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A young mother from Clare has called for more comprehensive education around relationships and sexuality, referencing her own teenage pregnancy as an example of ‘living outside the norm’.

Doora native Rachel O’ Connor (23) recently featured in Leah Moore’s documentary ‘Deliver’, which looked at the perception of being a young mother in Ireland today. Premiered at the Lasta at Glór festival in late June, Rachel, who discovered that she was pregnant at 17 during her Leaving Certificate year found the festival a vital talking point and “an opportunity to celebrate my experience of motherhood”.

Her daughter Ella, now six, was born in July that year, just one month after sitting her Leaving Certificate. “It was definitely a really dark, lonely and stressful period of time. Growing up in a Catholic country, I think the majority of people hear about young mothers or teenage mothers and there’s often a shameful stigma attached to them. Finding out I was pregnant so young, I definitely felt the weight of that shame and guilt, and I didn’t want to bring that on my family, I felt like I was a problem for them at the time,” the Rice College past pupil admitted.

There are many benefits to being a young mother, Rachael believed. Whilst in the hospital at the time, a midwife imparted that “it doesn’t matter if you are 17, 27, 37 or 47, you’re going to be scared having your first baby.” In spite of this, nothing could have prepared her for the incredible experience of motherhood. Being a young mother, she feels that she has a closeness with her daughter that older parents may not have. Having young grandparents that Ella can spend quality time with is another benefit, Rachel added.

Becoming a young mother infused a drive in Rachel to continue through her education and receive a BA degree from Mary Immaculate College. She is currently enrolled in a Master of Education in NUI Galway. “Ireland definitely has a more mature generation of first-time mothers, but I think that’s reflective of society and what women in their twenties and early thirties are told that ‘you can’t have the career and the family’ which is ridiculous in my eyes. You absolutely can have both, it’s just about finding the right balance that works for you”.

Having a network of support was essential for Rachel after giving birth to Ella. For other young and expecting mothers, she urges to reach out for help, empathising with the feeling of being a burden to everyone around, “but everyone needs someone to turn to for support, no matter how great or small that is.”

Her hope is that the documentary will open a talking point and transcend the negative stereotype pushed onto young mothers. Her belief is that increased education has “the power to break down this stigma attached to young mothers and create a greater acceptance in society for individuals who live outside the norm”.

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