Just after Christmas '97, I went to Video Thunder with my mom and my grandmother. We were three single mothers in search of a way to spend a cold New Hampshire evening. My mother was divorced, my grandmother was recently widowed and I was three weeks shy of becoming an unwed mother.
My grandmother held up a video box and hollered across the store to me: "Oh, this is it! The perfect movie for you." In her hand was the movie "Bastard Out of Carolina." I laughed and told her I'd already seen it. I'd rented it after I'd discovered I was pregnant.
I was 25 and had just received a master's degree from the University of North Carolina. A week after listening to graduation speeches telling me how far I could go, I sat on the edge of a twin bed, listening to the object of my affection give me his canned "It's not you--it's me" speech. Two weeks after that I sat at Planned Parenthood, where I'd gone for a $10 pregnancy test, waiting for my name to be called. A hip 22-year-old told me I was "definitely pregnant" and offered me cheerful sympathy, a tissue, a bag of congratulatory paraphernalia and several abortion pamphlets.
I had always known I would never have an abortion or give up my child. Now I was sure that my life was over. Media portrayals of single mothers confirmed this--unless, like Murphy Brown, I was over 35 and already a success. But I felt so strongly I had to keep my child that it didn't take long to change my perspective. I began to rejoice and become hopeful--and I saw that these emotions were considered inappropriate.
While waddling around a national magazine as its first pregnant intern, I received a press release from the Census Bureau stating that families headed by single mothers were among the country's poorest. That same month I listened to a man on C-Span radio predicting doom for the children of single mothers--in the form of dropouts, drugs and divorce.
A pregnant co-worker spoke excitedly with me about our pregnancies, until I told her I was planning to deliver the baby in New Hampshire. She asked if my husband had been transferred. I told her I wasn't married, that I was going to live near my family. The conversation ended, and my pregnancy was never mentioned again.
Premarital sex is a given these days, and half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended. Yet living among the young and privileged--in four years of prep school, four years of college and one year in Manhattan--I knew of no peers who were pregnant. I learned of friends' abortions only after they learned I was having a baby.
The shock value of my pregnancy was high among those who believe in a woman's right to choose. The pro-choice, feminist movement often forgets that it is advocating a choice. Many who view abortion as an uncomplicated operation see my decision as incomprehensible. And whether they support a woman's right to have an abortion or oppose it, many would agree that I am depriving my daughter and one loving, infertile couple of a happy family.
To those who said I needed to think of my child, I responded with questions of my own. How could I be sure my child would be well cared for by someone else? And as for depriving her of an in-house father, I asked: How many children are abandoned by their fathers later in life? How many have to deal with divorce? When people said I needed to think of my own life, I replied that I couldn't live with myself if I did not keep this baby.
Most of my family viewed my optimism as pure naivete. "She has no idea what she's in for" was a favorite line during my pregnancy--and continued into my daughter's first few months. This when I was already up every hour feeding, diapering and rocking a newborn.
But so far this prediction has come true: I really had no idea what I was in for. As much as I knew I would love my child, I love her more. I had hoped I would enjoy being a mother, and in fact I thrive in my new role.
After a yearlong silence, my daughter's father asked to be a part of her life. He resented me for not giving him a choice in whether she was born or whether I kept her. But I did allow him to choose whether he became involved, and that has greatly changed the way he views her. Now he feels as I do--proud that there is no other baby like her.
It's hard now to remember the panic I felt two summers ago. I have become so accustomed to my life with my daughter that I never know quite what to say to people who shake their heads and say, "It must be so hard." The truth sounds saccharine. I am hopelessly in love with my child.
Whenever I do complain that single motherhood is hard, I've got my mom and grandmother to tell me I have it easy--I don't have a husband to take care of as well.