Tuesday 17 September 2019

'I was upset when we found out my daughter was pregnant... because she was my baby' - Becoming a granny aged 35

It was a case of history repeating itself for Edel O'Connor (38) from Croom, Co Limerick, when her daughter had her son as a teenager. She tells Tanya Sweeney their story.

Best friends: Edel (centre) with her daughter Chelsea and grandson Mason. Photo: Liam Burke Press 22
Best friends: Edel (centre) with her daughter Chelsea and grandson Mason. Photo: Liam Burke Press 22
Best friends: Edel (centre) with her daughter Chelsea and grandson Mason. Photo: Liam Burke Press 22

Most people think they have an idea of what being a teenage mum is about, and it irritates me. I would have seen a lot of judgement around teen pregnancy when I was younger - there's not so much now and I suppose it's a lot more common. But there's a lot more to it than most people think.

I got pregnant with my son Thomas at the age of 15. I was sick a lot, tired and drained and not really knowing why. I had missed a period, but it didn't even occur to me that I might be pregnant. Did I get sex education in school? I don't remember having any of that. It was all kind of new to me.

In the end, I didn't even take a test to find out I was pregnant. I wasn't feeling well in school and was taken to the school principal. She brought me home and from there I went to the doctor, and then into the hospital. It turns out I was five months pregnant. I was more shocked than anything. I didn't know what to think. Everyone was just upset about it - I don't remember there being much positivity around it.

I had Thomas at the age of 16 via emergency C-section as I was overdue. The whole event was kind of a blur, to be honest, although straightaway, I was in love with him. He was 9lbs 4oz, a big baby, and it was love at first sight.

I went back to school to do the Junior Cert, and went back into school at 5th year. I couldn't cope at that stage. I just didn't feel like I was one of the students anymore, and didn't want to be there. Leaving Thomas behind was the hardest part, even though my sister or my mother was always with him. Three months later, I gave up school and went to work straightaway - it wasn't a hard decision.

When you're a young mum, you definitely have to grow up a lot quicker. People see Tom and I together and they say I don't look anything like his mother - that we look more like siblings. After Thomas, my husband and I had three more children, Chelsea (now 20), Eoin (18) and Erin (16).

Edel quit her job when Mason was born. Photo: Liam Burke Press 22
Edel quit her job when Mason was born. Photo: Liam Burke Press 22

Chelsea was always very sporty, and a great soccer player. One day, I looked at her, and she had put some weight on at her front. And I just knew. I asked her if she was due her period and she said she didn't know. It was an awful feeling. We'd talked about sex and contraception and it had gone grand. I spoke to her about my experience as a teenage mother. I didn't get a lot of sex education in school but Chelsea had. Still, she would have been naive about boys.

When we found out she was pregnant, I was upset, more because she was my baby and I didn't want to see her upset. But it was history repeating itself. I wanted it to be different for her, and at 17, she had a very bright future ahead of her. You don't realise until you're older how difficult raising a family is at that age - it's only when you look back and you think, 'Oh my god'.

At some point in her pregnancy she had a bleed and we went to Waterford Hospital. She came out with the scan in her hand, which I wasn't expecting. That was a moment of 'this is actually happening'.

Chelsea was determined to do her Leaving Cert, so for the rest of the pregnancy things went on as normal; not like it wasn't happening, but I wanted her to carry on as before.

Mason was born on January 11, eight weeks prematurely and at 3lbs. Chelsea had really bad pre-eclampsia at that stage, so she was taken to intensive care and had a C-section. I saw Mason as he was being rushed into an incubator and he was so small, it was scary. I was so nervous of him coming home as he was so small, but Chelsea was determined to have him home. I told her, "If you think you can cope, I'll be there for you". But I was terrified of him.

I gave up work immediately so Chelsea could go back to school. Coláiste Chiaráin (in Croom) were so supportive and are very involved when it comes to teenage pregnancy. There was a lot more support in place for her than there might have been in my day.

Now Mason is two years old and he adores his mammy. He's very soft, like a little pet. Chelsea has come out and worked with me because she is taking 12 months out of education to figure out her next move. Her goal now is to get Mason into playschool.

I had a 'eureka' moment while looking after Mason. I had done cleaning for years and my dad had often encouraged me to go out on my own, but I never had the confidence to do it. Then one day I thought, 'That's it, I'm going to do it', and I set up Fresh Start. Chelsea has joined me in the business. Because we work together all the time, we really are best friends. It's fantastic.

I don't ever really feel like a granny. It's hard to explain. I'm not like your typical grandmother. People - my friends - were slagging me off and messing about the whole granny thing, but it never once bothered me. I suppose I'm like a granny in so far as I would let them get away with things in my house that they never would at home!

Ireland's Youngest Grandparents will show on TV3 (Virgin) on Wednesday, September 5.

In conversation with Tanya Sweeney

Irish Independent

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