In June students at the Connected Learning Centre Teen Parent Unit in Otara, Auckland, wrote to the Prime Minister offering advice and well wishes for her upcoming role as a mother.

Here, the mothers from the unit have shared their story of parenting, including some of the letters they sent that day.

These women speak of the obvious challenges of being a young parent, but also convey a life full of joy and happiness, love, opportunities and the motivation their child gives them to succeed. They are wāhine toa who embody both the independence the suffrage movement fought for, and the barriers that still remain.

Dear Jacinda Ardern .....

Hello Jacinda, my name is Lina. I am studying Level 2 and hopefully getting my Level 3 next year. I am 17 years of age and I am a young mother of a 3-year-old boy named Zion.

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I heard you were giving birth soon, like really soon, right? I cannot believe how you can handle being the Prime Minister and having a child at the same time. I know you will feel stress, but I know for sure you and your partner are definitely going to do well, having each other's back at all times. I really hope you do well with both of you becoming parents for the first time. May God Bless your small family and prayer coming out your way.

Your Sincerely,
Lina

Lealauni with PM.
Lealauni with PM.

Dear Jacinda Ardern,

Malo e lelei, Kia ora and Talofa lava.

My name is Lealauni, I attend the Connected Learning Centre at Tangaroa College, Otara. I am 16 years old and I have a 5 month old son. As a young mother myself, I would like to pass onto you some advice to give you a glimpse of what it might feel like when you become a mother. Yes, it will be hard. But it won't stop you from achieving your goals. Yes, there will be barriers to doing things you need to do at times, but the process of being a mother takes time to adjust to. You need sleep to make sure you have enough strength for your child every day. Your health is equally important as your baby's. I can tell you that ever since I had my son there was not one single day where I wasn't judged for supporting a child on my own.

It takes a village to raise a child, but it took me a couple of grants to support myself and my son...Don't let anybody tell you what to do with your child because at the end of the day, you have been the one carrying your child for 9 months and you will be the one delivering the child when it's ready to make its grand entrance. You are the one providing the support and strength into your whanau. I can tell you one thing: you'll know what to do because within every female being is a mother, it is in our nature. We were born to carry these gifts from our creators and our Mothers. And saying this as a mother myself, I believe that you will be the best role model and the greatest mother for this child. I would like to say thank you and that I appreciate the way you are a role model to our beautiful nation. You're amazing to look up to and thank you so much for this opportunity.

Yours Sincerely,
Lealauni

Gwenneth and her son with PM.
Gwenneth and her son with PM.

Dear Jacinda Ardern,

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I would like to introduce myself. My name is Gwenneth, I attend the Teen Parent Unit at Tangaroa College in Otara. I have a 3 and a half year-old son named Ernest. He attends the daycare across from school. I am writing to you because I heard that you'll be expecting a newborn baby soon. I wanted to give you some advice on what to expect and how to deal with things…

When baby is asleep, you sleep too.. Remember that you are a woman first, a mother second! More sleep equals less stress! The cheapest toys are always the best as they can use them for longer. In the future you can look forward to parenting a toddler. It is so much fun because they can talk to you and you'll have to be on your toes!!... I admire you for being a very strong woman and also that gender role reversal that you have with your supportive partner, You work and bring home the bacon! It's very inspiring. It's not always easy to juggle working and being a mum at the same time. I can tell you that I'm a single parent that continues to go to school and being a mum is the toughest thing ever, but I know that you'll get past that with the support you have. Judgements might be a difficult matter but you can brush them off. You're not a superwoman, you're a human being who will be looking after not one person but the whole nation of New Zealand! So hats off to you. Best wishes on the arrival of your baby.

Yours,
Gwen

Living Life "Backwards", by Aaliyah, 18

Aaliyah and her daughter
Aaliyah and her daughter

"Being a young mum in New Zealand today, we get judged and criticised for being under age. People often think young mums can't do anything for themselves after they've had a baby and that their life stops there. We lose friends even when we're just carrying the baby, our own families drift apart or don't agree with us having a baby, and after all that we also get judged for the way we "mother" our child once they are born.

What many people don't know is that we have Teen Parent Units in New Zealand that support young mums and dads with education while keeping our babies close to us. Just because we had our babies first before we finished our education certainly doesn't mean we can't accomplish the goals we set before we fell pregnant. In 2018 we're still expected to follow the "usual" pattern — finish school, go to university, settle down and then have kids — but I think you can always live life backwards and still study with a baby when you have a strong support system.

Just because we had our babies first before we finished our education certainly doesn't mean we can't accomplish the goals we set before we fell pregnant.

Personally, I struggled to come to school when my baby was just a newborn, because I wasn't ready for the 1am wake-ups, so I took a whole year off to adjust to being a mum. Teen mothers also struggle with antenatal and postnatal depression that nobody ever talks about but we have to "get over it" just like we do for everything else. I struggled with postnatal depression after the many judgements that came my way.

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I came back early this year to complete my studies by the end of the year. At the moment, I'm in the middle of trying to get a house for myself and my baby but barriers like my age and income have made it difficult. In the future, I sure hope I do the best I can to ensure my baby girl doesn't get criticised the way I did. But for other teen mums or dads who feel like they can't do it or they're tired, we HAVE to soldier on for our kids. I don't know exactly what I want to do in the future but that's like a lot of 18-year-olds and adults too. Who ever knows what their future will look like? We're always expected to know what we want, but hey, I'm still young and still trying to figure out this thing called 'adulthood'."

