The last time I thought I had it all figured out was one year ago today, February 21, 2013. That was the day the man I loved told me he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me anymore. I was eight months pregnant with our son.
It’s not been my intention to keep the anniversary in my head, but there are noteworthy dates in close proximity that built up to it. It was thirteen days after I’d written him a letter detailing my fears and concerns and my needs and wants. Eight days after a hurtful text argument sprung from said email that culminated with me telling him we were done and he was free. Seven days after Valentine’s Day, when I asked if he wanted to see me to talk about it in person and he declined. Five days after he barely spoke to me at my pre-birthday dinner. Two days after the loneliest birthday I’ve ever had. That week between the break up and the actual in-person talk was agonizing, really. There were indeed incidents in the relationship that had taken a major toll on me and I knew he felt the same way. Still, I was certain we could get past it. After all, I was about to have a baby. I’d canceled a move to Pittsburgh to build with him. We were going to get an apartment in Brooklyn together–me, him, my seven-year-old daughter, and the upcoming babycake. He’d called me the game changer and said that he was excited about our future. We were in love and made a commitment to each other. He assured me that he wasn’t going anywhere. We’d even talked about the timing of the next baby after this one. Expecting a baby is a lot of pressure, though, particularly when it’s unexpected, so bumps in the road are par for the course, right? When I told my Mom we broke up she actually laughed. “Break up? You’re about to have a baby. Work it out.”
He had another perspective, however. On 2/21 he said that he wasn’t interested in working it out. He listed a lot of reasons but the one that hit me the hardest was that he didn’t believe God wanted us together. It knocked the wind out of me. I cried a lot. It felt abrupt and ridiculous and sickening. I’d be walking (kind of waddling at that point, actually) down the street and wondering what that sound was…that whimpering. “Oh, that’s me.” That’s when the first beads of shame started their trickling. Being miserable while pregnant? Uh uh, honey. Pregnant women are supposed to be glowy and adorable. Our backs and feet are expected to ache, sure, but we’re supposed to smile through that because worthy sacrifice. Not cry on the 3 train on the way home from work. That’s when the panic started, too. “Oh my God. I’m pregnant and…single.”
It was unfamiliar territory for me; I had a happy pregnancy with my daughter. Her father and I were very much in love and he was supportive and affectionate. We lived together and had combined our finances, so a few hurdles were already out of the way. That was my association with pregnancy–joy and security. So I was devastated that this time around was so different. I kept telling myself that this wasn’t supposed to happen to ME. I was embarrassed and afraid that if people found out they’d look at me negatively. They’d think I was so unbearable that he couldn’t even stay until the baby came. That I hadn’t done my womanly duties to “keep” him. Not special or worthy enough to be anything more than a babymama. And then I’d beat myself up incessantly for beating myself up in such a manner. I’d never been one to believe that a woman’s worth is tied to her relationship status, or that it’s up to the woman to keep the man from leaving. I would certainly never let any of my girlfriends talk that way. I knew that the concerns I had raised in that letter were legit and I wasn’t wrong for broaching them. Nevertheless, I became obsessed with chastising myself. His critiques of me echoed inside my head and became louder than my self-affirmations. Much of my pregnancy had been about him. He wasn’t as far along as I was in his career, education, mental health journey, emotional maturity or parenting, so I knew there would be some major growing pains. But his adjustments, his process, his state of readiness became more paramount than my feeling safe or being tender with myself. And it seemed that expressing my wants = getting dumped. That was the equation. So jumping to shame wasn’t much of a stretch.
My son was born April 16, 2013 after 27 hours of labor–the same number of hours I’d labored with my daughter eight years before. But whereas I’d given birth to my girl naturally, my boy required a c-section delivery. It was the first major surgery I’d ever had, but at that point I was exhausted and just ready to see my baby. It was worth it, of course–he was healthy and beautiful and looked just like my Dad. I was elated. “Look what my body did. Again!” I now had two amazing kiddos. Although the pain from the c-section was unexpectedly severe, I felt like a superhero for a bit.
