I wanted to be mother, don't get me wrong. I was getting to that point in life where it becomes clear that things didn't go as planned. I had a (somewhat) great career as the Features Editor of a popular entertainment website in Los Angeles, fabulously hip and fancy friends, a handful of Louboutins in my closet and a hip apartment on the coolest street in America (as designated by GQ magazine) but there were a few things that were missing, most notably, a ring and a kid.
Every time I would log onto Facebook and be greeted with ANOTHER sonogram photo, my heart would sink a little and it dawned on me that I could end up one of those women that are all around Los Angeles: single, successful, in their forties that remain childless and husbandless their entire lives. That really freaked me out.
I knew Jason wasn't Mr. Right, but I was settling for Mr. Right now after a long string of relationship letdowns. We met through a friend when I was in my wee twenties and I thought he was the most gorgeous man I'd ever seen – tall, piercing blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones (did I mention he is a former male model!) – but what Jason offered up in looks, he definitely came up short when it came to everything else, and after a decade of knowing him, he was still a struggling musician and writer and was far from having it together and I was the person he ran to when it all started falling apart.
But this time, he told me, it was different. He really wanted to get his life together and makes things work with us and he promised a thousand times over that he wasn't going to disappear on me ever again. After resisting his advances for a few weeks, I was vulnerable enough during that grey area around the holiday season to sort of fall for it.
For several years my doctors told me that it would be difficult, but not impossible, for me to get pregnant because I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, and that I would most likely have to take fertility drugs to conceive, so although I wasn't out there having unprotected sex on a regular basis, if I did it wasn't the end of the world.
Those beloved period symptoms (sore, swollen breasts, mild cramping, bloating, ravenous hunger, etc) started on cue around the time I usually got my period, which was never really regular but usually fell within a week span. After two weeks of no period, I mentioned it to my friend Sarah at lunch.
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"Go get a test, right NOW," she ordered me. "You are totally pregnant."
I laughed it off, but later that night it haunted me in bed. Being pregnant at this stage in my life wasn't fathomable. Even though I wanted to be a mother, I never wanted it to happen like this. I needed the house, the husband and an excess of money. The excitement of the Jason relationship had worn off, and it was clear he wasn't going to conquer his demons anytime soon nor was there a future between us. But at the same time, I could never have an abortion, because I would regret it for the rest of my life.
I started obsessing over the pregnancy possibility but there was no way in hell I could walk into the local CVS and buy a test. If I had a big diamond bauble on my finger, it would be so bad, but the checkout person would take one look at my naked ring finger and I would be branded a whore.
A few nights later I told my friend Susan what was going on.
"Dude. You are totally preggers," she said to me, talking me into splashing down twenty bucks for a test I knew would come back negative.
Seconds after I peed on that little oh-so-dreaded white stick, the elusive second line came streaming down, as if in slow motion, until it came to a halt, completing the double line symbol that every woman inherently knows translates to PREGNANT.
"Congratulations," Susan saluted me. "You are going to be a mother."
A mother? A baby inside of me. Pregnant. It was all so surreal, a scene out of a movie. This was not the way I thought it would happen. Not the way I thought it would feel. How was I going to tell Jason? What about my job? How could I support a child? Did I even have maternity insurance? What would my parents say? I was pregnant, and probably single, at 33.
The night that I learned I was pregnant, I didn't sleep at all and the next morning I started stalking my doctor as soon as the sun was up.
Hours later, I was sitting in a sterile office filled with women with burgeoning bellies and the men who loved them, pamphlets on cord blood banking and baby books I had seen on the shelves of my friends with kids, waiting for my friend Helen * who was coming for moral support.
I felt like a leper – ringless, manless and knocked up.
"You're pregnant! Congratulations," the ecstatic nurse told me after peeing in a cup, confirming what two EPTs had already made crystal clear. "Or not?" she nervously added as soon as I burst into tears. 45 minutes later when the doctor finally made her way in, I was volcanically erupting in floods of salt water. I told her about my situation and how I didn't think Jason was going to want this baby.
"You can do this on your own," she dryly reassured me. "You should have seen my last three if you think YOU are in a bad situation. You are educated, employed and intelligent."
She showed me the first image of my baby: a white blip on the screen, and estimated that my date of conception was most likely the first time Jason and I slept together – the night I sent him home because I didn't want things to go too far, only to have him irresistibly show up on my doorstep hours later. This was really happening; a life was growing inside of me. I knew that abortion wasn't an option for me, but at the same time, this moment didn't feel the way it looked in the movies. I wasn't excited. I was scared to death.
