Doing Battle With My Single Mom Guilt
Words: Tanya Hayles
Becoming a single mom wasn’t in this Toronto-based mom’s plans. But now that it’s happened, she’s dealing with the emotional fallout.
Before I became a single mother, I used to pride myself on not being a statistic. Despite being raised by a single mother after my father’s passing, I knew I didn't want be one. I saw firsthand how hard it was, and I was acutely aware of the sacrifices being made for me and my siblings in order to have the life that any parent would want for their children.
But five years ago, I faced that very same fate. It became apparent very early on that the relationship I was in that had created life was dead. Our relationship wasn’t one based on or filled with love, but it had somehow managed to create it. And because of that, I chose life.
Going through pregnancy alone isn't anything I would wish on any woman. I feel like the entire nine months is set up for two people to celebrate the life they have created together. Hearing heartbeats and seeing little hands at the ultrasound lends itself to hands being held and used to wipe away tears of joy. You want to have someone else there to feel those flutters. To have a bodyguard to protect you as you navigate public transit, to deflect invasive and horrific questions. Having someone there would keep looks of pity at bay.
It's hard being alone in a birthing class, surrounded by anxious moms and nervous dads all learning how to breathe as delivery gets nearer; using an app as a contraction timer instead of having someone there as your uterus opens; riding to the hospital yourself; needing a nurse to push you in a wheelchair; and not having anyone to coach you to do what your body is physically ready to do but your mind may not be.
All of those big and little moments and milestones aren’t meant to be done alone. But yet I did most of them by myself. And while I have a nurse for a mother—I hit the jackpot with her when when it was showtime, and I will never be able to thank her enough for all she did to guide me through the most life-changing moment of my life—there was still something missing.
But while I soldiered through my single pregnancy—most people are, overall, overjoyed and happy for you, and who doesn’t like babies?—I found that single motherhood was a whole different ball game.
A lot is said online about single mothers, especially Black ones. The slander and vitriol about who we are as women, decision-makers, and sexual beings is all up for judgement. Nothing can be said about us that we don't think, know, or believe ourselves. I knew if dating was hard before, it was going to be immensely difficult after giving birth. I considered myself damaged goods and unworthy of the type of love that I wanted. My body, which I wasn’t really in love with prior to pregnancy, was now a fixer upper in need of desperate repairs.
All of these thoughts and feelings were exasperated when my son was born. Throughout my pregnancy, I desperately wished for a girl so that at least I had a fighting chance. I'd be able to talk the language and share the same body parts. And while little girls need their daddies too, I felt like there was something inherent about fathers and their sons—a girl wouldn’t need her dad for her overall development as much, I believed.
The questions swirled: How can I as a woman raise a boy to be a man? How will I answer the inevitable questions he will have once he starts school? I knew that those kinds of questions were coming, but I still wasn't prepared for what my 4 year old said to me on the drive home after his school spring concert.
"If I had a dad, it would be easier."
The words had dropped as quickly as my stomach did. I somehow managed to keep the car—and my face—straight.
I wanted to question what the ”it” was. Does he mean life in general? Does he mean the drive home? All sorts of things went through my head as I fought back tears. All I managed to say was, "Well...maybe? But there are all sorts of families: two mommies, two daddies, one daddy, one mommy."
I asked him if he liked our family of him and I. He said it's not just him and I and named his aunts and uncles and cousins. I was grateful for the ability to redirect in what was the longest six-minute drive ever.
That night, after bedtime stories were read and teeth were (kinda) brushed, I sat with the whirlwind of emotions. It's not often I focus on my true feelings about being a single parent, but now with the wound re-opened, I was forced to do just that.
Much to contrary belief, it never occurs to me to be angry and bitter. I don't think of the contributor any more than I'm sure he thinks of me. I make more space for guilt, shame, and regret instead. That trio is heavier than a sleeping child to carry. (Seriously... have you tried to carry a sleeping child? Why do they get so heavy??) They cannot be shed entirely—only packed away under the daily life responsibilities of keeping another human being alive. Every so often, they come out to rear their ugly three-headed faces. Another dragon to slay.
In the end, all I can do is be the best mom to him possible. He deserves that at the very least. I may not be able to give him a father, but if I can give him the world then maybe, just maybe, we'll both be ok.