I’ve been invited to share my son’s birth story, and it is my hope that my unconventional experience as a single mom will be of service to another magical woman out there who is bringing a life into the world under uncertain circumstances.
I got pregnant by accident; I am not proud of that obviously, but as I was in my early thirties and had recently completed my graduate studies, I felt compelled to have my baby and do my best to raise him or her. At the time I made this decision, his father and I were “trying to make it work,” and sort things out. It was less than ideal, and the brunt of responsibilities fell on my shoulders. He wavered wildly between being supportive and seeming excited with me and point blank asking me to terminate the pregnancy, even after we had already told friends and family we were expecting. It wasn’t long before his wavering stopped and he clearly did not want me to have the baby. I felt shattered and at one point almost conceded to his pleas that were sometimes threatening, but then, something shifted in my conviction, and I never looked back: I was going to have a baby with or without his support, and I recollect feeling confident that just as I had maneuvered other challenges in my life, I would make this one work as well.
It was around five months of pregnancy when “the big thing” happened. It was late March in Colorado, and I had just met up with an old friend for a walk. She had made me the most beautiful crocheted baby blanket that my three year old son still sleeps with adoringly. I walked into our apartment and my son’s father was sitting at the kitchen table on his laptop. He seemed stressed when I walked in, sped up his typing, and then dramatically shut the computer. Moments later I received an email from him. I opened it and it was a proposition that he and I move to Atlanta, Georgia. He had an old friend there “who would give us both jobs.” There are about a novel’s worth of details here that I could include, but for the sake of brevity, some important details are that I had broken up with him recently because he had been supremely unpredictable and even angry with me before this moment, even though this baby was both of our responsibilities. He had either quit or been fired from three different jobs in a few months, most of them as a waiter at various restaurants around town. His plans for his own future changed nearly every day between graduate programs he probably wasn’t qualified for and starting his own far-fetched business ventures, and I was left feeling afraid and very uncertain about our futures. I had asked him to move out and he had refused. The situation felt hostile at best, so in fear of what was to come, I had decided to move home to Maryland to have the baby under the support of my parents. I had agreed to come back to Colorado eventually if things panned out well because I did love it there, but the situation felt bleak. I didn’t trust him, and even feared him. I notified him that very moment that I would not be moving to Atlanta with him, as I did not know a single person there and felt strongly that I needed to be around my own family for the birth. His demeanor instantly changed. His eyes narrowed and he cocked his head to the side. He swung his right ankle over his left knee and leaned over intimidatingly in my direction. He said, “you need to end the pregnancy.” I was shocked and pointed out I was 21 weeks pregnant and that I could feel the baby moving on a regular basis. He told me he researched it and he knew of a place that would do it. I stood my ground and said, “no.” He then said, “you don’t want to stand in front of me; it’s not going to work out well for you, sis. I’m sick of your shit, and I’m sick of you not listening to me. You don’t know what I’m capable of.” He stood up and left the house. I sat in disbelief and wondered, “was my life just threatened?” I instantly began to plan moving home to Maryland even sooner than I had originally thought. I spoke to my parents through tears and they told me to pack my car and leave by the weekend without telling him. That night, I tried to sleep in my bedroom, and I heard him return to the house. I could see under the crack of the bedroom door that he flicked on the light. I heard his footsteps on the hardwood floor as he walked towards my bedroom door, and then I saw the shadow of his shoes under the door. He stood there facing the door, maybe two inches away from it, for what felt like a full three minutes. I lay paralyzed in my bed mentally searching the room for a weapon to defend myself, and then, just like that, he turned and walked away. In that moment, I knew that I needed to leave the very next day. He had training at a new job; I would pack and go before he got home.
I loaded my car up with my most valuable possessions the next day. I had lived in Colorado for five years and it was difficult to quickly sift through what mattered and what did not. Maybe an hour before he was to return home, I jumped into my red VW with my cat in the passenger seat and I drove to a friend’s house. I would hide there for the night and leave in the morning. I didn’t sleep a minute that night between my own anxiety and the texts and emails that came in from him. Before the sun came up, my friend and I drove up a mountain in Boulder, and we watched the sun rise over my sacred town where I had made my home. I said goodbye to this beautiful place where I had often run in the mountains, watched the sun rise, expanded my education, and challenged my mind, body and spirit. I had always imagined coming to this very spot with my own children one day to watch the sunrise and set positive intentions for the day. Emotionally, we departed and drove to a restaurant where I never dined so that he wouldn’t come looking for me. We were there all of 45 minutes when a man I had never seen before came in and walked directly up to our table, gave me an envelope and told me I’d been served. I opened it up and there were court documents in there that said my ex was suing me for sole custody of our unborn child and that I was not allowed to leave the state of Colorado. He was also requesting proof of his paternity to the baby, before the baby was born. I was dumbfounded…how could this be? He wanted nothing to do with this baby. Sole custody? I had spoken on the phone the day prior with the sister of a friend who had just passed her bar and was practicing family law. I called her immediately and told her from the passenger seat of my car what was going on. She asked me to read the summons to her, and when I did, she told me it didn’t sound right, and to go to the courthouse before I left town. My friend drove me there, and sure enough, these papers had not even been filed. Frantically, I filed a temporary restraining order which was granted by the judge. Overwhelmed, I opted to spend one more night in Boulder with my friend.
