Ruth Jalloh, social inclusion manager for St John Ambulance first got pregnant at the age of 17. In this blog, she looks back at how her life changed, and how her family and her partner helped her through this time in her life.
“Seventeen and pregnant! That’s it for her now, she will never finish the course, let alone make anything of her life.”
This is what I overheard my tutors at college say when I informed them that I was 12 weeks pregnant and fully intending on completing the GNVQ course I was on. I had worked hard to get where I was and hand no intention of stopping. I knew where I wanted to be and how I was going to get there!
But first, let me take you back to when I met the love of my life.
He was in the year below me at school and the first time I saw him, I told my best-friend: “I’m gonna marry that boy!”
She nearly choked on her lunch in the school dinner hall and kindly reminded me “Girl! You don’t even know his name!” From that day I made it my mission to not only get to know his name, but also who he was.
This plan was well executed if I do say so myself and he asked me to be his girlfriend just before Christmas.
Four years later, after two weeks of extreme sickness, I did a pregnancy test at home – it was negative. I took two more just to be sure but they gave the same results.
The sickness continued and thinking it was a tummy bug my mum booked me an appointment with our GP. The first question they asked was – yep, you guessed it – “could you be pregnant?”
“Nope!” I replied confidently, “I have taken three tests and they are all negative”.
“Umm, let’s just do one more,” said the doctor to rule this out. I side-eyed my mum and agreed to pee in the pot.
“There is a blue line young lady, which means YOU ARE PREGNANT.”
Silence. Silence and more silence fell over the small room as I avoided eye contact with my mum. I didn’t really hear anything the doctor said after those last three words.
My mum and I were sent to Kings College hospital straight away for an internal scan and my mum chatted away for the whole drive, talking about everything other than what the doctor had just told us.
The pregnancy was confirmed at the hospital, I was in the very early stages of pregnancy; hence my three negative pregnancy tests. During the scanning process, I avoided looking at the screen and maintained eye contact with my mum; wishing, praying, hoping for a sign of her reaction to the whole situation.
No words were spoken aside from the doctor’s, he confirmed what my GP had told us earlier in the day.
What happened next surprised me more than the news from two doctors. My mum smiled and she said “I’ve got you.”
That is more than can be said for my dad. But talking of dads; I was about to tell my 17 year old boyfriend that he was about to become one!
“Hello!” “Hi!” “You ok?” “I’m pregnant…”
I knew he was still on the line because I could hear traffic in the background. The first thing he said is “Are you ok? How do you feel?” I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t know how I felt. We agreed to meet later that evening to discuss face to face, he was at 6th form and I was in my second year at college, I lived with my mum who did everything for me and he was in foster care and had a younger brother he was responsible for. Were we really ready for this?
Statistically the answer would probably be NO! He was a black boy, living in East Peckham estate that ended up in care, I was a mixed race girl from a single parent household with four brothers, living in a council house in a deprived area of town.
Later that evening my mum asked me a question, one that changed my thinking completely: “Can you do this without him?”
Initially I wondered what she meant. We had been together for four years, we were not going to break up. Then after some reflection I realised what she was saying and I started to think of this little poppy seed inside of me as a person in its own right.
Could I do this on my own?
I said “yes”, firstly because I knew she and my brother would always have my back and we would raise this child as a family.
But most importantly, I knew the person I had spent the last four years of my life with would not make me do this on my own. Even if we didn’t last long in our couple relationship, I know he would be an amazing father and would always support me and the baby.
During the next couple of months, so much changed for me, my attendance at college was patchy due to sickness and I was admitted to hospital too.
I stayed in contact with the college every step of the way and received information via email, post and a friend to allow me to keep up to date with the course requirements.
I was committed to completing this course, not only for me but for my baby.
So committed in fact that I was doing course work whilst in the early stages of labour in the hospital and spent many a night, breastfeeding by my dim study light and using one finger to continue typing my work!
I was discharged from hospital and my attendance at college improved. My boyfriend and my mum were by my side the whole time, offering me acts of service and words of affirmation to keep me going.
Don’t get me wrong, I was not the nicest person when I was pregnant, I felt sick, fat and tired 99% of the time. But the conversation I overheard from my tutors is weirdly what kept me going.