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Two Kids, Two Dads and No Longer Ashamed

Between a pair of childhood best friends who whisper and giggle over wedding gowns and swoon over celebrity crushes, one of them will grow up and find that love isn’t always a fairytale. This woman will experience the brunt of society’s judgment when she becomes a single mother, not once but twice. She didn’t plan for her life to become what it has. Her only crime was that she believed in love, second chances and, ultimately, her ability to maintain a solid relationship. When one relationship turned sour, she tried again. But there doesn’t seem to be much applause for her courage, only harsh judgment.

Here is a true story of one woman, Ana, who became a stereotype and prospered anyway.

Before I became a mother of a 12-year-old and a 2-year-old, I had grown up in a small town and went off to college. I pledged a sorority, graduated in four years and got a job — not a career that I’d gone to school for, but a job to pay the bills until my career started. My plan was to work for a couple of years and then apply to law school. I enjoyed being single with no children. Raised by my aunt and uncle, who were married for a long time, I found an example of what I wanted for myself.

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I met my son’s father on the Internet. We chatted online and on the phone for a while and realized he lived about two minutes away from me. I had a part-time job at a clothing store in the mall, and one day he showed up to my work, asked for help and introduced himself. That was the first time we met in public. One of the sweet memories I have of him is him taking me to another city for a jazz festival. I also remember that he used to make CDs for me. Those days of men making music playlists seem to be long gone. He didn’t really seem to try to charm me, but we talked often. I was not in love. I can’t even say we were in a romantic type of relationship. He was just always there when I called or when I wanted company. He was like the friend who never left.

When I found out I was pregnant, my son’s father had already relocated to another state for his job. I remember calling him up and being very mad at him. I had not thought about myself being a mom at that age nor had I ever imagined myself as a single mom. Keeping my baby was a difficult decision, but I felt guilty for even thinking of terminating the pregnancy. My family was upset with me. They are very religious and didn’t understand why I’d be pregnant and not married. But my friends were supportive once I made up my mind to have the child. And my son’s father told me that he would be an active parent and would assist financially.

None of my friends had children, so I don’t really think I knew the emotional weight of being the sole provider for a child. But throughout the pregnancy, I realized there was no choice but to raise my son as a single parent since I did not want to be with his father.

My relationship with his father declined when I called one day and another woman answered. I felt he had been dishonest but resolved that we were going to be co-parents. But once my son arrived, he didn’t keep promises, so the relationship deteriorated even more to the point of no communication at all.

I was ashamed that I’d accepted this behavior and I knew it had to end but I didn’t know how.

After accepting a job in another state I relocated with my son and was able to buy our first home. I was able to provide some of the things that I’d always imagined providing to a child, without having the support of a partner or co-parent. I would take him on vacations and put him in classes so that he’d have some cultural experiences. My son was a part of my success because I always talked to him about my goals and what I wanted to do for him and for our family.

I met my second son’s father in a grocery store coming home from church when my first son was 10 years old. He was in the store with his 4-year-old son, who kept striking up a conversation with me. I had a soft heart for men who appeared to be good fathers. That was something I wanted for my son, and to see a man with his son was attractive to me. In the course of this conversation in the grocery store, we exchanged numbers and made a tentative date.

One of the things that was very important to me at that time was that a man was a good father if he had children and that he had a relationship with God. My second son’s father invited me to Bible study maybe a day or so after we met. That was our first date. So the two things that were dear to my heart — being a good dad and having a relationship with God — were what I initially saw and fell in love with. The first three months or so were good. He was consistent, and guys in the past were inconsistent. We went to church together weekly and went out on dates every Friday. On weekends when he had his son, we did things together with both of our sons. We talked a lot about becoming a family. Gradually, we saw each other daily. We talked and texted throughout the day, and most nights we had dinner together.

After about four months I became pregnant and things changed. I found out I was pregnant one Sunday when I realized my period hadn’t started and I was on the pills that indicated I should be on my cycle. I went to the store and bought a pregnancy test. I called him and told him when the two lines appeared. I was not trying to get pregnant at all. During our relationship, I was on the pill and I never missed a pill. When I told him, he came over and we talked about how our plans hadn’t changed and we still intended to be a family.

I was in love with him when I uncovered some lies he’d told me while we were dating. At any other time I would have walked away from him based on that information, but it was harder to do since I was pregnant. I did not want to be a single mother with two children. I also thought we could work through the problems by going to counseling. During the course of counseling I discovered his anger issues which had played a part in his priori marriage, and these revelations put a damper on my optimism.

I tried to be patient, but the man that I met wasn’t the same man I had now. There had been infidelity that I’d forgiven, but the behavior never changed. There were also physical outbursts which I tried to keep private, but he wasn’t able to control his temper. After a few times when our children witnessed this volatile behavior, I could not stay any longer. I understood cycles and didn’t want my sons to grow up emulating this behavior. I told him I needed him to leave and gave him dates, but he would never comply.

Finally, I changed the locks and packed his things. He came home from work and called the police when I wouldn’t open the door. They told me I had to let him in because he lived here and I could only remove him via eviction. In the days that followed, I was so depressed. I hated what I’d gotten myself into. I was ashamed that I’d accepted this behavior and I knew it had to end but I didn’t know how. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to get out of this relationship and get him out of my home.

I felt shame for having two children as a single mom, but there’s not a lot of time to be ashamed when you have responsibilities.

I actually attempted suicide. It failed but I woke up with resolve to get out of that situation because it almost cost me my life.

The week following the lock change, he became upset with me because I wouldn’t allow him to look through my cell phone. He began destroying property in my house, withholding my phone and my eyeglasses so that I could not see and even took my school books that I was trying to study with. On the final day he was in my home, he came into the bathroom as I was taking a bath and poured soda all over my head. He locked me in my bedroom wanting to talk things out. I eventually called the police and they removed him, and I got an order of protection so he could not contact me. I moved his things to a storage unit we had. And he has never stepped foot in my home since.

It’s been a year and a half since we parted ways, and while I have not quite healed completely, I have been trying to rebuild my life. I went to counseling and began working on my spiritual development. I also recently finished my MBA and am doing well in my career. As far as co-parenting, we do not have a formal parenting agreement. I have been the custodial parent of my son and his father has seen him occasionally. He still has problems with managing his emotions and anger so my communication with him is very limited.

I’ve learned some lessons and I’ve grown as a woman and mother. I accept my journey as it is and feel at peace with my life. There’s a little saying I like to remind myself of: “Don’t say what you would never do, just keep living.”

I feel shame for having two children as a single mom, but there’s not a lot of time to be ashamed when you have responsibilities. I don’t recall anyone directly saying anything to me about being a mom of two and having never been married. A lot of times, we are our own biggest critics anyway.

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For other women who feel the shame of not being in a relationship, yet having children to care for, I would say you can’t focus on choices and decisions you’ve made in your past. You have to recognize your mistakes, but there’s much life left to be lived. Nobody’s life is perfect. My son wasn’t planned, but he brings so much joy to my home. I used to have an ideal of what a “family” was, but I now realize I have a family here within this house with myself and my two sons. I also talk to my oldest son about decisions, consequences and being a great man when he grows up.

I am not ashamed of my story. I’m still living.

Image via Getty Images

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