Motherhood arrived on this woman’s doorstep quite unexpectedly, starting a solo parenting journey that is both challenging and an incredible blessing. In this honest and beautifully written story, author Carissa Cosgrove explains that while she may be a lone parent she’s far from alone.
I never wanted to be a mother. I wanted to be the crazy aunt who took the nieces and nephews to the ends of the earth and held themed sleepovers while her brothers and sisters-in-law played at being DINKs. I never dreamed of the fancy wedding, or pictured myself in a wedding dress. In fact, I even tried to think of some ways my Dad could “give me away” so that at least we could have that experience together even if it meant he was giving me to the universe instead of to my future ex-husband. My dream was to travel the world, collecting stories and experiences that I could share in the hopes of helping people better understand how similar they are to one another regardless of location, culture or circumstance.
I tell you this so you will understand how I might have felt when I discovered that I was not terribly ill, but in fact 20 weeks pregnant. At the ultrasound, the day after I had my bloodwork, it was extremely apparent that I was indeed having a baby—a baby that was fully formed and looking back at me from the monitor. You might as well have sent me for a Michelin lunch with a unicorn—it was that incredible.
So it happened, as it does in life, that it was time to recalibrate the long-term plans and envision an altogether different future.
Lone-parenting can be a blessing and a curse. You get all of the joy. You get all of the struggle. Every last bit belongs to you only. All of the responsibility lies squarely on your shoulders, like it or not. Then, on the other hand, you listen to friends describe their lives—sometimes equally filled with loneliness and despair, but with a partner 15 feet away in the garage beating the heck out of an Ikea desk he is dutifully constructing at 10pm on a Saturday night.
You don’t have to check with anyone else. And you are never undermined accidentally or on purpose by the equally important adult, because you can only undermine yourself. You get to plan and administer all of the special moments in exactly the way you like—or not! You are the one they look for when they wake up, and the one they seek for comfort in the night. You are their person, and they love you even though you didn’t give them a traditional family.
When my son was three, he started to get into trouble in daycare. The result was that I had to pick him up early once or twice a week. And if he even looked warm he was sent home with a fever, not to return for 48 hours. I couldn’t understand how my son was causing so much trouble. I managed to care for him all by myself—I was tired, but I loved him and maybe that made the difficult parts of his developing personality less pronounced. Or maybe I didn’t know the difference between difficult and standard-issue kids. I started to consider that perhaps I was a bad mother. The phone calls and early pick-ups followed us to kindergarten and I began to seek information about what was causing my son so many challenges in group settings. The accumulated exhaustion from not having slept for years combined with the strain of my increasing absences from work and fear for my son’s happiness and well being began to take a toll on my health. But I just kept right on going, doing my darndest to buck up.
That summer, we went sailing in Toronto harbour on a friend’s boat. The story is long, but the short version is that I fell during a collision and broke my hand. My left hand. My dominant hand. The hand I used to open doors, pick up my son, wash our dishes, cook our food, type and write at work, pick up a phone, you get the picture. The story of how this all went is also long, so I will save time and tell you simply that less than a year later I fell off the tightrope. I woke up one morning and could no longer do it.
I want to share a secret with you. When my son was born, I think I had post-partum depression. I couldn’t share my struggle with the world because I was so bent on providing this angel in my care with the life I felt he deserved. I felt guilty for feeling so sad. Guilty that I even had a baby when so many women wanted so desperately to be mothers. Like many mothers, I wanted to be the best mother I could be, and I had resolved to do that alone. The problem was, I had never grieved for the life I had lost so suddenly. The life I had been building and planning for. I had just finished a diploma and was headed to Asia to work on a project I felt held much promise. Instead, I was in an old apartment, alone, with a baby who did not like to go to sleep.
As I was saying, I realized I couldn’t carry on and my doctor wrote a note for my insurance company. So here we were. I was depressed and exhausted and afraid, and my son was having MRIs and surgery and visits to specialists. This is also a story in its own right, but the short version is that the series of crises that followed served as a catalyst, ultimately allowing me to grieve and rebuild a vision for the future.
Years ago at work, I watched a man speak harshly to his very young daughter on several occasions while they were visiting a public area where I worked. I mentioned my disapproval to a colleague who sighed and told me that this person had faced much adversity, but was doing everything to take care of his young child. She reminded me that there are so many parts to a person’s unique story that to judge in a moment is to judge harshly and without compassion.
It’s funny. I often think of that day, when I’m going about my life, wondering what the people watching us are thinking about my way of being with my son. I hope they won’t judge my imperfections too harshly as I had done with that frustrated father.
My son is his own person, just like his mother. In fact, we have both been called eccentric and I am pleased to share this commonality with him. In accepting many of the different ways he goes about life, I have learned how to love my own quirkiness—to see the innovation in the seeming madness. In my life, I have never known anyone to teach me so many lessons in such a short time. He is my greatest teacher, delivering daily lessons of love, Lego engineering, patience and acceptance.
I can no longer imagine a life where I am not a mother. The life that I grieved for is forgotten. I have a new vision, and it is filled with hope and optimism for the mother I am. It gleams with images of adventure and experiences shared with my son. My family. Us. We.
I am a lone parent, but I am not alone. I have been blessed with a special opportunity to raise my own unicorn, that mythical creature who appeared on the monitor to teach me how to love and be happy with life, however it unfolds.
This is #1000families post number 195. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.
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