Chapter 1 of my book. I’d love some feedback.
I’d like to preface this entire book by saying I don’t think I’m a bad mother at all. I believe that I’m a great mother. I also don’t want people thinking that I regret having my kids or that I love them any less because of the circumstances of my life. This book is solely for the purpose of helping other single mothers who may be coping with some of the same issues we’ve had to deal with. And I say ‘we’ not ‘I’ because my kids have been right there with me the entire time.
With that being said, I obviously wasn’t a perfect mother. Far from it. If I were, there wouldn’t be enough material to fill an entire book. And believe me, there’s enough material. The only way I was able to write this book was to be honest with myself and take stock in my life yp to this point. In doing so, I found numerous instances where I could have made better decisions. Whether it be age and inexperience because I started at 18, or pure selfishness because I’m me; I made these decisions and my children suffered right along with me.
My goal for writing this sometimes gut wrenching account of my life, is that someone else finding herself in my position won’t have to make the same mistakes. I say ‘herself’ because, though I’m sure single fathers have some of the same issues, I can’t speak for them as well as I can speak for myself as a mother. However, if you’re a single father reading this, please feel free to continue. Life lessons are life lessons.
Sure writing this book will be cathartic, but it will also be quite embarrassing. Therefore, I’m changing names to protect the innocent. As of this writing my children are still minors. They didn’t ask me to write this and possibly put them in the public eye, so I won’t. I have, however, asked for their opinions and accounts of how they remember certain situations in our family history. This helped me gauge just how horribly I went wrong in some cases. But it also helped me realize that some things I’ve beaten myself up for all these years, didn’t really deserve much more than a blip in their memory.
So whether you’re just starting out on your journey as a single parent for whatever reason, or you’ve raised your kids and want to hear about someone who messed up worse than you thought you did, I invite you to read our story. I hope you take away something valuable from what I have to offer.
Mistake # 1: Starting Young
I turned 18 on October 4th, 1995. Three days later I peed on a stick and it turned pink. Rewind a couple hours from there and you’ll see me in a Walgreen’s stealing a pregnancy test and stuffing it down my pants. I was broke, of course, I was 18 and just started living on my own. Every penny was necessary for survival. But mainly I was embarrassed and mortified that someone would see me buying the test. Fear and shame kept me from returning to said Walgreens for the next 10 years. So, sorry Walgreen’s.
Anyway, I took the test home, drank a ton of water, and waited about an hour to make sure I really had to go. The box, which I read before tearing it open and looting the contents, had said that it takes 3 long minutes for the results. That’s not necessarily true. I could see my destiny absorbing its way to that indicator box. The strongest pink line I’d ever seen in my life showed up within seconds.
So, faced with the decision of a lifetime – what to tell my Mommy, I realized that if I didn’t tell her right away I’d be one of those girls busted for trying to hide a pregnancy. So I called my mom, who luckily lived very close, and she came right over. I pointed down the hallway to the bathroom.
“If you called me all the way over here to kill a spider” she complained as she headed down the hallway. Months passed that only looked like seconds on my clock, before she walked back toward me. “Are you keeping it?” She asked.
The thought of not keeping it had never crossed my mind. I nodded.
“Alright, but you’re telling your dad.”
I’m sure I did tell him, quite soon after that night. But whether it be shock or trying to block the event from my memory, I have no idea what happened in our exchange. I’m very sure it wasn’t pretty. He’d just gotten me out of the house, and now, at my mom’s insistance, I was coming home with a baby. Every father’s dream for his only daughter.
Before I got pregnant with my son, I lived on Mountain Dew and Hot Pockets. Obviously, a real diet took some getting used to. But the pregnancy was uneventful. Labor and delivery was not, however. I was way too young and small to be having such a gigantic headed baby. It was rough, lasted a long time, and left both of us with lifelong damage. I needed more stitches than should be legal on one person, and he received a shot in his heart to jumpstart him because he wouldn’t breathe. But in the end, my little Tommy was born and very healthy from then on.
