Amelia Mae Cunningham (@AmeliaMaeCunningham_ ), aged 22, was just like any other uni student 2 years ago.
She was approaching the end of her 3rd year studying journalism at Kingston University, getting ready to hand in her final dissertation, while winding down her carefree, party lifestyle.
But very unexpectedly, she and her partner found out they were expecting. Suddenly, she was just like any other uni student – except for the life-altering fact she was also 2 months pregnant.
Now, she’s mum to 1-year-old Arlo Maxwell, and is opening up exclusively to MadeForMums about what it was really like to be pregnant at uni – and the reality of being a ‘young mum’.
‘Normally, I’d be drinking – so I knew something wasn’t right’
“We found out [I was pregnant] around Christmas time. I wasn’t drinking – and normally, I’m with the champagne, you know. But on Christmas Day, I just felt something wasn’t right. That’s why I took the test,” says Amelia.
“I was 2 months gone. [My partner and I] were both really shocked. We had everything due in for the end of uni. We’d worked so hard over the last couple of years – it was a really big shock to us.
“The timing was just really, really bad. After lots of conversations with our families and with each other, we obviously decided to go ahead with it.
“You don’t know how you’ll feel when you are in it [until you’re in it].
“My outlook changed… my partner and I hadn’t been together all that long, just over a year, and everybody knew we were a couple, but it was the last thing that my friends, and my family, and us, were expecting.”
‘Why I kept the pregnancy a secret’
Amelia decided to keep news of her pregnancy mum – out of fear she’d be judged by lecturers, her classmates, her friends.
(Something, we should add, no one should ever feel they have to do: there are systems in place to support pregnant uni students.)
“A lot of people at uni didn’t know I was pregnant cos I was hiding it from lecturers,” she shares. “So, only a few people sort of knew.
“I wasn’t showing until I was around 5 month – that’s why I was able to hide it so well. Because of the season, I was able to wear big jumpers.
“The last thing I wanted was for it to affect any of my lectures,” she says. “I didn’t want my lecturers to have any kind of judgement on me before they saw my work.
“I think they would’ve been supportive of me, now I’ve spoken to them since.
“They’ve said, ‘I wish you would have told us, because everything’s confidential and it wouldn’t have affected anything’ – but at the time, I was just so worried it would affect how they saw my work, how they marked my work.
“I wanted everything to remain sort of neutral, if that makes sense.”
‘My friends stopped speaking to me – I was extremely lonely’
Though Amelia kept the secret from her teachers, she did confide in 2 female friends – which, she says, didn’t quite go as she hoped, and left her feeling seriously alone and isolated from her old life.
“One of the friends I’d told – we stopped speaking. She wasn’t able to deal with the fact I’d just told her I was pregnant.
“I was her party girl, always out and stuff, and she really couldn’t deal with it. We drifted a lot, and we weren’t speaking for ages.
“We’ve only just recently re[connected], and now we’re trying our friendship again.
“She’s explained her reasons: how she just didn’t know what to do, she didn’t know how to be my friend as a pregnant person, didn’t know what I needed from her as a friend, and that’s why she decided to distance herself from me.
“But yeah, I felt lonely. I was extremely lonely. It’s a very challenging time. A lot of people that you thought would be there for you, aren’t.”
She and her partner (pictured) also found it tricky to find friendship outside of the uni circle with other mums and dads-to-be, thanks to quite a tricky age divide…
“When I was going to do different mum groups, and even our NCT classes, we felt completely alien, we felt very isolated.
“In these groups, lots of the mums were in their 30s, 40s, who I just couldn’t relate to.
“And that’s not me being ageist – it’s just me being real, and saying, look, where are the mums that are my age?
The reality of being a pregnant student
“It was [all] a lot for me to handle,” Amelia says, looking back. “I was attending lectures a few days a week, and working. I felt emotionally drained.
“Every day, I was debating whether or not to give up the course, but it was my partner, who was doing his degree alongside me, that basically kept me going.
“Without him, I don’t think I would’ve done it. A lot of young mums I’ve spoken to say they dropped out, because it’s a lot.
“I completed my degree, and so did he. He graduated with a 1:1, and I graduated with a 2:1.
“I am glad I continued with it, but it wasn’t easy. It was very, very hard. Of course there were days where I felt like giving up.
“You do struggle with what you think you should be doing as a typical 21-year-old girl. It was a very challenging time, and I was upset a lot of my pregnancy.
“I felt like the hardest part of it all was just being pregnant, and being on my own a lot of the time, and I didn’t have the friends that I thought I would to share that experience with.
“You don’t expect something like that to happen. You think your friends are always gonna be there for you, and you’re always gonna have people around you to support you.”
Ready-to-pop on Graduation Day…
“At my graduation ceremony, I was very nearly ready-to-pop, so I was very nervous. It was quite an experience.
“I was really worked up. I would’ve been nervous anyway – pregnant or not – collecting my certificate and being in front of all those people.
