Lucy Bell took the time to write a blog post prior to her new show Pulling Out coming to The Lab, Theatre Royal Plymouth as part of Plymouth Fringe Festival.
There’s lots of things you wish you didn’t have when you’re a teenager. Acne. Chlamydia. Frizzy hair. But is a newborn baby one of them? A year ago I started interviewing young dads, most of whom were teenagers, or teenagers when their kids were born, about unplanned pregnancy from the male perspective. Teenage mums have been a staple on reality TV but what are their fellas or ex-fellas thinking?
I travelled to meet young men at children’s centres in Lambeth, London, and Camborne in Cornwall. I spoke to “Dads Practitioners” in Oxford and London and a nurse at Oakhill Secure Training Centre about her experiences of running fatherhood courses for teenage offenders.
I found out many fascinating things…like the fact that the withdrawal method of contraception is as popular with teenagers as old married couples. The biggest predictor for teenage pregnancy isn’t poverty, but being in a long term relationship, and, amazingly in this day and age of co-parenting, a young dad can be penalised 12 weeks of benefits if he brings a child in his care to a job seekers appointment. Research at Leeds University has shown that an overwhelming majority of young dads want to be an important part of their children’s lives, whether or not they get on with the mum, and another study showed that young dads from deprived backgrounds are involved in less “delinquent” behavior than their childless peers.
But there are absolutely no records of how many young dads are present at birth or included on the birth certificate…as if even the statisticians expect them to fade into obscurity. This information is important, because if your name isn’t on the birth certificate you have no legal rights to your child.
When I met up with the young men their stories had me appalled one minute then shooting tea out my nose the next. Below are some soundbites from my transcripts which show the breadth of their experience…
“My mum and sister were happy at first bit now they want me well away from my baby’s mum and grandmother. They say, “Let them have this one”
“I was like, first job I find I’m going to take it and that’s what I did”
“The birth was quite grim. You’re supposed to look but it was more of a…don’t-want-to-see-it type experience”
“A good dad is someone who’s protective. Even if your kid is in the wrong you back them up, that’s how it is with your own. And then you take them home and say, “You do realize you were in the wrong”
“We’re not together but we’re co-parenting. And I’ve learnt that we’ve got the best friendship ever. It’s crazy”
The last few months I’ve been pulling together all I’ve learnt into the story of Leo. He and his “baby mother” Caitlin have been arguing, whispering and cooing at me into the night. Our super talented production team, Stephanie Kempson (director), Bob Yates-Tily and Caitlin (actors) are rehearsing in Bristol Old Vic as we speak, and I’m re-writing bits of script as they get it on its feet. Housework and personal hygiene have been put on the back burner as I try my best to do the young guys I met justice.
So, although I never got an unexpected baby, perhaps it’s for the best I got frizzy hair. That shiny flyaway mane I coveted as a teenager would be stuck to my head by now.