (and definitely outshone a few of us... namely me).
Rachel added: "I feel like I can relate to my son better because I am still fairly young and, whilst I may not be a spritely as I was in my 20s, you can see the difference in the park and in a school Sports Day Parents Race."
I have actually been on a few holidays with Rachel, and I am about to go to Disneyland Paris with her, her son and another friend of ours. "Travel requires more planning and more consideration about the logistics and entertainment. There are certain places that I wouldn’t take my son as a result, but there are so many family-friendly options; family travel can be done in a stress-free way. However, I will say, it is more expensive due to the restrictions of the school holiday and, even when this doesn’t affect the price, there is the fact that you are travelling with extra people."
Nirvana said: "One funny memory from my pregnancy is going into the Guyanese Jungle during my first trimester to see a waterfall. However, I was unable to show - or tell - my partner about the beautiful insect that was hiding a few feet from us because I was puking so hard!
"I am very lucky when travelling with my son now; my child is quick, easy-going and is always up for an adventure!"
Last words of advice
"Don’t think about how old you are," says Rachel. "Think about what you want, what makes you happy and, as long as your child is your priority and you love them as they love you, the opinions of everyone else doesn't matter.
"You can do your best for your child and still do you, too; just think about the life you want, the kind of mum you want to be and then put things into action to make it happen. Work, career, love life, social life, and childcare can work together to give you the balance you want - sometimes you just need to be brave enough to ask for the help, or the flexibility, required to make things happen."
Nirvana concluded: "I actually haven't faced any particular challenges by having a child in my 20s that I wouldn't have faced at any other time. If I could give any advice to mothers - whatever age they are - it would be to enjoy the ride! They really do grow up too quickly!"