Why I Chose To Be A Single Parent
I’ve never been the type of person who followed any normal path in life. And it’s not like I’ve always chosen to be different. Sometimes that’s just the life you’re given.
Before I turned thirteen, I had been to more open-casket funerals than anyone I knew. I watched a handful of elderly relatives fight cancer, or become immobile, and then fade away. I watched my unresponsive father carried out on a stretcher through the front door my sister and I held open for the paramedics, his massive heart attack that Saturday morning and our distance from the nearest hospital proved fatal to his 31-year old body. My family and I even witnessed our beloved German Shepherd purposefully hit by a pick-up speeding down our road; we were leaving our driveway heading to school one morning. I’m thankful my mother didn’t let us out of the car to see her remains.
My pillar of strength through it all was (is) my mother. She was widowed in her early thirties and had three children under the age of 10 to raise. She returned to college and powered her way through in about two years to earn her Bachelor’s Degree, magna cum laude. We moved up and down the central San Joaquin Valley in California throughout my adolescence (like seasonal workers), chasing new jobs, home ownership, and often returning to our hometown Turlock, to be near extended family.
Sure, it was tough to move around so many times. But I learned to make friends with a lot of different people, I realized being new meant being able to reinvent myself, and I understood that nothing in life was promised or too stable to resist change. I also learned what material things were really important because I couldn’t always take everything with me. Besides, life was too short to get hung up on trends or brands.
Mom tried to shield us from the economic woes — being left with a large ranch to manage and a growing debt with the bank…and my father had no life insurance. She sold everything, including the kitchen table. I was looking at pictures with a cousin a few years ago and she asked whose house my childhood pictures were taken in. “My house, our farm before my dad died,” I responded. Her jaw dropped. “It looks like my parents’ living room,” she noted in a moment of epiphany. “Yep. Thankfully your parents were able to buy most of our furniture from my mom after my dad died.” “Wow. I never realized.” Kids often have no idea what goes on behind the curtain.
In fact, many kids (and adults) dream of going from rags to riches, but when you’ve grown up with riches (or the illusion of riches that debt affords you) and find yourself in rags, you see through the dream, beyond the curtain, and understand what is really important. The real question to ask is, “were our needs being met?” My mom always met our needs and she constantly assured us that we could do or be anything. In fact, she even made sure we tried.
When I was nineteen, my mom sat my older sister and I down to tell us she was moving to take a teaching job in Mendocino County. We had about four months to figure out where we were going to live. My younger brother, since he was still in high school, would be moving with her but she couldn’t afford more than a two-bedroom townhouse so we adult daughters had to go find our own ways.
I was resentful for years that I had to go out on my own — not toward my mom, mostly to my peers. Some of my friends could still live at home, others had funds for college, and many of them had their old room to go home to if times got hard. Not me. Instead, I had to be independent and self-sufficient. I didn’t have the same safety nets so every step I landed was a triumph. Of course I had my share of stumbles and found my support systems fully adequate. When my sister and I lost our place in September 2001–7 years after Mom moved away — we were privileged to move our stuff into storage near her home and sleep on her townhouse floor for a few weeks to avoid the quicksand effect of moving into a weekly-rate motel. Within two months, my sister and I were back on our feet in a two-bedroom apartment a mile away. I’ve learned I can fall but have faith that I can stand back up.
When you move often, it is hard to make commitments and have meaningful romantic relationships. You grow comfortable with yourself and know that you don’t need anyone to complete you. Over the last few decades, I’ve had a few partners but I’ve never had a solid long-term relationship. Although I have had my nymphomaniac moments, most of the time I identify as graysexual. My body tells me when it’s attracted to someone and I trust my body.
In fact, I trust myself a lot. I have proven to myself again and again that I am capable and strong. I have found faith and patience and grace more times than I can count. I have been successful personally and professionally for years. My career was going well (tenure baby!) and I was capable of paying my mortgage on a quaint Victorian in West Oakland. And yet, I sat down to reflect and realized there was something missing on my vitae. I didn’t necessarily want to be anyone’s wife…but I definitely wanted to be a mother.
So I began planning. Although I was struggling with a few physical health issues, I started stockpiling sick days. I talked with my primary care physician about my intentions and got referrals for genetic counseling. At University of California, San Francisco, I sat with genetic counselors poring over every detail of my family’s medical history to see if my child would carry the weight of our family legacy (he won’t). My Aunt Esther proved to be a valuable resource for diagnoses and dates — but we had to relive so much trauma and loss to account for everyone and their diseases. We cried and laughed together discussing how we manage to keep going, because sometimes it feels too lonely. Should we set up Thanksgiving table at the cemetery this year? We have to laugh because it’s overwhelming.
The whole process gave me such clarity. I wanted this child. I wanted a little Warda so bad. The teacher in me wanted the ultimate student. The child in me wanted someone to play with. The survivor in me wanted this lineage to carry on. I even knew my child’s name years before he was born. Everything was planned to the detail.
But life doesn’t usually follow the plan. In the summer of 2013, my sisters (one blood — one chosen) and I went to Belize. We had an amazing time and on one of the first days we were there, we met a cool local. (No, he didn’t have weed. Yes, he knew who did.) He was a local artist and managed a gallery in the small village we were visiting. We included him in dinners and hanging out during our stay. When it was time to leave, I exchanged contact information with him. We corresponded regularly after I came home.
Now, I already had a sperm donor. But there was something about my new Belizean friend that gave me pause. He was free-spirited, living and creating art in the jungles for months at a time. He was educated and well-read, having completed several college degrees. He carried history and perseverance in the lines on his face and in his stories. He too, was a survivor. I boarded a flight back to Belize a few weeks later. If I could time it with my next ovulation cycle, my planning would work!
I didn’t ask him over the phone or email to be my donor. It never felt right, though it sat on the tip of my tongue often. I had to wait until we were face-to-face. He needed to see how serious I was. I needed to see his reaction. It took him a moment to process, “you want to get pregnant but you don’t want me to be the father or your husband? Wait. You just want me to get you pregnant?” “Yep. The natural way is a bit cheaper than the clinical way. Can you help?” His smile became huge. “Sure! We have to have a lot of sex to make sure this works!” The graysexual in me endured. “But we only have to try for a day or two…I only ovulate for a short time…” Sigh.
After exploring Belize for a few weeks, I came home and began noticing physical changes to my body. I was so excited that my plan worked. When I missed my period, I contacted my primary care and went to pee in the cup. The nurse asked if I had taken an over-the-counter test. “No,” I must’ve looked at her like she was speaking Urdu. “I know my body.” She shrugged and handed me the cup, with a look on her face that forecasted negative results. When she came back in with the results a few minutes later, she was shaking her head and smiling as she mimicked me, “You know your body.” “Look, I’m frugal. I’m not going to go buy a test to tell me something I already know…and that your office has to do to complete my referral for a midwife. You’re just confirming something my boobs had already told me.” We had a good laugh. She told me that she was happy I was happy. Most of the time when she tells single women they’re pregnant she sees fear in their eyes. She saw joy in mine. We hugged.
Pregnancy wreaked havoc on my body. Within a few months, I was laying in the emergency room alone in the middle of the night, bleeding. Both my dad and my grandma came to me in dreams that night. I felt like I needed the strength of generations to do this and here they were. Doctors were telling me I needed to relax, to de-stress my life. I needed to eat and gain weight — but IBS had changed my love of eating to just eating what I needed to survive. Fuck, why did I wait until my late thirties to do this to myself? Could I even carry this child to term?
I started calling him Julius before the medical staff told me “he’s a boy.” Heck, he was already showing his personality, posing for the ultrasound technicians and dancing around nonstop. Both my grandmother and father had called my baby Julius in my dreams. This child would be named for my grandfather: for the toddler whose mother was killed in an act of genocide, for the child who was carried out of Urmia and into Baqubah, for the young man who was raised by his aunts, for the athlete who studied with the Shah, for the man who went around the world a few times to find home, for the man who settled in San Francisco with his Danish wife, for the man who died too young, for the grandfather I never met.
More than once I’ve been told my child is a miracle and will do amazing things. The most beautiful times were from older family members who initially disapproved of my plan to become a single parent. So many friends and family members had asked, “why would you do this to yourself?” “Get a husband first.” “You realize how hard this is going to be, right?” “Are you sure this is what you want?”
Yes. I was — am — sure. I’m under no illusions that this will be easy. (I’m reminded every day that this is the greatest challenge I’ve signed up for.) But life is just not easy when you forge your own path, especially when it goes against social norms. Thankfully, I’ve had great role models and I know this isn’t really that weird — to raise a child successfully as a single parent. I’ve seen plenty of single parents raise outstanding children. I’ve seen amazing blended families. I know orphans and foster kids that kick ass.
A fair number of my friends are single parents. A fair number of people who try to date me are single parents. Almost all of them have Ex-drama: custody battles, weird attention/love competitions, or the ones whose exes are MIA. I’m thankful sometimes, that it’s just me and my kid. That if he chooses a relationship with his father/donor, I’ll give him contact information and/or money for a plane ticket. That when he chooses a father figure, I’ll support his desire for mentorship.
I know I don’t have to be everything in his life. Heck, he’ll be young when I pass — unless I clear the century mark! — so my goal is to teach him what I’ve learned so he can prepare to forge his own unique path: how to be self-sufficient, how to make friends, how to keep friends across distance, how to push yourself harder than you ever thought was possible, how to carry the experiences of generations who came before you (as traumatic as they may be), how to make something out of nothing, how to challenge others’ expectations to live the full life you envision, how to let go of what holds you back, how to get back up when you fall, and that sometimes your body will laugh and cry at the same time because our desire for joy can hold its own against the pain of some of our deepest wounds.
He may not have a normal childhood either. But I think he’ll be just fine.
Christine Warda can be found at www.seedubinternational.com.