Not all teen mums sponge off the state… we’re proud to be raising our little boy without any handouts
TEEN parents Haley Barker and Reece Lord have turned their backs on benefits culture to bring up their son in a hard-working home THEY are paying for.
Haley was on the Pill when she got pregnant at the age of 17 and she and sweetheart Reece planned a termination since they were so young.
But Haley decided that wasn’t what she wanted, and Reece came round to her point of view.
The teenagers vowed to raise their baby without claiming any housing benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Reece, 19, left college for 5am shifts in a factory.
They found a house to rent privately in their home town of Burnley, Lancs, and Haley furnished it using cash saved from Saturday jobs she’d worked throughout her teens.
Now son Ethan has turned one and they hope sharing their story will help change public opinion on teen parents.
Haley, now 19, says: “I get disapproving looks all the time.
“People always assume the same — that we’re living off the state or that I got pregnant for a council house.
“Nothing could be further from the truth but people see a teenage mum and make assumptions.
“Yes I may have only been 17 when I fell pregnant but we have done it all ourselves and we’re really proud of that.
“I can’t believe I came close to ending the pregnancy mainly because I feared what others would think of me being a teenage mum.
“But I’ve shown we’re not all the same. I hope we have proved them all wrong. I might be young but we are far more independent than some older parents.”
Hayley was studying hairdressing at college when she felt unwell while out jogging.
“I was on the Pill. We had always been very sensible but I couldn’t imagine why else I would feel so tired and drained.
“I went straight to Boots and bought a pregnancy test just to rule it out.”
But Haley was stunned when it came back positive.
She broke the news to Reece and Haley says: “He was shocked and upset. We both were.
“Even though we’d been together for two years and were madly in love, neither of us wanted to have a family.”
After discussing it, both decided it would be for the best if Haley ended the pregnancy.
“We were just too young. We didn’t want to end up like the teenagers you hear about on the news, struggling along on benefits in dingy flats. It scared the life out of us,” she says.
Haley booked a termination but walked out of the clinic after admitting doubts.
She says: “I went on my own as I hadn’t told my parents about the baby. But when a nurse asked if I was sure I just broke down crying.
“The truth was I didn’t agree with termination — but at the same time I wasn’t ready to be a mum.
“It wasn’t part of the plan but I had got myself into that situation so I felt it was time to take responsibility for that.
“I decided to keep the baby.” Reece wasn’t so sure and the couple initially split up.
Haley says: “I wasn’t annoyed. He had every right and I understood why he felt unable to cope.”
But within weeks he had decided he wanted to be a father to his baby and they got back together.
Haley was 20 weeks into her pregnancy when the nervous couple decided they couldn’t keep the baby secret from their parents any longer.
“I was scared of what they would say,” says Haley.
“I worried they would be disappointed. Mum was really shocked but supportive. She told my dad and just knowing they would be there for me was a weight off my shoulders.”
Reece gave up his studies for the factory job and Haley says: “We found a place in budget and stayed up painting until ten every night to get it just right.”
Haley then shopped for furnishings and baby gear using savings in her childhood bank account.
“It was lucky I’d been so sensible with my money because it meant I could pick a nice pram and other things we wouldn’t have been able to afford.”
They had just moved in to their new home when their baby arrived a dangerous six weeks early.
When Haley’s waters broke she was at home on her own.
She says: “I was confused at first because it wasn’t a big gush like I was expecting and I didn’t want to make a fuss but the hospital told me to come in.”
She called her mum to collect her and rang Reece at work to tell him to meet her at hospital.
“I kept telling myself it must be a false alarm because it was far too early. But when I got there they examined me and said I was fully dilated and ready to push.
“They could already feel his head. I couldn’t believe it. I burst into tears because it was really happening.”
Reece arrived in the nick of time to see his son Ethan being born just one hour later.
But after a quick cuddle the 5lb 6oz tot was taken to intensive care with breathing difficulties.
Haley says: “Seeing him covered in tubes and wires was awful and for the first time I doubted myself.
“How could I look after a sick, premature baby when I had never even changed a nappy before?
“I was in shock. I was terrified of all the wires and machinery that he was hooked up to.
“I was worried I would hurt him but I listened to every word doctors and midwives said to help boost my confidence about looking after him.
“I was worried that I had done something wrong to cause it but they assured me it was just one of those things. I was the youngest mum with a baby in intensive care.
“It was hard thinking the other mums must be coping better than me because they were older.”
When he was just two weeks old, Ethan stopped breathing and needed resuscitation.
“The nurses ran in and told me he was being worked on,” says Haley.
“I broke down sobbing. I felt so guilty that I ever considered a termination and now he was fighting for life.
“I knew in that second I would do anything for him to pull through because I loved my son more than anything in the world.”
Thankfully the doctors managed to stabilise Ethan and Haley kept a vigil by his side until he was well enough to return to their home a week later.
Now, instead of exciting teenage nights out she faced the demands of two-hourly feeds.
Haley says: “It was exhausting but for the first time I thought being a young mum had advantages — I had so much energy.
“When he cried at night it didn’t bother me. After nearly losing him, we were just relieved he’d pulled through.
“To start with I just sat up all night watching him because I was too scared to sleep, but slowly I started to relax.
“I tried to explain to my friends what hard work it was, but it’s hard for them to understand what caring for a premature baby is like.”
When Ethan turned one, the couple celebrated with a big family meal.
Haley says: “Ethan was just gurgling away, showing off his one tooth. I was in awe of what we had achieved and how far we had come.
“When I found out I was pregnant I thought my life was over, but in fact it was the start of an amazing new chapter.”
But Haley is clear she doesn’t want to send out the wrong message.
She says: “I don’t want people to think it has been easy because it hasn’t.
“At the end of the day two teenagers having a baby is never going to be ideal.
“But I’m proud we’ve done it ourselves without handouts and life is better than I hoped.
“We did have dreams about the careers we wanted and I hope we will be able to pursue those in the future. But it’s not about us any more, it’s about bringing Ethan up in a home were there is a good work ethic.
“Reece is an amazing father and I am finally confident enough to say I know I am a great mother too.
“We still get people who shake their heads when they see how young we are. They probably assume we sponge off the state and sit at home all day spending their taxes.
“But hopefully they will read this and know we are not all the same.”