2014-THANKSgiving

Life as a Never Married, Single Mother

46 Comments

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Being a single mother is not easy. Finances are hard; dealing with exs can be challenging; and balancing the needs of the child with the stressors of divorce, separation or co-parenting are all daily challenges for many single mothers. These realities are true for all types of families and couples: married, unmarried, dating, living together.

But what about those mothers who were never married or never living with the father of their child? How does one share a child that has just come into the world? Do you split the child down the middle with one taking one half and the other the other half? Obviously not. But that’s what it feels like at times.

Being a never-married single mother, I am more familiar with these challenges then I would like to be.

There’s a commonly used online-forum acronym, SAHM, which stands for Stay at Home Mom. Why isn’t NMSM used for Never Married Single Mother in the same way? I’ll tell you why. It’s not cool to be a NMSM. In certain parenting circles, single motherhood is swept under the rug like yesterday’s breakfast crumbs.

Three years ago, at the age of 41, with the clock ticking quickly, I chose to bring a life into the world. I made the choice to become a mother. My decision to bring a child into the world initially involved the vision of the oftentimes strived for ideal of a nuclear family. However, shortly into the pregnancy it became clear this was not to be. And so I began the journey of learning about single parenthood, alone.

Surprisingly, along with my decision came a host of societal implications about what motherhood should and is supposed to be. I was naive going into it all. I was not prepared for the fact that as a pregnant woman, I would be on the receiving end of so many conscious and subconscious beliefs and opinions about what a pregnant woman’s life should be like. For instance, there was the time a colleague of mine discovered I was pregnant while we were at University departmental holiday party. I said to her “Yes…I am pregnant.” Her eyes got bright and she looked very excited. And then she said “Oh!!! I didn’t know you were married!” Hello, societal expectations. This came from an almost PhD woman who worked professionally with families.

One of the hardest lessons I learned along the path of single mother pregnancy was that I would not be as accepted as I imagined I would be. I learned that it’s not easy being green. Unfortunately, I also learned that as a single pregnant woman you are not part of the “in crowd.”

The world sees a pregnant woman as one half of a whole, not as the whole. No matter where you go–doctor’s appointments, hospitals, coffee shops–there is an invisible man walking with you that the world sees and who has a name. He is Your Husband.

But in my case there was no husband.

Everyone would see this invisible man but it wasn’t until I would make it explicitly clear, verbally and otherwise, that the shadow would disappear and in its place a question mark on people’s faces. I think this was especially true because the information was coming from an upwardly mobile, well-educated white woman. “What do you mean there is no husband?” their faces would silently ask. “What do you mean there’s no boyfriend?” “Where did that baby come from?”

The most commonly asked question?

“How did this happen?” followed by a slight wave of their hand towards my belly.

I really don’t think I need to spell out the answer.

But just to make life fun, on occasion I did. At least I got to enjoy some shock value from time to time as I announced “I had sex.” What do you say to that? Clears it all up, doesn’t it?

I found myself gearing up for the ‘’We’re not married mode” whenever her father and I went somewhere together that involved birth preparation. One set of materials per couple. “We don’t live together.” “Ohhh…” and then a scramble on the facilitator’s part as he or she tried to find a spare set, or relinquishing her own, or agreeing to bring another set to the next class.

Forms to fill out? One area for the parent and the address of the parent. On some occasions two spaces yet still awkward and cumbersome. I also had to memorize her father’s social security number, address, phone number and birthday. Insurance materials: they can only go to one home. They go to the one who pays for the insurance, not the parent who manages the child’s health.

I can’t tell you how many times I was called “Mrs.” while pregnant. A good male friend of mine with whom I spent a lot of time was called “Dad” on multiple occasions while we were out for Sunday brunch. One waitress even pointed out how much my two-month-old daughter looked like my friend. We had a good chuckle over that. But even though I was laughing on the outside, making light of the situation, there was still a part of me that was crying on the inside.

Not every family has a mom, a dad and 2.5 kids. If only the world recognized that, too.

Comments

The Scary Mommy Community is built on support. If your comment doesn't add to the conversation in a positive or constructive way, please rethink submitting it. Basically? Don't be a dick, please.

  1. 2

    Cassie says

    As part of a “nuclear family” I’ve never had to worry about these issues. However, I am a mother first and foremost and the thought of loosing a baby or loosing my job (I am a teacher as well) because I was parenting alone, is heartbreaking! I completely agree that society needs to change it’s perception of a “family” and a “parent”. We all do the best that we can for our kids, that should be the definition of a parent and family, not the number of people who live in your home.

