Be Still, My Heart: Photos Of British Teen Mothers & Their Children

Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
This story was originally published December 17, 2015.

Photographer Marta Giaccone wasn't looking for teen mothers when she went to Great Britain.

She was in South Wales to pursue a master's degree in documentary photography and was uncertain what kind of project she was going to pursue in the meantime. When she realized all the teenage girls with babies she would see around town were not babysitters or older sisters, but rather young mothers, she was fascinated.

"I come from Italy, a country where traditionally, women have children a bit later on in life," she told Refinery29. "I just actually never thought about young motherhood." Giaccone began by approaching young women on the street, asking if they were the mothers of the young children with them and whether they would be willing to be photographed. Later, she would find other mothers via local play groups.

"It was the first time for me to talk to young mothers. It was really interesting. It was like a new world that I had never contemplated," she said. She asked the young women to pose with their children in their own homes, in ways that made them comfortable.

Many of the young women were worried about the stigma surrounding teenage mothers, a stigma that Giaccone tried to challenge: "I just want to show that you're a responsible person, you're a mature mother." While rates of teen pregnancy have been dropping in recent years, Wales and England still experience an average pregnancy rate of 24.5 per thousand. Still, it's significantly lower than the American rate of 26.5 per thousand.

The subjects, many of whom prefer to remain anonymous for privacy, were photographed in Newport and Cardiff, in Wales. It's been two years since Giaccone took the photos and she hopes to go back to revisit the women soon. The babies are growing up quickly. Ahead, Giaccone shares their powerful stories.
1 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
"When I moved to Wales, after a couple of months I didn’t know, actually, what to work on. I didn’t have any ideas about what project to work on. And then, I kept seeing all these young girls with babies. I thought they were babysitters or aunts or older sisters. And then, I don’t know how, at some point something snapped and I thought, Wait, maybe they’re mothers.”
Advertisement
2 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“I was really interested, because it’s just something that I didn’t know about. I didn’t know anything about [it]. And I had never really thought about [it].”
3 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“I went to their houses, one by one, and I spent some time, maybe two hours, sometimes a whole day, with them, talking. They told me a lot about their lives.“
4 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“All of them say that, yeah, it’s tiring, it’s tough, but it’s really rewarding.”
5 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“I’d say about half of them are still together with their children’s fathers. Some of them are working, some of them go to school, some of them are full-time moms...They really opened up to me, told me all these things.”
6 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“A lot of them, when their children turned 1 or 2, they went back to college. A lot of them started studying health and social care, they wanted to take care of children now.”
Advertisement
7 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“Seeing these pictures made them look at themselves in a different way. One of them told me, ‘I didn’t realize that people had an interest in us.’”
8 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“[One] girl, she and her boyfriend found out they were expecting...and suddenly he passed away in a motorcycle accident. So she decided to keep the baby. She wanted to have the baby to always remember the father. She gave the baby almost the same name as the father.”
9 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“Most of them told me it’s still a social stigma for them...that teenage mothers are seen as really immature. Girls who do nothing all day.”
10 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“For me, it’s really amazing to see how they’re dealing with everything. If I think of myself when I was their age, 18, 17, I could never imagine having a child.”
11 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“All of them are really [amazing] mothers.”
Advertisement
12 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“[They say], ‘We’re no different from an older parent. We’re just the same.’ Which really makes sense. They have the same responsibilities.”
13 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“I wanted to try to say that you should never judge these young girls.”
14 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“One of them told me, I was so surprised — she said, ‘So I got pregnant at 16, and my parents were mad at me, but they didn’t kick me out. But I took it upon myself to move out and deal with the consequences.'

"So she moved out on her own with her little girl, who was a few months old. I don’t know how she did it, but she is now going to law school and she has two jobs.”
15 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“A lot of people think that these girls are all sad and depressed, because they’re not smiling. But it’s actually because I told them [to]. The only thing I told them was, 'Sit wherever you want, just don’t smile, because I don’t want a holiday snapshot picture. I want to portray you as a proud and responsible girl.'”
16 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“I always had an image of Madonna and child, in the paintings. This came afterwards — after I took maybe the first one or two pictures, I realized that, obviously, it was a woman holding a child and it reminded me of the classical representation of Madonna and child. So I really liked that.”
17 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“It came natural to me after a couple of shots and I was really happy. I’m not religious at all, but I like the fact that this gives more dignity to these girls. They deserve it.”
18 of 18
Photo: ©Marta Giaccone/Anzenberger
“Wherever you go, you always find something interesting to photograph.”
Advertisement