Single mama, broken

My daughter recently turned 2. I understand a little more each day how parents call their children their pride and joy. I feel my heart expand daily in ways I never knew it could. Some mornings, I find myself excited for this little person to wake up so I can spend time with her–instead of only savoring my small bit of me time.

But the reality is that even as the mother of a 2 year old, I’m still not over the fact that it was an unplanned pregnancy where I lacked the support all pregnant women need.

Pregnancy is supposed to be a time of joy. A time of excitement of the good things to come. For women facing an unplanned pregnancy, it can be hard to capture that joy. For women like myself, who were cast aside by my child’s father early on in the pregnancy–we likely needed that joy even more.

The truth is that I still feel abandoned. I still feel the sting of having gone through most of the pregnancy alone, sometimes with strangers, and lacking the usual joys. Seemingly innocuous things get under my skin about motherhood. It feels like a death or very big loss. The fact that I didn’t have a partner care about my needs or well-being as my body endured the pain is something I still remember. The pain of longing for a baby shower to somehow be able to feel a bit of joy. The inability to relax and take comfort in the support of family and friends. The frequent ER visits and staying in the hospital for ten days due to complications with preeclampsia.

When my severe preeclampsia resulted in the unexpected induction of labor, I was so frightened. I was worried that my baby’s father wouldn’t make it to the delivery and I didn’t feel like I could do it without him. Even though he’d forced me to go through the entire pregnancy without him.

When our daughter was born after 37 hours of truly miserable labor, she spent 10 days in the NICU. I stayed in the Ronald McDonald House with her father, the man who had left me pregnant and kicked me out of our apartment and who had since moved on and into another woman’s home. He didn’t offer empathy that I could hardly walk for more than a week due to the pain of labor. He asked me why I was crying. I was crying in pain just trying to walk, just trying to shower and use the bathroom, and I was crying because I had never in my life felt so alone.

How do you explain to someone you loved more than life that their rejection and inability to be there for you when you needed them most? He couldn’t see it. He doesn’t see it now.

I had no joy during my pregnancy. And I’m not over it. No. Not even after 2+ years. People make comments as if I should be over it, should have expected it, or shouldn’t feel abandoned now. Why should I care that he left us? Why should it matter that he accused me of wanting to not work at all because I wanted to stay home to raise our daughter, yet now he’s living with a woman who has no job and he wants to make her happy by letting her be a homemaker? Why should it hurt me that he has always held a stricter, and more cruel standard against me than his ex-wife or any of his 35+ girlfriends or one night stands? He feels bad for them. Those exes. But he blames everything on me.

Everyone says it shouldn’t hurt me, right? Yet, no, I’m still not over it. I’m not over the fact that he acts like it’s nothing. Or like I owe him a relationship with our daughter when he consistently puts himself first. Like being a single mom isn’t hard, or being a single mom without family isn’t harder, like he has nothing to do with how the pregnancy went and how single motherhood is now.

Every day, I live for my daughter. I choose to get up and keep going even when I want to crawl into a dark room, fall asleep and never come out. I keep walking through setbacks, through migraines, through painful days where our only family experience with others can be described as dysfunctional and paranoid. I keep going.

It will always be easy for him to play the crazy baby mama card. Complain that his baby mama of his daughter won’t leave him alone. That I’m still in love with him. That I’m a stalker. That I use his daughter against him.

In reality, I am a woman who never wanted to be a single mom. I am a woman mourning a painful pregnancy devoid of joy and filled with fear. I am a mom who aches for her daughter because I know what it’s like to not have one. I am a brokenhearted woman who can’t imagine opening up her heart to love again after experiencing betrayal on such a deep and long-lasting level. I’m a mom trying to survive without the family she needs and trying to hope for a new beginning.

I am grateful for my long distance friends who have stood by me and not prodded me to “get over it”. I am grateful to them for not devaluing my feelings or telling me to be glad something worse hasn’t happened. Because I plan to never devalue my daughter’s pain or tell her that her feelings are nothing. She makes me a better person and I’m a better mom everyday single day because she reminds me to keep going, keep trying, and keep believing in love.

But it still doesn’t mean I’m over the fact that her dad isn’t there, that he treats me like a doormat, or that he isn’t a fraction of the father we need him to be. And honestly, it would go a very long way if he could actually feel empathy for what I’ve endured. If he could love our daughter and respect me enough to want to do everything he can to be a good dad.

But I know it’s utterly unlikely that he will ever be respectful to me and ever truly acknowledge his responsibilities. He doesn’t think he owes us a thing while he expects way too much from me.