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  2. 3

    Mary @ A Teachable Mom says

    I think it’s immensely brave to have a child on your own. Thank you for sharing how painful the interactions with otherwise well-meaning people can be and for sharing your grace in handling them. And thank you for raising these important questions for discussion – a great reality check for me.

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  3. 5

    angie lee says

    What a wonderful post about what your journey has been like. Hopefully we (society) can all learn a lesson from your story and not put our foot in our mouths (I have twins and I can’t believe the inappropriate questions I’ve been asked) because clearly the hows are none of our business. What’s important is that the child is wanted and loved, right?

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    • 6

      Christina says

      Of course, the baby is the most important person we need to be thinking about. The little comments people make are usually harmless – but when you’re on your own you are so much more aware of them..!

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  4. 7

    Christina Robert says

    Thanks for you wonderful support and positive feedback. Reading over the post I realize it’s not the upbeat, happy post that people may expect. But it was (and is) a big part of my reality and I am pleased that others may benefit from hearing my story. Thank you both again.

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  5. 8

    Francesca says

    This post is exactly why I love Scary Mommy so much. It is such an incredible platform to hear other mothers’ stories and get a sense of what this journey called parenthood is like for all of us.

    Thanks for sharing! Your child is lucky to have such a great role model.

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  6. 10

    Kat says

    If my husband never came along I definitely would not let that deter me from starting a family anyways. I know I was meant to be a mother and these days there are so many outlets that make it possible. This was inspiring!

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    • 11

      Christina says

      I’m glad to have inspired you! It is true – there are many women out there starting families without fathers (single moms by choice).

      Christina

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  7. 12

    Kristen Mae says

    Love this post. I am ALL FOR mommas/families of all types and origins. I’m sure I am frequently one of those people who asks inappropriate questions – but rest assured my questions are out of curiosity/awe/admiration, and I apologize on behalf of others who’s questions come from the same place for any discomfort it may cause you. It’s only cuz I think you’re awesome. :)

    Much love!

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    • 13

      Christina says

      Thank you so much, Kristen! Of course, there are many well-meaning people out there and I realize that…I don’t hold it against them. There were times, however, when it just piled up!

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  8. 14

    shanan says

    One of my closest friends is pregnant and not sure it is going to work out with the baby’s father. She is 37 and a professional as well. I think that she is scared of the thought that she may end up a single mom. I wish that I had some words of wisdom for her. Thank you for your post. I hope that more people will realise that a pregnant woman, no matter what her situation, needs support.

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    • 15

      Christina says

      I hope your friends finds the support she needs and deserves if it doesn’t work out. Finding a single mother’s group, as I did, is immensely helpful. I joined mine while I was still pregnant.

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  9. 18

    Kimberly says

    Sadly, I think that judgment of single moms who have never been married comes from a deep seeded shame complex that our society just can’t seem to let go of…being pregnant outside the boundaries of wedlock is like a Scarlet Letter which screams “I had sex when I wasn’t married.” The irony is this: how many of the people who judge that Never Married Single Mother have had sex outside the boundaries of a marriage and just didn’t conceive a child? In other words, they didn’t get “caught” —

    Each mother, each child regardless of the circumstances surrounding the conception of that child deserves respect and care. Single mother by choice, single mother by circumstance…it shouldn’t matter.

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  10. 19

    Christina says

    Your comments have brought up so many thoughts about the judgment and suppositions that others make about single mothers. I am so pleased to be getting this feedback and to read your comments. I’m also glad if I can make a difference in one person’s perceptions of single mothers. THANK YOU!

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  11. 20

    Mel says

    I’m a little confliced about this post. I think it is brave and wonderful of you to share your experience. I also think it is downright criminal for a teacher to be fired for being pregnant out of wedlock (though I believe that specific situation has more to do with the Christian conservative movement than society at large). As a parent, I have come to understand and appreciate that we all walk our own paths and we all (hopefully) do what is best for our children and our family and that this may mean somethng different for everyone.
    I, for one, work with lots of NMSMs. I don’t see the judgement you felt. I think some of what you describe stems from a couple of things. One, communication in healthcare. Providers need a point person. Yes, paperwork may be geared toward marriage but the fact is that billing and communications need to go through one person to streamline things. If you are not married to the father then offices expect you to still communicate. Two, people are interested in and love babies. This leads them to comment, sometimes wrongly, about all kinds of intrusive things. They mean well, in general, in my experience.
    As for the woman who lost her child, that is a terrible situation. However, given that she was attending a group, it seems that she was reaching out for some help. Did members organize to help her with her bed rest? Did she have other family? Was the father involved? If someone becomes pregnant outside of wedlock, that person is making a decision. If the father won’t be there to support the woman, can she make it on her own? Does she have friends and family who could help if the chips were down? If not, then I’m not really sure how society could have helped her barring her first child going to social services so that she could truley do bed rest – an option I am sure she would not have embraced.
    As I said, I really do appreciate your perspective; it gave me lots to think about. Anything we do to further the discussion of how to shift the paradigm is good in my opinion.

