MUM-OF-FIVE Rachel Rowsell knows what it is like to be shamed for getting pregnant at 16 – and feeling too old to have a baby at 43.
She has had children at both ages, as well as in each decade between.
Single Rachel, now 45, who is mum to Emily, 29, Tom, 27, Poppy, 16, Evie, 11, and Clara, two, says: “At 16, I was made to feel as though I’d committed an awful crime because I had a baby.
“I’d get glances in the supermarket and it was like I had an arrow pointing at me the whole time saying, ‘Teenage mum’. It was the stigma.
“Many years later, when I was then pregnant at 43 with Clara, I knew mums my age were labelled geriatric.
“Being a mum to a toddler is definitely harder at my age — the lack of sleep is tougher. But I’d love to give my younger self some advice. Don’t take anything so seriously or get hung up on milestones like walking and talking.
“Enjoy them because it goes so quickly, and don’t worry about what others think.”
Rachel, of Great Oakley, Essex, discovered she was pregnant unexpectedly in 1992 with her eldest daughter Emily.
The father was a 21-year-old man called Tim who she had been dating.
She says: “I was shocked to see the positive blue line on the test kit and was immediately petrified about what my mum Frances would say.
“When I told her I was pregnant she was upset and felt as though I’d ruined my life. My stepdad John was more laid back. Tim was with me through the 24-hour labour and although it was painful, I took it in my stride.
“The care in the hospital was incredible. I stayed there for seven days and was given three meals a day as well as afternoon tea.”
Rachel was keen to prove she could juggle motherhood while also studying, so Tim looked after Emily while Rachel did her A levels.
But when Emily was one, Rachel got pregnant again. She was 18 when she gave birth to son Tom.
She says: “It was another unplanned pregnancy but I was much more relaxed second time around. Having Emily, who was two, as well as a new baby was difficult. It was an ordeal just to get them out of the house to go shopping.
“I enjoyed my time with my kids but I was more selfish. I went to uni while Emily went to nursery and Tom was looked after by Tim. I needed to prove that although I was a teenage mum, I could make a success of myself. I was intent on proving everyone wrong.”
She went on to get a 2:1 in her degree in history and media at Colchester Institute, but in 1998, when the kids were five and three, Rachel, then 21, split from Tim.
She was working at a marketing company, earning £5 an hour, and could just about afford to rent a cottage. She started dating Mark after meeting him at work. Within five weeks, he proposed — and two years later they were married.
In 2005, Rachel was pregnant for the third time. She says: “Everything was different. I was 28 and married, so it was accepted. My mum was delighted. I splashed out on things for Poppy. It felt like I was doing it for the first time.
“I wanted everything new because I didn’t have that option with the other two. When I brought her home it was very different to how I was made to feel when Emily was born. Everyone was really happy.”
But Rachel split from Poppy’s dad in 2007. She started seeing a new man, Justin, a few weeks later — and 18 months into their relationship Rachel, then 30, saw the familiar blue line on a pregnancy test.
She says: “I already had three children, and the fourth child was with a third dad. It made me feel uncomfortable. I felt as though people were judging me because in my mind I’d done it wrong again.
“I didn’t go to as many baby groups with Evie. I put her into nursery three days a week, from eight months old, so I could work. I had ‘mum guilt’ about that.”
Rachel believed her and Justin’s family was complete, until she reached 42 and missed a period — which she initially thought was a sign of the menopause.
She says: “My first thought was, ‘What will people think?’. Not because having a baby at my age was frowned upon but more the risks associated with having a baby when you’re older. I thought it might look irresponsible.
“The other kids were shocked, particularly Poppy who was outraged because she felt I was too old to have another baby. But as soon as she saw her little sister, she fell in love.
“I didn’t have any baby things so bought most of Clara’s first clothes, babygros and blankets from eBay. I’d learnt over the years that I didn’t need to spend a fortune.” Clara arrived following a quick labour in February 2020, just weeks before the first Covid lockdown.
Rachel says: “Five minutes after the pains started getting really bad, she was born.
“When I got back, I had to home-school Poppy and Evie because of the pandemic, while also looking after Clara — and I was back working after two months.
“I couldn’t socialise with other mums and their babies so Clara has been more clingy than the other kids.”
‘PICK MY FIGHTS’
Rachel parents her younger children differently from her older two, which she puts down to her new job as a life coach. She set up her own business, Rachel’s Space, helping other women reach their full potential, last year.
She says: “I’ve learnt to pick my fights rather than try to correct everything I once saw as wrong. I’m softer on the younger ones because I’ve learned to let go of the little things.
“When I was a young mum I saw my kids’ behaviour as a reflection on my parenting skills but now I know it’s just kids being kids.”
Rachel, who is now single, admits she found being a teen mum easier. She says: “I didn’t worry about whether I was doing a good job. I just got on with it.
“Now, I have the perspective of what I could have handled better — that’s extra pressure.
“It’s funny when strangers ask if Emily is really my daughter and I was once asked for ID while buying alcohol in the supermarket because the cashier thought we were friends.”
As for plans to add to her brood, Rachel says: “There is absolutely no chance of me having any more babies. My family is well and truly complete.”