I was married when both my kids were born, but in many ways I feel a kinship with those who identify as single moms by choice.
My daughter, now 4, was born to two parents in a reasonably happy marriage with a bright future ahead. But my son, 2, was conceived just a couple months after his father suffered a terrible accident that resulted in a brain injury. By all accounts the recovery was a miraculous one – despite signs of major damage my husband was walking and talking normally afterwards. But the anger, personality changes and lost cognitive skills were apparent immediately. I struggled bitterly to connect with the man I’d known and loved for 7 years. Everything I read told me that his future would certainly be troubled, and our marriage more than likely to fail.
I was in denial. His strong, defiant personality and initial recovery were so remarkable that I used them to convince myself our future would buck those prognoses. And so when I made love to him that time, that time when I knew it was not a good time of the month, and there was no birth control, I made a choice. I made a choice to believe that he would get better and we would continue on with our life plans – plans that included another baby. I chose not to go to the drugstore for the morning-after pill. I made a choice, and that choice was to do nothing.
I am an educated white woman living in the western world. I’ve been educated about conception and have knowledge about my own cycle. I have the financial resources that afford me birth control and live in a culture that give me access to abortions. And yet, that sunny morning when my family’s entire life was clearly upturned, I simply rolled over, disappointed that those few moments our bodies were together did not bring my husband back to me. Forty weeks later I had a beautiful, healthy son. Lucas’s sweetness and generosity were apparent from the moment we met.
But since his conception, my marriage unraveled, my husband – once a successful and accomplished video journalist – destabilized and the emotional and financial responsibility for my children fell upon me. By all accounts my kids and I are thriving. As their dad struggles to piece together a new life for himself that accommodates his injury, they have a loving and devoted dad – even if it is a man who is different than the one with whom I conceived our daughter.
I often worry that my children will call me selfish or stupid when they realize the whole story of our family. I know that many single mothers by choice face similar criticism. But what is really to be a single mother by choice? What if you chose to have a baby with a guy who is a substance abuser, has a history of philandering or is just generally a self-absorbed jerk? What about comparing a single mother by choice that has a rich extended family of relatives and friends, with that of a married couple with few outside emotional resources? How about consciously brining a child into poverty, or wartime or to a disintegrating marriage?
I don’t often dwell on the circumstances in which my son was conceived. I delight in that healthy, funny and eternally happy boy every day – and I know that his dad does, too. But a tiny part of me also wonders and worries about how Lucas will feel as he puts together the pieces of his history. And I wonder and worry if he will be as forgiving of me as I try to be of myself.
Emma Johnson and her two preschoolers live in Astoria, New York where she is a freelance business writer and blogs at WealthySingleMommy.com
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