Having a baby in your 20’s is the new ‘teen pregnancy’, Australian mums say

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An Australian mother-to-be has claimed having a baby in your 20’s is the new teen pregnancy – and experts agree.

Emily Tollenaar, 25, is currently expecting her first child with her fiance Simon, 29.

But while the Sydney couple are “excited” about the impending arrival of their bub, due in two months, Ms Tollenaar has revealed she’s been caught off guard by how others are reacting to her pregnancy.

“From the moment my tummy started showing, the reaction hasn’t been what I expected,” she told news.com.au.

“People stare at my belly and then look at my face in shock because they think I am too young to have a baby.

“Before I even fell pregnant I noticed there was judgement. The first time I went to buy prenatal vitamins, the lady at the counter looked me up and down.

“The negative reaction to my pregnancy has been very noticeable and incredibly jarring.”

Woman claims having a baby in your 20s is the new teen pregnancy

After noticing her pregnancy was being judged because of her age, Ms Tollenaar – a fitness coach – took to social media and compared the stigma to that “teen mums” have previously faced.

“I seriously think being pregnant in your twenties is the new teen pregnancy,” she stated in a video.

“I’m 25, pregnant, and I swear the number of looks I get wherever I go.

“It makes me feel self-conscious about it, I want to cover up. I don’t know if it is just my area, but every single mum or pregnant lady around me looks at least 35.

“It’s just bizarre.”

But Ms Tollenaar quickly discovered she isn’t alone in her experience, with other mums in their 20s also reporting to have copped similar responses to their pregnancies from strangers and loved ones.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, lecturer at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, explained the phenomenon was down to the rising age of new first time mothers in a society where women are relentlessly “judged”.

“People will always find a way to specifically judge women for decisions they make relating to their bodies: be it choices related to sex, pregnancies, weight etc,” the Associate Professor told news.com.au.

“This has always happened and, sadly, it probably will always happen.

“This coupled with the fact that for the last few decades the average age of first pregnancy has been slowly rising, which is related to demographic shifts such as later marriage and women undertaking more education, means early pregnancies have therefore, become less common.

“This can mean when women have babies in their 20s – particularly in their early 20s – some people might ask questions regarding choice, maturity, financial stability etc.”

Marian Baird, Professor of Gender and Employment Relations at The University of Sydney, said the shift in social stigmas “can only be explained in the context of the shift in the age at which most women not have their first baby”.

“Forty years ago it was not uncommon to have babies in one’s mid-20s. In fact it was deemed healthy to do so,” she told news.com.au.

“But not only are women having babies later in life, they are having fewer of them, meaning we cannot as a country naturally replace our population or workforce.

“In our research we found that young women and young men now do not expect or plan to have babies until their early to mid-30s.

“This is driven by educational attainment, career aspirations, and the need to have job, income and housing security: A difficult combination in the climate of the past decade.”

The Academy of Social Sciences in Australia expert, added that “motherhood today a very complex and demanding role”.

“High expectations are placed on mothers by society and by themselves and it is difficult to balance work and family,” she added.

Interestingly, Dr Rosewarne explained that whether or not these women are being actively scrutinised is by the by, as they will “always feel judged for their decisions”.

“Women have internalised the idea that their choices and their bodies are always under scrutiny based on living in a society that judges women differently to men.”

This sentiment was echoed in the comments section of Ms Tollenaar’s video, which has been viewed almost 400,000 times, as many share their own story of “shame” at their pregnancies.

“I had a baby at 29 and the amount of people asking me if it was planned,” one wrote.

“I went to a play group and the other mums were talking about how ‘embarrassing’ it must be to be a mother under 30 and then asked my age. Told them I was 24 and I got ignored the rest of the morning,” another agreed.

As another shared: “I went to get my eyebrows done in Sydney yesterday. The lady asked if it was my first. I said no – my second. And she was like, ‘you’re too young’… I’m 29.”

“First at 23, second 28 and I look young which left me feeling extremely young at all my appointments,” mused one mother.

Ms Tollenaar explained she had chosen to have a baby with her fiance before they tied the knot as she works in the fitness industry and has witnessed how energy levels decline as you get older.

“Getting pregnant young wasn’t modelled on my own childhood, my mum had me when she was 32,” she told news.com.au.

“But the idea of playing sport with the kids and being able to run around is really appealing to me, instead of being like in my late 30s when you start to slow down.”

But after falling pregnant on her first attempt, Ms Tollenaar began to notice instantly she was being treated “differently” to how she’d expected.

“During my very first GP appointment to discuss the next steps of my pregnancy, the doctor commented on my age by saying, ‘Oh, you’re such a baby’.

“That first comment really stuck with me, I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow’.

“Since then I’ve had people asking me ‘how can you afford it with the cost of living crisis’, and I’ve found it really fascinating that this is the societal response.”

A study published by the National Library of Medicine (NIH) which looked at the psychological and social experience of becoming a mum found women in “their early 20s felt strongly stigmatised as mothers, which they attributed to their age”.

The research determined the perceived stigma permeated the lives of these mothers with negative cognitive, emotional and behavioural effects, stating definitions of who is a ‘young mother’ has changed.

“We conclude by theorising that mothers in their early 20s may now be experiencing aspects of social exclusion traditionally associated with ‘teenage mothers’,” it read.

“This may have a deleterious effect on health.”

Despite the “shame” she has experienced, Ms Tollenaar has no regrets about her decision to have a child.

“The stigma that used to be attached to being a teen, and being pregnant has now shifted to being pregnant in your 20s and pregnant but I’m happy about my decision,” she said.

“Other people’s opinions really don’t matter in life whatsoever.

“But it has been lovely to know that so many other women have felt a similar thing and we’re not alone.”