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    • 21

      Soso says

      Mel, as I am reading your post, I feel as if you are passing judgement on single moms based on your comment “If someone becomes pregnant outside of wedlock, that person is making a decision”. So what if a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock? Things happen, sometimes even when people are cautious, they end up pregnant. Sometimes, that pregnancy is planned and then the guy leaves. It can happen even when you are married. I think there should be more programs to help such women. For example, if the woman who lost her baby was in a country like Sweden, she might have had a nurse from the state who makes home visits to check up on her: or she might have had some help with childcare. We don’t have such programs in this country. So instead of passing judgement, maybe we should be talking about more constructive ways of helping so that women who find themselves in similar situations would not have to go through it alone.

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      • 22

        Mel says

        I am really not passing judement and I am sorry it came off that way. You are right; people become single parents all kinds of ways such as the death of someone. I was thinking more about the specific way the author described choosing to become a single parent. At some point, even in the case of accidental pregnancy, a choice is made to parent or not. Also, you are right about our health care system perhaps providing a home nursing system to help with the care, but given the fact that parenting is a 24 hour job, I don’t think any health care system could fully provide coverage for bed rest.

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  12. 23

    Christina says

    I have several responses to your post, Mel, but I’ll just focus on a few for now.

    1. In my experience a person doesn’t view or see judgment nearly as readily as one feels or experiences it. I work with people of color and I don’t see racism but it exists. Ask any person of color and they will tell you that they feel and experience racism.

    2. Telling two parents who are not living together or who have conflicted relationships that they need to communicate is a pipe dream. Any family court officer can confirm that. It should not be difficult for a dentist office, doctor’s office or insurance company to have two point people—a simple waiver with a system that allows for information to be sent to two different addresses should not be a problem.

    3. Yes, the woman who lost her baby did try to establish support from the single mother’s group. One of the problems is that single mothers (espeically those who work and have children) are not in a position to be offering a lot of physical support, such as watching her toddler in addition to their own children. This mother also lived about an hour away from the Twin Cities. An internet-based support group was not enough to meet her prenatal needs. I think it is medically inappropriate for a doctor to send a woman home to an empty house when she needs to be on bedrest but has a toddler to care for. I talked with this woman for hours on the phone while I was home with my infant and she simply didn’t see any options for help from the child’s father or her family. Friends can only do so much short of taking in her child to care for her. Perhaps funds to hire a nanny or a PCA would have been a solution?

    4. I don’t even know where to begin with the comment that she chose to have a baby out of wedlock and therefore she is responsible for her children. Obviously the father was not being supportive. I don’t think that any woman who gets pregnant anticipates being on bedrest with no financial or physical support. And even if she does, to take the stance that she got pregnant and now she has to deal with the consequences of consequences of her actions (which ultimately resulted in the death of a child) is unfathomable. Many people make mistakes and many people in and out of poverty become single mothers either willingly or unwillingly. This should not have anything to do with how little or much support we offer to those in need in our society.

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    • 24

      Mel says

      I hear what you are saying in number one. I am also just wanting to put out there that when people ask questions about pregnancy, they are often innocent and not intended to be judgemental.

      As for my comments about being responsible for one’s own children, I stand by that. I agree – her physician should have hooked her up with social services. Our healthcare system is not socialized and therefore does not provide what some other countries might. I am not sure what her private insurance coverage might have offered. I, too, wound up pregnant and on bed rest with a husband who lost his job after the death of my first child, so none of these issues are completely foreign to me. It was a struggle. I feel sorry for and compassion for the situation you speak of. My comments were not meant to judge or start an argument, just further discussion that sometimes we have to seek and find support outside of government systems and use friends/family/social networks/churches.

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  13. 26

    Sara Thompson says

    When I had my son, I was single and young. I can see so much of my struggle in your post. I had a son with a disability and much of the advice I got was have your spouse watch him so you can get a break. I didn’t have a spouse. I didn’t have that support in my house. I did marry when my son was 6 and there are still issues. We had to sign all sorts of paperwork so my husband could just take our son to the doctor (he considers my son his). We’re fighting with an insurance company because my son biological father pays the premium – we can’t get the card. The man won’t even acknowledge my attempts – he pays for the insurance because it was court ordered. I know that we could make it simple by having my husband adopt my son but that’s pricey – it cost $100 just to have his last name changed. My son’s a teen and he feels that he’s not letting that man get away with not paying child support. People don’t get it. There are so many struggles being a single mom and they just make it harder.

