That single moms were sinful was the underlying message I absorbed while growing up in my two-parent, middle-class home in Detroit. There were two things my parents couldn’t abide — bad grades and illicit pregnancy.
When I was sixteen, my mom and dad sat me down and explained their preferred version of birth control. “We don’t want you to have sex,” they said. “We don’t believe in abortion. If you go and get pregnant, you’ll be staying home to take care of it. That would mean no college.”
After graduation, I headed off to Parsons School of Design in Manhattan and then into the working world. I made friends and forged a career in advertising. Along the way, I collected classic children’s books, baby quilts, and knitwear scored at yard sales in the Hamptons, but I never had a child. In my thirties, when a girlfriend hosted a baby shower and decorated her apartment with photos of newborns from her mom’s pediatric unit, I tucked away dozens in my purse.
I discovered I was pregnant at 39. After my first trimester, I shared the news with friends. Then the pregnancy failed, taking my three-year relationship with it. I’d put off telling my mom out of fear. I arrived home two days before Christmas, walked into her kitchen, and blurted out,
“I was pregnant and lost the baby.” I collapsed into a heap of tears. After a long silence, my mom said, “I’m so sorry.” I knew she was. I spent the holidays in a cocoon of her care.
My dad, eight years dead, didn’t get a say.
I survived, along with my baby lust. A few years later I met another man. After failing to conceive, we began discussing adoption and researching options. Then our four-year relationship collapsed.
Eight months later, my phone rang. “We’re calling everyone who signed into the meeting as a single,” the social worker said. “There are rumors that Ethiopia will close to singles.”
“When?” I asked.
“Don’t know. But if you start the process now, there’s a good chance you’ll be grandfathered into the existing agreement.”
To quote the writer Toni Morrison, “Freeing yourself was one thing; taking ownership of that self was another.” While I’d begun the paperwork to become a single mom, taking ownership and freeing that self from shame was quite another thing. While many historical figures were raised by single parents‑‑ Presidents Obama and Clinton among them – and the 2010 U.S. census estimated that 11.7 million single parents were living with their children, I couldn’t fully face taking on that label.
“You can have the life you want,” my fifty-something Jewish analyst said. “Just not in the order society tells you it’ll come.”
Even my mom now held a more pragmatic view: “You may start out with a man, but it doesn’t mean you’ll end up with them. So if you want a baby, go get one.”
Discovering that Morrison had raised two sons and made a career by getting to her computer by 4 a.m. to create works that led to her winning the Nobel Prize, helped me believe I could have a creative life while raising a healthy, happy child.
I’ve learned to ignore the scrutiny of strangers focused on my left hand, checking for a gold band, as hold my daughters’ hand with my right. And I mostly dismiss my own self-judgmental inner voice that tells me I could die without ever marrying. I know that if I’d remained childless, I would’ve ultimately died from bitterness.
Through the adoption of my Ethiopian daughter, I’ve formed a community with other single parents, two-parent families, and same-sex families. What I didn’t expect was the big wide love I participate in every day and the gratitude I feel just by being Julia’s mom. Sure, my daughter could use a dad. But after months of government red tape, it wasn’t a certainty that she’d have a mom.
“Happy Single Parent Day early,” my friend Charlie said over a glass of red wine.
“That’s a joke, right?”
“No, it’s a real day. March 21,” he said.
That evening I searched for and was surprised to learn that Single Parents’ Day had been in existence since 1984, launched in an article by Janice Moglen, a divorced mother of two who hoped that it would share the same recognition as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
So how does one observe Single Parents’ Day? For me, it’ll be the same way I manage every other day, by chasing my kid, cleaning up spills, and shuttling her to swim class. Folding laundry. Reading stories. Slaying dragons hiding in closets.
Wondering what to give a Single Parent on this remarkable day? How about offering to babysit for a few hours so they can get catch a nap?