Before I had my two children I had absolutely no connection to babies, I’d even go so far as to selfishly side step them in the street. I’d never held a newborn for fear that I might break it or get covered in sick and/or poo, and if faced with them in a publicly confined space such as a plane, queue, or cafe I would roll my eyes and get uncomfortable if a child inconveniently squealed, made a fuss or kicked the back of my seat. It’s safe to say that I had not a single maternal bone in my body, yet I was more than happy to be that way in my ordered and luxurious lifestyle. My manicures, hair extensions, holidays and pampering complimented that of my spoilt chihuahua, never children.
Yet at the age of nineteen, and after passing out yet again, I sat faint and exhausted in front of my doctor desperate to know what was wrong with me, and the second she said “Miss Kiss, you’re pregnant and already in your second trimester” my life literally changed forever. I thought all of the blood was about to drain out of my body as a cold sweat instantly hit me like a speeding train and if I hadn’t have been sitting down I have no doubt my legs would have failed me. I burst into uncontrollable tears, literally sobbing and shaking and covered in snot. To me at that time it was the worst thing in the world and I couldn’t accept or understand it. I was taking the pill, but later found out that a hormone imbalance affected my contraception. I wanted to run away, I wanted to reverse those few minutes, walk back out the door and for it all to never have happened, my day was so normal beforehand, my life was so perfect and easy.
I felt such extreme fight or flight, adrenaline, emotion and fear, but I knew that whatever I did or didn’t do, I could never escape from what was happening to me and what was already formed inside of me, this tiny little life. My baby. I was single when I found out about the pregnancy, and after speaking to the father who didn’t want to have children I accepted my fate of becoming a single parent, as no matter how hard it would be to raise a child so young I knew I would never live with myself if I had an abortion so far into a pregnancy. It’s strange how you can never preempt a situation until you find yourself stood at that bridge. I never thought I’d have children, I never wanted to have children, but my children found me and changed my life forever and I couldn’t imagine life without them.
I had just a few months to come to terms with, and learn how to be a mother. And as I started to eat more my bump began to show. I reluctantly switched my skinny jeans and stilettos for Ugg boots and leggings, but couldn’t stand the heartache of parenting classes and seeing happy couples holding hands and coo’ing over each other, so instead I chose to go into parenthood blind and alone and learn as I went along. The only pregnancy information I had was the development of the baby week-by-week in bullet point form on a sheet stating facts such as “Your baby is now the size of a grapefruit” “Your baby can now see light” “Your baby will turn head down this week.” I didn’t need or want to think about what would happen to me, just my baby.
I guess in a way my mentality towards becoming a parent was typically male. I was awkward around children, found them too fussy and needy and much preferred my own time and space to do what I wanted when I wanted. Learning to waddle as my bump grew was completely alien to my usual high heeled strut, and I looked more like an awkward rugby player who’d messed his trousers than a floaty, glowing mother. Whilst I would pass women wearing floral kaftans and merrily breastfeeding in cafes, my eyes would rather wonder over to designer handbags and sports cars than the contents and stats of their birth, baby bags and pushchairs. I was so used to my life as it had always been that I couldn’t possibly imagine it any other way. My pregnancy was in progress but the true reality was yet to sink in.
And when I went into labour I was blissfully unaware of what was happening to me, as I hadn’t felt my baby move all day and was called into the hospital for monitoring. Wired up to the machines beeping away with every heartbeat that sounded like a million tiny galloping horses, I was blissfully unaware of my fate, like an unsuspecting shopper who had accidentally queued in the trolley aisle when all they had was a basket. The midwife asked me if I felt ok and I smiled politely and said “I’m fine thanks, is the baby ok? Can I go home now?” And she laughed as she said “No Miss Kiss, you’re in labour, would you like some pain relief?” I had no idea that the dull heavy aching was in fact a contraction, nor did I know why the woman in the room next to me was dramatically screaming her lungs off, so I asked if she could keep the noise down. Ahh, to be so innocent! It certainly prevented me from panicking.
Fast forward several hours and with the most horrendous and extreme pain of my life I pushed and cried my daughter into the world. Panting, exhausted, covered in blood, trembling and confused, the second I saw her suddenly the pain stopped and everything clicked into place and made sense for the first time ever. I held her against my chest skin on skin and she felt so incredibly soft and warm, like a mushy chocolate bar left out in the sun. She was so tiny, yet my womb recognised all 7lb7oz of her! And I found myself mesmerised by her every breath as I held her close and kissed and watched her snuggling up to me. It was the most overwhelming, perfectly unconditional love I have ever felt in my life and nothing can ever compare to meeting your child for the first time. From that very moment I abandoned all knowledge of the words “me” and “I” and replaced them with “her” and “us”. That morning I had been a mother carrying a child inside of me, and right there and then I became a mum holding her daughter. And it was the most beautiful and life affirming lesson I’ve ever learnt.
