The Mom Deciding What to Tell Her Son About His Origin Story

By

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: Getty Images

Jane was hanging out with a bartender she knew from her social circle, hooking up and drinking late into the night at her apartment. When her usually regular period was absent one month, the results of an at-home pregnancy test surprised but didn’t scare her. Initially shocked and even upset, the bartender who got her pregnant and Jane’s family eventually came to support her decision to be a mom.

Over the years, Jane and her son’s father developed a solid co-parenting relationship, especially as her son, now 9, received a special-needs diagnosis. She describes what it felt like to get hung up on after announcing her pregnancy, the child-care arrangement that meant she only saw her infant on weekends, the reason she likens her son to a superhero, and what she’s going to tell him about how he came to be.

On what life was like when she got pregnant. I was working in the music industry, in accounting. It was a good job. But working in the music industry affords you a lot of opportunities to make yourself a mess. Drugs were all over the place; they were easier to get than tickets to big concerts or sporting events. Everyone was rolling into work at 10:30, 11 o’clock. It wasn’t like we had to be at work bright and early — we all went out at night. I was hanging out with this bartender; he’d come over once he was done at the bar and we’d do all our extracurricular activities. That’s all it really was between us.

There were these mirrors on the side of the elevator in my apartment building — and I remember looking in them and thinking, I look different. I felt different. My period was always very, very regular. And that month I didn’t get it. I waited a little, and then I took a pregnancy test with a close girlfriend, just one where you pee on the stick. I walked out and said to her, “Look, I’m not pregnant!” And she was like, “Oh my gosh, you couldn’t be any more pregnant! Look at the freaking lines.” I don’t know what I thought I was looking at — the two lines came in an instant. A few weeks later, I went to my gynecologist to get the pregnancy confirmed. And it was.

On deciding what to do. I was a little nervous, but I wasn’t that scared. I just felt, This is going to be better. This is going to make me better. I stopped drugs and drinking — there was a new sense of purpose.

At first, I did talk about maybe giving the baby up for adoption — I was like, Well, I’m still kind of a mess. But as soon as I said the words out loud, I knew it wasn’t something I was going to do. I knew it was right for me to keep the baby and get my shit together.

The possibility of terminating was never a real one. Trust me, I’m totally pro-choice: We should definitely keep abortion legal in this country. It just wasn’t the right decision for me. I’ve thought about it, though — because ignorance is bliss. What happened initially with my son’s father would have given me pause, if I’d known how that was going to be. But I still don’t think I would have done it. Once I really thought about the pregnancy, I felt like a “we,” like two people.

On announcing her pregnancy. At the time, Todd was such an irresponsible person that I not only didn’t tell him for a week, I couldn’t: He’d lost his phone in a cab, so I had to call him while he was working at the bar.

I talked to him in the middle of the day, on the street in midtown. I went down from my job and called him and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you’re going to be a father.” And the first words out of his mouth were: “I can’t.” He just freaked out and hung up on me. It made me sad, and I was pissed, like, Are you fucking kidding me? But I had to pull it together and go back up to work.

My parent’s reaction was unexpected. I didn’t think they were going to be like, Yay, but I also didn’t think they were going to stop talking to me. I told them the day after I peed on the stick, and they were not happy. “We’re going to have to take care of this kid, this guy isn’t gonna marry you. How could you do this to us?” They made it all about them.

It was my brother who brokered the peace between us. When I told him, I asked him to sit down and said I had big news — and he was like, “Oh my god. I thought you were going to tell me you’re dying of cancer.” He talked to my parents and helped work things out between us. My parents go to church, and my dad went and talked to the priest, who encouraged him to help and support me. Their attitude started to change.

On figuring out how the father would be involved. Throughout the pregnancy, Todd and I would make plans to get together and talk. He kept flaking. Finally, we had a big sitdown in Bryant Park. He told me he’d rather have cancer and AIDS than have this baby. It was awful: He told me how much he wanted to kill himself, to jump in front of train.

I was just sitting there, like, Dude, what’s the matter with you? It’s not like I really knew him on a personal level, like we’d hung out and had deep conversations. After that talk, I just told him: “Things will be bad between us for a long time. But you’ll see, things will get better.” That was the last time I saw him, until the day after Christopher was born.

It was so surreal: Things between us were so bad for nine months. He’d gotten dressed up. I’d never seen him like that — he’d always been in crappy bar clothes before. We gave each other a hug and a kiss, like nothing had ever happened. When Christopher was born, he had a fever so he was in the NICU — Todd and I went down there together and took Christopher out of his incubator and just talked for about two hours. He didn’t want to hold Christopher, though. He was skittish and nervous. Fatherhood still wasn’t a good, settled thing in his mind. But he was there.