And I wasn't really sure I was ready to be a mother. My work situation was tenuous and "job security" was dismal to say the least. I paid for health insurance out of pocket, and wasn't even sure if I had maternity on my plan. I lived in a really expensive and micro-sized one-bedroom apartment, which couldn't even fit a crib, let alone a crying baby, and I could barely support my bohemian luxe lifestyle with the money I did earn.
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My friends were all incredibly supportive when I told them what was going on. I didn't know how to tell my parents, but it was Jason who I was really petrified of. Three weeks into getting his life back on track and just forging a relationship with his toddler daughter (the result of a one night stand) who lived back in his hometown, I knew he wasn't going to be jumping for joy to say the least. My mom took the news better than expected, as I was her only child and she had been harassing me about grandchildren for years. Although she was shocked and nervous that I was potentially going to be a single mother, she told me that she fully supported me and would help any way she could. My dad, 80 years old, was a little more difficult, using the word "abortion" five too many times, but eventually he came around.
I knew I had to tell Jason sooner rather than later as it was obvious that I wouldn't be able to sleep more than two hours at a time until I got it off my chest, and though I knew he was highly emotionally unstable and wasn't going to take this news with ease, I was not at all prepared for the tornado that was going to devastate the terrain of my mental well-being.
I told him that I needed to talk to him about something in person, and he said he couldn't handle a serious conversation and requested that I correspond via email. I composed a short and direct email explaining that I was pregnant, it was his and that I was keeping the baby. I explained that I didn't think I could get pregnant because of a medical condition and that I knew the timing was bad, but that I didn't expect anything of him one way or the other. I also told him to take as much time as he needed to process everything.
Within five minutes my phone was ringing and I was greeted with a madman on the other end of the line. Using words like "psycho," "c**t," and "b**ch," he proceeded to inform me that he didn't love me, in fact, he didn't even like me, that I would be an awful mother and that he didn't want to have a child with me.
I hung up on him and over the next 24 hours was drowned in abusive voice mails and slanderous text messages, whispering sweet nothings like "Use the one shred of intelligence you have and do the right thing," "I hope you die you manipulative b**ch," (because obviously, I wanted to get impregnated with the child of an unemployed musician?) and "If you tell my parents, they will hate you forever." At the end of the manic spree, I changed my locks and spoke to a lawyer about getting a restraining order.
This was not how I imagined the first week of pregnancy.
After the tumultuous week following the double lined EPT test, I fell into a serious pre-partum depression funk that I wouldn't be able to kick for months. It was more like a double depression, actually, as I was not only tormented by my single and pregnant status and the Jason aftermath but also felt like a hideously ugly person on the inside for feeling the way I did about being pregnant. My unborn child deserved both a mother and a father, not just a mother who was secretly praying for a miscarriage.
I just didn't know how I was going to do it. Although I was a survivor and a living example of "that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger," the notion of surviving nine months of pregnancy, going through the terror of childbirth and caring for a newborn without a man around, scared me more than anything had before.
Sure I had amazing friends who promised to be there with me every step of the way, but the reality was that whether they were stay-at-home moms shuffling their kids around all day or single, juggling their chaotic careers with demanding dating schedules, their Los Angeles lives were full, and they probably weren't going to be answering their phones at 2am when I needed help or staying in with me on a Friday night to help me with a colicky newborn.
Though I wasn't showing yet, I was definitely packing on the pounds as the result of binge eating paired with pregnancy hormones, which inevitably led me to gain 20 pounds in my first trimester. Usually conservative when it came to carbs, I was gorging on huge portions of pasta, meaty sandwiches (avoiding nitrites, of course!) and bagels smeared with fatty cream cheese and might as well as put my gym membership on hold, because I stopped exercising altogether.
Though all of my close friends knew about my pregnancy and predicament, I was dreading the moment the news would leak to the outliers. This was the sort of gossip that would spread like a fire during the Santa Anas, not only tearing up my social circles in Los Angeles, but also back in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where I went to high school and with all of college friends across the country as well.
My first trimester was also filled with many doctor office visits, where I was always greeted with waiting rooms filled with pregnant women of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes, supported by their loving husbands or teenage boyfriends, while I sat quietly alone, with my naked ring finger glaring like a scarlet letter. Every time I was forced to check off the "single" box on registration forms or was questioned about my "partner" I felt shame, and not even the verbal support of my doctor's, friends and family about how "brave" and "courageous" I was could ease that pain.
