At 21, I found out I was pregnant. I was devastated. As a first-generation college student, I was ready to take on the world and start my career. Instead, I was dealing with one of the biggest decisions of my life: to keep the child or not. I chose to become a mom. Accepting motherhood wasn't the hardest part, it was knowing the child's father was not ready to be a man.
There were moments, more than I'd like to admit, that gave me a glimpse of what life would look like in the future. He was short-tempered, irrational, and a cheater. In my mind, I thought I could change him, and that the birth of our child would bring us closer together. My pregnancy was spent trying to convince myself that we would make it by playing house. There was no amount of cooked meals, feeding his ego, or promises that could undo the inevitable.
Two weeks after giving birth, I was back in my family's home with a newborn. Living together proved to be more of a burden than what it was worth. I was so concerned with the optics of what a family looked like that I forget I was important too. More fragile than ever before, I needed to be surrounded by love and kindness.
There is no way you can fully extend love to your child without giving it to yourself first.
Photography by S. Bola Okoya
Our relationship fell into a pattern of harsh breakups and emotional makeups. We were young and inexperienced with these kinds of issues. Eventually, we parted ways. Therapy helped me break the cycle of trying to make it work. I remember sitting on a big brown couch in what was supposed to be couples therapy, alone. The therapist, a white middle-aged man, asked me, "Why do you stay and allow yourself to get hurt?" I didn't have an answer. I'm sure back then I thought it was because the family was important to me, but now I think it was a learned behavior. The long-suffering (girlfriend) wasn't a new concept to me; it surrounded me like an invisible cloak, both familiar and toxic. By the next session, I had decided to start a new chapter as a single mom. It was the best decision I've ever made.
I firmly believe that once you let go of things that no longer serve you will be rewarded with peace of mind.
My renewed spirit made space for laughter and love. I went from crying myself to sleep from unanswered calls to sleeping peacefully next to my child. There was no longer a need to crack the password to his Facebook account or call family members to confirm his whereabouts. I was free. The kind of freedom that only comes when you choose your happiness over others.
For what it's worth, this was the first time since I started dating at 15 that I had experienced this type of control over my love life. Usually, I stayed too long in relationships that had run its course or waited until the other person did something so egregious that it made it easy for me to leave. I got the hint this time and finally took back my power. This meant learning who I was without the approval of a man, finding out my likes and dislikes, as well as creating healthy boundaries.
If you're a parent and questioning your relationship, I suggest asking yourself the following questions:
- If there wasn't a child involved, would your relationship be over?
- Does your partner exhibit toxic traits?
- Have the attempts to fix the relationship been unsuccessful?
- Do you have doubts about their loyalty?
- Do you feel unsupported?
Photography by S. Bola Okoya
If you answered yes to any of the questions, then it may be time to consider your options. If you answered no, great, there's still hope. All relationships are susceptible to rough patches and if it's worth fighting for then do the work.
My child's father became a footnote in a bigger love story, a journey that led me to a healthy relationship with my partner of five years. This man loved my baby and me and proudly assumed the fatherhood role. There was hope for me, and I know there's hope for you too.
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