how i got this baby

The Mom Who Wishes Her Son’s Father Would Stay Out of Her Life

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: H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

Deanna comes from a big family and started babysitting as soon as she was old enough. Being a mom, she says, is the only thing she’s ever definitely wanted to do. But although she married in their early 20s, she and her husband planned to wait until they were more settled before trying to get pregnant. Almost right after the wedding, however, what Deanna thought were flu symptoms turned out to be a pregnancy. She discusses her fears about becoming a mom, how nervousness turned to excitement, the ways her husband let her down, and what her life is like now, as a young single mom.

On meeting her husband. We’ve known each other since I was 15, and he was 16. We dated on and off, with the stupid little dramas of all high-school relationships. We went to different schools; I went to a private Catholic school, he went to public school. We had different friends and very different lives, day-to-day. After the first stage of our relationship fizzled out, we’d talk every now and then.

A few years ago, he was finishing up a deployment in Afghanistan and wanted to get together. We hung out, but I decided we were in such different places in our lives that I didn’t want to start dating again. But somehow, we reconnected again, and did start dating again. We were engaged a few months later, and got married 18 months after that. I was 21; he was 22.

On making a commitment. I definitely wanted to be married. In military relationships, a lot of people get married pretty young. It wasn’t considered a weird thing — I know people younger than me who are married and have more kids. It was a big step, but not unusual. I was very excited to marry the person I thought I was marrying. My parents weren’t very happy about it, though, since we were so young. Yes, we were young, but I felt like we had such a long history and had kept coming back to each other. Why shouldn’t we just start our lives? I guess that was kind of naïve. But I felt like we were meant to be. Now, I see that he kept popping back into my life on purpose.

We had two weddings — a small church wedding, and a bigger one. Our bigger wedding was wonderful; it was beautiful. I’m not super-close with my family, so there were some moments of awkwardness — still, it was a gorgeous wedding. My dress was beautiful; my makeup and hair were perfect. Something I’m sad about on a very small scale is that I have these beautiful pictures from that day, pictures that I can’t even bring myself to look at now.

On life as a newlywed. Our honeymoon was two weeks later. We went to Jamaica, and the trip didn’t go quite the way we thought it would — we decided not to stay in a resort, and that turned out to be not very relaxing. My husband blamed me for the experience, since I had done most of the planning. The whole time we were there, I felt sick, very physically sick. There was a night I just couldn’t stop throwing up, and I thought, I’m going to die here in Jamaica.

When we got back, I still felt sick — nauseous and hungry and very tired. I was working as a dog trainer and walking miles every day, which was exhausting. My husband was in school full-time, using his GI bill to train to become a doctor. I was the one grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning. That didn’t bother me when I was feeling okay, but it was a problem when I felt so sick and tired.

One day, I was standing around with my boss and one of my co-workers, talking about how sick I was feeling. And my boss said, “Maybe you’re pregnant!” and we all laughed. Then I looked up “pregnancy signs” and started to wonder … we’d been doing “natural family planning.” I knew there was a small chance, so I bought a test but couldn’t quite bring myself to take it. Everything was hypothetical until I took the test.

On her surprise pregnancy. I took the test a few days later. It came back positive immediately.

I was upset. Not because I didn’t want kids, but because I was so scared. There were so many things I wanted to still do. My marriage was still so new. We were living in an apartment that wasn’t that great. Since my husband was in school to become a doctor, we’d thought we’d start trying to have kids once he got into a residency program.

When the test was positive, he was so surprised he almost passed out. But then he saw my face and how scared I was, and he instantly became supportive. He said we’d get a bigger place, and that everything would work out. I felt better, but still nervous.

My son wasn’t unwanted. But the fear was overwhelming. It took me a while to be more excited than scared. That’s a normal response, I think.

On her pregnancy experience. I started showing very early — I had a lot of amniotic fluid. People kept accusing me of being pregnant before our wedding, because I looked so huge. Having people constantly talk about my size was really hard; I couldn’t believe how many people thought that was okay. It’s just so rude.

As my pregnancy continued, my husband was starting to pull back from me. He didn’t really seem to want to be around me unless other people were around. He stopped touching me. I felt sensitive — I’d gotten so big, so fast. I was like, Great, I’m big and fat and now he doesn’t like me. I was also still working full-time, and we’d moved an hour away from my job. Things got so we were just kind of two people who happened to be living in the same house. I found out later that he was leaving the house once I fell asleep, and going out to bars. He never wanted to go out anywhere with me.

On the beginning of the end. At 14 weeks, I was bigger than most women are at six months. I was moving really slowly, and I didn’t like being alone in our new house. One day, my husband told me he’d be spending the weekend helping his friends move. I decided to stay at my parents’ house that weekend, since it was near my work. But I could see, by using location sharing on his phone, that he wasn’t helping his friend move at all. He was going out to bars all night.

