Single parenting and cancer

I came across  “The difference between feeling like a single mother and being one” by Tracy Grant this week.  Michele Obama slipped during an interview and referred to herself as a “busy single mother,” then recovered, saying that when you’re married to the President, it can feel like you’re single.  Grant acknowledges that having a partner, however busy, means that you are not truly alone.  You have someone to talk with, to make decisions with, and to rely on in emergencies.  It is a different experience to truly single parent.

What got me was her statement about single parents by choice:

All I can say is “God love you.” It is a statement of faith and hope and belief in the impossible that is breathtaking. At some point, I hope your kids understand the unique pronouncement of love that their existence represents.

It made me cry.  She gets it.

She didn’t realize it, but she articulated exactly why having cancer when my daughter was not yet two years old, after I had made the deliberate decision to bring her into this world, without another parent, was the challenge of my life, and ended up changing my life.

Cancer tests your faith and hope.  Cancer tests, like nothing else, your belief that you will fulfill the implicit promise you make when your child is born that you will live to raise her and see her grow up.

While I was going through diagnosis and treatment, the only thing that comforted me was that I had already had my daughter.  I don’t know what I would have done had I been diagnosed before having her, because I felt that listening to myself in deciding to have her on my own was the only thing I had done that was true to myself, my real self.  My degrees, the jobs, the bar exams I had passed–none of that mattered.

If I hadn’t had my daughter, I think I would have felt that nothing I had ever done in my life was of any consequence.  Because when I was deciding on the kind of work I wanted to do, I wasn’t listening to my real self.  I didn’t listen to what I knew, deep down, would give my life meaning.  I sought the glamour of travel, the security of a big paycheck, and the idea that it would be easier to find a man if I was in a male-dominated industry.  None of it was right for me.

But while having her was such a comfort to me, there was the simultaneous awful heartbreak I felt for her, if I didn’t make it.  Of what her life would have been like if she had lost me before she could even remember me.  Anna Quindlen writes in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake:

I would look at [my kids] and think of my sister, of how she couldn’t remember how our mother sounded or looked, and say to myself, I don’t even really count for these children yet.  If I die tomorrow they will have nothing but other people’s stories where a mother ought to be.

Knowing that my daughter, who had only one parent, could possibly end up only with stories of me was impossible.  It was impossible to hold in my head at the same time the faith that single parenting requires and the reality that I had been diagnosed with cancer.

Becoming a single mother is a leap of faith.  Being diagnosed with cancer is realizing that there may not be anything to land on.  You just have to try to stay in the air as long as you can.

I’ve been in the air for eight years now, and so far, so good.  I had to rebuild that faith and hope and belief in the impossible, one bedtime snuggle, spelling list, and soothed tantrum at a time.  

And we have had many friends and family along for the journey, leaping along with us. While I’ve truly been a single mom, I’ve never been truly alone, and she wouldn’t have been either.  


3 thoughts on “Single parenting and cancer

  1. Angela

    I was terrified, wondering how I would ever be able to tell her enough about you so that she would truly have an idea of what an amazing, awesome woman her mother was. I am so very very thankful that her mother is around so that she can know this for herself!


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