On financing a baby. Financially, my job let me take three weeks of vacation pay, and my grandpa lent me a little bit of money. My work also gave me a $1,500 coupon for ready-made meals — that’s what I ate for three months. I paid my bills with the vacation money and money from my grandpa, and my parents helped me buy formula. That’s how I did it. My son’s father didn’t give me any money. It never occurred to me to figure out child support legally. I always figured we could work it out verbally. At first Todd was like, I’ll give you $300 a month. But that didn’t materialize for a long time — now he has a real job and gives me $500 a month. It’s an informal agreement, but he always follows through.

I was very fortunate that I had my family to lean on in the early days. My parents and I had an agreement: When my maternity leave ended, Christopher went out to my parents’ house on Long Island and stayed. Our original agreement was we were going to do that until he started kindergarten. I was heartbroken; I only saw my baby on the weekends. Once a month, I’d have him at my house and that was when Todd would come and see him.

On an unexpected opportunity for co-parenting. Christopher was about 2.5 and going to preschool near my parents’ house. One day I asked my dad how that was going, and my dad casually said that the teachers had mentioned that he didn’t really talk, that maybe he had some issues. I was upset, like, when was he going to tell me this? My dad said he thought he’d grow out of it. I had noticed some things too — if you asked Christopher how he was, he’d repeat “how are you” without answering the question. And he did this thing, which he still does, where he’d run head-first into something like a couch for the stimulation. When I talked to his teachers, they were like, Yeah, these might be red flags.

That’s when Todd and I started to have more of a co-parenting relationship. We worked on getting him evaluated together: An occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and a child psychologist all come to your house, and then everyone puts together a report. I was nervous because, except for Todd, my family wasn’t very supportive. My dad’s really old school — he kept saying Christopher was going to grow out of it, that the testing would give him a stigma, that he wasn’t stupid. I had to tell him it had nothing to do with his intelligence, and that we needed to take care of this now. We changed the child-care situation — I’d gotten laid off, a blessing in disguise, and was able to have Christopher back at home with me.

The report showed that he was on the spectrum but high-functioning and that we needed to get him into a good program. I was glad that we found out, because then we could do something to finally help him. It was so frustrating for him before — he’d started hitting me. It was not fun.

On life with her son’s diagnosis. At first, I was like, Well, my child is just on the spectrum. At a support group I was learning how much bigger our challenges could be. I didn’t want to take away from kids who needed the support more — but eventually I met people whose challenges are closer to mine. I can’t tell you how much better that made me feel. It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders — I’d be like, “My son does that too!” Now I think, God, why did I think I was the only person in the world who this happens to? But at the time, it was just so helpful to talk to other moms like me.

Fairly recently, I explained Christopher’s school program — he’s in a special-education program integrated into “regular” classrooms — to him. He saw me reading a notice and asked me about it, and I was like, “Well, this is the program you’re in. Did you ever wonder why you think differently than some people, or see the world a little differently? It’s kind of like having a superpower.” And he liked that, he loves superheroes: He said, “I always knew I had a superpower!”

Mostly, people have been pretty kind, at least to our faces. But our school has a website where parents can chat back and forth about what’s going on. I’ve read some crappy things there — some parent being upset about kids like Christopher who are integrated into classrooms: Is that kid going to be a distraction, is he going to take away from my kid’s education? People don’t really have that much of an understanding, as much as you’d hope they would.

On explaining their family to her son. For Todd and I, it was a lot of hard work. Sometimes I don’t know how we stuck it out, I really don’t. But we did couples’ therapy to learn how to communicate better — we’d decided that we were going to have a good working relationship as parents. I still remember the first time he came to see Christopher at my house as an infant — he was leaning over the crib and I just thought, Oh my god, what did I do? I don’t know this guy at all.

To Christopher, Todd has always been around. I’ve been pretty honest: Sometimes he’ll ask why Daddy and I aren’t married, and I’ll just say Todd isn’t ready to be anybody’s husband. But he’s here in a way that he can be, in his very best way, as his very best self. This doesn’t mean that we’re not a family. It’s an ongoing conversation: Sometimes Christopher still asks me when Daddy’s going to stay with us forever.

Lately, Todd and I have been thinking about how we need to talk to Christopher more about his origin story. Christopher asks me a lot, Why did you have me, why did you want me? And I’ve always just told him that he was the best thing that ever happened to me. I think it’s only a matter of time before we tell him a little bit more. Todd looks like the jerk — he’s the villain in this story, and I don’t ever want to put him in a bad light for his son. I think people generally do the best they can with what they have at the time. What I want is for Christopher to know that we came from such a terrible place and made something so, so good out of it.

The Mom Deciding What to Tell Her Son About His Origin Story