Being a young mother is no walk in the park, but Southland teen Georgia wouldn't have it any other way.

"I wouldn't change anything. I love my daughter," she said.

The loss of her youth was what she had struggled with the most, she said.

"You do miss it.

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"You see others living their lives, going travelling, and you wish you could do that, but this is my choice."

Being a teen mother did not mean she would miss out on opportunities other young people had, she said.

"It just means I have to work that much harder and wait a little bit longer, but I can still do everything other kids are doing."

The now 19-year-old became pregnant at age 16. She had left school and was living on her own for several months before falling pregnant.

She had been philosophical about becoming pregnant.

"I wasn't too worried.

"When you have unprotected sex you can't expect not to get pregnant."

While initially shocked, their families had been supportive of her decision to keep the baby, she said.
And, aside from some people staring at her on the street, she had not experienced a backlash, although she knew of other teen girls who had.

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She and the father of the baby were together for a time, but had since gone their separate ways.

Georgia reads a book to her two-year old daughter. Photo / Petrina Wright
Georgia reads a book to her two-year old daughter. Photo / Petrina Wright

Georgia had been doing a business studies course at an alternative education provider, but on becoming pregnant and suffering from severe morning sickness, she had been forced to leave.

Like in a work situation, students were only allowed five sick days a year, she said.

"I was quite enjoying [the course], but they just couldn't accommodate me."

The first year of motherhood had been "a breeze" for Georgia.

"I started questioning my decision, but then my daughter would do something cheeky and cute and I know I wouldn't change this for the world."

Being a young mother had its benefits, she said.

She had developed a close bond with her baby because they were closer in age.

"More like sisters," she said.

She was able to spend more time with her newborn than working mothers who had limited maternity leave, and had more energy than perhaps older mothers had, she said.

Setting herself up financially however had had its challenges.

At the time of becoming pregnant she was receiving the Independent Youth Benefit and living in Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust's supported living accommodation facility. After paying for food and board, she had $50 leftover for spending money.

"Without the support from the father and his family, I wouldn't have been able to get all the baby stuff I needed."

After the birth, her family and the father's family acted as guarantors so she could get her own place.
She was only 17 at the time and couldn't legally get her own place without having someone act as a guarantor, she said.

She was now receiving the Young Parent Payment, and gaining her NCEA qualifications through the Murihiku Young Parents Learning Centre (MYPLC) in Invercargill.

"These forms of benefits are no different from investing in university students, as they too receive a living allowance from the Government."

She completed several parenting courses in preparation for the birth, and had been lucky enough to have an "easy baby" who fed and slept well, she said.

However, the next year had not been as easy.

Georgia said she started to struggle with parenthood as her daughter started "pushing the boundaries".

She became stressed, wasn't sleeping well and started losing weight.

"I wasn't coping with life generally.

MYPLC provided a supportive environment for teen mothers and removed barriers to learning, she said.

"We come back to study to give our kids a better future.

"If I didn't have this option, I wouldn't have finished my schooling."

Georgia studying. Photo / Petrina Wright
Georgia studying. Photo / Petrina Wright

This year she was working towards gaining NCEA Level 3 with a mix of University Entrance subjects including English, Art and Biology. She had passed many assessments with merits and excellences.

"This shows that having a child at a young age has not stalled my capability to complete a high standard of school work."

Georgia was now looking towards her future, with vet nursing, nursing or a forensic mortician among her career aspirations. Her dreams for the future were the same as everybody else's, she said.

"Own my own home, have a couple of dogs, have my own happy family."

If her daughter was to fall pregnant at a young age, Georgia said she would be supportive.

"…but I would rather she didn't because it's not a walk in the park."

However, encouraging her daughter to finish her education would be a priority, she said.

"If you want a decent job, you need a qualification behind you. It gives you options."

Georgia said not all teen mothers fitted the negative stereotypes often associated with them.

"Just because one or two of them give us a bad name, doesn't mean we are all bad.

"I am trying to get an education so I can get a good job. I am not bludging and I will pay back my benefit when I start working," she said.

"Not all of us are bludgers. Not all of us push out kids to get more money."