That evening in the shower, I bled and it was enough that I felt concerned. I called my midwives and since it had stopped they told me to rest and see what happens. I didn’t bleed more, and it was determined that it was due to all of the stress. I lay traumatized next to my friend in her bed. Her son who was six at the time crawled into bed with us, oblivious as to what was going on. He put his hands and his head on my tummy and then excitedly exclaimed he could feel him kicking, and he was kicking! He was the first person to feel him move other than me. For the sake of anonymity, I won’t say my son’s name, but this little boy had previously named my son, and in that moment, I knew that was the name I would choose for him.
I left the next morning for take-two of leaving Colorado. I recall passing the Colorado border into Kansas and shrieking with relief. I felt safer exiting the state where he was trying to keep me hostage. I drove into the night and was received by the mother of a grad school friend in Iowa. When she opened her doors, she lead me right to her bathroom where she had recently drawn me a hot bubble bath. She made me a huge breakfast in the morning and sent me on my way. I drove again straight through the day to Indiana, where I was received by my aunt. I stayed there for 2 nights and cried many hours in her arms. I noticed at her house in the hallway mirror that I had finally popped; there would be no more hiding my pregnancy. And then, I finally made my final drive to Maryland, again, an all day drive. When I arrived at my childhood home, my parents would not arrive for a few days, and I recall resting and sleeping with the doors locked, trying to find some semblance of peace and a sense of safety. I repeated to myself over and over, I am home. I am home. I am home. It was April 1st, and I looked out our front window in amazement to see that the cherry tree was in full blossom.
I soon received emails from the attorney who had helped me; apparently I was really being sued even though the original summons he gave me had not yet been signed by a judge. Yet now, I was truly entering into a custody battle over a child who was still a part of my own body, with a man who had tried to force me to terminate the pregnancy only days prior. His parents were millionaires, and I knew they must be funding the whole thing. I felt overtaken with fear and rage and sorrow for myself. I escaped it as much as I could by sleeping. My healthy eating habits went out the window and I ate loads of sugar, or some days, nothing at all. I contemplated killing myself and even had a plan of how I would do it; I had never felt such despair. I felt no connection to my baby whatsoever except that I felt bad for him that he would be born not under an umbrella of safety and love as I had always dreamt of being a mother someday, but rather into a situation that in that moment, was terrifying. Any maternal instincts to care for him during gestation were null and void in the presence of my trauma. What was the point of this I wondered? Why bring a life into the world that right off the bat was being pursued by somebody who I had just realized was a sociopath? My overwhelm consumed me. Weeks went by with a lot of the same; I ebbed and flowed between coping and wanting to die. My attorney’s firm had taken on my case pro bono, which I have since learned is pretty hard to come by, but this was a clear case of bullying, so they helped me as an act of good will. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, a hearing was held and I had been granted permission to be absent and stay in Maryland for medical reasons. My legal team won the case and it was agreed that jurisdiction for any custody trial would be where the baby was born, meaning unless the baby were born in Colorado, he would legally be a Maryland resident. The judge also ruled that if his father wished to move forward with determining his paternity, if the baby was proven his, the determination would only be used to enforce that he pay me fiscal support for the pregnancy. The judge had ruled in my favor basically on all counts. For several weeks I actually began to lighten and look for ways to connect with my baby. I still felt no excitement about my pregnancy. I believe I was in a state of PTSD, and I really struggled to feel bonded to him, even though he moved around inside of me as though I were a gymnastics mat. But I was trying. I played whale sounds on my belly, and I started to sing him songs. I prayed a lot and tried to get in touch with my spiritual strength in an attempt to move forward.
But then, my attorney reached out to me out of the blue. The baby’s father, despite the judge’s ruling, had turned around and simply sued me a second time for all of the same things, and this time was also requesting the legal right to be in the room while I labored. My attorney explained that this was remarkably odd in the litigation world. She told me that I had nothing to worry about, as this would do nothing but deeply irritate the judge who had already ruled on everything. Being harassed or bullied will do interesting things to one’s psyche. Though you may be presented with facts and confident reassurances, they are no match for the terror you feel inside at any hint of more danger. I fought my fear hard, but once again, it consumed me, and I felt persecuted and pursued all over again. My body knew nothing but a sense of danger. As my due date approached, as is the case for many first time moms, I seemed to make no progress towards labor. I feared that by some strange twist of fate, the judge would rule in his favor, or that his millionaire parents would pay somebody off. I realize these fears sound like far stretches or paranoia, but being pursued by somebody who makes you feel threatened is a disorienting experience. Though I had dreamt of a natural birth, at forty weeks, I opted to induce my labor, as the ruling was moments away from coming in, and I wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would labor on my own terms without him in the room, so that I could feel safe.