A day in the life of a teen mother, by Georgina, 15

Georgina and her baby.
Georgina and her baby.

"I wake up numerous times throughout the night, rush around and I'm always forgetting stuff. I get up tired in the mornings from always making bottles, changing nappies, doing everything that a baby needs. Other girls my age are thinking about being famous, keeping up with social media and sleeping in. Being a teen mother we are often judged by people who think of us as girls who have no future. I see being a young teen mother as an opportunity to learn new things and to better the life of our children.

My experience of being a young mother has definitely impacted on the way I see life now, as I have a new role to play living in adulthood, more responsibility and I have a lot of new things to learn. The moment you lay your eyes on your newborn baby you just want the best for them and think of the better future ahead.

On July 2 2018, I gave birth to a handsome baby boy. The following weeks were the hardest of my life as I had no income, my parents weren't around, I was moving from house to house and I was fighting antenatal depression. I felt helpless and overwhelmed and worried that my child was not going to have the best future I could give him.

In the end, I, a teenage mother, got through it all. I reunited with my family, received enough income to buy baby's essentials although I am still not on a benefit because I am not eligible. I have decided to return to studying at the TPU because of the goals I have for myself and my child. Every day I juggle being a mum, coming to school to complete Level 1 NCEA and fighting off the negativity towards me. My baby is a strong and healthy 3-month-old and I am proud that I fought those battles on my own."

A Beautiful Journey, by Annalysse, 18

Annalysse and her son.
Annalysse and her son.

"Being a teen mum has been both the happiest and scariest moments of my life. When I found out I was pregnant I was in my last year of school, trying to gain NCEA Level 3. One of the first thoughts that came into my head was how am I going to tell my family? What am I going to do now? I'M ONLY 16! But love for me and my unborn baby came from everywhere. Once everyone knew I was pregnant my family continuously reminded me that my life wasn't over just because I was going to be a mum. I did get a little bit of judgement from people that didn't matter in my life, but I didn't let that get to me I just focused on the positive things, me and my unborn baby.

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Pregnancy was the most natural and beautiful journey I have been through I loved every moment of it, most of all the midwife appointments and scans where I could hear and see my baby move. In April 2017 I enrolled in the Teen Parent Unit at Tangaroa College and continued to carry on with my studies to complete NCEA.

On August 17 2017 I was blessed with a 7.6lb baby boy. Becoming a mum has given me a different perspective on life. I love everything about motherhood from the early mornings, dirty nappies, even getting spewed all over. I have learnt to embrace it all. Right now I am still continuing to complete NCEA level 3 only because I had postnatal depression and took a lot of time off school to look after myself and also my son.

My goal for the future is to be fully independent, become a qualified Early Childhood teacher and to watch my son grow up and have a good life."

Telling my Own Tale, by Gwen, 19

Gwen and her son.
Gwen and her son.

"Being a young mother in New Zealand has its ups and downs. At the age of 16 I was pregnant with my son. I didn't find out that I was pregnant until I went into labour. I was faced with a lot of criticism during this time. My friends vanished without a trace. I would often hear phrases like, "You're too young to care for a child, let alone yourself." I was hurt by the comments they threw at me. I wanted to say that they don't know anything about me, everyone has a story but only I can tell my own tale.

My son is now 3. I was able to take a whole year off school to create a stronger bond with my son and I don't regret doing so. I was able to go back to school at the Teen Parent Unit and have now been here three years.

I am fortunate that we have transport that allows us to get here and my attendance is always 100%. I am hoping to complete my Level 3 NCEA this year. My goal for the future is to continue studying and pursue my passion for creative writing. I also plan to work really hard to make sure I can support my son and take care of him.

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Despite the judgements that I've faced, I am the person who wakes up every morning to the warmth of my son next to me. I am the person who makes sure to prepare a warm face cloth to wipe his face and makes sure he brushes his pearly whites. I am the person that changes his nappy and feeds him breakfast every single day.

My son can be a monkey but I allow him to express his emotions because I want him to know that he is heard. I just love him unconditionally."

The Juggle by Max, 19

Max and her daughter with PM.
Max and her daughter with PM.

When I was 18 I had my daughter, Zayleigh-Alamein and my whole world changed. I became a solo mother and was scared. She was so little and tiny she could just fit in my arms, but I was also filled with joy and happiness. I had times when she was a newborn where I would get frustrated and although it was very stressful I focused on being an independent mother because I had it in my head that if I could make her I could raise her. I put her on the bottle because I needed to go back to school, juggling my life and baby's was really intense but I did it.

Motherhood is really rewarding but at the same time it is not a walk in the park. Now I know how much my mother sacrifices for her children. And now I would do the same for my daughter. Being a young mother and finally knowing what I want and having my own place as well as coming back to school requires a lot of energy and motivation and dedication. My future involves me getting my NCEA Level 3 so I can work towards a Bachelor's Degree in Fashion and Design. I have to know where I'm going for my future pathway, if I have no pathway I'm going to be going nowhere. There is a lot of support in place for young mothers, if you're willing to accept that help. But you have to go and look for that support because you can't help someone if they haven't helped themselves. Seeing my daughter learn and grow, play, laugh, and smile, seeing her enjoying her life and loving everyone in it, that's what gets me out of my bed each day to care for my daughter, Zayleigh-Alamein.