What My Mistake Cost Us
Obviously I was way too young to be having a child. Although in many cultures this is acceptable, and technically 18 is ‘legal’ I was nowhere near ready for this responsibility. I didn’t adjust well to the sleeping habits, or lack thereof, of a newborn. I would let him sleep in the bed with me because the second I moved him he would start crying again. I overfed him because I assumed crying meant hungry. He would get tummy aches from it, and we’d be up all night again.
Being so young also meant that I had no concept of being totally selfless for my child. I’d like to think that I wasn’t horrible by any means. But when they’re crying in the carseat or having to pee for the 10th time during your trip to the grocery store, it wears you down. It’s easy for any parent to think ‘Why are you doing this to me?’. It’s a lot easier for a young parent to believe it.
The most important thing that being young meant, was that I had no money. At all. When I got pregnant with my son I was working as a clerk at a local hotel. They quickly cut my hours to the legal minimum and eventually let me go completely. In their defense, I’ve always looked a lot younger than I was. So, I’m sure it appeared to the customers that they were employing an extremely pregnant 12 year old. I forgive them.
How I Didn’t Do So Bad
Now, I’m not saying I sucked at every part of being a parent. Of course not. I pride myself in the fact that, even at a young age, I devoted my time and attention to my son. I tried to do the best that I could do with the situation. I nursed him instead of giving him formula. I found free parenting classes at our local teaching hospital. I, and my parents, made sure he had everything he needed in life.
What You Can Learn From All This
Hopefully you’re not standing in a bookstore somewhere, a scared confused 18 year old (or younger), staring at this book wondering what you’re going to do now. And hopefully you’re not stuffing it down your pants like a Walgreen’s pregnancy test. Again, sorry Walgreen’s.
But if you are, please understand that it can be done. You can still be a good parent, with the best of intentions for your child. You may not think so now, but your family will forgive you. Mine has been my best support system as I continued to make all the mistakes you’re about to read.
If you take nothing else away from this book, please at least listen to me right now.
- Tell your parents. Now. Tell them before you get into worse trouble by trying to hide the pregnancy.
- Get good medical care and eat right. You have no idea how important that is to the baby’s development.
- Try to work as long as possible during the pregnancy. Doesn’t matter where. Just bring some cash in and stock up now. Also, the movement of staying busy will make for an easier delivery.
- Take some free classes. Join support groups online. Read whatever you can. Just be prepared for it to not go anything like you were told it would.
- And finally, breathe. It’s gonna be ok.
If you’re not 18, and you’re still reading, that’s great too. Because I’m not 18 anymore either. I’m 35 now and I’ve got a ton of new mistakes happening every day that I’m going to share with you. The first of which I’ll call Mistake # 1.5.
Mistake # 1.5: Not Stopping
My son was barely 7 months old when I felt that old familiar queasiness. Again I found myself at a different Walgreens in the baby aisle. This time I’m proud to say I handled the situation with utmost dignity. And I did, at first. I purchased the test like a normal responsible adult. And, since I still loved with my parents, I stopped at a gas station and peed on the stick in their bathroom. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
I’d also like to say that this pregnancy was uneventful and easy. However, during this pregnancy I was deeply entrenched in an obsession with their father. My pet name for him would be Sperm Donor. And he deserves is own chapter, believe me. But for now, I’ll just say that the stress was not conducive to a healthy pregnancy. I finally wised up and left him when Tommy turned 1 and I was 4 months pregnant.
I’m sure the damage had already been done, though. I went into labor at 5 months. I found myself in a hospital in Backwoods, GA, USA. (Which is where I’d just left Sperm Donor a month earlier, and ran right back up there at the first chance. Obsession confirmed.) I was in a strage hospital in a strage city, 500 miles from home, having full blown contractions. The doctor was telling me things like “We can’t stop the contractions” and “Can’t tell if it’s a boy or girl” and “You’re going to lose the baby” and “Stop crying, you’re making it worse.” And all I could think was that I wanted my Mommy.
Since Backwoods, GA didn’t have a proper hospital with a NICU; I was transported to the next town, Backwoods Adjacent, GA. There I stayed for a week while the doctors battled the baby inside me who was determined to escape. Finally, I got the OK from the doctors to go home to Florida and my parents rescued us from Georgia, again.
