When I decided to have a kid on my own, I thought the hardest thing would be giving up on finding a partner. I was fiercely independent, and had been my whole life. But, I soon learned that single parenthood is so much more than just being single. The “choice” part of being a "single mother by choice" is about more than a trip to the clinic. It's one part epic to-do list and one part questions-married-folks-never-have-to-ask (How will I afford this? Who will walk the dog after I give birth and my vagina is broken?).
By 30, I had written a bestselling book, co-founded a girls’ leadership organization, and traveled around the country giving speeches about how to raise confident girls. I owned an apartment in Brooklyn. I took cabs when I wanted to. I bought winter hats at Barney’s, and then got drunk and left them in the backs of the cabs. The soundtrack of my career was Frank Sinatra crooning "New York, New York" (“If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere"). But, the lyric that best summed up my love life was “Another One Bites the Dust.”
By 35, I knew I’d have to get pregnant alone. I had moved to a small college town in western Massachusetts for my most recent ex. I stayed there after we broke up, pining for NYC grit and freezing my ass off in the snow, knowing that if I were to raise a kid by myself, it would be cheaper and easier there than in New York.
I got pregnant easily. My friends and family gave me their full support. Not that I went looking for it — I’m terrible at asking for help. I hate to impose; I prefer to pick up the check, let you choose where we’re going for drinks, and tell you I’m fine when I’m not. I don’t want to be needy, and I certainly don’t want to look like I am. And, so it was with my pregnancy.
I didn’t think much of it when my due date was approaching and Hurricane Irene knocked down the trees on my block, cutting my power and heat. I got into bed wearing a headlamp, shivering under a comforter in maternity long-underwear. In the morning, I drove to a friend’s house. I was fine. I was strong. I could manage on my own. I always had.
When the labor pains began, I was sure I had gas. I called my midwife and complained that I was constipated. She hesitated. Indignant, I demanded a laxative (I was four days from my due date. The midwives still laugh about my “gas” to this day). My friend Sam called and asked if I was okay. I said I was fine; I had to poop is all. I would go to sleep and maybe have the baby in the morning — yes, I was mentally scheduling this event. A few minutes later, Sam called back and asked if I was sure I wanted to be alone. I burst into tears.
That was the moment I began to understand that while having a baby on your own is an act of singular courage, it’s also the most humbling thing you’ll ever do. I was learning that being single doesn’t mean being alone — and that accepting help was part of the work I needed to do in order to be whole and brave for my child. The true test of my courage to have this baby on my own would be my ability to be vulnerable. Because, when we don’t ask for help, it’s often because we don’t feel worthy of it. This painful lack of self-worth — and the isolation that comes with not reaching out when you need it — were the last things I wanted to pass on to my child.
Sam stretched out on my couch and turned on the TV. I writhed in pain on a plush green chair, clocking contractions with a pregnancy app. I could rate them as mild, moderate, or severe. Rosie, my nine-year-old terrier, lay still and wide-eyed at my feet. Being in labor is kind of like taking a long flight; the minutes tick by sluggishly at first, and then, suddenly, time melts into something more fluid. Eventually, Sam drifted off to sleep. Rosie remained vigilant while I panted and moaned. I didn’t call Maggie, my close friend from college who lived nearby. I didn’t call the doula. I didn’t want to wake them, or Sam. I helped myself, as I always had. At 2 a.m., when the contractions were two minutes apart, I made the calls. The next afternoon, I had a daughter. That was two years ago last month.
Research has found that women will often take a risk for someone else’s benefit rather than their own. One study, for example, found that women will negotiate more money for a peer than for themselves. Now, as a mother, I see this selfish/selfless dichotomy differently. When you become a parent, you realize that the person you are evolving into is now entangled with the vulnerable creature you have brought into your life. You can let this terrify you — or inspire you. For me, it has been an opportunity hiding in plain sight.
I wasn’t able to change who I was for my own sake. But, I suddenly wanted to do it for my daughter. I wanted her to have the chance to live life differently — to wake people up when she needs them, to call for help instead of doing everything herself. Always being there for her isn’t a matter of me not loving myself enough. It’s about loving someone else so much, and taking the biggest risk of my life through that love. And, it's about finally getting the most important kind of help — help I never even dreamed I could ask for.