how i got this baby

The Mom Who Wore a Fake Wedding Ring

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 and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: Constance Bannister Corp/Getty Images

Tanya had just broken up with a boyfriend when she discovered she was pregnant. For a brief time, she wondered what the news would do to their relationship, if the decision about what to do could be made by both of them. But her ex-boyfriend expressed no desire to be involved, leaving Tanya to realize that she would be on her own no matter what she decided to do. She discusses telling her mom she was pregnant, going to birth classes without a partner, what Canadian parental leave is like, and why she felt compelled to create a community of black mothers.

On considering children. I don’t think I thought about having kids as something I really wanted — it was more like something I expected for my life. I do have younger siblings, so there were times when I was like a second mom to them. To me, the natural order of things would have been that I’d grow up, meet someone, and become a mom.

As an adult, the desire to have kids didn’t become concrete until I was in a relationship that was long-distance. With long-distance, you have to talk about your future — you don’t want to be long-distance forever. We started talking about marriage, family, our career goals. After that relationship ended, I didn’t really think about it. Dating was hard enough.

I found myself in another long-term relationship. We did talk about children, because he had a child from a previous relationship, but we never talked about having our own kids — we never projected that far into the future. Right after I figured out that the relationship wasn’t working for me, I found out I was pregnant.

On deciding what to do. I was shocked. I’m a planner by trade and by nature — I literally plan events for a living. While I recognize that life happens and we can’t plan for everything, I had taken precautions to make sure that this didn’t happen. I was on birth control; I was careful.

For a brief time, I wondered whether the pregnancy would change the dynamic between my ex and me — if our relationship would improve and be amicable. But it definitely did not do that.

Our breakup was quite fresh. I mean, I’d just told him that we were breaking up, that we should not have any contact. And not much later, I was saying he needed to call me right away. It was not a conversation I wanted to have over text message, but that was what it ended up being, unfortunately. The conversation was quite ugly, and that was when I knew it was going to be me, solo.

What I had wanted to do with him was look carefully at all the options — abortion, keeping the baby. But he was already saying he wanted nothing to do with the pregnancy. Once I realized the final decision rested with me, that was when I really thought about my support system, my career, what was possible. I did immediately think of my work — I didn’t have a nine-to-five schedule. I work weekends, and I’d always been open to jobs outside of Canada. There was the question of how my career could work, if I were a mom.

On judgment. Once I made the decision to keep the baby, I did tell a few friends and my mom. But there was a shame factor there, for me personally. I was in my 30s, had my own place, was doing well enough to travel, to go to New York for the weekend if I wanted to. I felt like I was disappointing my mom and falling into a narrative about single motherhood — especially as a black woman.

I didn’t share anything on social media until I gave birth, because I just knew that telling anyone anything would come with more questions. I did have to tell my employer, of course, to set up my parental leave. It came up at an event I was working, with some of the staff. I have friendly relationships with the people I work with, but I’m also someone who establishes boundaries. One person in particular, when I explained I was pregnant, said, “Oh, was it a condom-breakage thing?” I was so taken aback by that question. My mom didn’t ask that question. My doctor didn’t even ask that question! I knew the process would be hard enough — I didn’t need anyone making me feel ashamed.

Still, for me, the hardest part of my pregnancy was navigating the self-imposed shame of being a black single mother. At the time, I didn’t own a car, so I was taking public transportation everywhere. People would stare at my belly instead of offering me a seat. Eventually, I did start wearing a ring on my wedding-ring finger, as though I were a married black pregnant woman instead of another single black woman with child. I did feel there was some difference in how I was treated in public — but it’s hard to really know if it did. I feel it did, though.

On being pregnant. I’m really lucky that the doctor who’s been my family doctor for years became my obstetrician. That was definitely a source of comfort. I was lucky — I had an uneventful pregnancy. I didn’t have terrible morning sickness; my weight gain was average.

Still, I had fear and doubts and insecurities pretty much every day, because I knew my life was going to change so drastically. At the time, I was living in a basement apartment, which I loved — I’d been there for nine years. But it had concrete floors, it was cold in the winter. It was not a place where you’d put a baby down on the floor. I started apartment hunting, looking for a place I could afford while on mat leave. But I was lucky, I found something relatively quick.

I remember really wishing for a girl, because at least I have girl parts and I can teach a girl about being a girl. I was very worried about having a boy and having to be a woman teaching a boy how to be a boy, in a biological/gender norm sense. Things like, peeing standing up. Circumcision. Getting erections. Talking to a boy about sex. I was hoping that in the future I wouldn’t be single, that there would be a man in his life who could teach him these things.

There was also the racial factor. I’m black and any baby that comes out of my body has a skin color that’s seen as a weapon or a detriment. My little black boy would become a big black boy, and then a black man. I wanted to make sure that I would raise a child with pride, who felt strong in knowing who they are but was aware of things like carding (when police harass young people of color by stopping them and asking for their personal information), the education system. All the things that would affect a black person.

I worried if day-care providers would have biases — if I could afford day care. I knew I’d have to turn down evening networking invitations — and how would that affect my career? I had all sorts of worries and anxieties.

On having a child without a partner. Later in my pregnancy, I took birthing classes to prepare for labor and delivery. Being in that room as a single person isn’t exactly accounted for. It’s always assumed there’s going to be a man sitting behind you, helping you breathe and timing contractions. While it could be easy to ignore my singleness at times, I was acutely aware of it at others, like this.