My mother and step father took me to the hospital and I was given a drug to speed along the ripening of my cervix. When no progress was made with this, I was given a dose of Pitocin. I began to have contractions fairly quickly at that point, and I recall laying over a labor ball in the hospital, rolling back and forth, breathing deeply as I managed the contractions. I remember they felt less painful at that point than I had imagined it to be, but that it took a lot of mental focus. My step dad kept making jokes which normally I would have found funny, but I told him to shut up; I didn’t have the mental fortitude to explain it to him politely. When he didn’t, my mom slapped his arm and told him to cut it out. They rubbed my back and gave me space as I asked for it. I spent over 24 hours in active labor like this, and my midwives came in now and then to check my progress, but I was only 2 centimeters dilated even then. After a full day of laboring, I recall reaching a point where I began to feel desperate. The contractions had intensified and I had barely slept; I was losing momentum quickly. Though I had felt adamant I would not use narcotics, I believe it was around the 27 hour mark when I gave in and asked for something to take the edge off. It was my parents’ anniversary, and we thought for sure my little man would make his entrance, but to no avail. I labored intensively that day and accepted narcotics when they were offered to me, and then, my midwife explained they were going to increase my Pitocin in order to make my labor progress farther along. I rested while we waited for it to kick in, and then, the contractions began with such intensity, I felt like I was being slammed with a hammer. I felt electric shocks run down my lower back and into my legs and realized I was having back labor. It began to happen with frequency and the mental focus I elicited before to manage my contractions was no longer available to me. My midwife checked me again over fifty hours into labor now, and I was still only 2 centimeters dilated. It was beginning to look as though a C-Section were imminent. I began to panic and an anesthesiologist was called in to administer an epidural. I remember him asking me questions but then bypassing them as he said, “I can see you are in distress, so we will go over this later,” and he gave me the epidural which was momentarily uncomfortable, but then rapidly brought the intensity down. My mother still fondly jokes about how in a drugged state, I said, “I’m going to give him the middle name “Epidural.”
It was a little after 5 am in early August of 2014 when my midwife came in to check my dilation one last time before throwing in the towel for a C-Section, but that would not be necessary, as I had finally dilated completely, and I was ready to push. I felt calm and ready. She prepared the room and called in the nurses, and then I began to push with my contractions, my midwife by my feet, my mother next to her, as she would catch my baby with the midwife’s aid, and my stepdad by my side, holding my hand. As I pushed, I felt this purpose rush into me like an engine revving, a horse biting at the bit. I was made for this, and I knew it. Pushing felt like the workout I had wanted to have the entire duration of my pregnancy, though I had slept through most of it. I felt strong and powerful and capable. Pushing felt natural and easy. My midwife commended me on my strength during contractions, and in between contractions we laughed and talked about our common ancestry and the meaning of our names. It felt sacred to have her on my team. And then, after barely twenty minutes, I was invited to touch my baby’s head as he crowned. My parents squealed with excitement, and then it was time to give the final push.
I remember the sensation of evacuation as he rapidly was pulled out of the canal of my body, and simultaneously, motherhood rushed into me like a gust of wind. He was placed instantly on my chest by my own mom, and I saw his beautiful head and caressed his sweet body. Instantly, two thoughts involuntarily echoed in my head: I love you. I will protect you. Despite a vacancy of motherhood throughout my pregnancy, it transformed my entire being and purpose the moment he was born, and that has never changed. I have never stopped loving him and he is such a special part of our family, an endless source of joy and challenges (he’s so very willful), and humor. He is loved unconditionally, and despite a rocky start, he has all the love he needs and more.
In the following couple of years, I would grow my career successfully, buy a house, and secure 100% sole custody of my son after what would be another grueling custody battle now in Maryland. We now have a fairly normal life, though I do not receive child support and my son’s father is entirely absent. Being a single parent is really hard. I often unsuccessfully fight for ways to have some time for myself. I work hard and play very little. I’m often exhausted physically and emotionally. There is no time for exercise. He had a long period of severe tantrums, and without a partner to alleviate me, I sometimes thought I was going to lose my mind. But with each new challenge that presents itself, I am reminded that it takes a village, and for me, a very independent woman, though I have proven to myself that I am capable of achieving my wildest dreams, I also need to ask my community for support sometimes. My family is closer to my son than I imagine they would be were I not a single parent. My parents watch him on a regular basis so I can do things I need to do, and they eat up every moment they get to spend with him. It has taken me a while to peek my head out after the storm; I isolated a lot in the first years after he was born, but as time passes, I begin to expand my contacts more and more and I feel confident not just as a mom in my community, but as a single mom who fought and won for her son.
In many ways, I let go of many significant parts of myself when I fled Colorado so suddenly, but slowly, I have started to pick them back up and integrate them into the new and improved version of myself. I am more confident than I have ever been, despite my exhaustion. There are many benefits to being a single parent, just as there are many drawbacks. One thing for sure though, is that us women are powerful and potent beings. I know that my son and I were chosen for each other for some reason, and despite the challenges of raising a child on my own, I am beholden to him and blessed for the lessons we learn together. I’m older now than I was three years ago and it shows in my face and also in my personality, but I don’t try to cover any of it up, because it is all evidence of the divinity of motherhood that rushed into me the morning he was born, which in many ways, was when I was born too.