In blogs 1 to 5, I described the idea that babies come with two extreme states of being, and how as parents, we need to try and stay in the middle ground so that they can learn about healthier, less extreme roles. In my last blogpost, I described the factors that make it so hard for parents to stay in the middle: social factors, child factors and parent factors. I am going to add them to the CAT diagram to keep them in mind:
Bella Amiteye, a work colleague, has written a guest blogpost for me, about her experience of managing some of these factors. I am in awe of how she has overcome such difficult circumstances and felt, at first, that her story was completely different to mine. However, as I read it again, the universal themes are perhaps the same for many of us: How do I have a career and be a good parent? Who can I trust to look after my child while I am at work? How do I make sure that I don’t repeat the mistakes my own parents made?
My Journey before I became a parent
I work as an administrator in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough foundation trust. We were chatting at lunch time in the staffroom when the topic of parenthood came up. As I explained to Alison, I am a single mother of an amazing 6 year old daughter. However, I never planned to be a mother, let alone a single mother at 23.
I already had a life style planned in my head by 18. My dream was to be different from my parents, the idea of marriage was never part of my dreams as I have seen too many miserable marriages around me growing up.
I was raised in an extended family in Ghana (West Africa) my maternal grandma was my main guardian. I saw my grandad every now and then as he was a marine engineer and travelled mainly by sea to other countries.
My three aunties helped my grandma in raising me, I grew very close to one who was a social science teacher but, unfortunately, she died at age 32 with a hole in the heart at the time when I moved to England to finally join my father and his wife. My auntie’s death took a toll on me and changed something in me, as I was very close to her. She was like my second mother after my grandma.
After her death, I focused on studying as my father was very academic and pushed me to chase that dream. He didn’t have the opportunity to attend a university as he had me straight after leaving his secondary school. So at 14 I moved to England (we lived in Kingston upon Thames) and I had my own fair share of struggles to fit into the educational system here, but I made it to university to study Economics and Government.
In my first year I met my daughters father and we fell in love very quickly (young love). I got pregnant at the end of that year.
I was gutted as I had a dream in my head and my future all planned out, I was going to be a powerful politician or a successful business woman, have my own house with a mortgage, travel on expensive holidays, drive the finest car.
I had never lived with my biological mother. I am still unsure about the story behind that chapter in my life. My grandma told me that my mother left when I was 6 months old. My mother says other-wise, she tells me she was forced to leave. I am not sure who is telling the truth to be honest. I am 29 now and still don’t have answers as my father never spoke about it. I lived my teenage years resenting my mother and it’s quite hard to open up to her, so when I found out I was pregnant I was in a pretty confused state. I didn’t tell anyone in my family as I knew they would be very disappointed. I told a family friend who listened to me more than any family member. Then I told my best friend at the time and a cousin who was actually with me at the birth.
Fast forward, I attended my second year pregnant, determined not to drop out as both my parents stopped their education early. My university was very understanding and assigned me a welfare officer, her name was Elaine and she was my guardian angel. In around the 7th month of my pregnancy I became homeless as I could no longer stay in the house share and Leicester council rejected my application, as they stated I wasn’t part of the borough and needed to go back to Kingston upon Thames. I really didn’t want take that risk, and Elaine helped a lot to find me some student accommodation.
Becoming a mum
Fast forward again to my 3rd year when I had my baby via an emergency c- section, I came back home with my cousin and my dad visited to teach me to bath my daughter, an aunty helped too, but by the end of summer, here was I with a 2 months old baby. I do remember calling the ambulance services a couple of times as I had panic attacks and severe pains after my operation. They took my daughter and me into the hospital (poor baby).
I carried on attending all my lectures while my baby went into a nursery or I paid friends to help, as I didn’t have any family members in Leicester. I juggled between motherhood and being a student. I kept saying to myself “I am not going to end up like my mother , my daughter will have me and I will be both her mother and her father”.
Raising her was enjoyable but a never ending road , she was very understanding baby and smiled a lot , cried less and ate a lot.
I had her at 23 and disciplined myself to focus only on her and my education. No parties or nights out. She was my all. I completed my degree and then got an opportunity from a charity foundation called Sir Thomas White, which offered me a non-interest loan to do a Masters. I grabbed that opportunity and got a Masters in Marketing Management. I think I pushed myself harder than I ever did in my entire life, my Christian faith and belief in God helped me.
Work – Life Dilemma
The journey got even tougher when I started looking for jobs in Leicester. I didn’t have any support from family regarding childcare, so my father tried each day to convince me to send my daughter to Ghana for about 7 months, so that I could find a job, this idea killed me. I cried every single night before making that decision, but eventually I gave in.
My father saw that I was miserable, but he kept reminding of why I made that decision. He kept repeating “You have all these degrees and you need to focus and get a job so you can get your finances right to support your daughter and give her the best life”.
I travelled to Belgium for my first job as an international marketing executive and I tell you I cried every night. I was living with 5 beautiful, intelligent, young graduates from America who had no responsibilities and were not mothers. They were so excited to be in the house in a beautiful isolated area not far from Brussels, but I was so miserable that I asked myself why am I here? I was determined to make it just to prove a point, I am not sure who to. After a week in Belgium, I gave in and came back to England to my rented property in Leicester. However, I was then offered another opportunity in South Africa as a marketing research person for a lady looking to run a guest house. I decided to take that opportunity, thinking perhaps I could relocate to South Africa and take my daughter?
I arrived in Johannesburg , I lived there for 2 months working and yet felt completely empty. Something was missing and it was my daughter. This career lifestyle was not for me, I am a mother now and I just couldn’t live without my daughter.
To fast forward I gave up my rented property in Leicester and moved to Norwich to live with my step mother, who gave me my little sister’s bedroom. I got a Christmas temp. job in a shop and saved up to get my daughter back from Ghana, I quit trying to look for a job with my degrees. All of the job interviews I attended were too demanding. My priority was my daughter and I made that decision to focus on her.
Her father wasn’t in our lives, but I spent as much time as I could with my daughter and told myself that my career can wait. I will be the BEST mum I can be. I always whispered to myself “I am not going to end up like my mum”.
Things had to Change
After all of this, in 2016 I couldn’t cope. Things got out of hand mentally and I was in a state of confusion, depressed, tired and with high levels of anxiety. I ended up in a refuge with my daughter for 9 months. I remember a mental health nurse called Margret coming into my room, grabbing a seat with me on the bed and whispering “let’s start from the beginning”. To me that was the start of my acceptance of what had happened. I had to accept that s*** happens, but I am not my mother.
Nor could I live my fathers dream for him, he wanted the career life for me, but did I want that? I realised through my 7 months of therapy that I was working so hard to impress my father and prove to my mother I wasn’t like her, but I had lost sight of what I wanted. Over those months I also took bible studies which help me a lot. I built a relationship with myself, I got to know myself. I realised that I was hiding from who I had become and the therapy helped me to accept that person, I am a mother. I think I enjoyed being a mother but the stigma attached being a single mother was killing me emotionally too.
But that’s another topic all together…….