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    • 27

      Christina says

      Yes, Sara…Your story is so true for so many women out there. It speaks to the reality that I see and hear about every day from my single mother friends.

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  14. 28

    Christina says

    Yes, women do become single parents through death but they also become single parents through choice. There should be not difference in how they are perceived or judged or how the child should be cared for.

    This is so much of what my post is about – it’s about the assumptions and judgments that others make about single mothers. I can say that I was probably guilty of some of the same judgments before I became a single mother and am seeing it from a very different perspective.

    Also, another point. When you get pregnant, especially at a young age, you don’t know what life is like. You think you are invincible and that every pregnancy and baby will be perfect. Few people think about the alternatives. I doubt many women would preemptively have abortions because they don’t think they would be able to care for their baby inutero because they couldn’t get the bedrest they needed while caring for a toddler. It almost sounds like that is the implication being made here.

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    • 29

      Mel says

      Oh, Christina, thank you for your kind words regarding the death of my child. To be clear, I am NOT suggesting that the woman should have aborted her child. It’s so hard to have meaningful discussion in print. No immediate response, no voice or inflection….She was a single parent already. She got pregnant again. Even passively, we all make choices. If we do nothing, the baby is born and we care for it. If we choose, abortion is a legal option in this country. Adoption is also a legal option. Her children should have been cared for, but we (as a country) do have programs to help people in just such situations like Medicaid, food stamps or CFDC for child care.
      I totally agree with you, until you are a parent you have no idea how hard it will be. And I, sitting in my warm home with food in my belly, don’t know how hard it is for someone who has no friends, no family, no support system at all. I stand by the fact that a person does have some personal responsibility to ensure care for his/her child, but I agree that as a community we have a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves.

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  15. 30

    care says

    Really liked your article – totally identify. I didn’t read through all of the comments so sorry if this is redundant but imagine the extra challenges of poor, never married single mothers. The social stigma you speak of and the financial stress. That can really take away from the joys of motherhood…

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    • 31

      Christina says

      Exactly! Pregnancy happens – to the rich and the poor. Unfortunately good health care and the resources one needs to raise a child aren’t as readily available to the poor. Not to mention the fact that you can be married, have two incomes and if the husband decides to leave you can suddenly be in a state of poverty and having to fight the legal system and the state/county/gov’t sytems for resources.

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  16. 32

    Marta says

    I am so sorry that society is so unaccepting. Honestly I was obvious to it. I had wrongly assumed that mothers were all treated equally as mothers regardless of the presence of a wedding band or not. Why does it matter if you got pregnant out of wedlock, by invtro by choice, or what if you’re divorced or widowed? I hate the assumption that a woman NEEDS a man in any situation just as much as I hate the assumption that a father cannot parent without a mother. It makes me so angry when I go out of town and people look so shocked that my husband can handle the children alone. Why couldn’t he?

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  17. 33

    SK says

    I wish more people took the time and forethought that you did before deciding whether or not to become pregnant. That’s my only issue–it’s not like POOF! I’m pregnant! How did that happen?! There are positive and negative consequences to the decision to have a sexual relationship with someone. Many are positive, but there are potentially negative consequences to think about, too. That’s why sex shouldn’t be casual, in my opinion. There can be big implications to that decision.

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    • 34

      Jen says

      The assumption that never maried parenting situations other than the one posited by the poster are the result of casual sexual encounters is insulting. Women become pregnant under all kinds of circumstances.

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  18. 35

    prettymama says

    Christina, thank-you SO much for this article. Even though I was married during my pregnancy, marriage only lasted until my dd was 8month old. Her father is completely out of the picture -makes some things easier :) – but I too experienced e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e thing you mention. Dd is 10 now, so I believe I’ve grown a protective crust as I notice the judgmental comments but they pass right by. You made me remember how much they can hurt.

    As of being responsible for one’s own children: OF COURSE! but society being judgmental because we are doing it on our own can make it harder than it already is.
    I also understand many people mean well and do not mean to pass judgment (because their situations are completely different and have never even thought about other perspectives) and this is why I also applaud this article: some comments above honestly acknowledge they’ve never seen things from the other side. This means that if the purpose of this note was to bring awareness to society, with one person that changes their point of view we can say: mission accomplished!
    Feel proud Christina, way to go! :)

    Bernardine

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