My mom thought he might be going out so much because he was scared to become a dad. I was scared too, but it’s not like I had the luxury of going out and burning off steam. When he picked me up from my parents’ house at the end of the weekend, he was super hung-over — all from the “one beer” he said he had while he helped his friend move. Later, I found texts between him and a girl on his phone.

I was furious. When I approached him, he just laughed at me. He said I was being ridiculous. When we fought about it later, I told him that I didn’t think he was ready to be a father. He said he was going to kill me. I gathered up my stuff and left and stayed with my sister.

A few weeks later, I came back to the house — I’d told my husband through his parents that I needed to stay there because I was dog-sitting a client’s dog. The house was a dump, a total mess. There were women’s clothes on my bed. Makeup that wasn’t mine on the nightstand. I was so angry. To get to our room, he’d had to walk whoever it was past the room I’d set up as a nursery.

I drove over and confronted him at his parents’ house. He said, “I don’t owe you anything. I don’t love you.” I took a step toward him, he took a step back. He refused to talk to me anymore about it. Our wedding had been just a few months earlier. He’d said “I do” two times. He was the one who asked me to marry him.

Months went by. I was staying with my family. He didn’t talk to me; he didn’t send any money. Nothing. When I was getting closer to my due date, I talked to a lawyer, who said if I could, I should ask him if he wanted to be in the room for the birth. I knew the way he was treating me wasn’t right, but I still wanted to have a normal life. If he apologized, I thought we could go to counseling and make things right. I was open to the possibility.

On giving birth. He showed up to the hospital, and started telling me about this international trip he’d taken — spending all that money when I was about to have his baby. I was in labor for 28 hours, and he talked about himself the entire time. He played video games. He didn’t apologize at all.

But I didn’t want to remember my son’s birth as a bad thing, so I tried to be as pleasant as I could. After our son was born, my husband and I were emotional. He did finally say he wanted to make things right. But for the next few days, he was just taking up space in the hospital room. He slept on the floor and then wanted to hold the baby, without understanding why I didn’t want all those germs touching our newborn baby.

On life with an infant. When we were ready to leave the hospital, my husband asked to come home with us. I said no. I was exhausted, and I knew he wouldn’t be helpful. I told him I’d let him know when we were ready. I wanted him to take the initiative to set up visits, but he didn’t do that. He saw my son just two times in the first month of his life. He didn’t know anything about him — he never asked.

We didn’t see him again for another month, when he came over to take a picture and then left. Now it’s been about a year since we’ve seen him. I tried to tell him that this wasn’t parenting, that stuff was happening with our son all the time, not just during the few times he chose to show up. My son was eating and sleeping and needing a diaper change — everything you go through with a young baby. My husband had no idea about any of that.

On moving forward. I ended up getting a job in another state, and we moved. I have a sister who lives here, and two brothers who live an hour away. We see my sister pretty much every day; I feel very lucky about that. I sent my husband a letter and an email to let him know where we were, explaining why we’d moved and telling him that I was always there to answer questions about our son. He never responded. I heard that he’d started telling people that he thought our son wasn’t his, that I’d cheated on him.

Currently, we all have health insurance through my husband. We’re still legally married. The question of custody did come up when we were adding our son to the insurance, but not having a formal agreement hasn’t been an issue so far.

When my husband first left, I was very sad. Then I was angry. Now, I feel like being angry won’t get me anywhere. Still, it’s not easy. I juggle multiple odd jobs — manage an Airbnb, do pet-sitting, do dog-grooming — in addition to my main job. I’m always in a state somewhere between mildly overwhelmed and extremely overwhelmed. I constantly need to figure out who’s going to take care of my son while I’m working. I can’t afford day care; either a local family looks after my son, or my sister. My husband has given me a little bit of money, here and there. It’s never been a regular thing.

On life as a single mom. Sometimes I feel like my husband took my life plan, and my plan for parenthood, away from me. But I don’t want my son to pick up on any resentment — and I don’t want to let my husband ruin being a mother for me. I really enjoy my son, and I work to be happy, for him. If babies can feel what you feel when you’re pregnant, then he had a very stressful nine months. He’s 1 now, and I don’t want him to feel any more of that.

I don’t think I want my husband in my son’s life, at all. I’d like for him to just leave us alone. Living in another state, even though it’s stressful, has been so much better for us. My son has everything he could need. I would love to date someone again in the future, but I’m pretty scared. I was sure of my relationship with my husband. How could I ever be sure of anything again? My husband said he wanted to have a family with me, and now here I am. I’d like to have more kids, but at 23, there aren’t a lot of guys interested in someone who already has a kid. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll meet someone who can understand that my son will always come first.

The Mom Who Wishes Her Son’s Father Would Stay Away