I’ve been thinking a lot lately about single motherhood. It wasn’t something I planned or wanted – if I had known Judah would be an only child and I would be divorced from his father I would not have planned to conceive him. I was talking to my friend good Vicki who I met through Daisy Birthing over three years ago. We talked about lots of things, what we would do differently second time around for subsequent children, how much easier newborns were than toddlers… then I couldn’t help but say;
“I just look back and think God, I was so naïve.”
I really was. Ever since I was a child I can remember wanting to be a mother. I would wake in the middle of the night and, unable to sleep, make believe I was giving birth to a baby. I can remember a really strong urge to be pregnant from around age 15 that I managed to suppress for 6 years.
I’ve always thought about a woman I only met once. One of my friends from work was relocating with her vicar husband to North Wales and had invited me for a farewell meal with her other female friends. I looked up to my friend a lot, it seemed to me that she had the perfect life with her husband and baby. She was a kind, decent person. I wanted to radiate that same contentedness. So although at the time I was quite anxious and shy, I liked my friend enough to want to make the effort.
I wasn’t sat next to her. I was sat next to a girl with blonde short hair and an aura of confidence. I felt miles away in my tea dress and long brown curls, I felt like a child. We began exchanging information about our lives. I was recently engaged, soon to be married. I felt something from this woman that to this day I find difficult to put into words. It was almost a scepticism, a worldly self-sufficiency, and underneath it all a discomfort with sharing the details of her life. She hid it with breezy confidence, but I have always been good at detecting nuances in words, tone and body language.
I felt like my impending marriage amused her and yet made her uncomfortable, like she knew the ending to my story. I must have seemed like a child indeed. I had nothing else to offer except a few amusing anecdotes about my cat – I was consumed by the beauty of the future instead. There was nothing I was currently doing, it was all ahead of me. I noticed her phone wallpaper was that of a blond boy and I asked about her son. She shared that she worked full-time at a gym, her son was in nursery, they lived alone together. She clearly adored her little boy. She was not in a relationship with her son’s father, I don’t even know if she mentioned him at all.
I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to say. I admired her little boy and she clearly enjoyed showing me photos and videos of his happy, smiling face. But internally I was horrified. I wanted to be pregnant and assumed I would be within the year. I imagined myself, alone with a small child, putting him in full time childcare just so I could work to support us. My dreams for the future involved me being a wife and mother, ideally staying at home but maybe working a few part time hours to bring in some extra money. My dream then was of us eventually opening a coffee shop together, to stop Starbucks rinsing my personality and hard work for their own gain. But always in my mind, the backdrop – a loving husband and father supporting me emotionally so I could thrive. There was no room in my mind for any alternative.
I have noticed a recurring theme in my life, that whenever I have slightly judged somebody for whatever reason, I find myself in the exact same circumstance I judged them for. This has been true of so many things and it never ceases to be humbling.
Despite red flags and misgivings, I became pregnant and the wedding went ahead. I look at myself as I was then and think lamb to the slaughter. I look at pictures of Judah as a baby and think: You were so loved. You were so adored. My happy baby, infectiously giggling, like a merry Santa. I think back to myself then and I could curse myself for my blindness and naivety.
Everything slowly but surely came crashing down.
Living for so long under the control of an angry person makes those first steps into independence scary. That's one of the reasons women stay. I would be lying if I said my life was easier once I left. It is just as hard, for different reasons. It is fragmented, it is a struggle, it is sometimes very bleak indeed. Just as I knew it would be. The time I spent married was one spent in a protective bubble that revolved around Judah and the home. It was a golden apple rotting from the inside. I was kept separate from the world that surrounded me, protected from those truths that people only felt comfortable sharing once I had escaped. Where is my home now? Where do I belong?
How do you make sense of it in your head? That your life was an elaborate fantasy that you yourself created, but sustained and supported by somebody who had a vested interest in keeping your head in the clouds.
When I was married, I always felt that I was raising Judah for his father as well as with him. This had a huge impact on my parenting. That I was investing in the family as a whole. Judah, his father, and any other babies who came along. I wanted to be the perfect wife and mother. Now I'm piecing bits of my family together, my role in all of this still uncertain. How do I know who to be under these circumstances? Who is the mother, when she is not also the wife?
That intoxicating autonomy, though. What I once feared I'm now hooked on. So much so that my innate stubbornness has reared its head many times and I am absolutely terrified of living under anybody's control again. I've given up too much for it, sacrificed too much. I've done some unbearably selfish things since, things that would horrify my old self. My past has made me what I feared becoming most, a hardened woman.
I have more happy times than I did. The brief snatches away to just be myself, not mother-me, while my son is with his father. I don't have to beg him and be grateful for that time, like I used to when we were married. More often than not I spend that time working, in a job I adore that is so flexible, but always structured around my limited childcare. That is changing this week as Judah enters nursery for two full days a week. So much for my dreams of homeschooling my many children - off to nursery he must go.
What I want to say to the single mother that I met - I'm sorry you had to sit next to me. I'm sorry I was bland and hideously naive. I think if we met again we would laugh until we cried over our stories and the things that we have done. I think my cynicism and grit could match yours and I think now I'd be somebody worth knowing, just as you are. I know about the scary, addictive independence that is always countered by the restrictions of being head of the family, and I know the frustrating barriers of childcare. The complete relief and responsibility of controlling your own money and knowing how much you have in the bank. I know the favours begged and knowing there is no consistent backup. If you have a new relationship, how frustrating it is to only have brief snatches of time available to pursue it and the new set of challenges that presents. The loneliness. I know you put your child first and I know how hard you work to keep him safe and happy in your family of two. I hope you are as happy as you deserve to be.