How I unexpectedly found myself raising a child on my own
I always had a very clear view of what my life would be like when I had my first child. I would be married, and we’d have jobs that could support our family. We would be prepared. What I got was much different. Although I was in a committed relationship, there was no marriage and a very uncertain financial future.
When I discovered I was pregnant, I was already more than halfway through my pregnancy. I had been unemployed for months and completely missed the signs. My boyfriend had been working long days to support us, and I was collecting a small amount of money from my unemployment benefits and tirelessly searching for work. I then had to scramble to get health care and find a doctor. I lived several months in a few days. A visit to the sonogram technician told us that instead of the few months we thought we had to prepare, we had approximately four weeks.
The panic mode I had been in quickly turned into all-out-crisis mode. In a matter of days, I put together a full registry and had several long talks with my boyfriend about what was next. I refused to consider adoption; though the circumstances weren’t ideal, this child was wanted, and I would never give him up. People made it work with much less, I argued. Maybe I’d even find a job. I knew that wasn’t likely, but I held out hope. Although they couldn’t explicitly state it, no one was going to hire a pregnant woman who was due in a matter of weeks.
Initially, my unemployment benefits ran out the week I gave birth. Luckily, I got a three-month extension, but it was reduced. I knew that I had to figure something out. I was sending out follow-up emails about jobs, explaining that my temporary silence was because I had just given birth. I thought I had found a virtual assistant position for an international artist, but that turned out to be a scam that only caused more trouble in my relationship. I began applying for child-care jobs, but those parents whom I did meet had needs that were much different than the listings they had posted.
My boyfriend fretted over how we would balance both of us working and caring for a needy infant. I was breastfeeding and determined to be successful at it, and he had just started working a second job. But he was the one impressing upon me how important the income was, so I told him that we would have to make it work. Let me tell you, it’s even harder to get a job with a newborn at home than when you’re pregnant.
To say that our relationship was tense is an understatement, but I was determined to make it work. I was smart and added diapers to our registry so the baby was over a month old before I needed to buy any, and I always bought them on sale. And we didn’t have to buy clothes for him; between my friends sending hand-me-downs and my mother’s excitement over being a grandmother, his drawers were overflowing. But we were barely able to cover our utilities. My boyfriend was putting everything on his credit cards, and our rent was always late. I knew things were bad, but I thought we could get through it.
Shortly before our son’s two-month checkup, the bottom started to fall out. Our electric bill was overdue, and the lights were going to be shut off. My boyfriend began to talk about me and the baby leaving Los Angeles and going to New York to stay with my parents. I tried to explain that we couldn’t travel until the baby had gotten his first round of immunizations, which wouldn’t be for another few weeks. I also explained that their living situation was almost as dire as ours. But he was adamant. I was able to stall until the baby got his shots. I also figured I could push it to Thanksgiving so we could celebrate together.
Two days before Thanksgiving, he told me that he was taking the dog for a walk. Before he returned, I received a frantic phone call from my mother. He had discovered that I never discussed our situation with my parents and called to tell her that he was putting the baby and me on a plane the day after the holiday. I was crushed. But the decision had been made, and there was no going back.
The deal was that I find a job and work for a little while while my parents watched the baby. Then when I had some money together, we’d go home and be a family again. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I was willing to do it for the sake of my family. Suddenly, I was on my own with an 11-week-old.
It felt like the odds were stacked against me. Because it was just me and the baby all day, he had a hard time being with anyone who wasn’t me. My body never responded well to pumping, so I had trouble making enough breast milk for bottles. And like I said, my parents’ living situation was not conducive to having an infant. We were constantly shuttling between where they lived and my cousin’s apartment, and I still couldn’t get a job. No one seemed to understand the challenges facing a woman with a small child at home. After the third failed job interview, I gave up.
I spent the next few weeks oscillating between depression and anger. I was lonely and missed my boyfriend and our dog. I missed my friends in California. And I was angry that no one understood. But I also knew that my son needed me, so I poured all of my feelings into making sure that he felt secure. It wasn’t easy, but we’re still making it work. Being a Solo Mom has made me realize how strong I am. When I had to rely on myself, I was able to make it happen. It took time, but I’ve never regretted a minute of it.
Sa'iyda Shabazz is a Solo Mom to a young son. She loves pop culture, shopping with the little money she has, and chocolate.
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