So what do I do? I move forward. I focus on my daughter and try to be positive. I’m in pain, and I’m not over it. But I’m moving.

 

single mama, updated

Obviously it’s been a long time since I updated the blog and today, I’m forcing myself to take the time to do it now. For anyone reading this and wondering what I’m up to lately, I’m working from home and taking care of my daughter.

My daughter, Sophie, is 21 months old right now. She’s pretty severely attached to me, though independent enough to try to run free whenever we’re out running errands. I’m currently working with her dad to set up a good time for her to have a double frenectomy. Which is a fancy way to say that she has a tongue tie and lip tie which both need to be surgically corrected. It looks like that will happen in the next month.

Last February, I began working for a social media management company and it’s now my full-time job. I write from home–blogs and social media posts. I do my darndest to get my weekly tasks completed within a Sunday-Wednesday timeframe. Sometimes Monday-Thursday. And on really efficient weeks, Monday-Wednesday. The point is that I try very hard to get my work done as fast as possible so I can spend my time with my daughter. And you know, complete all the real life work of laundry/cooking/cleaning, etc.

It’s a great gig and I’m so lucky/blessed to be able to keep Sophie out of daycare so we have that really strong bond. And like every other life choice, it has its downsides too. And we’ve had our challenges with Sophie’s health and development.

I’ll get into the challenges more in a later post. But keep going with the updates. I think we’re continuing to do better and better… We haven’t been on any kind of government assistance for six months. We aren’t relying upon financial help from friends or strangers. I’m renting a house for below market rate, but am looking into new options.

So from a very large picture standpoint, we’re doing really well.

We still have needs, particularly transportation and community. I need the opportunity to be refreshed and have a break once in a while. She needs frienship, and I need friendship too. I need the peace of mind and emotional support to help make my fitness and weight loss goals more attainable. And just getting my daughter to eat food is an all day, everyday struggle… But all that aside, I’m still moving forward. There are good days and bad days, but I do try to focus on the fact that I get to spend my time with this funny little sweetie:

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Single mama, complicated

I haven’t written for so long, for so many reasons… because it’s complicated. I’m complicated. My life is complicated.

In a little more than a week, my daughter will be one and a half. Eighteen months seems like such a long time to have this little person I’m responsible for, and I’m happy for the little wins–she’s never had a diaper rash nor ear infection, she’s still nursing and growing. But there are many things I often feel make me a “failure” as well. She’s a night owl and currently doesn’t go to bed before midnight. She is far beyond your average picky eater toddler. She is clearly bright, but uses her words selectively and our lifestyle hasn’t yet taught her social skills.

Maybe it isn’t like this for all single moms, but for me, there is always a trade off that makes me realize how truly unable I am to do or be everything. I work from home because I feel strongly convicted that it gives me the best opportunity to still forge a stable bond with my daughter. And it does. In many ways I am very happy. I enjoy my job, and the flexibility that goes along with working from home. I don’t like the guilt when I tell my daughter she has to quit climbing on me when I’m working. I don’t like the stress and worry that if I don’t get my work done right away, an emergency could come up and prevent me from finishing. I don’t like forcing myself to stay up til 3am to make sure I get things done while my daughter sleeps, because lately I fall asleep in the middle of my work. I don’t like the worry that all my clients will cancel one month, or I’ll have a month where I can’t pay rent or some other bill. I don’t like that I’m not completely “back on my feet.”

It seems that as a single mom, I trade one security for another. It’s stressful, but I know I must learn to be okay with this stage of life. In this stage of life, I am alone. I don’t have real family help and I don’t have friends to call to come over and spend time with me and my daughter. I don’t have a babysitter close enough to my daughter to help give me a bit of a break.

Some moms will judge me for saying this, but being the single mama of a young toddler is very lonely. I love my little girl and am amazed every day by the joy a little one can bring, but I can’t say that joy doesn’t get overshadowed by the loneliness. Because it does. I want to have a whole family and right now my family feels broken. I am not someone who does well on their own. I have spent most of my adult life working alone and supporting myself without family–taking care of yourself and being alone is something that for me had gotten very old before I became a mother. Now it’s even worse.

I’m kind of at this point where words escape me. I write for a living but I’m running out of the words to express myself. On the occasions that a long-distance friend asks me what I need, I hardly know what to say. Where do you begin when you seem to need everything? How do you say you don’t know how to have a friend or enjoy life outside of motherhood because your life is so complicated?

I’m at a point where I know I need to take care of myself. Quit putting off my needs. I need to make changes. And i need to do it alone.

single mama, needy

Despite what you sometimes read about being poor, it isn’t fun to be in need. It isn’t free stuff and no work, although I have heard being in need somehow sets you up for steak and seafood on the government’s dime. Sorry, but no.

