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A moment that changed me: I was pregnant at 16 – and a midwife said I was good for nothing. It was a red rag to a bull | Parents and parenting

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As a child I wanted to be an actor, but things were difficult at home when I was growing up. I became a tearaway and, before I knew it, I was 16 and pregnant. My parents nearly had a heart attack. I’d done my GCSEs and wanted to do my A-levels. For support, I joined a local young mums’ group, but when I mentioned I wanted to keep studying, the midwife told me: “There’s no way you’ll be able to do it. If you want to go into education you should do a cooking course and then one day you’ll make a good wife to a divorcee.”

It really riled me up. It was like a red rag to a bull. I was like: that’s it, I’m doing this. That moment set me on my long journey into education. I got a flat for me and my daughter. I couldn’t afford the internet or a computer, but it was quiet and I was able to work without any drama. It was tough. I would have a one-year-old on one arm and be studying using the other. It was a half-hour drive to college and then a half-hour walk because I couldn’t afford to park nearby. But the thing that kept me going was when I returned home every day and I could see what my daughter’s future might look like. That made me get up every day and go.

I was shocked when I managed to get AAB in my A-levels, so I decided to study law and politics at Sussex University. When I turned up, the parent accommodation was horrendous – a single, mouldy, tiny room with no windows. I could have cried. They had a nursery, but the opening hours didn’t always fit with my classes, so I would have to bring my daughter into lectures and bribe her with sweets and colouring books to keep her quiet. She became a bit of a celebrity on campus.

In the second year, I moved out into rented accommodation, but in my third year the landlord wanted the property back a month before my exams ended. I tried to find a property that would let you rent for a month but they didn’t exist, so I went to the council and they put me in homeless accommodation. But the only homeless accommodation they had was for men.

Bradshaw graduating from Sussex University. Photograph: Courtesy of Emma Bradshaw

It was a horrible little room. My daughter had to limit her possessions to a single box as we had to put all our stuff in storage. There was no phone signal or access to the internet, and there were a lot of people with drug and alcohol problems. One night, a guy tried to kick down my door. That was terrifying, but also another moment where I just thought: study and get out.

I graduated and moved to London to do a course to become a trained solicitor. It cost £12,000, so I worked as a waitress to pay this huge loan off, while doing unpaid work experience. But I was constantly applying for paid jobs, and I probably applied for about 100 before I found a legal job at a media company.

A few years later, when my daughter was 11, she started getting pains and said she couldn’t walk or feel her legs. It turned out she had a spinal condition, and the hospital put her in emergency surgery that night. Doctors said they didn’t know if she would ever walk again. She was in hospital for a year and a half, and I had to do all my final exams and training at a really tough law firm while sleeping in the hospital.

The hospital wanted me around more, and so did my job, so I felt as if I was failing at everything. I thought: I just hope I’ve not fucked her up through doing all of this. There was a point where I was so exhausted that I fainted and fell down some stairs and broke my foot. Doctors said I should quit work, but I had no option – if I did that, we would be homeless when she came out of hospital.

Emma and her daughter at Durham University in October.
Bradshaw with her daughter at Durham University in October. Photograph: Courtesy of Emma Bradshaw

She eventually recovered and, despite missing so much school, did so well in her exams that she got a place at Durham University, where she’s currently studying psychology. Our bond is so close and we talk every day. I feel really happy, settled, and lucky it has worked out like this. Now I’ve got a bit more time for myself, and I’ve even started doing some acting classes in the evening. My career also blossomed, and today I have my dream role as a director at Sony Pictures Television, working as a solicitor in the business affairs team.

Looking back, maybe it was a good thing that I encountered that discouraging midwife. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been as tenacious otherwise. But I achieved all these things because of my daughter. She inspired me and gave me a reason to keep fighting – and for that I am forever grateful.

As told to Daniel Dylan Wray


As a child I wanted to be an actor, but things were difficult at home when I was growing up. I became a tearaway and, before I knew it, I was 16 and pregnant. My parents nearly had a heart attack. I’d done my GCSEs and wanted to do my A-levels. For support, I joined a local young mums’ group, but when I mentioned I wanted to keep studying, the midwife told me: “There’s no way you’ll be able to do it. If you want to go into education you should do a cooking course and then one day you’ll make a good wife to a divorcee.”

It really riled me up. It was like a red rag to a bull. I was like: that’s it, I’m doing this. That moment set me on my long journey into education. I got a flat for me and my daughter. I couldn’t afford the internet or a computer, but it was quiet and I was able to work without any drama. It was tough. I would have a one-year-old on one arm and be studying using the other. It was a half-hour drive to college and then a half-hour walk because I couldn’t afford to park nearby. But the thing that kept me going was when I returned home every day and I could see what my daughter’s future might look like. That made me get up every day and go.

I was shocked when I managed to get AAB in my A-levels, so I decided to study law and politics at Sussex University. When I turned up, the parent accommodation was horrendous – a single, mouldy, tiny room with no windows. I could have cried. They had a nursery, but the opening hours didn’t always fit with my classes, so I would have to bring my daughter into lectures and bribe her with sweets and colouring books to keep her quiet. She became a bit of a celebrity on campus.

In the second year, I moved out into rented accommodation, but in my third year the landlord wanted the property back a month before my exams ended. I tried to find a property that would let you rent for a month but they didn’t exist, so I went to the council and they put me in homeless accommodation. But the only homeless accommodation they had was for men.

Bradshaw graduating from Sussex University.
Bradshaw graduating from Sussex University. Photograph: Courtesy of Emma Bradshaw

It was a horrible little room. My daughter had to limit her possessions to a single box as we had to put all our stuff in storage. There was no phone signal or access to the internet, and there were a lot of people with drug and alcohol problems. One night, a guy tried to kick down my door. That was terrifying, but also another moment where I just thought: study and get out.

I graduated and moved to London to do a course to become a trained solicitor. It cost £12,000, so I worked as a waitress to pay this huge loan off, while doing unpaid work experience. But I was constantly applying for paid jobs, and I probably applied for about 100 before I found a legal job at a media company.

A few years later, when my daughter was 11, she started getting pains and said she couldn’t walk or feel her legs. It turned out she had a spinal condition, and the hospital put her in emergency surgery that night. Doctors said they didn’t know if she would ever walk again. She was in hospital for a year and a half, and I had to do all my final exams and training at a really tough law firm while sleeping in the hospital.

The hospital wanted me around more, and so did my job, so I felt as if I was failing at everything. I thought: I just hope I’ve not fucked her up through doing all of this. There was a point where I was so exhausted that I fainted and fell down some stairs and broke my foot. Doctors said I should quit work, but I had no option – if I did that, we would be homeless when she came out of hospital.

Emma and her daughter at Durham University in October.
Bradshaw with her daughter at Durham University in October. Photograph: Courtesy of Emma Bradshaw

She eventually recovered and, despite missing so much school, did so well in her exams that she got a place at Durham University, where she’s currently studying psychology. Our bond is so close and we talk every day. I feel really happy, settled, and lucky it has worked out like this. Now I’ve got a bit more time for myself, and I’ve even started doing some acting classes in the evening. My career also blossomed, and today I have my dream role as a director at Sony Pictures Television, working as a solicitor in the business affairs team.

Looking back, maybe it was a good thing that I encountered that discouraging midwife. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been as tenacious otherwise. But I achieved all these things because of my daughter. She inspired me and gave me a reason to keep fighting – and for that I am forever grateful.

As told to Daniel Dylan Wray

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