That recovery time in the hospital was nice. I loved seeing my son’s father hold him. He was so proud and so in awe. He held him so gently. I was full of love for them both just beholding it. I wished that he would touch me. Maybe put his hand gently on my bandaged stomach that I was so worried would look horrendous. Tell me I was beautiful, perhaps, cause I felt pretty rough. I talked to my best friend about how badly I wanted to put the past behind us and be a family, so she suggested couple’s therapy. I worked up the nerve to ask him if he’d be willing to do that. He said he would think about it, but only to build an optimal co-parenting relationship, not to get back together romantically. He considered couple’s therapy something for married people who had “something to save.” Devastation set in again. He’d watched me give birth to his baby and even that didn’t trigger a desire to be with me. That whole superhero thing quickly faded. I let it. Depression is an unfortunately familiar place for me and it washed over me like the ocean. I told everyone I felt great, though. I had no reason not to–look at this adorable, chunky baby! I had no right to be sad. That’s shame at work.
We were home from the hospital for just a few days when I developed an intense migraine late one afternoon. I’ve had migraines in the past so it wasn’t immediately alarming but this one was so bad I became nearly incoherent. My pulse was beating like thunder in my brain. Every beat made my body stiffen and jerk. My Mom called my son’s father because a hospital run became imminent. I don’t remember the ambulance ride, I just remember waking up in the ER in a hospital gown. My mom told me through wide, teary eyes that I’d seized a few times and they suspected eclampsia. She said that for a few terrifying moments she thought I was going to die. I’ve seen my Mom cry maybe three times in my life. I’d truly scared her–shame on me. I spent an additional three days in the hospital being treated for skyrocketed blood pressure. So many doctors came in and out and eventually I stopped courtesy smiling for them. All I could think about was my newborn. I missed him so much; he was only nine days old and I had already failed. I couldn’t even push him out and now this. Shame.
A lot has happened since then. A hell of a lot, and much of it has hurt. There are ultimately beneficial things I’ve learned (or re-learned) about relationship failure and single mom shame and overcoming, however. And today seems as good a day as any to share them with the class. This can become the anniversary of me taking back the narrative. The age-old adage “Huny went through that so you ain’t have to go through that” applies:
Shame is a demon that you should absolutely fight like it stole something from you. Because it has.
We display all of the symptoms of trauma when we are in the depths of shame and it can very likely lead to PTSD untreated. My social anxiety and depression are completely exacerbated by my feeling shame for being anxious and depressed. What a vicious damn circle. Both Brene Brown and bell hooks have echoed this. And the former has gone on to say that empathy is the most powerful enemy of shame. So wrap yourself in the confines of the people who love you and offer you huge, necessary doses of empathy and let you know in no uncertain terms that you are not alone in your feelings. Because:
Your feelings are valid
All feelings are valid–a simple but oft-overlooked nugget I picked up from a friend years ago. Feel whatever the hell comes natural. Feel it deep inside and let it radiate into your extremities. The people who don’t think you deserve to be as hurt as you are or think you should just get over it sure as hell aren’t in your room at night holding you. They’re not sending you any encouraging, helpful words. Basically they’re stranger b*tches who want to police your feelings because authenticity makes them uncomfortable. Their voices should never be louder than the ones of those who love you. You’re not foolish for feeling betrayed and disappointed because someone wasn’t who they said they were and didn’t do what they said they’d do. That’s valid.
As well, who says that “getting over it” is this linear experience? Sure, with the passage of time anything that hurts is going to become more bearable. And when that happens, send a thanks up for sweet, tasty numbness. But sometimes you’re going to inadvertently take two steps back. Something is going to trigger you, and when it happens I highly suggest you pat yourself on the back for making it through the day without using your AK. The small victory of not going postal? Immerse yourself in it. Sure, sunshiney positivity can take us far–we are more powerful than we realize and can manifest great things from our thoughts. But I have also become deeply realistic. And the reality is that sometimes sh*t kind of sucks. Valid.
Co-parenting can be a beautiful thing
My daughter’s father and I take great pride in our friendship. And believe me when I say it was hard-won; there was a time he was my straight-up nemesis. I wanted to pretty much rip his face off for a spell. To call that transition from lovers to co-parents a rough patch is an understatement. But he has remained someone I love dearly and trust implicitly. He was the person who took care of me through my father’s battle with cancer and death. He’s been a voice of encouragement on a constant basis. Most importantly, he’s been an excellent dad to our sweet, complicated daughter (she get it from her mama) and a caring, and deeply respectful co-parent to me. At my most hurt, I never once felt like I couldn’t trust him when it came to parenting. I know now that’s because we had such a strong foundation to begin with.