Being in need is hard on many levels and for many reasons. Right now, my daughter and I are in need of a home. I haven’t had a home of my own since my fiance left me pregnant. My daughter has never lived in a home that was ours and she is 13 months old. We have lived with others and while that has been a blessing, we must leave our current dwelling place by May 31st and it’s time for something we can truly call home.

Being a single mama in need seems to mean everyone with good intentions has an opinion about what we need. It’s very hard for other people to understand why I need to be in the city, on a bus line, have easy access to laundry and healthy grocery stores. They often don’t see the need for a good neighborhood, or for caution about Craigslist apartments and houseshares with strangers.

Even some of the kindest people in the world feel that hey, beggars can’t be choosers. But the reality is that most of these people are very far removed from our everyday life. I don’t have a vehicle, I don’t have a local support network. Friends? I don’t have them except online. No one will hang out with me at the mall or do a monthly ladies night with me. Being a poor single mom is lonely. Am I a pariah? It often feels that way.

I am well on my way to getting back on my feet but I’m not quite there yet. I’m working on raising money for an apartment fund to get us through the next couple months. I should be able to manage after that.

If you would like to share or contribute to the campaign, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/shannonandsophie

Single Mama, Homeless

I am my daughter’s primary caregiver. Well, to be real, I am her only caregiver. She and I are up here in Minnesota while her father is living his life in Tennessee and Georgia. His financial support keeps her in clothing and diapers, etc. But the kindness of others keeps a roof over our heads since I don’t make enough money for rent.

There’s a good chance that when you hear “single mama”, you think of a woman who works while her child is in daycare or school, or perhaps while her child is sleeping. You know her life is hard by default. There are simply certain expectations for single mamas in our society.

Above (most) all, single mamas are expected to work their tails off to provide for their offspring. They are seen as breadwinner and nurturer, Amazonian super women who do it all in the absence of a man or partner. And it seems to me that something in our society says it should be that way, particularly if we have had children out of  wedlock. Then on the other hand society says women can do or be anything and everything.

I am going to be very honest with you. I am not every woman. I cannot do everything. Nor do I want to. Really, what I want is to be a good mama. The mama I was created to be.  The kind of mama who doesn’t settle or back down without a fight.

You see, I never knew whether or not I was a maternal “type”. I wasn’t sure that I could love a baby more than the man who had left me pregnant and alone. But this life happened and I made it through the first year without her father. I swiftly learned what was important to me as a mother and I vowed that money wasn’t going to get in the way.

To all the well-meaning folks who encourage me to face reality and accept my lack of choice as a single mom who isn’t independently wealthy, I must be a fool. But I am not afraid to say this is who I am. I am not everything. I do not multitask SO well that I can do it all.

I need to be PRESENT for my daughter. That is my choice right now. Even though I’m not yet back on my feet and earning a livable wage. Even though I don’t have a home for us.

We have moved many times since pregnancy. Crashing on couches and air mattresses, ocassionally having our own room. For the past 6 months we have been living in the home of a couple who generously had space to share. It has been wonderful and peaceful in many ways. And we now need a new home again as this couple is selling their home.

So I get to ask myself once again if I am doing the right thing. If I am lazy. If I am mom enough.

And then I see my daughter’s smile. I see her eyes light up and her tears subside when I return from even a short trip away from her. And I realize that I am working for the very best thing in the world–she, and the mama I am compelled to be with her.

That is what makes me believe we will be okay, even if getting back on my feet progresses on a less than timely schedule which I would like and still others disapprove.

Being the best mom YOU are compelled to be, is mom enough. I may not be able to “do it all”, yet my baby girl needs ME, and that makes all of this time of need worth it.

Single Mama, Heavy

Today is Easter Sunday, a day where I can’t help but reflect upon the value of family, life, and renewal.

My daughter will turn one in only four days, but technically this is her second Easter. Last Easter she and I were crammed into her father’s car traveling from the NICU in Springfield, Missouri to a pseudo-home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We didn’t really belong there since her father had already moved on with another woman before our child was born. But last Easter Sunday I tried to believe we could coparent and he could be an involved father.

This year my daughter and I are back in my homestate of Minnesota. I am very much missing the family we never had, though I am grateful to have had friends invite us into their homes so this holiday was not quite so solitary. Still somehow I can’t help but think about the father and husband I one day hope to have complete our family life. And since spring has now officially sprung, that means what I really want to talk about is weight.

