A mum-of-five who was judged as a pregnant teen is now facing criticism for having a baby at 43 – but says she no longer cares what people think.
Rachel Rowsell, who has given birth every decade since the 90s, had done it all from teen parenting, going through a surprise pregnancy during lockdown and working full-time as a single mum, the Mirror reports.
Having built a successful career as a life coach, she explained how her parenting style has changed over the years while raising her children Emily, 29, Tom, 27, Poppy, 16, Evie, 11, and Clara, two.
Rachel, from Great Oakley, Essex, said: “At 16, I was made to feel as though I’d committed an awful crime because I had a baby,” she said.
“Now, I’d love to give my younger self advice – don’t take anything so seriously, don’t worry about milestones – such as walking and talking.
“Enjoy them because it goes so quickly – have cuddles and forget the guilt that says you’re not being productive. That’s how I felt as a teen – but not any more. Leave the washing up, don’t worry about what others think.
“I no longer feel that pressure to do it ‘right’ anymore, I have more confidence in my rights rather than external measures.”
Rachel felt as though she should feel “ashamed” after falling pregnant with the 21-year-old man called Tim she was dating in 1992.
When Emily arrived, Rachel felt as though she had ruined her life – and was determined to prove everyone wrong by going on to do A-levels.
“My waters broke in the night and I was too scared to wake my mum, so I waited until the morning,” Rachel, now 45, said.
“Labor was painful but I took it in my stride. The care in the hospital was incredible. I stayed there for seven days and they taught me how to breastfeed. New mums were also given three meals a day and afternoon tea.”
But when she took Emily to the home she was sharing with her partner, Rachel felt as though everyone was judging her.
“I would get glances in the supermarket. It was like I had an arrow pointing at me the whole time saying ‘teenage mum’ – it was that stigma.
“A neighbor gave me a gift and I felt it was because she felt sorry for me. It was like I had done something really bad.”
In 1994, Rachel fell pregnant again, while finishing her A-levels, and Tom was born when she was 18.
“I was much more relaxed. I had taken Emily to a water park while in early labour. After giving birth, I got to stay in hospital for five days.
“Having two under two was difficult. It was an ideal just to get them out of the house to go shopping. So I ended up not going out that much.”
Keen to continue to prove she hadn’t ruined her life, Rachel started a degree course in history and media at Colchester Institute, which had an onsite nursery.
“I enjoyed my time with my kids, but I was more selfish. I was driven to do all the things I thought I needed to do to prove the teenage mum stigma wrong, and didn’t consider the effect on my children.”
In 1998, when the kids were five and three, Rachel, 21, split from her partner. She was working at a marketing company earning £5 per hour so she could afford to rent a cottage.
She started dating Mark after meeting him at work. Within five weeks, he proposed – two years later, they were wed. In 2005, Rachel fell pregnant for the third time.
“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 from the hospital, people were coming round with presents and congratulating me, everyone was really happy.”
However, in 2007, Rachel split from Poppy’s dad. She started seeing Justin – 18 months into their relationship, Rachel saw the familiar blue line on a pregnancy test.
“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.”
Rachel still had lots of clothes in storage from when she was expecting Poppy, so there wasn’t much to buy.
“I didn’t do as much or go to as many baby groups with Evie. I put her into nursery three days a week when she was eight months – the others had been much older, so I had mum guilty about that.
For the next nine years, Rachel believed her family was complete. So, aged 42 in 2019, when she missed a period, she believed it was early menopause – but it wasn’t.
Rachel was expecting baby number five.
“Initially I thought, ‘what will people think?’ Then I realized I didn’t need to worry anymore, it was going to be fine.
“I didn’t have any baby things, but this time, I knew what I didn’t need nor did I need to spend a fortune. I bought most of Clara’s first clothes, babygrows and blankets from eBay.
“I was given things and bought secondhand. I knew what I was doing and I was past caring what people thought. I had nothing to prove. There was a lot of pressure off.”
Clara arrived in February 2020 – three weeks before the country went into lockdown.
“The hospital was busy. They were supposed to induce me but they kept putting the time back because they were overstretched. The pains started getting really bad and five minutes later she was born – I was worried I wouldn’t make it to the delivery room.
“When I got home, I had to homeschool Poppy and Evie while looking after Clara, and working after two months. It was hideous!
“There was no socializing, and as such, Clara’s been much more clingy and has separation anxiety.
“I couldn’t bear to put her in a nursery as I had done with the others, so she’s been with a childminder since she was 10 months. It just felt friendlier.”
Rachel admits she’s a different parent to her younger children than she was with her older two.
Partly thanks to her career change as a life coach. She set up her own business Rachel’s Space, and now helps other women reach their full potential.
“After 30 plus years of desperately trying to fit in and be who I thought I was supposed to be, I discovered I didn’t need to fit, there is no normal or getting it wrong. I needed to acknowledge my true self, that was what was missing.
“She had been shouting and I hadn’t been listening, I was not tuned in to that channel! If I had had any idea how amazing connecting with her would be and the way she can guide me through life I would have definitely hooked up with her earlier.
“Now I help other women reconnect with their true selves and live a life aligned to them.”
Rachel’s learnings have also resulted in her parenting differently, too.
“I remember crying in shops when I was a teenage mum if they were playing up. Now, I don’t buy my youngest many toys, and I’m definitely easier on my younger ones.
“I’ve learned to pick my fights rather than try and correct everything I saw as wrong. That you need to give them space to be their own person and sometimes that means letting them make mistakes.
“In terms of technology, my eldest two ticked things they wanted in the Argos catalogue, whereas the younger ones send me links on WhatsApp.
“My middle two are now attached to their phones and on social media – it seems they rarely enjoy something in the moment because everything needs to be photographed and shared.”
Surprisingly though, Rachel admits she found being a teen mum easier in terms of parenting.
“I was less mature so I didn’t overly 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 done differently and how I could have been a better mum adds a kind of extra pressure.
“But each of my five beautiful children has changed me and my life in incredible ways – and I absolutely wouldn’t change a thing.”
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