Cara Lemieux is blazing a trail of success and happiness
By 8:45 a.m., Cara Lemieux has gotten up, made coffee, read and sent a few e-mails, and started writing or editing, all before getting her daughter up and dressed, fed, and out the door. When six-year-old Ellie is on the bus to school, Lemieux has hit the pavement—literally—getting in a morning run or a walk with her neighbor before she tucks herself into her home office for the day.
She and Ellie have fallen into a routine of family time and dance classes, vacations, and a lot of really hard work. They are enjoying a kind of happiness that Lemieux never expected when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant two days before her 30th birthday.
It was 2009—the economy was tanking, and ABC News, where Lemieux worked as an Emmy Award–winning producer for Good Morning America, had just announced a round of significant layoffs and buyouts.
“I was getting ready to go on a trip to Los Angeles to celebrate my 30th birthday,” she says. “I was packing and was trying to figure out, Oh, do I need to pack tampons because I hadn’t had my period in a while.”
Lemieux sat down on her couch in her New York City apartment, Nate Berkus was blaring on the TV, and she started counting the days. When she counted over 30, she stopped.
No, that has to be wrong, she thought, and she “went and counted again.”
Figuring her period had stopped from all the exercising she had put into recently completing her second half-marathon, Lemieux bought a home pregnancy test to put her mind at ease. She took it, set it on the counter, and went back to packing.
“It didn’t even cross my mind at that point that I actually could be pregnant,” she says. “When I came back and looked at it, it was clearly positive. There were no faint lines. My whole world stopped. I understood then what people meant when they said time stood still.”
She called her sister in a panic, then took another pregnancy test. Then another and another—six in total over the next couple of days.
“When I called the doctor, they were like ‘You can stop taking them. You are, in fact, pregnant,’” she says.
For Lemieux, who reported to work at 3:30 a.m. and built her life around her career, the news was earth-shattering. She knew from the beginning she would be a single mother and immediately went into what she calls “producer mode”—figuring out the logistics of balancing a demanding job, a newborn, finances, and her own changed reality.
“I feel like I was just in survival mode early on,” she says, remembering the countless nights lying awake anticipating stomach bugs and sleep deprivation and how she would deal with business trips.
Piece by piece, she figured it out. She transitioned from Good Morning America to ABC News’s digital platform, where she began producing for Bob Woodruff’s Stand Up for Heroes project. She found a nanny. And she began blogging, launching her website, Here We Are Today.
“I initially created it for really selfish reasons. I knew people were gossiping about me. And I also know from working in communications and being a journalist that one of the things you do is get in front of the story,” she says.
Lemieux, fabulously honest and blunt about her life, didn’t mind sharing details, but she wanted them to be accurate. She soon found the site became more than just a way to manage the flow of information.
“It just became therapeutic,” she says. “When I had no one to talk to at 1:00 a.m., I could write.”
She mused on everything, from touring the the hospital’s labor and delivery area as a single mom to realizing that baby pajamas with snaps are pure evil. She wrote about finding pee in her sheets and baby poop on her pants.
She wrote a lot about realizing that she loved this crazy ride of single motherhood.
“Ellie and I have just been a team from the beginning. I feel like one of the biggest surprises about single motherhood is that I love it. I didn’t expect that,” she says. “With every accommodation I made for Ellie, and for the fact that I was a mom, it was all made because I enjoyed it and I loved her.”
Her biggest accommodation wasn’t budgeting or sliding into a new position at work. It was letting go of her outdated thoughts and fears about single motherhood.
“I realized that I had this preconceived notion about single mothers before I became a single mom. And it wasn’t necessarily positive. I didn’t know of any supersuccessful single moms or superhappy single moms or content single moms,” she says. “I really had to rebrand my idea of a single mom first inside my own brain and also in my heart.”
Only then, Lemieux says, could other people see her the way she wanted to be seen—as a kick-ass career woman and mother.
She credits Woodruff with planting that seed and showing her that being a single mother didn’t mean letting go of all her past accomplishments. It just meant adding to them.
“He was really good about just understanding there were times that Ellie had a 102 fever, and I had to leave the office to take her to the pediatrician,” she says, adding that she would just get online later that night and finish her work without it ever being held against her. “He really helped me rebuild my confidence.”
Her turning point, she says, came one day when he said the words she didn’t realize she so badly needed to hear.
“He patted me on the back, and he said, ‘You’re a great mom and a great producer,’” she says. “He really helped me get out of my own way and realize you could be both of those things.”
When Ellie was three, Lemieux took that newfound confidence and made another major leap—leaving her beloved New York City for her native Connecticut.
“I started wanting other things more than I wanted to live in New York. Things like space, things like a school system that entering into wasn’t like a part-time job,” she says. “I wanted to be closer to family. And those things outweighed my affinity for New York.”
Now working from home as a senior communication strategist at Phase2, a digital agency, Lemieux found the happiness she didn’t know was possible.
She now spends her evenings and weekends teaching Ellie to dribble a basketball in their kitchen or helping her finish a craft project. And fielding a lot of questions—everything from where babies come from to where human beings came from in the first place.
“Ellie’s really perceptive and really a great kid,” Lemieux says. “I really lucked out.”
And she wants other mothers to realize that they, too, can build a full and happy life. Lemieux began speaking publicly about “rebranding the single mom” at a TEDx talk in 2014.
Once a place to unleash her worries and fears, her triumphs and discoveries, Here We Are Today has become a leading point of reference for other single moms following in the path Lemieux blazed before them.
“People now reach out to me on occasion and tell me they have read my blog from end to end and it’s made them feel better; it’s made them feel like they’re not alone. They’ve taken solace in the fact that I’m still standing and living and breathing, and what some would describe as successful,” she says.
“I feel a responsibility to make sure that I do whatever I can do to make sure single moms don’t give up hope,” she says. “By putting myself out there, I hope that I help other moms see whatever their definition of success and happiness is.”
Sarah Netter, ESME’s Adoption Resource Guide, is a single mother by choice to a fabulous little boy, one neurotic Italian Greyhound, and two Spanish Galgo puppies. She is a full-time journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and ABC News.