On being a single parent

30 Aug

I’m seriously considering going into hibernation until election season is over. The stupidity and inanity and omg craziness is starting to get to me. I know that it exists year round, but every four years, it really takes center spotlight and makes me want to drink. Heavily.

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about my time as a single parent. I heard about this: Tom Smith, Republican candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania compared pregnancy from rape to having a baby out of wedlock.

“When a reporter asked Smith to clarify what kind of situation was similar to becoming pregnant from rape, the candidate responded, “Having a baby out of wedlock.””

(sidenote: not sure why that’s not working, but click on it.)

I’m a (formerly) unwed mother. I had consensual sex, outside of  the sacred bonds of marriage. It was my choice to copulate with that particular person. It was also our choice to minimize the risk of pregnancy. And then, when I turned up pregnant, it was my choice to keep the baby.

It was not an easy choice, by any means. I was midway through my second year of law school. I was scheduled to study abroad that summer in Ireland, a long held dream of mine. My boyfriend and I were in a pretty good relationship. Things were great.

And then I started feeling sick… and it didn’t go away… and my period was really late… I thought there was no way I could be pregnant, we had been careful, I was only 23, that’s too young, I wasn’t ready.

But, ready or not, it came. The pee stick of doooooom. It stunned us both – we just stared at each other in a daze. To his credit, my ex asked if I wanted to get married. To my credit, I said no, because we’d be doing it for the wrong reason. He urged, pleaded, begged me to “take care of it.”

But I couldn’t. When I was 15, my oldest sister had a baby that died a few days after birth. I saw my sister carry a child for 9 months, only to lose her shortly thereafter. I knew that babies were gifts, miracles, etc., and I just couldn’t do it.

When I made my decision, my ex made his. He wanted no part of the pregnancy, or me.

I went to my parents with my tail between my legs. I didn’t know what to do. To their credit, and I am forever grateful for this, they said I could live at home, finish law school, and they would help me.

Then the hard part – telling friends and family that I was pregnant. The response was almost one hundred percent positive and supportive. My brother in law offered to act as a stand-in father when needed. My sister started buying cute little hats right away. My brother offered long distance support and advice from Oklahoma. My friend offered to be my Lamaze coach.  My church community rallied around me. My neighbor threw me a shower. My aunt cried and cried – with joy – and took me shopping for maternity clothes. My mother’s aunt, who was one of my most favorite people in the world, called all the way from New Zealand to offer love and support. Relatives in Denmark and Ireland sent presents. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the amazing love surrounding me.

But that doesn’t mean everyone, everywhere thought it was a great thing. Snide comments and remarks happened too. Apparently being pregnant and not wearing a wedding ring means you are a BAD PERSON and the whole world gets to judge. More than one person told me I should be ashamed of myself. It was hard, being pregnant and feeling completely alone at those times. I didn’t have a partner to rub my belly (my mother refused, politely), or to satisfy those midnight taco cravings (my father refused, not so politely). I would lie awake at night worrying that I would always be alone, that my baby wouldn’t ever have a father, that I was making a mistake.

All the Lamaze classes were a waste – Danny arrived by c-section on Thanksgiving Day, 2005. He was perfect – the nurses said c-section babies are beautiful, from not being smooshed in the birth canal. My parents, sister, brother in law, and friend (love you, Mara!), all came right away to admire and coo.

And then we were alone – just me and Danny. The hospital only allowed the parents to stay overnight. We had to fight to allow my mom into the OR with me for the c-section – the hospital again only allowed the parents in the room. One very kind nurse finally brought my mom in.

That first night, the first week, those whole first two years were HARD. I don’t want to minimize at all how much my parents helped, and how grateful I am to them. My mother helped me with midnight and early morning feedings. My father babysat when I went back to law school. It was the sweetest thing in the world to come home to grandpa and grandson napping together. But every decision was mine, even his name. And that kind of responsibility is hard, when it’s just you, and only you, making all the hard decisions. It took me months just to come up with his name (some of the rejects: Sean, Kevin, Kieran, Cormac, Michael), let alone a pediatrician, what religion to raise him, where to send him to school. My parents offered support and advice, but made it clear that all final decisions were solely up to me.

Then there was the custody battle – the less said, the better. My ex wanted sole custody of Danny. Thankfully, he lost. But the  emotional heartache, anxiety, and stress left some very permanent scars. The visitation schedule quickly turned into a nightmare. Handing my darling, beautiful infant son over to someone that ranked just above pond scum was heartrending. Going to bed on the nights he was with my ex, and looking at his empty crib, was devastating. And even more wrenching was when my ex stopped coming at all. Just disappeared out of my life, and Danny’s. No note, no explanation, just stopped coming to pick him up, stopped answering phone calls and e-mails, just slunk back into the pond of slime from which he came.

And still, people continued to judge me. When Danny was about 18 months old, I was walking down the street with him as he exclaimed over every “leeeef” and “flaaa” [flower]. An older man, walking his dog, approached us. “Goggie! Goggie!” Danny was very excited, and he stopped to chat.

You know what he said? “If my sons had a child at your age, I’d be so ashamed of them.”

So, yes, my friends and family and community stepped up to help. But being a single parent is not easy. You are solely responsible, at all times, for everything about your child. You are subject to the random criticisms and judgments of strangers. You have to deal with swamp creature exes. You are exhausted, emotionally, physically, and sometimes financially.

But you know what? I CHOSE that risk. I CHOSE to continue my pregnancy. I CHOSE to love Daniel, with all my heart. A rape victim doesn’t have that luxury. To compare her situation to mine is downright insulting to her. I chose to have Daniel because my friends and family rallied around me. Without that support network, I would have failed – or, at least, had an incredibly more difficult time.

I’m grateful every day that I made my choice. But I would never, ever, force it upon someone else.

2 Responses to “On being a single parent”

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  2. sohobbes September 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

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