LIMINALITY AND. THE COURAGE TO CHANGE
Making the Decision to Become a Single Mother
James was my first really true love relationship. But it just wasn’t meant to be. We shared quirky amusements—like who could do the Sunday crossword puzzle faster—and I admired his artistic talents. He would wake me up in the morning by playing music at the foot of our bed; he wrote love songs to me that made me melt. We shared a connection that is really beyond words, a soul mate. He loved my “flashes of insight,” his exact words, which still remain with me. I just remember that he would listen to me—I would entertain him every night with my embellished stories of things that happened. He was so sweet. I still carry him with me—in a box in my head—and every once in a while I untie the satin bow on it and I slowly replay the most wonderful memories. He just elevated my life.
So, what was wrong, you ask? I met him after his divorce [after] fifteen years [of marriage] and two children. From the very beginning he told me that he did not want more children. This was the time for him to develop himself and things he wanted to do. I thought he might change his mind. I became a kind of grownup friend, not a stepmother, to his daughters, who I still see every once in a while.
James and I took a turn for the worse when I started to snap at him. I just couldn’t help but bring my bitterness home after each girlfriend’s baby shower. I would say nasty things to him. I couldn’t keep myself from these outbursts of yelling. I wanted him to hear my pain since he ignored the deep longing in my eyes. And I began to resent weekends when his teenage daughters would be around. They made me all the more hungry to raise a baby from the start. I went
so far as to offer to do most of the work if he agreed to have a child with me. Fortunately, he had some sense and he stuck by his decision. lie would have liked to get married, but he was not going to mislead me that he was going to change his mind. I was deeply in love, and I had to force myself to acknowledge that as long as I remained satisfied with the way things were—that I could only have a piece of him—I was tacitly consenting to forgo motherhood. I finally packed up my things and left him because I could not rule out having a child of my own.
I met Luke in an unlikely place. On a humid Sunday evening in August, the line in the organic food store was long. The guy in front of me was sweaty and in running clothes, and I was fumbling with the magazines on the rank. We struck up a conversation when I noticed the college logo on his T-shirt. I must have waited half an hour in that line. And to cut to the chase, we’d gone to the same college but didn’t overlap. Luke waited while I paid for my groceries, and we continued to talk in the parking lot as a summer shower turned to a downpour. I called my best friend as soon as I got home because I couldn’t believe I stood in the rain with a strange man as my hair became wet and frizzy, my shirt sticking to me, until finally we made a date for that week. What can I say—I loved his sweat. The chemistry between us overwhelmed me.
But he was troubled. He would go from being very up to deep depression, and I hated the mood swings. He started to feel like a yoke around my neck in that he became very needy with the darkness of his depression. He knew this about himself. And at some point whatever was good about that relationship faded, and where I was in my mid-thirties, I thought, “I want to nurture a real child.” Unlike James, Luke might have been willing to have children, but I couldn’t see him as a co-parent because of his own needs. And in terms of shared values and where we are heading in our lives, it really wasn’t in sync. Let’s just say that the organic food turned out to be the only common ground. I chose the possibility of a good father over passion, and I left him.
I was on the sidelines of my own life, and this place was making me miserable. I knew I needed to take action and consciously force myself to actively change my thoughts in order to allow me to think outside the box about becoming a mom. My friends had become busy discovering the many places in Boston which they could enjoy with their children. I felt left out, preferring to read a book at home than join them in their adventures. The quiet and the stillness, which I once relished after a full day at work, echoed as I tried to read. I became a hermit, alone more than I wished to be.
I kept having these painful but transformative thoughts about what I wanted in my future. What I became conscious of when I thought about not becoming a parent was what my life would be without kids. What I envisioned was having a good job, living in a nice place, and being involved in my friends’ lives with their children, including celebrating holidays and continuing to take group vacations, and I came up feeling that it won’t work. In ten years I will be so depressed, I will be ready to jump. It felt extremely depressing being the good friend, the good aunt, having the good job, the nice house, having all the time in the world to go to the ballet and theater—all things I love. When I envisioned that, it was scary. And when I envisioned my life without a child, it was not the idea that I would be depressed or ready to jump that scared me, but the idea that I did not know what else would be in my life. I needed something to shake up my life.
So I envisioned trying to find a job that would afford me the ability to travel a couple of months a year. More, maybe, in salary. And I envisioned moving away from my friends and my sister in this fantasy. But with hindsight this jetsetting scenario was a survival strategy. I couldn’t just keep going the way I was. I exhausted imagining a life without a child. I knew that a baby would shake up my life positively. And in a way, I stayed closer to the friends I value and love because I became a parent. It felt like I would have had to distance myself from the people I love to survive if I didn’t become a parent. . . .
I was now thirty-six years old and still not a parent. That year I felt like I was slipping backward, and the way to move forward was to find a way to finally become a mom. Other parts of my life were beginning to come apart. I lost a job, but I wasn’t worried, as I always landed good jobs. I had just redone my resume with a new twist on my skills and I was about to send it out when my dad called. My mom was very ill, he couldn’t reduce his work hours, and my mom needed someone to be with her. My dad offered emotional support, but I became my mom’s companion.
I biew I was going to have to do the daughter thing and take care of my mom. And I wasn’t really happy about that and I didn’t want to be only a single middle – aged woman tabng care of my mother. I just wanted more out of my life.
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Gina’s story has the key ingredients that lead up to a decision to become a single mother. She found herself in a series of relationships that were going nowhere if she wanted a child. Her account represents the experiences of many women in this study who were stuck without a partner willing to co-parent. Tracing Gina’s and other women’s stories reveals the progression of how women go from being stuck to being mothers. To complete this passage, I have found, all women must imagine a child in a new context, test this idea on friends, experience a catalytic event, and disclose their decision. Women progress in different orders, shifting between stages, concerned about an uncertain future. Even though this chapter is presented in a linear way, the real-life experiences are often more nebulous and less neat. The parts of the process that occur before women act on becoming mothers depend on how they go about their mission of becoming unstuck, the starting point of the liminal state. The difficult and confusing process of tearing down internal barriers against families headed by women and created through their agency constitutes liminality, a key concept discussed in the next section. Liminality creates a new context, riskily embraced by middle-class women who seek to establish a new family life.