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20 March 2019

Teen Mum at 14, qualified Chartered Accountant at 24

Dispelling myths about teenage pregnancy

I’m delighted to share my journey from teenage mum to Chartered Accountant. When I was 10, I moved to Ireland after the breakup of my parent’s marriage. I had spent the previous ten years living between London and Nigeria with my family. This was a challenging transition for my mum. She had just left my dad and needed to figure out how to manage three children aged under 10 with another on the way all on her own. Unknown to us at the time, she had also been suffering from depression since she was a teenager. Unfortunately, it was all too much for my mum to handle and she felt she had no one to ask for help. This led to a breakdown in our relationship and I became homeless for the first time at age 13.

It was a very scary experience sleeping in hostels as a 13-year-old girl. Normally you have to leave the hostels early in the morning then return to try to get a bed before they all fill up in the evening. I lived in a homeless emergency accommodation for nine months but I got a stable bed in the accommodation after a number of weeks, so thankfully I knew where I would be sleeping each night. I moved into a residential care home at 14. It was run by amazing people, but this was still a very turbulent and lonely time in my life.

In March 2008, five months before my 15th birthday, I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified mainly because I was going to have to leave this care home where I felt safe and cared for. I was scared to tell anyone but I confessed within a few hours to the manager of my care home. I was very lucky that the proprietors and manager made the decision to convert the purpose and function of my care home so they could help me raise my child while I remained in education. That decision is why I can write this blog post today.

Being a teenager in school is a very nerve-racking experience for someone who is a “normal” teenager, never mind when you are the only person of colour in your class. I had struggled with this difference since I was 10 as Ireland was not as diverse then. This made me extremely self-conscious and the idea of them finding out I was also a pregnant teenager made me decide to drop out of secondary school (high-school).

My care home remained extremely supportive and they paid for me to have private tuition lessons while I was pregnant which meant I could re-sit the important Junior Certificate exams I missed when I had my son (the Junior Certificate is an educational qualification awarded in Ireland to students who have successfully completed the junior cycle of secondary education). To this day, I am still shocked that I managed this. I was a worried and self-conscious teenager living in care and sitting in these tuition classes with a room full of 14-15 year olds with my huge baby bump. But I got through it because I had to make a better life for my son, and education was how I was going to do it.

I had my son, Liam, in December 2008, and at 15, I returned to education in a new school. This designated disadvantaged school was more diverse. I felt the teachers had become so used to dealing with young people with complex home situations that they tried to manage their expectations and encourage them to aim lower rather than higher. On one occasion, my maths teacher tried to sway me in a different educational direction. This was clearly because, as a young mum she felt I was never going to finish school, let alone make it to university. I'm really happy that I did not let her line of thinking influence me.

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My care home supported me in every way they could while I finished school, whether it was dropping my son Liam to crèche in the morning so I wouldn't be late for school or babysitting so I could get a couple of hours sleep before school. They were always there for me. I am so thankful for them for that. I completed my Leaving Certificate (the university matriculation examination in Ireland) and gained entry to Dublin City University to study Accounting and Finance. While I was over the moon, I did not underestimate the mountain ahead of me.

As I was turning 18, I had to move out into my own accommodation with my son. Thankfully, a number of advocacy groups lobbied for an aftercare package that meant I did not have to worry about accommodation and childcare while I completed my undergraduate degree. It was tough dealing with the guilt of my son growing up without me being around as I worked to achieve my goals. I saw all my friends having a very different college experience than me but I knew that I was incredibly lucky to have this opportunity.

I knew working in a Big Four firm while completing my exams would be tough with a child and busy season, so I decided to pursue a Masters in Accounting after completing my degree. With a masters, the number of exams I would have to take whilst working would be reduced and hopefully make the triple juggle of managing the start of my career, pursuing my professional accounting qualification and being a mum a little bit less challenging.

The day I graduated from my undergraduate degree, I had a job offer from two Big Four accounting firms and I just couldn’t believe it. PwC Ireland was the obvious choice for me because I felt right at home here during my interview. It was a massive motivator for me during my masters knowing I had this amazing job waiting for me at the end of it if I just put my head down and focused on passing my exams for the year, which is what I did.

After joining PwC, I put ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself to not only be like everyone else but to do better. I missed school plays and had friends bring my son to appointments all because I wanted to prove myself. My managers always made it clear that I could work as flexibly as I needed, but I constantly refused this offer. I remember doing a parent-teacher meeting by Skype and my manager asking why didn’t I just attend in person? The answer is I don’t really know.

I regret missing all of those events for two years while I put my career first all because of the irrational fear I had of being labelled as a single mother who couldn’t cope. I didn’t have flexibility in school or college. It just seemed so weird to me to have this offer now especially given I did not know anyone else who was at my grade level who also had a child.

During my second year when I was training, I put even more pressure on myself to balance study, work, and my son. For example, I would study at lunch times during busy season to have a head start because I knew I couldn’t cram it all in at the end, my home life did not accommodate that. Passing my Final Admitting exams to Chartered Accountants Ireland was the second best day of my life (Liam’s birth was the first). I couldn’t believe I had actually done it. I couldn’t believe this triple juggle was finally over.

When I wasn’t in survival mode anymore post exams, I could finally see that my amazing little boy really needed his mum. He really needed to see me at the Christmas play and to have my help with his homework. This was when I decided to start accepting the offers of flexibility. I would discuss my weekly work goals with my senior or manager and made sure the work was done so I would be able to enjoy the school play and story time at bedtime. I became so much happier in my personal and work life. This flexibility actually made me eager and willing to take on more work and additional responsibilities.

I can’t go back in time to make up for all of those lost moments in my son’s life. However, I can learn from my mistakes. I am 24 years old. ‘It is a marathon, not a sprint’ are words I have come to live by. I am so thankful for everyone I’ve worked with at PwC who have supported me. I know that this is an organisation where I can achieve my very ambitious career goals while not having to sacrifice important moments with my son. I hope other mothers see this post as an opportunity to start taking those offers of flexibility without self-imposed worry or guilt, no matter what age they became a mum.

I would be lying if I didn’t share that I’ve felt the stigma of being a teenage mum on many occasions throughout my life. And I was worried how this might manifest when I began working at PwC, in particular because I also felt so different because of my race and experience of growing up in care. I recently asked the partner who hired me why he made the decision to hire me. His response was because he knew that I was different and could see the benefits this difference would bring to his team. I hope sharing my story debunks some of the myths people continue to have about teenage mums. For me, being a teenage mum made me even more hard working and determined to succeed in life, for both me and my son. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny”.

Blog3 Deborah Somorin is a Senior Associate at PwC Ireland. Deborah completed an Accounting and Finance degree and Masters in Accounting with Dublin City University. She is a qualified Chartered Accountant and she recently began sharing her story to help change the stigma attached with youth homelessness and teenage pregnancy. Deborah recently founded Empower the Family, a not for profit company that will open student accommodation with affordable quality childcare for single parents aged between 18-23 in third level education. Deborah is also a board member on the board of directors for Chartered Accountants Support which supports members and students of Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

You can connect with Deborah on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @deborah_somorin

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