“The fact that I was massive and weeks away from my due date? I was very paranoid that I was being judged, and I was.”
Indeed, graduation was the first time many people would come to find out Amelia was expecting. Having not told lecturers and only telling a couple of friends, those who didn’t find out on Facebook, found out IRL.
“When I did turn up for my graduation ceremony… a lot of people were shocked.
“I made an announcement on Facebook [first], and anyone who I didn’t have on Facebook got a shock at the ceremony, seeing me for the first time!”
She adds of the day: “It is possible – I’m not the smartest, and I never thought I’d graduate with a 2:1, let alone while being pregnant – but it’s doable.”
Life after uni: would she ever want to change anything?
Things worked out well for Amelia, who upon graduating and giving birth, also gave herself the manic task of finding somewhere for her new little family to live ?
She and her partner moved from Kingston University, and away from her family in London, to part-buy, part-rent a property by the sea in Folkestone, Kent.
She’s totally hit her stride as a mum (her son, she says, is “her reason and her purpose”) and has finally found mum friends she can really connect with, both in person and online.
But has she ever wondered: what would life be like post-uni without the responsibility of a baby? What if she could have all this, exactly as it is, but at 27 instead of 22?
“I’m a real person so I will be honest,” she begins. “When I was younger, I grew up very quickly, I was always sort of out and about drinking and partying – that was my lifestyle.
“I feel like I’ve travelled a lot. I lived in Portugal when I was child for a couple of years. I felt like I had [done] a lot before I had Arlo.
“I’m really glad I had those experiences, because I think if I hadn’t, I would feel I was missing out. I partied more than to my heart’s content, and even before I had Arlo I was getting bored of it, so in a way, I felt like I had done it all.
“And I feel like, with him, that [part of my life] doesn’t have to stop. I still have my nights off where I have gone out and left Arlo, or had date nights with my partner, or my mum’s had Arlo and I’ve gone out with some friends. It’s not every weekend like it used to be, but I have managed to find that balance.
“Because I’ve got that balance, I’m not sitting here thinking, ‘Oh I would’ve liked to have had a few more years’ and then maybe, ‘if I could have the same but in a few more years’ – I don’t think there’s ever a right time.
“And this is why we decided to go through with it all, and have Arlo, because there never is a right time.
“I said, ‘Well, what if we do it in 3 years’ time? There’s always gonna be something that’s stopping us, or makes us think we should wait a bit.’
“Sometimes, I think you just need to go with what you’ve been given, and everything will pan out.”
She does admit, though, it is tough: “I don’t think its for everybody… I don’t think everyone’s got it in them, and I completely respect everyone’s choices to do whatever they need to do.
“For us, this was the right thing, and this was the thing we needed to do, and it’s all worked out for the best.
“Plus, when I’m 40, Arlo will be 20, and I can still live my life!” she laughs. “It’s not the end of the world.”
‘Just because you’ve got more life experience, doesn’t make you a better mum’
Let’s be honest: if you’re not reading this because you’re in a similar boat or are about to be in a similar boat (congrats BTW ?), you’re probably reading this out of curiosity.
Maybe you can’t imagine what it would be like to have had your own pregnancy during university; or wonder how you’d have handled having a 1-year-old in tow at the age of 22.
Maybe you’re reading to see if Amelia’s story breaks the mould – a mould that, for some reason, creates the image that all young mums are irresponsible teenagers, or young women who simply don’t ‘have it together’.
Amelia’s also keen to agree with us that, sometimes, it seems mums in their very early ‘20s (not teens) rarely have their stories told at all:
“I think people probably do think I’m a very young mum and probably don’t have it all together,” she says. “Looks in the street.
“I definitely feel like people do judge, and I don’t know why that is – because I’m not actually that much of a young age.
“I do not fit in to the bracket of a ‘teen mum’, although I look quite young and I still get ID’d. I’m an adult, in my early 20s.
“It’s probably not the norm, not what we see on TV. You see teen mums, or mums over 25. We’re not represented in the media. We’re not shown enough. That’s probably why people aren’t used to seeing us.
“You see a lot of the mum influencers on Instagram and they are really successful, but they fall under a certain bracket: 30+, blonde and white. That’s what we see.
“I try to break that stereotype, with my representation: I’m 22, I’m mixed race, and I’m a graduate, and that’s it.
“I want to be heard just as much as they are. I think it’s about putting it out there as much as you can to break those misconceptions.”
So, what would Amelia say to anyone who might judge, falling prey to that old narrative?
“We’re just mums,” she expresses. “What does it matter if you give birth at 20, 30 or 40? We are all just mums.
“There’s no book on how to be a good mum. There’s no rule book on how to parent. You might have a little bit more life experience, but it doesn’t mean you can look after my child as well as I look after my child.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t make you a better mum just because you’re 10 years older than me.”
Images: Instagram/Amelia Cunningham