When my water broke, I was sitting on the couch, watching an NFL game on TV. It took me a second — did I need to use the bathroom or was this something else? Once I determined that it was something else, I called my doctor and I called my mom. And I started timing my contractions; I used an app. I didn’t have someone else to do it for me. In those moments, it became very real: I was about to become a parent.

On making decisions and giving birth. My mom took off work and came down and took me to the hospital, where my doctor was like, “Why are you here? If you can talk, your contractions aren’t nearly close enough together.” So we left, and went to get something to eat. I remember my mom told me not to eat too much because food and labor don’t mix well, and she was right — all that dinner came back up on my carpet. Around nine that night, the real contractions came on, and around four in the morning, I headed downtown to the hospital. I was seven or eight centimeters dilated.

I’d watched The Business of Being Born while I was pregnant, a documentary that focuses on hospital birth in the U.S. It had an effect on me; I was like, I’m not going to let them talk me into drugs. But when they asked me if I wanted an epidural, I turned to my mom and asked what she thought. She was like, These contractions are going to get even stronger and closer together. And that answered my question — I got an epidural.

I don’t regret the decision, but it did seem to slow everything down. We were at the hospital by five in the morning, but by that afternoon, nothing had really happened and then they said they were going to give me some Pitocin. Pitocin was one of the drugs the documentary had really warned against; it can speed up the process but can also speed up the baby’s heart rate. But they explained that 24 hours after your water breaks, the baby needs to come out, or you’re at risk of an infection. I said fine, but I only wanted very little. I was really grateful that I had a midwife-nurse team and my actual doctor, people that were listening to what I wanted and taking care of me.

Once we got to the part where I was actually pushing, I couldn’t do it — I had the worst heartburn. My doctor was like, “We’re in a hospital, no one can get her some Maalox?” I drank a cap’s full and then pushed once — and out he came.

On navigating early parenthood as a single mom. People love supporting pregnancies, but not so much the babies. Everyone says, Oh, I’ll come and help out, cook, do your laundry. All those promises and support don’t necessarily materialize after the baby arrives. And that’s fine; it’s their life, their choices. But it’s very difficult when you think you have a support system and things shift.

Right after I told my ex that I was pregnant and he’d shared his thoughts and feelings, we stopped having any contact. At times during the pregnancy, I did think of him — I wanted to shed my bitterness, because I didn’t want it to spiral into resentment and feed that into the baby. I wanted it let it all out, and then let it go.

Once he made it very clear he wanted no involvement, I started reaching out to friends who were lawyers. I spoke to a lawyer and explained my situation and asked what I was allowed to do about naming a father on the birth certificate. This lawyer told me it was illegal to not name him. That surprised me, so I called the ministry that administers birth certifications and was told something very different: “You can do whatever you want. You don’t have to name anyone.”

I have friends in a co-parenting situations who have to get written permission every time they travel with their children — which is fair, since so many abductions are parental ones. This made sense to me logically, but I felt there was no way that I was going through pregnancy by myself, only to have to ask my ex for permission every time I wanted to travel with my child. I knew travel would be important to us; I wanted my son to see things. During my mat leave, we went to visit friends in D.C., a wedding in California.

Some of my friends have asked me why I didn’t file my child support. But to me, there’s no point. He already believes that this has nothing to do with him. It would have made no sense to add the stress of having to go to court, to prove paternity — there was no way I was going to have blood taken from my son to prove who his biological father is. It just would not have been beneficial both emotionally or financially. There are no ties to him, except in my son’s DNA.

After my son’s birth, I was on leave for almost a year. In Canada, you apply for parental leave while you’re pregnant. It works the same way as if you’d gotten fired and applied for unemployment insurance — the government pays what you’re eligible for, there’s a maximum amount and you receive about 70 percent of your pay. I went back to work just before my son turned 1, which I would say is pretty average for here. When I talk to my U.S. friends, I just can’t fathom having to take a baby and hand it over to a stranger when they’re so little. It was hard enough when he was 1! Plus, I was breastfeeding — I finished before I went back to work.

On finding a community. I knew motherhood would change the nature of my friendships — I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to parties, to stay out late. I didn’t want to do those things anymore, anyway. Some people who said they would be around to help after my son was born aren’t around now. Building a support system is why I started a group for black moms, Black Moms Connection.

This is a place where I can ask for recommendations about sunscreen for black skin. I could try to ask a question like that in a general moms’ group, but those groups tend to be mostly white. And as soon as you bring up anything racial in a moms’ group, you bring up a lot of other issues. Sometimes people want to know why it’s necessary to bring up race, and the answer is simply that it’s necessary because I’m black. But when I ask questions like this, I’m not resentful of white people — I just want to know what sunscreen to use.

Plus, if a simple question about skin care could be triggering, who knew what would happen about something more serious? I know I’ll have questions about teacher bias, about what to do when your child is called the N-word. My son is 5 now, and things will only get more complicated. That’s just the reality of being a black parent. Three years later, my group has 11,000 members from around the world — the growth definitely happens when there’s news about black people being shot by police, when black mothers need a place to talk about these issues. These are really important questions that we, as black parents, can’t ignore. We don’t have a choice.

The Mom Who Wore a Fake Wedding Ring