At a time when most teenage girls think can think about music, going out and seeing friends, Rachel Jones from Bolton faced the daunting prospect of growing up overnight.
For, at the age 16, Rachel found out that she was pregnant – just after she had left school and was about to start a college course in childcare.
Now 21, Rachel recalls how overwhelmed she was as she contemplated a new path in life that would see her as a teenage parent, while still learning about the world herself.
“I was so scared,” she says. “I had no idea that I could be pregnant – and the fear was overwhelming to start with.”
However, after the initial shock, Rachel decided that she would keep the baby and do her best to be a good parent.
“I didn’t see any of this as the baby’s fault,” she explains. “I started to think that maybe I could turn a corner, be a better person and give my child a good life.
“I was lucky that my Mum and Dad were supportive too – even though they were very shocked. Their attitude made me stronger.”
And, that resolve – combined with the support of a service called the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) – helped Rachel to power through her fear and make the changes needed to have and to look after a newborn.
The FNP service is one that gives support to young first-time mums so that both the mother and the child get the best outcomes possible.
In Rachel’s case, she came under the care of FNP nurse Clare Woods, who is based in Bolton. Together, Clare and Rachel went through all the aspects of looking after yourself – and a baby. They went through everything from health, social and financial needs – while also thinking about Rachel’s long-term aims for her education.
“As part of the work we make sure we focus on the Mum’s dreams and aspirations,” says Clare. “We do everything by breaking things down into manageable chunks and setting goals.”
Rachel credits this two-year support as being the driver that gave her the encouragement and guidance to be the best Mum that she could be, as she awaited the arrival of her son.
“I felt such love the minute I held Lucas,” she says. “I knew I would do anything for him and I just threw myself into it all, using all the help I had been given.”
Lucas’s birth also galvanised Rachel’s aim to go back to college – which she did to re-sit her GCSEs in English and maths.
However, just as Rachel she embracing the start of a new chapter of life, her own Mum found that she had advanced cancer and died just before Lucas was one – and Rachel was just 18. The grief was crushing, but Rachel says she is glad that her Mum was able to see how well her grandson was looked after.
“My Mum loved Lucas – and I know how proud she was that I was doing everything I can to give him the best possible start,” says Rachel.
Then tragedy struck again, as within a few months Rachel’s Dad also died unexpectedly of a heart attack.
“I didn’t want to fall apart,” says Rachel. “It was hard, but I had to keep going for Lucas.”
At each of these life-changing times the FNP service was there for Rachel, to make sure she had the emotional and practical support she needed.
“Our role is almost as enablers,” says Claire. “We work with the family so that they realise their own targets – which then also helps the baby.”
And that support has been invaluable for Rachel. Today, she is a happy 21-year old Mum – who went on to have a baby girl called Layla who is now ten months old. Rachel is still with the father of her children and she is also about to start a new job at a crèche – but she still plans to go back to college and finish her childcare qualifications.
“When my kids are older I want them to look back and say my Mum did everything she could for us. I want them to say she never gave up and showed us that if you want anything in life you have to work for it – but it is possible,” she says.
“I just look at my two children and think I’ve been blessed.”