From that point on I switched to auto pilot, watching her every move like a protective hawk, constantly feeding, winding, changing, soothing, cuddling, playing with and rocking my darling baby Millisent in a glorious baby bubble of perfume and powder, as she was my Millie sent from heaven. People would say to me “Tracy have you eaten today? Did you want to take a shower whilst she naps? How are you feeling?” and I’d say “Shh… Did you just see Millie smile? She must have trapped wind, doesn’t she look adorable in her baby grow!” Much like a Princess turning into a cavewoman I almost forgot that I existed and immersed myself in being a mother. And from having been a model living my life in front of the camera, if somebody asked for a picture I would lean out of the way and proudly hold Millie up for them to take a snap. I was so blissfully happy and discovered what it is to love another more than you love yourself. To go from being selfish to selfless, from needy to needless. I found myself buying copious amounts of little twirling windmills for the garden in every colour of the rainbow, having an obsession for everything dainty, pink and frilly, debating over what style of bunting to hang in her bedroom and getting incredibly excited about which organic baby food to make for her lunch. For the first time in my life I learnt what I was truly capable of, when I’d always thought I was tired before, I learnt what it was to be exhausted, when I would previously had ten hours sleep a night I now survived on just four. Becoming a mum opened my eyes to my abilities, my strength and endurance, and much like an addiction, once you discover what you’re capable of you always want to raise the bar.
From doing everything for my daughter day and night I then began doing things for others too. Holding doors open for the elderly, feeding the homeless, fundraising for charity, donating shoes and clothes and filling my family with positivity and love. My daughter made me the person I am today simply by being in my life, and everyday since my heart has grown and my smile spread wider. Fast forward four and a half years and I gave birth to my son, this time with my fiance by my side, he chose his name, fantasised over teaching him to ride bikes and race cars and had fist pumped the air when we discovered we were having a son. Yet when Gabriele, my beautiful angel, celebrated his first birthday my fiance decided he wasn’t cut out to be a father and wanted to lead his own life doing what he wanted when he wanted. And it utterly destroyed me. I filled with such anger, hurt and confusion. Gabriele is perfect, innocent, precious, priceless and so full of love, how could he not want to hold him every day, kiss him, play with him and watch him sleep? As a woman my heart was torn to pieces, how could the man who had proposed to me, moved in with me, lay by my side every night and day and planned to spend his life with me and our beautiful children have suddenly pulled the carpet from under my feet? How could he just switch off his feelings and go from me being the love of his life to meaning absolutely nothing to him? From soulmates to strangers? Five and a half years of happiness, laughter and planning our future all crushed without reason, only the belief that the grass would be greener without the responsibility of having a family.
Yet it’s not until spending almost two years alone as a single parent that I realise. We all have a pain threshold, whilst some scream others only whimper or grit their teeth. We all go through the same experience but react in different ways, in our own way, because we’re all unique. Whilst some think that what they feel is love, others realise what love is. Everyone on this earth is alive, but only a handful of us are living and able to experience joy, love, happiness, gratefulness and humanity. I started off hating the entire male race for what the children and I had been through. I’d rack my brain to understand what on earth could be more important to a man than his child to not be here? Who is of more value and worthy of your time than your own flesh and blood? But eventually I let go of the hurt and disappointment, and instead I feel sorrow for what he will never have, the love he will never feel and the life that he misses out on.
The closest I can compare, which in no means shares the same value but hopefully delivers the same sentiment, is that no matter how hard I try I just can’t enjoy football. It doesn’t interest me at all, I take no joy or amusement from it and if faced with watching a game or paint dry I’d rather choose the paint. I could try my hardest to give it a fair trial, buy myself a football kit and a ticket to the game, even spend a season sitting in the stalls everyday with the rest of the crowd cheering along because it’s what everybody does. But if I don’t genuinely enjoy it then I can’t force myself to like it, and I could only keep up the farce for so long before eventually giving up and walking away in favour of something I do enjoy. I’ve come to realise that it’s exactly the same with parenting, you either feel it or you don’t. You can’t fake love, you can’t pretend something is meaningful to you when it’s clearly not, no matter how hard you want it to be, or how much guilt you feel for not having it. If you don’t feel it you don’t feel it and you can’t live a lie forever. Sadly that’s life and it’s also the difference between having children and being a parent.
When I gave birth to my daughter I felt that change, the lightbulb switched on and my heart started beating, and I’m so incredibly thankful for that because now I realise that it doesn’t happen for everybody and loving being a parent is certainly not a given. I went from being a mother in pregnancy to becoming a mum the second I held my baby, and my heart has grown ever since and positivity flourishes in every aspect of my life because of it. My eyes have been opened to life, everyday I stand on the same earth I have always walked yet now I see it in colour, in its true form and beauty and for its immense worth. Time is precious, life is priceless and family is everything. The bond that I have with my two children is incredible, indescribable almost. It is stronger than any metal on earth, far taller than any mountain, far deeper than any ocean and as endlessly as the universe and then some. My children are the breath within my lungs and the blood within my veins and I carry them within my heart and on my shoulders wherever I go.