Nearly a year postpartum, I still haven’t lost the baby weight. And that is weight in addition to excess pounds I was trying to lose even before I became pregnant. There’s no way around the fact that right now I am fat. Everybody knows it.

Often however, it seems people believe I must not know I’m heavy and carrying around excess fat. The other women who look me up and down at the mall. The fellow grocery shoppers who eyeball my cart after throwing me a sideways glance. The single men who will never give me the time of day because they think I’m unattractive.

Today I find myself inspired to speak to those men. Men who overlook a woman because she is heavy and relegate her to the friend zone are people unable to appreciate the value of any woman. They are people who look at the world but do not see. You may feel this is a rather cliché effort to be politically correct. You may argue this is fat acceptance or a viewpoint promoting poor health.

But the truth is that fat women are every bit as valuable as thin ones. They are every bit as deserving of love. Being heavy is not an automatic character flaw–it doesn’t indicate that a woman is lazy, stupid or gross. It doesn’t mean that all she does is eat. It means that she is human and some of her imperfection is visible to the naked eye. In other words, she is human and imperfect just like you, but you have already judged her shallowly with eyes that decided she isn’t good enough you. Perhaps there is some truth to that. It may be that she is more kind or more talented than you could ever appreciate. She might be a strong and loving single mother who loves and refuses to view people as a commodity to be used. Yet you as a highly visual man focused on never settling for anything less than “the total package” are likely missing out on the opportunity to love and be loved by someone who has what you need. All because you think beauty should be… what?

By all means tell me what beauty should be? Is it a heart full of love that longs for justice? Is it a mom who puts her family first and loves unconditionally? How will having a hot wife serve you and your children? If your vision of beauty depends upon a body that isn’t too heavy, how will you later explain to your daughter that she was created beautiful just as she is? If you believe in true equality and goodness in this world, how can you limit romantic love as only available to the physically fit and graceful (for now)?

The truth is that you could marry a woman with a “perfect 10 body” and she could lose it. Cancer could ravage her body. PCOS or hypothyroidism could damage her metabolism. An accident could lead to muscle atrophy. If you can’t see beauty in a heavy woman right now, how will you see it down the road when you are weary from fighting with a woman you thought you knew so well but suddenly disagree with about everything? If you were unable to see beauty in imperfection before you went through a rough patch, how can you see it through or after?

When our idea of what is good or beautiful is limited to only some types of perfection, we actually limit our experience of love. We lie to ourselves that love exists in a vacuum of outer appearance. And in the end we all suffer from such limitations.

As a whole, women tend to be much more skilled at loving by looking past outer appearances. We more frequently see “hot women” with “ugly men” because women excel at the art of getting to know the whole person.

If we expect a specific standard of beauty for our future spouse, we might as well admit right now that we aren’t really wanting to love the entire person, but really, the pretty person. If you are unable to fall in love with or find a fat girl attractive, I can essentially guarantee you are missing the point of falling in love.

Real and lasting love isn’t easy. The deepest love is a choice we make when not choosing love would have been so easy. The only love that lasts the test of time is a love that looks not with the eyes, but with the heart.  And that means the best mate for us may not be the perfect trophy spouse after all. Especially since none of us–including you, guys–is the perfect human specimen.

Single Mama, Alright

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I’m not going to be disingenuous and pretend this was easy to write. It wasn’t. Motherhood isn’t easy, my life is a hard one, and being a single mama isn’t how I ever envisioned my future. I can tell you daily one more reason I hate being a single mom. But to tell you what I love about it? I have to dig deep to turn it around and find something good. So here it is:

1. It makes me a less selfish person.

Before I met my daughter’s father, I was the definition of working for the weekend. The clerical work I did afforded me the ability to splurge on a market-rate warehouse district apartment with 14 foot ceilings. I lived across the street from the farmers market and at one point enjoyed monthly trips to the spa for a massage through my FSA account. I had my hair cut and colored in the salon with a facial every 6 weeks. I was on a raw foods weight loss plan and regularly purchased new clothes and accessories for my shrinking body. I didn’t have everything and I certainly lived paycheck to paycheck. But in all honesty it was a selfish kind of life as I had no one else to live for.

Flash forward 2 years and I’m a single mama. Her daddy left us and she is dependent upon me. I don’t get sick days or much of any opportunity to rest or have fun. If this sounds like My life is now more than me, more than romantic love, more than doing whatever it is that I want to do. I am needed, truly and deeply needed, by a helpless little human. The lessons I teach her will impact her entire life. The bond we share will matter. Suddenly I have something to live for, to put first, and it’s not me.

