On March 29 of 2013, my ex-turned-co-parent and I welcomed the birth of a beautiful, bouncing baby girl who would change both of our lives very quickly. Though I always thought becoming a single parent was a fate just slightly worse than death, the past two years have been an incredible journey for me—one that’s lonely and overwhelming at times, but always worth it.
I decided early on that I wouldn’t allow single parenthood to be the end of Jamilah. My career ambitions, my interest in men and dating, and my relationships with my loved ones would shift to revolve around this magical girl child, of course. But I was not willing to sacrifice everything that made me who I was prior to becoming pregnant for the sake of this child.
It isn’t that she’s not worth it; rather, I didn’t feel I could be a good mom if I was a miserable shell of myself. I’ve observed long-suffering single moms and 1) eww, I’m too fly for that, and 2) I couldn’t see that making for a healthy, happy relationship to my child.
The first six months were pretty brutal. Her father came to visit every day, and when she was old enough to start spending a few hours at a time at his house, she did. Nevertheless, the heavy lifting was really on me. I found every workaround and trick that I could (side nursing saved my life) and I had a lot of fun delighting in her newness. I miss that sweet baby smell and the way she used to cuddle with me and how I could kiss her at any time without the risk of her rubbing her cheek and saying, “Mommy, EWWWW!”
But the more independent she’s gotten, the easier our time together has become. (She is terribly two and a TERRIBLE two, but you get used to chaos and little legs running through your home.)
There was, and is, the social pressure and embarrassment around becoming a single mom. Now, as a staunch feminist chick, I have been generally disinterested in doing what was right for anyone but me (and now, for my little one). But that has not excluded me from feeling I let myself down, and also being an outlier in the circles in which I travel, in which most of the parents I know my age are married.
I think about silly things I don’t think I would be concerned about if I were partnered, like not having on the shortest dress at a someone else’s kid’s birthday party, or working hard to make sure that I’m “successful, middle-class career mom,” not “perpetually struggling single mom” (motherhood triggered class anxieties and aspirations I didn’t realize I had) and flipping out internally when someone refers to my ex as my “baby daddy.”
Side note: Despite years of writing and various little accolades along the way, “Jamilah Lemieux baby daddy” comes up when you type my name in a Google Images search. I don’t know who you awful human beings are who have been searching that, but please consider taking a class at your local rec center if you are so lacking in hobbies. Zumba is a good one, I hear.
I also have anxiety about falling in love again. Though I’ve healed from my breakup, I’m not naïve enough to dismiss the fact that it is simply harder to find someone when you are a single mom. (I’m sure dads struggle with it too, particularly those who are the custodial parent. However, so long as we treat Black single moms like failures and Black single dads like EGOT winners, I wouldn’t say it’s the same.) I really do want to be married—not as pressed about a second baby, and I’d remove my ovaries before I signed up to be the single mom of two children. But if I meet the right person, I’d gladly ruin my body again—and sometimes I fear that it just won’t happen for me now.
That my ex has since married and had a second baby, thus giving my daughter the nuclear family household I can’t yet provide, has added some additional soreness here, that’s for sure–something I overcompensate for with pretty clothes and new toys and treats. What if one day she looks at me like I’m a failure for not being married when I had her? What if I never give her a sibling, will my household pale in comparison to her dad’s in her eyes? Can making her read my résumé make that go away or nah? How much money do I need to earn to compensate? She literally said “I miss daddy’s house” this morning and I immediately started pricing ponies.
But for all the bad, sad or simply difficult things, my life as a solo parent has been pretty darn great. I might not have found love yet, but I have an active dating life. I’m not saying I’ve had better luck dating in the past year and a half than some of these women who would list “I DON’T HAVE KIDS” at the top of their romantic resumes… actually, yes, I am saying exactly that. Because my child’s time is divided (not evenly, but significantly) between two households, I have time to still embrace this part of myself, and I am very grateful for that.
I’ve also traveled extensively for work and pleasure, been promoted at work, raised my platform and began the early stages of my first book—all in this first two years of motherhood. I got what I wanted: I’m still Jamilah. Though I rarely call on folks to babysit, my extensive village has been so supportive by sharing resources, encouragement or simply clicking “like” on baby pics when I needed to share them with the world to try filling the void of sitting with a partner and lovingly gazing at our work. Her father has been a great co-parent and though we aren’t friends (good for Lenny and Lisa, but I will pass on that), I’m happy she has such a close relationship with him.
Oh, and… my daughter? She is funny, sweet and absolutely beautiful (shameless plug: you can see her in this month’s EBONY), a total joy to everyone she meets. She’s not starting daycare for another month, but she can count past 20, knows her ABCs and has even started recognizing words. She has made me a better person and changed my life in profound, unspeakable ways. The circumstances may not be ideal, but I couldn’t ask for a greater child.
Furthermore, I’ve been fortunate to be able to take her places and give her experiences I didn’t have until I was well into my teens, if not grown. She’s cuddled with celebs and hung out in newsrooms and been on vacations—it’s pretty cool to be her, trust me.
I’m still petty. I still prefer miniskirts and leggings to whatever matronly look might be considered “acceptable mom attire.” I will still drink up all the Hennessy you got on your shelf (only on baby-free nights, of course) and there is a good chance I’d swipe right on your handsome little brother. I’m still Jamilah and I’m an awesome mommy with an awesome kid. I guess this is a Mother’s Day tribute to myself? Shout out to me, I’m making it work.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor.