When I was 23 and my doctor told me I was pregnant, I put my head down and burst out crying.
A piece of me felt grateful that God chose me to bring life into the world. But I also felt angry, ashamed, selfish and scared. The father and I had only been dating a short while. Plus, I had a job but he didn’t, and neither of us was financially secure.
Still, when my boyfriend told me that he was against abortions, I took it as a sign that he would stick around and I convinced myself that we could make it work. After all, his family owned a house, he received SSI and, after I got pregnant, he found a job handing out fliers. I myself had gone from a rebellious teenager to someone able to hold down a job.
PUTTING MY LIFE ON TRACK
My mother died when I was 7. My aunt became my guardian but she was tough and not affectionate. By high school, I had so many painful feelings that sitting in class wasn’t something I felt able to do. Then, when I was 17, my aunt placed me in foster care, where I felt lonely and unloved.
Working was one way I felt successful. My first job was at McDonald’s, which I loved. Then, a year after I left the system, I found a job as a home health aide. My connections with patients felt very meaningful. One had been a famous jazz singer who told me stories about her life.
There was also stress on the job, including relatives who used drugs or flirted with me, so sometimes I’d call in sick, and after almost two years, they fired me. But shortly before I found out I was pregnant, I found a job at Meals on Wheels. I figured we’d be OK.
MY FANTASY CRUMBLES
But soon my fantasy crumbled. Trying to make the best of a bad situation brought child protective services into my life.
It began when my boyfriend started showing a scary, volatile side. I tried dealing with it at first because other times he was loving and respectful. Then one day we got into a fight on the street because I wanted a break from him. The fight got violent, and the police were called. But when I took a few days off work to file a police report and get an order of protection, I lost my job.
When I got that order, I was also told by Safe Horizons that, because I was pregnant, I had to relocate. In my new apartment, I literally had nothing, not even a bed to sleep on. When I couldn’t find another job, it hit me how little support I had.
Then in the last weeks of my pregnancy, my daughter’s father started coming around again using the whole “let’s be a family” talk. I was depressed, lonely and relying on public assistance. Plus, I wanted my child to have a father. So despite the order of protection, I let him come in and out of my life. I told myself that after I had the baby, I’d find a job, be superwoman, rely on myself.
After my daughter was born, my daughter’s father continued to act threatening at times, especially when we fought about money. So after a few months, I told him he could only see the baby with other people around, at friends’ or family members’ homes.
One day, he came by anyway, demanding to see his child. I was very low on money and he said he had presents and money for the baby, so I let him in. He didn’t have anything, acted threatening and refused to leave. I called the police. Because I already had an order of protection, the police called CPs.
When the investigator came to my apartment, she acted like I was too caught up in love to protect my child. She also wore a frown when she asked why my tiles were separating and my floorboards were rough.
Then CPs took me to court for child neglect for staying in a violent relationship. I was dumbfounded. I thought neglect meant parents who don’t care for their kids or let them go hungry, and that wasn’t me at all. I felt terrified and unfairly judged. But I also swore that if I didn’t lose my daughter, I’d find other sources of support and build myself up again financially.
BACK ON TRACK
Because there were only two documented incidents of domestic violence and I was willing to do anything the court ordered, my case was not founded and my daughter was not removed. Instead, I was sent to preventive services. To my surprise, I got what I needed. My preventive worker connected me to therapy and a parenting support group, which I loved. she also contacted CPs for a child care voucher.
For me, that piece of paper was a huge lift. It let me get two part-time jobs, one at Rise and one as a proctor at a college. Financial stability made me less needy for the father or some other toxic person’s help.
Even with the voucher, working and parenting have been harder than I ever imagined. My daughter has special needs, which has made it too hard to work full-time. I need and want to be there for my daughter.
Still, being able to work even part-time has reminded me how ambitious I am to give my child the things I never had and to set that strong example for her.