Putting long hours in at the office, I was so exhausted every day after work that climbing atop my couch and watching multiple seasons of awful television shows was about the only thing I could do, but mentally it wasn't as if I even wanted to do anything else. The idea of taking a step in into the Hollywood scene and having to avoid making eye contact with people freaked me out, and there was always the chance that I could run into Jason.
I only heard from him once after the 24 hours of insanity aftermath of telling him I was pregnant and it was in the form of another vicious text message demanding that I get an abortion.
I went to go visit my sister and her kids in Hawaii during the final stage of my first trimester, and they couldn't have been happier about my pregnancy. My beautiful teenage niece couldn't stop touching my tummy (which was no longer flat and wasn't looking too hot in a bikini) and asking me questions about baby names. All the attention made me feel even worse, because I couldn't admit to anyone, not even my closest friends and family, that I not only didn't want this baby but also just couldn't bring myself to terminate the pregnancy.
The week I returned, I went in for my first trimester screening at the hospital where I sat in the waiting room next to a couple who looked like they had stepped off the set of Teen Mom, convinced that I was about to find out that there was something majorly wrong with my baby and that I would be forced to bring this all to an end.
But then, during the 45 minute long ultrasound administered by a doctor who barely spoke English, I saw my baby's little heartbeat and the outline of it's limbs fluttering around inside of me. All of a sudden the fear and shame and bad thoughts evaporated and I felt it for the first time: unconditional love for the life growing inside of me and faith that everything was happening for a reason.
For several months I avoided telling the world I was pregnant, but after gaining about thirty pounds in the first trimester, people who knew me were starting to do double takes.
But what was the right way to tell people that I was following in January Jones and Scary Spice's footsteps and carrying a "bastard baby" (a term I had heartlessly used several times in recent years) without having to rehash the brutal and gory details of the ex drama?
"Just be confident and tell people that you are pregnant and the father isn't in the picture and you are going to be a single mom," one of my friends suggested. "No one is going to pry."
That was like saying the tabloids didn't care about Kim Kardashian's pregnancy weight. This was Los Angeles, where everyone made it a point to know everyone else's business and this wasn't exactly one of those tidbits of news that was going to fly under the radar.
One day I decided to squeeze into my Rag & Bone skinny jeans (which I now had to wear unzipped) and emerge from the cave of my apartment where I had been hiding in for months watching back-to-back episodes of Pretty Little Liars and gorging on excessive amounts of carbs and sugars. Strolling down the trendy street I lived on, I ran into one of my neighborhood friends, Anthony, who asked me what was "new."
"Work is okay, just got back from Hawaii, and I'm pregnant," I answered, hoping that somehow if I didn't make a big deal out of it, he wouldn't either.
"Are you serious?" he finally spurt out after about thirty seconds of staring at me through skeptical eyes, waiting for the punch line. "I didn't even know you were dating anyone."
"And here you probably just thought I was getting fat," I joked, because I didn't really know what else to say. Reactions to my impending motherhood ranged depending on the person, but the general consensus from the people in my life was shock and then awkwardness – because asking about the paternity of my child-to-be took a little more than social couth.
"Are you so excited?" was another response that I would get, and also come to dread, because I absolutely wasn't but I couldn't exactly give an honest answer.
"Am I excited to be a single mother of a baby whose father wanted me to abort him and have to financially support a child on my own, full-time, without any help? Not so much," I wanted to say, but I didn't. I lied. I said what everyone wanted to hear and pretended to be the strong and independent woman they thought I was.
At this point, I had avoided morning sickness, but I was getting stressed out about the reality of my situation in terms of work and finance, that I was a walking zombie, averaging about two hours of sleep a night.
I made enough money to live the Los Angeles lifestyle I was accustomed to, but my finances wouldn't exactly support Leah-plus-one in the same manner. The doctor's bills were already starting to pile up, and with my lackluster insurance plan, it was clear that this pregnancy was going to cost me over $10k. There was also the technicality of my freelance work status, which wasn't going to provide me with maternity leave, and I didn't exactly have family close by who could help me out with childcare, nor could I afford to hire a nanny, so I would be stuck dropping my newborn child off at the baby kennel early every morning, sitting in traffic driving to and from work every day, and spending my evenings up all night in my cramped and loud apartment. I was going to be that single mother.
"You need to stop stressing out," friends, who had clearly never been in my predicament before, would tell me. "Your baby can feel everything."
It was suggested that I speak with other single mothers who had walked this path before me, but that turned out to be more depressing than helpful. Though they loved their children, most of them were noticeably bitter about their baby daddies and were more interested in discussing all of the sacrifices they had made for their child and the legal battles with their exes, than inspiring me with their success stories.
I tried to talk to my doctor about my situation, but she didn't seem to have time to deal with my blood work, let alone my emotional trials and tribulations. I was paying top dollar to see this woman, but spending hours in the waiting room filled with couples, only to get about 10 minutes of quality of time with her, where she would briskly tell me everything was fine.
I had never felt so alone in my life and not my faith in God, the support of family and friends nor my best thinking was easing my stress and anxiety about the stark reality of single motherhood.
The bigger I got, the more emotionally challenging pregnancy became for me. I always pictured having a partner beside me every night in bed, ears and hands glued to my burgeoning belly, reassuring me that I looked beautiful while fetching me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the middle of the night, but instead, I was totally alone, sleepless and feeling fat, ugly and unloved.
I quickly learned that there was no pregnancy guide that outlines how to survive the nine months of gestation manless. Every single book assumes that you have a "partner," "husband," "significant other," or "baby daddy," which added to that perpetual different feeling that had been living inside of me ever since fertilization.
I spent many nights crying to my patient and loving friends about my my hopeless situation and feeling majorly sorry for myself, but one day, my friend Kristin told me to stop whining.
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"You've always done things different than everyone else," she told me. "You are a strong, independent woman and that's what people admire about you. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself and being embarrassed, wear this with pride and be an example. Stop being a victim and take control. If anyone can do it, it's you."
She had a point. There was nothing about the last three decades of my life that was anything close to traditional. I had always shunned normalcy to a degree and taken pride in the fact that my journey had been a colorful and somewhat confusing blend of mistakes and victories and twists and turns that always seemed to make sense in the end. This was just another chapter in the book of my unconventional life that I would someday write, and the hopeless romantic in me still had faith in a happily-ever-after ending.
Another close friend of mine encouraged me to "go where the love is," which meant that instead of focusing on the people who weren't showing up for me, supporting me or who had hurt me in the past, to invest myself in my healthy support system and seek out nurturing, loving and emotionally stable people who would be there for me and love me unconditionally and without judgment during this tumultuous time.
I was always one of those girls who heavily relied on the attention of the opposite sex for validation and self-esteem, so the fact that my phone wasn't exactly blowing up with potential suitors since everyone knew I was pregnant was quite difficult for me to deal with but at the same time incredibly therapeutic. A decade earlier a shrink handed me a book called Facing Love Addiction and told me that I may have a problem, and of course, being a person who only changed by hitting bottom hard, I refused to read past the first chapter. But sitting here, pregnant and single because I had picked another "winner" of a man, I knew that if I didn't deal with this crippling character defect that there was no way I could be a good mother for my child.
I hadn't heard a peep from or about Jason in several months, which I considered a good thing, but at the same time I was curious if he was still around.
"He has a girlfriend," my friend Heather informed me one day after stalking him on Facebook. "There's a picture of them kissing on his page. She's not that cute."
Though I always imagined moments like this to be traumatic in nature, I was surprised that I didn't feel a thing. It was like that Taylor Swift song "I Knew You Were Trouble" (isn't it a grand moment in life when you can relate to songs written for 16-year-olds?). I knew he was trouble when he walked in. I guess once I was able to accept the responsibility of getting involved with him again , against my better judgment, it was easier for me to let go of my resentment— for now at least.
I also had to let go of my unhealthy body image issues. For years I was praised for my fabulous figure and legs-for-miles, but after months of late night snacking and turning to carbs for comfort, I started to look average—and for a somewhat superficial and shallow LA girl, that wasn't easy to cope with. But I did. One day at a time, I learned to accept my pregnant body and I came to realize that my self worth shouldn't be defined by how good I looked in a bikini. I was the same person.
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Seeking out the root of my mental maladies, I started the process of learning how to love myself from the inside out and not the other way around. They say that you can't truly love another human being until you love yourself, and with this healing in progress and the life that was forming inside of me, I was finally starting to understand what that meant.
*All names have been changed to protect the guilty