Welcome, single expectant mom, to the club. To your left, the women who were left by the husbands and boyfriends they hoped would stick around when they announced their surprise pregnancy.
In the centre, those whose relationships broke down after it became clear how much work and money raising a child takes. On your right, the ladies who became pregnant knowing that they’d probably have to go at it alone.
It’s a big club, this. More than 40 percent of children in South Africa – about 9 million children – live with their mother only, according to 2011 research by the SA Institute of Race Relations. So, however we feel about this fact, you are far from alone.
But, when you think about navigating the future bearing your big responsibility alone, you could probably do with two things: support and knowledge.
You need to acknowledge that you are grieving the loss of a relationship, the loss of an expectation of a family life or support, the loss of a partner on the exciting journey of parenthood.
One glimmer is that if your ex has said he doesn’t want the baby now already, you know his views upfront. Many single mothers must grieve twice if their partners leave after the birth of the baby: once for themselves, and once for the disappointment of their child, who has been left by its father.
Many women now worry that bonding with their unborn babies is affected because of the trauma in their romantic life. “Try to be in touch with your feelings of disappointment and the worries about bonding, because they are understandable,” advises Johannesburg-based educational psychologist Caryn Horowitz.
“Acknowledging and understanding these feelings lessens the likelihood that they start to cloud how you feel about the pregnancy and the baby, and then leaves you with the possibility of starting to see your baby as a person in his/her own right.”
“Give yourself moments to breathe, talk to yourself gently, understanding that it is hard to do what you are doing,” she adds. However, if you are clinically depressed or feeling otherwise unable to cope you must get professional help – start with a doctor or clinic sister, social worker or psychologist, or call Lifeline on 0861322322.
Some partners run instinctively because they are terrified of fatherhood and they lack the emotional resources to respond to this unexpected situation in a more mature way. If this is the case then there is still a chance that your partner may want to know his child, and/or continue his relationship with you – if you want him to.
“However, an abusive relationship is not worth salvaging. Whether it be emotional or physical, it is not necessarily worth saving just because you are pregnant. But you should try to salvage a good one,” says Caryn.
Alternatively, you can also try to salvage a relationship a father has with the child. Ask yourself, can this person be a dad? Can he sustain that commitment?” If your ex is not that guy, then it’s best to set yourself free and move on.
“A first pregnancy can be so new and scary, and a support group, for instance, can help normalise your experience,” says Caryn.
In recent years there has been a massive increase in the number of unattached young women who fall pregnant, explains Pam Gillingham, director of The Family Life Centre, which offers single parent support groups nationwide (call 011 788 4784).
“Our support groups allow women to share resources and information, in addition to supporting each other through the process of loss and moving on.”
Facing both the breakdown of your love relationship as well as expecting a baby are two enormous things to experience at the same time.
Lean on your support structures at this time, whichever they are: a mother, an aunt, a friend, a colleague, online pregnancy or support groups. You may be romantically unattached, but you do not need to be alone on your journey into motherhood.
If you find yourself unexpectedly pregnant and single, you are probably worried about one thing right now: money. How are you going to afford to raise a child? How will you manage on only one salary?
You may obtain financial support in the form of maintenance for the child from the father whether you were married to him or not, says the Family Life Centre’s head of legal services, Veerash Srikison.
You may also ask for help with your pregnancy expenses such as purchases to prepare for the baby’s arrival and medical expenses. “A father has a duty to support his child and the pregnant mother, and his duty continues until child attains majority (or is 18 years old),” says Veerash.
“A mother can ask for maintenance verbally or by going to maintenance court and proving paternity (if it is contested),” says Veerash.
“If this happens after the birth of the baby and the father’s name is not on the birth certificate then the court will order a paternity test.” If he is able to, a father may be compelled to make a financial contribution.
In the case of unmarried parents, a parenting agreement is usually drawn up, in which access arrangements are made. “This outlines contact with the child in accordance with the developmental stages of the child – for example a newborn baby won’t usually do overnight stays with the father,” says Veerash.
“It’s an evolving plan as the child grows.” Having such a plan in place before the birth of the baby is helpful as all parties know what their roles and expectations are.
The Family Life Centre offers legal information services, where you can get information about your rights, how to obtain maintenance, and so on. “We also offer mediation if your ex-partner is prepared to attend such sessions,” says Pam. Call them if you need more detail.
Lastly, understand that your ex-partner may not be able to make a financial contribution (if he is unemployed, for example). You might well find yourself in a situation where you have to budget on only your income.
As the sole provider, you must decide early on in your pregnancy whether you will use a trusted relative, employee or day care centre to look after your child while you are working.
One option is to arrange your living arrangements so that you share the childcare burden with someone. If you do not live with your own mother, or with family members, you might look for a shared accommodation with one or more other single parents so that you can share lifts to and from daycare, cooking and cleaning and even babysitting duties.
Who will be there for the birth with you? You don’t want to go into hospital alone – and if you live alone you need somebody to phone when labour starts.
Choose someone you trust, then sign up for antenatal classes with your chosen labour partner so that he or she will be as prepared for the job ahead as you are! Whether you chose to or not, you’ve had to put the “I” in “team” and be your own support structure during your pregnancy.
So give yourself a huge high-five (and your own foot rubs). You are pregnant, you are nurturing and growing a little baby, and you are making all the right preparations to ensure you can care for that little life. It will be hard, but you can do this, because you are amazing. Well done!