She considers herself an ‘open and happy person’, reads Spot the Dog to her baby girl and has a fiance, yet Sarah Coppick found the reception at her first mothers’ group meeting anything but welcoming.
SARAH Coppick, 18, joined a new mothers’ group hoping to make some friends.
Instead, the first-time Albury mum returned home in tears after being ostracised by the older women — who picked up their babies and left her standing alone.
“There were a few little groups sitting around, then there was just me. I felt terrible,” Ms Coppick said.
“I didn’t expect the other mothers to be like that because I’m a human being and I have a child to raise, like they do.”
While the case has disturbed those in the parenting sector, experts say it is not uncommon in Albury-Wodonga where young women with children are often “frowned upon” by other mothers and the community at large.
Angela Macfarlane works with young parents at Wodonga’s Gateway Community Health and said younger women often felt unwelcome at mainstream mothers’ groups and received glares and hurtful comments from strangers.
“I know of one case where a child was having a tantrum in a supermarket, as children do, and an older woman said to the mother, ‘You’re too young to have this child anyway’.
“The young woman was so upset she left her shopping and went to her car.”
The Border has higher-than-average teenage pregnancy rates, with 80 women aged 19 or under giving birth at Wodonga Hospital last year.
In 2010 the Victorian state teenage birth rate was 2.5 per cent, significantly lower than Albury-Wodonga’s rate of 4.5 per cent.
Southern Cross University Professor of Midwifery Kathleen Fahy, who has written a PhD on the subject, said the biggest challenge young mothers faced was community prejudice.
“We don’t have a problem with teenage child-bearing, we’re making a problem,” Dr Fahy said.
“There is a level of shame being put on these young women that’s very bad for their mental health and that’s very bad for their children as well because you need happy mothers to have happy babies.”
It’s a view shared by Ms Macfarlane, who said many young mothers lacked a support network as they were shunned by their families and disconnected from friends.
“These girls actually like to seek out more mature mums and hope to learn something from them but when they feel like they’re ostracised they end up losing confidence,” Ms McFarlane said.
In Sarah Coppick’s case, she was looking to make friends as a new arrival to Albury.
If the other mothers had made the effort to talk to her they may have discovered she has a fiance, is an avid reader and that she’d already started reading her favourite picture book series, Spot the Dog, to her baby girl.
Her outing to the mothers’ group was her first since she gave birth to her daughter at Wodonga Hospital.
She joined about 20 other women, in their late twenties or thirties, at a group run by Albury Community Health.
Ms Coppick said as each woman was given a turn to talk about their labour experience the rest of the group commented politely but when it came to her turn there was silence.
After the formal discussions they had half an hour to mingle and Ms Coppick turned to the woman next to her and tried to start a conversation.
That woman picked up her baby and walked off.
When she made a second attempt to talk to another mum the woman commented on how beautiful her baby was before also leaving the younger woman standing alone.
After the second snub, Ms Coppick left the group early — with the intention of never returning.
“I thought I could meet a few people and get to know someone and it just didn’t work,” Ms Coppick said.
“I’m open and I’m happy and nice to everyone that I meet. No matter what their age I’m always respectful and I thought, especially being a bit older, they would have a bit more respect.”
When contacted about the incident, Albury Community Health said they acknowledged the concerns raised by Ms Coppick.
Centre manager Danny Baxter said they would contact the young mum to hear how the service could
be improved “to ensure all participants are offered a positive experience”.
Ms Mcfarlane said while the community didn’t have to embrace the idea of teenagers having children, it was important they supported young mothers.
“It’s about the community looking at being positive and helpful rather than judgmental,” she said.
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