Single Parent: Two Birds in the Nest
By: Barbara Matousek
“I don’t have a daddy,” my son said from the back seat as we pulled away from the curb in front of the daycare.
The last of the leaves had recently fallen and the guy who sold sweet corn out of the back of his pickup had closed shop for winter and my belly was ripe with Baby Sister. Sam spoke with the same matter-of-fact tone you might expect from someone commenting about the weather or the color of the sky.
Thanks to Todd Parr’s The Family Book, Sam understands that there are all kinds of families. And he knows our family doesn’t have a daddy. Whenever we get to the page with the single parent bird with the two babies in the nest, he points to the baby birds and says, “That is me, and that is Baby Sister.”
He is comfortable with our family, but at three he’s just starting to realize that we’re not like other families, that he is different.
Even before I had gotten pregnant with Sam, I knew that I wanted him to have a sibling, someone he could call twenty years from now and say “Mom drives me crazy,” someone who would be with him as I lay in a hospital bed at the end of my life, someone who would understand when he said “Remember that Christmas that Mom…?” My sister and I have been close most of our lives, and when our father passed away, although we didn’t grieve in the same way, we had each other to lean on, to talk to, to connect us to our father in some way. My sister is the one person in this world who understands why watching a UWGB college basketball game can move me to tears. She is the one person who can look at my children and say “I just saw Dad.” She is the one person who understands the importance of toasting my dad at the kickoff of the Packer Superbowl.
I conceived Sam just after I turned forty. After nearly a year of fertility testing and surgeries and clomid and progesterone and estrace and five failed inseminations with donor sperm, I met with an RE who told me my chances of conceiving with inseminations were good, that I just hadn’t gotten lucky yet. But my heart and my wallet couldn’t take any more of the up and down of inseminations, the two weeks of getting ready followed by two weeks of waiting followed by despair and the need to get right back on the horse. It was grueling and draining, and the longer it went on the more I questioned whether I’d ever become a mother. So I told him I wanted to do IVF, and I took out a loan and quit drinking coffee and spent weeks sticking needles into my stomach and then weeks pushing even longer needles into my thigh and then months waiting for the arrival of my first born, anticipating how blissful yet difficult parenthood –single parenthood –would be.
“No,” I said. “Our family doesn’t have a daddy. Just a mommy.”
“I have a mommy,” Sam said, and I shifted the rearview mirror to see him smile. “Just a mommy and just a TT!”
TT is Sam’s grandma. MY mother. She is the one who drives my sister and I crazy together. But she has also been my biggest supporter during my life as a single mother. Whenever we spend a weekend with her, she takes Sam on adventures to the park or the grocery store. She teaches him how to cook and reads him books and lets him jump all over her first thing in the morning. They drink “coffee” together and draw pictures and sing songs. As a single mom I don’t get much time off, but when TT is in town I get to sit back and watch my son from a distance. I get to see the way that he loves her, the beautiful connection between the generations that I’m sandwiched between.
“Yep,” I said. “You have a TT!”
TT is the one who drove me to the clinic when I went back for a frozen embryo transfer in the hopes of giving Sam a full sibling. TT is the one who cried for me when all the embryos were gone and I still wasn’t pregnant. TT is the one who thought I was crazy when I decided to try just a few inseminations with a new donor. TT is the first person I called when I peed on a stick and got a faint pink line at age 43.
The bitter cold winter has set in here and Baby Sister is now a living breathing entity that smiles and coos and giggles. And despite the entertainment value of having a 3-year-old hold his funnel-shaped flute up to his chest and say he is “pumping milk” or ask you whether “the gum store can deliver like the pizza store does” our life without a daddy is often messy and complicated and challenging. We’re all adjusting here… Sam to sharing his mommy with another little one, Eva to being outside the womb, and me to being pulled in two directions at once as well as living with another post-pregnancy body and the hormones and lack of sleep that go along with it. But every single day I navigate the mess and endure the treadmill of domestic chores and thank God that I made the choices I made. When Sam and I snuggle at the end of the day and go through the list of people we love, we include each other and Baby Sister and my sister and TT and I cannot imagine our family any other way.