2. I get to choose my parenting style without debating with my partner.

It’s not as if her father and I never argue since we’re no longer a couple. We. Fight. A. Lot. We never really bickered as a couple–we fight often as exes. But our arguments tend to focus more on his lack of involvement and less on my decisions. At the end of the day, because I’m the single mama and he’s the distant dad, I get to parent how I feel I ought to and I do not have to argue with (nor answer to) a partner who disagrees.

Yet it’s not about having everything my way either. I am simply aware that I have the luxury of getting to make all decisions about how to raise my child and I am not stressed about her father’s reaction to those choices. That’s not to say he doesn’t stress me out or that I wouldn’t welcome some disagreement if it meant her father was more involved. It definitely doesn’t feel luxurious, but I recognize this freedom counts as a perk of single parenting.

3. It has taught me that I’m stronger than I think.

When I first realized I was going to be a single mama, I wanted to kill myself. I know, I wish I was joking, but having a baby without any emotional support from the father was at the top of my “things I never want” list ever. For a long time, I believed I couldn’t BE a mom without this man I loved. He was already a father to three boys while I was never certain about wanting to have a child myself. I thought I needed him to stand by me and show me the ropes.

But he never did. He was there for the delivery and some other ocassions, but through this first year or so he has never actually shown up and been present. This baby kept needing me, kept growing. I asked for help but he was not there. I finally had to do something that nearly killed me–I had to go. I left his part of the country and took our daughter back to my home state a thousand miles away. I brought the clothes on my back and two bags of baby clothes. I put her first when I was brokenhearted and would have otherwise done anything to be close to her dad.

I did it because I am strong. We got through colic without him. We still get through sleepless nights without him. Through my sickness and fatigue we have survived. I know our daughter lives because I have taken care of her when he wouldn’t. One day, perhaps while drafting this post, I looked back on her first 11 months and realized I am stronger than I ever believed possible for me.

4. It’s taught me what matters in life–and made me stand for those convictions.

As soon as her father told me I had to leave our apartment, well-meaning people began to lecture me about being a single mom. The common denominator was this: “Your life will be hard–let me explain to you how you are in for a hard 20 years or so. And let me pound it into your brain and say that you must do WHATEVER it takes to give this child as much money as you can. Work three jobs if you must. And don’t complain. This is life as a single mom.”

Really, people–that is how you sound. These same folks thought it was horrible that my obstetrician told me to quit my job at T-Mobile because it was too stressful during a high-risk pregnancy. Every time I was put on bed rest or hospitalized during that time, someone felt it was their duty to tell me I was being a bad mom before my child was born. Or I somehow couldn’t be a REAL SINGLE MAMA if I didn’t have a job that pays my bills.

That’s okay. These were generally the people I cut out of my life because they were so toxic whenever I expressed my goal to stay home with my daughter. Single moms don’t have the luxury to stay home unless they are independently wealthy. I heard this again and again. People called me lazy or a freeloader. They told me about all their hardships and how they handled it better because of me.

And all it ever really came down to was money. It still does.

It doesn’t matter to them that her father hasn’t  worked one bit harder to take care of his new baby. Everyone had (and continues to have) opinions about what I should but am not doing to make money. It doesn’t matter that I am working as a mom 24/7 and also working from home, because I’m not prosperous at present. In a way this has been a blessing because it has solidified my belief in what matters most–being there for my daughter and bonding strongly, particularly in her first 3 years of life. The criticism has taught me how much I value family, even though it’s just me and my daughter. It’s made me see that money isn’t everything and I never want to sacrifice her needs in the name of financial gain.

5. My daughter and I have a unique bond.

Because her father chooses to be less involved, my daughter only knows me as her nurturer and protector. That creates a really special, strong bond between us because I know I’m all she’s got and I’m going to do whatever it takes to meet her needs. By extension, she is going to grow up knowing that my love was an action–not empty words.

I have confidence that my sacrifices to instill the importance of family in my baby girl will go a long way to make her one day appreciate these bonds which can’t be bought. Some of us grow up wondering our entire lives if were truly loved by our own parents, or if they just had to love us out of obligation. I know that my daughter will be able to look back on our memories and traditions and cherish the fact that I put her and our bond first.

There may be many more things I hate about being a single mom than things to love, but I think the value of these 5 perks far surpass that of any gripe I have. It isn’t easy–I have to work to appreciate what I have as a single mama compared to moms with partners. But I know my daughter will always be worth it. I also know that no matter how unfair it seems that I have to work so hard while he enjoys living a typically child-free existence going out to eat or to the movies whenever he wants–I’m not the one missing out. He is the one missing out on knowing his daughter. He is the one lacking the memories of sacrifice or laughter and joy.