There is always a possibility your romantic relationship isn’t going to stand the test of time, but I feel very strongly that if love and respect are on consistent display, the foundation will make co-parenting much easier. It may even become joyous. You can’t just talk about it, you have to be about it. When you feel strong enough, take a step forward and reach your hand out. Your initiative might be rewarded in ways you didn’t expect.
This is going to make you better and stronger
It’s not really comforting when you’re in the depths of misery, but it’s so damn true: at the other end of a catatonic level of pain is enlightenment about what you’re capable of surviving. I believe that life is defined by these moments that shake our soul out the socket, and what you get out of that and do with it is your measure. There are no true “do-overs” but key “do-betters.” And as my cousin said recently “there is a comfort in being forced to face one of your greatest fears.”
Love is a battlefield
Falling in love isn’t the audacious act that sustaining love is. And there is no sustaining of idyllic love without battling in the trenches for it. That new love is a rush, but it ain’t where stars are made. To quote James Baldwin, “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”
You don’t know anything
And that’s cool. Knowing everything is probably boring. Be childlike in that you’re always willing to learn. Don’t study people who seem to have it all together (although they are totally fascinating–hi, Beyonce). Study the people who stumble but keep getting the hell up. The bruised but not broken. The broken but not the defeated.
You can always choose again
It’s painful to stop hoping in order to avoid disappointment. To stop being excited for the future because that requires hope. To feel too paralyzed to do anything about it, particularly when audaciousness was such a big part of you. One of my biggest hurdles is quieting the voice that tells me nobody will ever want me again because I have two children by two men. “One! Two! TWO babydaddies, ah ah ah!” (That’s my Count impression. I watch a lot of Sesame Street). I didn’t want to be The Girl Who Got Dumped While Pregnant. And indeed that’s not me, it’s just something that happened to me. It’s hard to see in the midst of trauma that it doesn’t define you, but as poet Warsan Shire writes, “I belong deeply to myself.” Not the world, not society, not men (or women). I don’t owe explanations and I won’t make myself small to avoid attracting wagging fingers or shaking heads who are somehow warmed by their base, simplistic assumptions about my situation and what I’ve been through.
I know now more than ever that life isn’t our own personal concept of fair, but I’ve always believed without fail that the universe is a constantly balancing entity. If you are a loving being, you will be loved in return. The failure of a relationship, even one that resulted in a child, doesn’t make you less deserving. Those of us who are picking up the pieces aren’t damaged goods just because our reality doesn’t match what society has defined as proper and acceptable. The beauty of family is that it doesn’t look just one way or come in one specific construct. So let’s just choose again. Not everyone is going to be ready for us. Choose again. We disrupt the forward trajectory of our lives rearranging everything to fit our bad decisions.
Here’s the facts: I made two beautiful kids. They are heavenly joy and hugs and kisses and curiosity and fearlessness and sticky applesauce hands. I know something greater than me is at work when I look at them. I know I deserve love–look at what I made with love. The Most High works through me. And I will always love the two men that my children call Daddy.
One of my more popular tweets goes a little something like this: I am sensitive and I love hard and sometimes that makes me quite vulnerable but it also makes me trill as f*ck.
I know there’s a future boo out there who likes ‘em just like me.
In five weeks time my new home will be Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve lived in New York City for fourteen and a half years so it’s a bit heartbreaking. The majority of my adult life has been this gorgeous, awful, amazing, expensive, fascinating place. My children were made and born in NYC. Maybe in another lifetime I do have that quintessential Brooklyn life with my babe and my kiddos. But in this one, the family structure I required to be happy and healthy here is no longer a reality. So you know what? I’m choosing again.
Sarah Huny Young is a web designer/developer who only has five more weeks to say she’s a New Yorker. She likes sushi, lingerie, 90’s R&B, and being one dope mom to two dope kids. Her various projects can always be accessed via hunyyoung.com.