Being wracked with guilt seems to be a perennial part of cat ownership, which doesn't make it any less awful when it happens to you.
Almost 10 years ago, I became pregnant for the first time in my life. At 33, I was not a teen. College-educated with a good job that I'd held down for six years, I even owned my own home. But I was divorced and in a brief dalliance with a man who was not parent or partner material. Being pregnant meant that I was also going to be a single mother.
And I was devastated.
I'd wanted to have children, but I'd always imagined having them within the structure of marriage. And believing the doctors who said that my polycystic ovarian syndrome diagnosis meant I couldn't conceive without help, I hadn't thought I could become pregnant within three months of a fling.
But I had.
I was going to be a parent, all by myself.
Almost 10 years have passed, and I'm not gonna lie: Single motherhood has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do. It's been daunting, frightening, and frustrating. But it's also been positively challenging. I've grown as a person in ways I never expected. And it's extraordinarily rewarding seeing my son unfold as I help guide him.
As he and I move into his 10th year, enough time has passed that I can reflect on the challenges and triumphs of the early years. Here are five things I wish I'd done differently.
1. Let others help
A complex amalgam of pride and shame had me accustomed to "accomplishing" things alone in my life. I'd swallowed whole both the Superwoman myth and the Strong Black Woman myth, and I equated vulnerability with inferiority.
These beliefs and fears led me to avoid asking for help and support when I truly needed it, during my pregnancy and the first years of my son's life, but to either reject it when it was offered to me or judge myself when I did accept it.
For example, I let my friend drive me home from the hospital and leave me there with a newborn without asking if she or anyone else could stay the night or the week or the month. I drove around, shopped for groceries, cooked, and took care of a newborn completely alone while recovering from a C-section, despite having family, friends, and a faith community I could have turned to.
That's craziness, people! And I didn't get any awards for this feat. It led to missing time focused on bonding with my kid, and it actually increased my vulnerability, which brings me to No. 2 on the list of things I wish I'd done differently.
2. Cut ties with the verbally and emotionally abusive father.
The shame I felt in being another single mom kept me bonded to a relationship that should have ended during the pregnancy. My son's father was alcohol-dependent and intermittently financially dependent on me. Although I made him leave my house when I was five months pregnant, I could not bring myself to completely cut ties with him. And my "do it alone" philosophy during the early weeks after my son's birth left me vulnerable to his father's promises to help, which led me to allow him to return. I hoped that the baby might "change" him and that somehow I might miraculously not be a single parent anymore. This mistake caused me and my son heartache that could have been lessened.
3. Kept my stable job and house.
Now for most people, this one will seem like a no-brainer. I had a great job, my own two-bedroom home, and lived in the same city as my immediate and extended family. But I am not most people. Ms. Do It Alone sold her house and took another job — a job across the country that paid less — when her son was nine months old.
Again, believing in the Superwoman myth and thinking I was Murphy Brown, I thought I could accomplish anything. This decision wreaked havoc on my finances, my career, and my mental health — and though I made some lifelong friends in another state, I would not advise anyone else to add instability to their lives during such a monumental transition as early single motherhood.
4. Ignored what I thought others thought.
As mentioned above, I spent a lot of time believing in myths and dealing with what I perceived as society's judgments of me. Worrying about others' perceptions of me, my life, and my role as a single mom affected my life far more than anyone's actual opinions of me. I am the only person responsible for raising my child and living my life. And I wish I'd understood that so much earlier than I actually did.
5. Celebrated my pregnancy and my new role. I spent so much time worrying about other people, fearing being trapped, facilitating a relationship with my child's father and attempting to go it alone that I missed the chance to actually enjoy what would turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Pregnancy happens every day to millions of women. But it happened to me this once, when it wasn't supposed to, when I wasn't supposed to be able to. And I feel like I kinda missed it. There are hardly any pictures of a pregnant me. Hardly any photos capture me holding my newborn son (I kept taking pictures of him with his father so he'd have them later on!). Not a single image of me breastfeeding my child. And it's such a cliché, but the time is fleeting, and single mothers should enjoy and revel in it as much as any partnered mother.
In short, I wish I'd given myself the respect and love, care and gentleness that I deserved during that time. I wish I'd understood what a special time that truly was —a time to be savored, despite the hardships and fear of the unknown.
My son will be 10 next year. And during this journey, I've learned so much. I've learned to ask for help and I've learned to accept it, too. And though I am still working on it, I'm learning to appreciate the specialness of our lives — day by day —and to let go of things I wish I'd done differently. In fact, if you don't mind, I'm going to leave these five right here.