The birth of my second daughter, Coraline, was a marvel of planning and community. I’m a single mother, so it wasn’t a matter of simply waking my partner to drive us to the birth center. I needed two people, one for me and one for my oldest daughter, to make sure we were physically and emotionally cared for. Or, at the very least, to get us where we needed to go. Hours after my due date, I called two friends from the darkness of my room. They arrived immediately, sitting with me while I bounced on a yoga ball, contemplating if this was the real thing. In the twenty-minute drive that morning, a bit before 5 a.m., my water broke in the seat of my friend’s truck. My six-year-old, Mia, in fuzzy pajama pants and a hooded sweatshirt, arrived minutes behind us. Coraline, at nearly nine pounds, came into the world fast, with only a single, near-barbaric push. The midwife told me if she’d been any smaller, I would have had her in the truck on the way there.
My three best friends are single mothers, or have spent the majority of their time mothering alone. We have a primal connection that supported mothers just don’t understand. But I am dependent on my friends for another reason. Over the last decade of single mothering, I hadn’t had a supportive partner until this year.
I’d chosen to have Coraline knowing I would have no help from her birth father. I chose to have her at the beginning of my senior year of college, not knowing what my job options would be after graduation. I chose to have her during a battle for adequate child support for Mia. I chose to have her when I still depended on food stamps and free school lunches to feed my family. My parents were barely involved in the beginning of Mia’s life, and I haven’t spoken to them in more than five years. I guess I stopped trying to force the relationship with their granddaughter. They haven’t met their second. Without family at the ready to help with child care, I’ve had to turn to my friends, neighbors, and sometimes even strangers to help get me out of a bind.
A home with a single mother and children is the second-most-common family type in the nation — we make up 23 percent of all households. And yet we receive no broader societal support, which might be why the poverty rate for single-mother-led families was over 36 percent in 2015. Legislators and voters have expected single mothers to raise our children at a major disadvantage — without partners to provide physical, emotional, and financial support — while being told to pull up our bootstraps and work harder.
Already doing the job of two people, we watch, helpless, as people fight to decrease the limited resources made available to us through safety-net programs to help with the conundrum of wages that are too low matched with housing costs that are too high. Add food and day care, with an older car that needs even a minor repair, and it’s a fight for survival.
On top of that, there is the social stigma of single parenthood. They assume we have babies for a bigger welfare check. I brought my older daughter into this aggression and could only imagine what they’d think if somehow knew I’d had an abortion between those two pregnancies. When I announced my second pregnancy on my Facebook page, I got hate-filled messages that asked me what the hell I was thinking. One woman told me to “knock off the Jerry Springer shit and get an abortion.” I also internalized conservative rhetoric like holding an aspirin in between my knees for birth control, finding new ways to slut-shame myself.