It was never my desire or intention to be a single mom. I was a devout believer in the fairy tale—home, marriage, and family. I got married, crafted a cozy home, and awaited a baby to make the picture complete. After several hair-pulling months of “trying,” I was finally pregnant with just what I wanted: a baby girl. But my euphoria turned into a nightmare when I went into preterm labor at 20 weeks and lost my daughter. Years of miscarriages and sudden infertility followed. Prayers for a baby constantly dwelled in my mind and spirit until one day it happened. I was finally pregnant with my son.
The happiest time in my life was marred by tremendous marital troubles. Despite the pairing of my ex and me being as likely as the sun rising at midnight, I believed that love would anchor us, no matter what. But forever is a long time. Financial and fertility struggles can suck the life out of any marriage, and betrayal can be the death knell. So when things reached the point where every discussion exploded into verbal warfare, every misdeed was counted, and time apart was more sought after than time together, I knew I had to move on—newborn baby and all.
Those were the toughest days. I was suddenly single, a new mother, and alone. For every joy that my son brought, there was a corresponding fear. We had each other, but I constantly questioned whether I alone would be enough for him in the long run. I frequently wondered what monumental mess I had gotten myself into and rebuked myself for having no contingency plan or celebrated village, all because I foolishly thought that I would never need one. I reassured myself that even the end of my marriage would not mean the absence of a father for my son. But that seeming impossibility has been our reality since his birth.
My first year of motherhood nearly brought me to my knees. There were round-the-clock feedings, breasts that needed pumping, diapers to be changed, sleep that my baby rarely wanted but I would kill for. I sorely wanted emotional and physical support but scornfully accepted that it would not be forthcoming. This was my life, not quite what I prayed night and day for.
And the passage of time brought no relief. Countless weekends I struggled to balance my baby in his Bjorn on my chest while walking with grocery-filled plastic bags wrapped around my tiny wrists. My hope was always the same—that someone would appear and happily give us a hand. Sometimes we were lucky and someone did; most times we were unlucky and no one did. Then there were the times that my baby cooed and giggled and sometimes cried as he sat in his stroller and watched me transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer in the basement of our building. Maybe that is the reason why to this day, at three-and-a-half years old, he insists on being the one to put our clothes in each. Not me, but him.
For a long time, I secretly mourned the motherhood I always dreamed of but did not have. I persecuted myself for making bad decisions that birthed bad results, and I demanded answers of myself as to how could I? And how would I? Then one day, it all stopped.
Because I stopped.
I suddenly realized that I was lamenting loss instead of celebrating success. All along, my strength had been in what I perceived as my struggle. Everything I thought I could not do and would not be as a single mother already was.
I had grown into so much more than the single mom whom the world saw. As I was doing the work of motherhood, with each passing day, I was quietly blossoming into a good mother. A loving mother. A courageous mother. A determined mother. A household-supporting mother. A proud mother. A triumphant mother. I had created the family for my son and myself that I never imagined but am so proud we are.
For many decades, I was lost. I allowed the hands of others to shape and mold me into who they wanted but never who I needed. I surrendered a voice that now roars. The woman I always had the potential to be was buried by fears and insecurities. I was nothing more than a fractured little girl who had “grown” into an incomplete woman, desperately seeking to be made whole by a sprinkle of marriage and family fairy dust.
But my son helped me grow up—quickly. Raising him introduced me to the woman who lived inside of me desperately seeking release. She is strong, resilient, and blossoming in every way. Parenting as one has been far from easy. It has come with great sacrifice. But what I know for sure is that no matter life’s unpredictability or obstacles, I am able. On my own. For however long need be.
And I am no anomaly or lucky circumstance. I am one of many courageous single mothers who found herself planted not in the picture-perfect garden of her dreams, but in one equally as rich and beautiful as she could have ever imagined.
Terri Linton, ESME’s Incarceration Resource Guide, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing, and a graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Terri is a freelance writer and professor of criminal justice. She hosts and produces the podcast She Roads with Terri Linton, where she interviews women about their journeys of endurance and resilience. Terri’s writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, the Huffington Post, Motherly, and Mamamia. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.