I was placed on strict bed-rest, but with a 1 year old boy who never slept, that was damn near impossible. Even with my mother helping me, I was still run pretty ragged. This is evident by the 2nd trip to the emergency room for contractions around 6.5 months along. We still had no idea if the baby was a boy or girl. And again I was being told that it wasn’t big enough to survive outside the womb. It took another week in the hospital battling the most impatient baby in the universe before I was released. I went home after a couple rounds of steroid shots for the baby’s lungs, and with even stricter bed-rest instructions.
I was following those instructions the best I could. I wasn’t doing anything strenuous. I couldn’t carry my son, who was a little over a year at this point. Of course, thanks to my mom, his feet never touched the ground anyway. I only left the house to do small shopping trips and such. Easy, relaxing, peaceful things that wouldn’t stress us out.
It was on one of those peaceful shopping trips, to Walgreen’s none the less, at 7.5 months (30 weeks) that my water broke. We were looking at Halloween candy and I kept feeling ‘pee’ run down my leg. So I’d go to the bathroom and try to pee, and nothing would happen. So I’d go back to shopping and a couple minutes later I’d feel it again. Back and forth to the Walgreen’s bathroom I waddled until my mom finally asked what the Hell I was doing. When I told her I kept peeing on myself she dropped the candy and ushered me out to the van.
Another week or so in the hospital, on a Magnesium drip to stop the contractions, and steroid shots for the baby’s lungs. Sonogram after sonogram to measure how much water I was losing each day. Too much water loss is toxic to the baby, and dangerous for the delivery. Twice a day I’d get these sonograms and every single time the baby would hide the goods. I still didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or girl.
After the week was over, which if you remember correctly is right around my birthday, the doctors said I was losing too much water and it wasn’t healthy for the baby to stay in any longer. But I was only 31.5 weeks which is still way too soon for the baby to be born. The last sonogram said that it weighed around 5 lbs. That was a good benchmark for the doctors. The baby should be strong enough to make it. However, at this early stage there could be a lot of health risks. I had to sign papers stating that I was aware of the seriousness of the situation. I signed, having no clue about the seriousness of the situation.
I was taken off the Magnesium and other medications to stop labor and told that whatever happens now happens. And what happened was the most impatient little baby in the world was born a few hours later. Too fast for anesthesia and still without letting us know that she was a she. (Hopefully those goods stay hidden in life the way they stayed hidden on all those sonograms!)
They took her straight to the NICU and I had to wait for what seemed like years to see her. In real time I guess it was more like a couple hours. But finally they wheeled me into the NICU and stopped me right beside this tiny incubator. Then left me there. She was whimpering in her incubator and I couldn’t stand up to get her. I was crying and asking someone to help me. Finally a nurse came in and said that the baby couldn’t regulate her own body temperature and that I could hold her but I had to be careful of the wires. I held her in what they call a kangaroo hold, where you put the baby skin to skin on your chest and they mimic your body temperature.
As it turns out, she was only in the NICU for those few hours. She was allowed to stay in my room with me that night. She was actually released before I was, because I kept running a fever. However, she wasn’t completely out of the woods. She was back in a couple days later for jaundice. And she’s always had sinus problems, even having to sleep sitting up in her car seat for a while as a baby so she could breathe. But overall we’re very lucky and my little Erica is strong and healthy.
After Erica was born I was given an Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) for birth control. Good for 10 years. Great, right? Wrong. What they don’t tell you about IUDs is that they like to wreak havoc in your girly bits. Things like puncturing the wall of the uterus, and causing ovarian cysts, and generally hurting like Hell all the time. So after 6 months of that, my doctors agreed to remove it and put me on the shot. And can you guess where this is going?
Luckily for all involved this pregnancy was easy breezy. And 9 months later I had myself a very healthy 8 lb 14 oz baby girl. Hanna was my biggest, which I think is funny since the pregnancy and labor were so uneventful. But that also left me with three very small children at the same time. When she was born, Tommy wasn’t even 3 yet, and Erica was about 18 months. So I don’t remember much about that early time. I could barely stay awake during the day. I was the most exhausted any person could be. But somehow I survived, we survived.
Thankfully I gave myself a rest after Hanna. For about 5 years I rested, until that fateful day when I noticed my monthly ‘visitor’ wasn’t here yet. Again I found myself scared to tell my parents. Although I was 26 now and living on my own I felt just like that teenager peeing on a stick in a convenience store bathroom. I didn’t stoop that far, but I did put the stick on top of the fridge and call my mom over again. And just point at it.
Again, thankfully, it was an easy pregnancy and delivery. Hell I almost slept through the delivery. We got to the hospital and they administered the epidural, and I fell asleep. I woke up at 2AM with the nurse telling me the baby was coming and it was time to push. My little Amber was born healthy and strong at that God awful hour of the morning.
Now, for those of you keeping score at home, that’s four. Four children in a very short time span. My dad liked to always say that I only had as many kids as he could afford. And it was true. I finally stopped at four.
What My Mistake Cost Us
Even for someone with a lot of money, four kids would be a ridiculous financial burden. For someone like myself, it was unbearable. I remember having to decide between food and diapers. I remember letting wet diapers ride longer than I should because I didn’t have any more. Or letting them go without a diaper at all. Obviously I couldn’t afford any of the luxuries in life, like bikes and store bought birthday cakes. If it weren’t for my parents, we would have been in a lot worse shape. They saved me, us, more times that I can even remember.
Aside from the financial burden on all of us, it’s extremely difficult to give each child enough attention. Each time you get pregnant you wonder how you’re going to give this one what he or she needs. The older kids get less of your time, and jealousy ensues. They revert back to old behaviors like bed wetting and thumb sucking. It’s a cry for help that you’re too busy and exhausted to tend to properly. It’s a very guilt-ridden life.
How I Didn’t Do So Bad
As hard as it is to imagine after everything I just told you, I was still able to be a good mom. I didn’t go out partying and running around. I worked and came home to my kids. I was always there with them and went to every school function. It’s so difficult to fit it all in, but you make it work. And I love every second of it. I know that they’re my blessings and my responsibility. I have to teach them the ways of the world.
Each one of them takes after me in their own special ways. They’re all extremely smart, which they get from me. And extremely stubborn, which they get from me. And extremely cute, which they get from me. But they’re also completely different from each other, but somehow still just like me. Tommy is a Know It All and insists that he’s right about everything, even when he’s not. My mom says that’s me, but I disagree. The difference between Tommy and I is that he thinks he’s right all the time, when I actually am right all the time. Erica is also very intelligent and does great in school, stressing herself out over every single grade like I did. But she’s also shy and quiet like I was. Hanna is so smart and does great in school, but she’s a lot more social. And she’s my little artist, following in mine and Daddy’s footsteps. Now, my little Amber is me up and down. She looks and acts the most like me. She worries about everything and asks some of the most insightful questions about life. I know her mind is always going like mine does.
What You Can Learn From All This
Now that I’m finished gushing I can get back to telling you what my mistakes can do for you. You’ll never hear me say that I wish I didn’t have my kids. And if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing about having them. They’re mine and they’re perfect. (Ok, NOW, I’m done gushing.) But life would have been a lot easier for us if there were less of us to feed. One or two kids can have a much more opportunities than three, four, and so on. It’s just the cold hard facts. I couldn’t afford the karate classes or cheerleading lessons.
The main thing I want you to take away from this chapter is birth control. If you’re not religious about anything in life, including religion, be religious about your birth control. I was on the Depo shot, pills, and an IUD but I still kept getting pregnant. I’m not religious at all, but those who are have said that it was fate and God’s will. Well that’s fine and all, but I know I wasn’t as strict as I could have been with my birth control. I wasn’t careful, and now I have four kids who won’t have as many chances as they deserve because I was irresponsible. It doesn’t make me love them any less, but it makes me sorry to have put them in the situations my choices caused for them.