When I first found out I was pregnant, I was living with two roommates in an apartment in Medford, Massachusetts, just over the border of the Somerville line. I was visiting Chicago when I figured it out – taking 5 pregnancy tests and following that with a visit to Planned Parenthood because I needed someone official to confirm that the drug store at the end of my friend’s street wasn’t selling me false positives.
I came home to a party we’d planned before I left and spent the night watching my friends drink and dance while I pretended to sip a cocktail, wondering how I would do it, how I’d even tell them what I was doing.
When I was young, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted my life to look like when I grew up, at least on the personal side. There were so many possibilities! I just knew it would be awesome. What I didn’t picture though, in any of the possible scenarios, was being pregnant, without a partner, living with two roommates in Medford, Massachusetts. So I started picturing a new vision – what it would be like to be a mother in Boston, because of course – that’s where I would stay. I would move out, on my own – because I could afford that, right? And I would get her daycare. I could travel on the train with a baby – I could do all of it, alone, I would be fine. I watched women everyday do just that. Haul strollers down the flights of stairs to the subway. Inch themselves onto the platform, politely ushering their children onto the seats that would be given up for them.
I found a doctor that I trusted, a short walk from the office where I was working as an Executive Assistant. I changed my diet, started taking prenatal vitamins, and joined a prenatal yoga class. I started going to therapy. I did all the things I thought I was supposed to do to take care of myself, most of the time. But I’d departed from the world I’d lived in for years and years without a plan of how to spend my time in the new one, so I was alone. I am happy, alone, most of the time – even now, but the alone time became the only option. None of my friends were pregnant, or even thinking about that, and I wasn’t comfortable enough in my own skin to form a connection outside of the people I already knew. The other women in yoga class seemed like better adults – beautiful women with plans, husbands and partners and houses and stuff figured out. I pictured them at home with their feet up, asking for their mates to run out for ice cream and pickles and french fries and I hated them with every fiber of my pregnant body.
When my roommates went out on Friday nights for dinner and drinks and everything else, I would treat myself to a small pizza with black olives and feta cheese, a pint of ice cream and porn, sometimes laying on the floor of our living room, my pregnant belly over me, so there was no chance I could be seen by the countless other college aged kids wandering the streets around our apartment.
The hormones that come with pregnancy are intense at all times, or at least they were for me. When I was upset, which was a lot of the time, I was on the floor, sobbing so hard that I’d start to hyperventilate into my pillow so my roommates couldn’t hear me. When I was angry, I could picture myself getting off with a defense of temporary insanity after killing the many men and women that watched me stand on the subway car, in the middle of winter, sweat dripping from my face while they sat cozily, NOT offering me their seat. (That happened so often that when a man I didn’t even find remotely attractive offered me his seat, I almost asked him out. I even did one of those missed connections on Craigslist? I pictured us sharing ice cream sundaes years later, talking about how we met to the yet-to-be-born baby of mine) And when I was horny, I sat with my phone in my hands for hours, arguing both sides of the compelling debate: when is it okay to call your ex-boyfriend – who doesn’t know you’re pregnant, for sex? Is it always okay? I thought it was always okay.
I watched porn, instead, though.
I delivered all news of my pregnancy tentatively, never knowing what reaction I would get from my audience. I get it now, that if you deliver news without being excited yourself, your audience might not totally know how to react. At the time though – I stated the facts sort of how you would if you were delivering shocking news in a soap opera – I’d scrunch my face up in a way that would have made you think I was going to cry, say, “I’m pregnant…” and then fume silently at the lack of enthusiasm on the other end.
There was good too, though. The guy that worked at the au bon pain downstairs from my office always gave me an extra cup of soup for the baby. A good friend from high school made me lunch and took me to coffee and fawned over how lucky I was, and how beautiful I looked. My friends made things for the baby’s room, ordered pregnancy magazines for me, and indulged my need to talk about it pretty much nonstop. When I was about 8 months pregnant, I walked outside to head to work, and a woman on the street looked up at me and exclaimed, YOU’RE PREGNANT! with such emotion and happiness that I started crying. I had no idea who she was. I *have* no idea who she was.
And, I loved being pregnant. It was the first time in my life I actually started to pay attention to what it meant to take care of myself, eating well, staying hydrated, sleeping enough – too much? And just realizing that those things actually did impact how I felt everyday. And the force of it – having to do that for someone else, allowed me to keep myself honest around it. I felt more beautiful and sexy than I’d ever been – which I realize now, after listening to my friends and the everyday pregnant lady, is not totally normal.
I hated not having a partner, though. Up to that point, still – even, I’ve not had what you would call traditional, successful long-term relationships. There was no visible gap before this, for me. I wanted something, I knew, but I have never been someone that dreamt of a partner, or a life with a family, or walking down the aisle. Being pregnant without someone to rub my feet or get me ice cream was kind of a bummer. That’s it though, just a bummer. I can rub my own feet and I know where to get ice cream. Being pregnant without anyone holding my hand through sonograms, or freaking out with me when they couldn’t find the heartbeat, or holding me so I didn’t have to hyperventilate into a pillow, was devastating.
When she was born, I had moved into my parents house, giving up the vision I had of single-mother-in-the-city, realizing I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. While my mother cut the umbilical cord, sobbing, I stared at the lump on Anna’s back, wondering what it was and why no one was saying anything about it. It was a tumor, we’d later find out, and it landed us in Dartmouth-Hitchcock for a few months, first to remove it, and second to treat the spinal meningitis that resulted from the surgery.
It was hard. It was hard to be a new mom in a hospital, it was hard to be a new mom alone, it was hard to just be, in general, in those months. Anna was hooked up to IV’s, making it incredibly difficult to breastfeed, surrounded by nurses in an environment that would have you believe you may as well throw your bedridden child out the third floor window of the hospital if you weren’t breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in its most natural state is beautiful. Breastfeeding in a teaching hospital when you’re facing difficulties is humiliating. At one point I had to wear this kind of flask around my neck filled with breastmilk that had tubes coming out of it that I taped to my breasts that Anna then fed from. We were like – trying to fake her out.
Pumping became how I spent the majority of my time at Dartmouth. It’s not pretty – pumping. The hospital grade electric pumps make you feel like a cow, really – or at least give you some insight as to how cows must feel on a regular basis. You sit with the pumps hooked up to each breast, and have the milk literally sucked out of you, the sound of the pump doing its work making you feel more like a machine and less like a woman with each ounce, if you were lucky to get that much out, which I wasn’t. If having my father accidentally walk in while I was doing that wasn’t awful enough, sitting in front of the window looking out at the mountains while doing it and having a window washer drop down in front of me was. I detached so quickly it was as if I was hitting the ground taking cover from a bomb.
In my darkest moments, I wanted to dive out the third floor window myself.
What happened as a result, though, was that I was never left alone to contemplate it. My parents carted themselves and weeks worth of clothing down to Dartmouth and lived at the Holiday Inn. My friends, the good ones – the ones that were the first to get the call that I was pregnant, the first to help me process it all, the first to hear we were on our way to Dartmouth, showed up. My family showed up. My ex-boyfriend that I never called for sex showed up. They continue to now, in a way that makes me feel that sometimes, my situation is one that has more support than one of a two-parent household. Sometimes, I feel lucky.
And while I continue, 10 years later, to be officially stamped in the same way I was then, with a single mother status, remembering these last 10 years, I realize time and time again that I might be without a partner, but I have never really been alone. I have never really been a single mother.