I entered into a world of firsts when I spotted McBean.
This kidney bean-shaped creature floating in a foreign world captured in his first cloudy sonogram image was my soon-to-be child.
I became the first woman in my workplace to be pregnant in recent memory and the first mother in the last two generations of my family who chose not to be married.
In 2003, I could never have imagined how these firsts would be realized in my life. Never.
Why should they have been? My pregnancy was unplanned, my parents were not divorced and I was focused on advancing my career as a news editor when two promising employment opportunities emerged in New York City.
However, I turned them down after becoming pregnant because I was afraid. How would I juggle being a parent of a newborn with the demands of being an editor? In a city new to me? Without family and friends? And without a spouse or partner?
It was simply overwhelming and as more questions led to even greater unknowns and more fear, I decided to reevaluate my plans and begin my journey of firsts in a small Pennsylvania city.
When I became pregnant, I was already engaged so getting married seemed the natural progression. Unfortunately, as we pushed back the wedding to occur before the pregnancy advanced too far along, we had to acknowledge that we were incompatible, to put it diplomatically. The evening we arrived at that decision filled me with tremendous fear and sadness.
The couple months we parted ways afforded me time to become acquainted with my changing body and its traveling companion. My first trimester went rather smoothly. I endured very little nausea and no vomiting, and for a time, I believed that my pregnancy would actually progress without a hitch, but such was not the case.
I discovered that some of my coworkers had rather disparaging opinions about me and my pregnancy. They would comment secretly about how pathetic I was and make fun of me and my physical appearance.
However, others were supportive and tried to keep my spirits up. Oftentimes, they would invite me to the local bar where I sipped a Coke while they shared a pitcher of beer. I enjoyed the banter and the camaraderie. These jaunts alleviated the loneliness and the otherness I felt as the lone, single, pregnant woman.
As my pregnancy advanced into the second trimester, more drastic changes occurred.
I was gaining water weight and suffering from bouts of insomnia. Frequently, I was late to work by about 10 minutes on average, because I could not fit my feet into the double EE width shoes I had to wear. Or I was so exhausted after working shifts of 10 or more hours the previous day that I slept through the alarm. My supervisor disregarded the reasons I gave and reported me to the big boss, who simply adjusted my schedule, a move my supervisor had refused to consider.
My former fiancé and I decided to work on our relationship when he resurfaced months later after losing his job. We moved in together, but our reasons for doing so were quite different as I eventually discovered. He wanted to save money and share expenses while he searched for a job in Maryland. I just didn’t want to be alone as I confronted the challenges of my body and growing fetus daily.
Perhaps, we wanted to work out the problems in our relationship somehow, but that did not occur. The incompatibilities that existed earlier were merely exacerbated by the stress of impending parenthood.
We disagreed about breastfeeding: He wanted me to do it and I wanted to use formula.
We disagreed about circumcision: He wanted to avoid the knife and I wanted to move ahead with the procedure.
We disagreed about work: He wanted to be the sole supporter and I wanted to continue working.
We disagreed about residences: He wanted to live far from my family and friends and I wanted to live near my family and friends.
Our efforts to resuscitate a future together collapsed under our failure to find any real common ground. And by my third trimester, I welcomed that decision, because the worst had yet to come.
My doctor ordered me on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy as my blood pressure began rising, and testing soon revealed that I was a strong candidate for preeclempsia. Part of me was relieved to avoid the workplace where people judged me and questioned my commitment to return to my position after my maternity leave. I no longer had to feel like a freak nor be treated like a burden, but I did miss my work as an editor.
During that time, I moved to a smaller, quieter apartment away from the street and further into the building where I was currently residing. It was less expensive but extremely drafty. My father covered all of the exterior-facing windows with thick plastic sheets that billowed when the cold winter winds blew. My main source of warmth was a trusty little space heater that a gentle coworker gave me. To this day, I believe that heater saved my life and I still use it.
Even though I was accustomed to living alone, I became aware that being pregnant made me appear weak. One evening while talking on the phone with my mother, I heard someone trying to open the locked door to my apartment. They were vigorously jiggling the doorknob and then they stopped. They could have broken the window in the door to gain entry but they didn’t. Fortunately, this incident only happened once but I realized that I was vulnerable or appeared to be. However, I pushed those thoughts aside and kept going.
Despite my parents’ protests, I stayed in that little apartment in that small Pennsylvania city rather than move in with them in Maryland. I wanted to be within close proximity to my doctors and their care. Their commitment and knowledge eventually saved my unborn son and me during the actual childbirth.
Reflecting on those nine months now, I realize I needed and wanted to be alone. I knew I was choosing a path that no one in my family had experienced and was foreign to the majority of my coworkers and friends.
My last trimester was the most powerful time for me. The quiet time away from personal and professional distractions helped me to reflect on my decision to be a single parent. Could I do it? Should I do it? What have I gotten myself into?
My questions had answers, but they did not come in thoughts or words. They come in movements, the turns, kicks and gentle pokes from the stranger within me who had found his way into my world, who chose me to share his life with, who became my forever love.
On Thursdays I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at email@example.com. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.