May 13, 2017

How Being a Solo Mom Taught Me How to Be a Swiss Army Knife

solo motherhood

The one thing motherhood does to a woman is it changes us completely—physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. It shifts priorities in life—our career path; our random girl’s night out; that all-girl, bikini-beach-trip weekend party; the vintage bag we’ve been saving up for; the indulgent must-have and must-do stuff a girl aims to tick off her bucket list; and all the goals every ambitious woman works towards achieving before she even plans to have a child.

Thing is, motherhood can never genuinely be planned. Or maybe you can, to a certain extent. Although how can any woman really be ready for its challenges? It doesn’t come with an instruction manual, after all. And even if your own mother gave you her copy of Dr. Spock’s illuminating books, we mothers still need to trust our maternal instincts, 24/7. That instant change of role: it becomes the one purpose of a mother’s life, the most selfless commitment we will ever keep. This is the biggest, most permanent job we will have, and it is never going to be just a 9-to-5 shift.

Once we gear up for this beautiful challenge, our mindset instinctively changes—from the mundane to an overwhelming new chapter in our life, which is when every woman’s idealism shifts to the practical realities of motherhood.

mom and baby

​​It has been 15 years since I gave birth to my daughter, Sophie. Fifteen years when I first met her in the nursery-room incubator. My delivery wasn’t a natural birthing experience. None of that first baby-cry highlight or that celebrated moment when the nurse lays the baby on the mother’s chest for the first time natal-skin contact. I seem to have missed out on those picture-perfect motherhood milestones.

The only memory I have of it is when I was slowly floating away until the general anesthesia knocked me out. Then I woke up in a tizzy, seeing my own mom wave at me by the window of the recovery room. Most moms say that the pain and emotions of birth make a mother complete. My thoughts differed, however, since I needed an emergency C-section.

It happened so fast that the series of anxious moments flickered quickly as they wheeled me into the delivery room. All the same, the moment of giving birth was such an unimaginably beautiful experience, a surreal moment when you start to say it repetitively to yourself: “I’m a mom.”

​​In my case, I immediately accepted and embraced that I was going to be a single mom. My life thereon had taken a complete detour. My pregnancy came at the point in my life when I had this insatiable appetite for creative achievements, all of which came to a screeching halt. I had a few on my list: ongoing solo painting exhibits, commissioned graphic-design projects, creative collaborations with a few magazines, shoots that required me to travel too much, and film school. So, having a baby was really not on the horizon of my plans. I guess it was serendipity’s way of knocking on my life for a new change, but I wasn’t ready for it. Then again, what could possibly prepare a single mother for such a big role?

Nothing but guts, determination, and a lot of Nat Geo shows, forever trying to make sense of the natural behavior of why a mother hen walks with her young without their dad in sight. I was that desperate for an explanation.

​​There were times when I felt like a hybrid Swiss Army knife—holding a baby bottle in one hand, a small baby towel by my shoulder, clutching her teddy bear in my arms, my laptop bag hanging on my opposite shoulder, and the baby bag anchored by my back to counter the weight of Sophie in front of me, strapped in a baby carrier.

My friends called me “the quintessential marsupial mama.” My, it’s an insane juggling act. It’s tough doing the work of two adults. It’s like a crazy rollercoaster ride, one that throws you into steep emotional drops as you feel your adrenaline rush in from multitasking meant for two. Your fear builds up because you’re alone.

Doubt constantly confronts you almost every day that you’re not a good enough mother to your kids. It is that same fear that builds up, many times over, when kids get sick. It’s that recurring anxiety of financial strains, social stigma, and isolation. And that guilt towards your kids because you feel you’ve failed to provide them with a complete family setting.

​It’s a bittersweet life. It’s a beautiful challenge. It’s a giant responsibility to fill the role of playing both mom and dad, but single mothers are resilient, and we will always find a way to make it work no matter what.

child in the bathroom

Sophie learning how to brush on her own when she was 3.


Photos courtesy of Stephanie De la Cruz

Art by Dorothy Guya 

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children, culture, momhood, Moms, Mother’s Day, Preen,, relationships, Single Mothers, Single Parent, Solo Parenting

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margaret zhang

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