I could have my favourite dinner of all time plated up on the table in front of me with a glass of champagne, the hottest pair of shoes I’ve been lusting over for years boxed up on my lap and a suitcase in my hand loaded with money with the promise of peace and paradise; yet nothing would satisfy, fulfil or excite me as much as being a mother to my children, seeing their adorable little faces, hearing their infectious cheeky giggles and reaching out to hold their tiny hands. My life without my children would be utterly empty, meaningless and without love. Material possessions, money and fascinations can all be replaced and only lose their value with time. Looks fade, our bodies age, relationships end, but true love is priceless and lasts forever, unbreakable, unquestionable and undoubtable. No matter the hurdles, obstacles and fears that I face in life as a single parent, I do it all with such pride, happiness and ability thanks to my two children. They have taught me what it is to love and in return I shall love them forever and a day and never leave their side.
I know both single mothers and single fathers, those who have left their children and those who have picked up the pieces. Some struggle whilst others flourish, some are happy and can move on with their life whilst others are resentful and always looking to score points against the absent parent, but we should never poison our children with the hurt that we have been through, it is for them to decide how they feel about their absent parent when they are old enough and ready to understand. Obviously not all men choose to walk away and it’s not always the mothers who are the responsible and loving parent as every situation is different, but for every single parent who has remained constant in their childs’ life I salute you. On the flip side of the coin I have also met and experienced those who have been raised in a broken family, grown men and women my own age who have only ever known life raised by one parent as the norm. Some have accepted the situation and realise that it’s far better to be raised with love, patience and kindness than arrogance, ignorance and irresponsibility, yet others pine for what they have never had, the father figure or mother that is missing and a void they’ve always felt that can’t ever be replaced. I take comfort in knowing that I’m not the first woman to raise a family alone, yet I feel pity on the children left pining for absent parents who live each day without realising the true blessings that they have. If only they would open their eyes they would never let them go.
Some parents walk away entirely, choosing to have no contact with their children at all, denying grandchildren, marriages and life events, whilst others are happy to see their children a few times a year for a handful of hours at a time, perhaps once a month, once a week or only during holidays. I guess everybody is different, and everybody receives and interacts with others in their own way. Some people feel sad and alone within a matter of minutes or days, and some people feel content in their own company for years on end. I’ve learnt that I don’t need a partner to feel loved and secure, and I don’t need to be surrounded by people to feel that I’m not alone. I don’t need to go places where I don’t want to be nor do things that I don’t want to do just to fit in with everybody else. I do what I want, go where I want and have what I want from life as an individual, the difference being that I include my children in everything I do, rather than having them as an afterthought or not at all.
You should never bring a child into the world without fully expecting to love, support and care for them for the rest of your life. I understand how relationships can break down and families fall apart, and under certain circumstances it is best for the children to never witness or prolong that kind of lifestyle. I strongly believe that it’s far healthier to be raised with unconditional love, positivity, warmth and kindness in a single parent family rather than have an unhappy parent around who is desperate to escape, failing to see their childs’ worth, achievements and beauty. And purely because of that it’s far healthier for them to walk away from their family and not influence the children in such a negative and damaging way than it is for them to stay and make the children believe that this kind of behaviour and disrespect is normal, because it isn’t and never should be. As a mother I want to be the best role model that I can for my children, to encourage them to live their life to the fullest, wake up and watch the sunrise, walk bare foot along the beach, climb mountains, achieve their dreams and experience everything that this incredible world has to offer. I raise them without judgement on others, without prejudice to gender, race or religion and with the knowledge that I will always be here for them no matter what.
A huge part of moving forward as a single parent is to let go of the hurt and leave the past in the past, because when you suffer your children suffer. We must take our life experiences and learn from each of them, as everything we have been through and will go through has an effect on making us the people that we are. Never poison your child against an absent parent, never deliberately encourage distance, coldness or abandonment, but instead hold the door open just a crack and leave a pathway for future communication and a positive relationship, even if it’s not possible now. Forgive and forget what can’t be changed and focus on what you can build. If you’ve been blessed to have children I hope you too realise the value of your family. I hope that you protect, support and raise your children with responsibility and pride and that you cherish and fulfil their precious lives each and everyday, allowing them to flourish and grow. You don’t have to be biologically connected to a child to be their parent, you don’t have to have given birth to, or have known them their entire life to recognise how you feel about them. Just be there for those who need you and always be yourself, because love is an action worth far more than anything you can ever imagine.