About being a single mother by Phoebe
Reading time 9 min.
"My name is Phoebe. I am 29 years old, single mother to my two children Finley and Sandy. Finley is 6 and Sandy is 22 months old now, both of them are blonde clones of me. And our life can be described as a blonde blur of chaos. We live in Cape Town, South Africa. Where we are surrounded by mountains and ocean. South Africa is beautiful, and we are proud to be born and raised here, not to sounds too patriotic!
"This experience is the experience you wish every woman could have, it’s the first reason that made me want to become a doula myself."
I currently work for an aromatic branding company, which has given me security and flexibility to do my first- and full-time job as a mother. I recently made the decision to study to become a doula next year. Since I had a home birth with my daughter, Sandy almost two years ago, I have given it much thought as my passion for birth, pregnancy, babies, women and life has grown. I had personal growth I needed to get through before I could get where I am now, after putting in the work and trusting in myself after many obstacles that taught me what I needed to get here. My excitement for learning more about birth work is unreal, it’s all I think about, and I’m so excited to finally know my path in the world. I can’t wait to see where it takes me, and my family in the future.
With my second child, I wanted more than anything to have an empowering home birth experience. It was my dream, something that was very important to me. During my pregnancy I put in a lot of time, reading and learning about it and shedding the fear. I found myself two amazing midwives, who are also doulas and they taught me so much. They looked after me in a way that you would never expect, the way that western medicine does not allow. No one ever said anything negative, they let me talk about whatever I needed to, they gave me belly massages, they were gentle and kind to me, and so confident and encouraging. I never had anything invasive of my body or my space, as none of it is necessary. No machines in the room, tests, poking and prodding like I remember so well with my first pregnancy. After seeing them I felt great, always. So, at my birth, they were there, my son watched as his sister was born from the edge of the bed. And it was just us in the room. She was born on the bed, in a warm quiet room as the sun came up in the morning. This experience is the experience you wish every woman could have, it’s the first reason that made me want to become a doula myself.
"My daughter was born into a world that was safe, and kind and loving. And that was because of me."
In order for me to talk about my journey of getting pregnant or being pregnant I must clarify that as my daughter was conceived, my husband at the time strayed from our marriage. And after working my hardest at fixing it and keeping it together for the year I was pregnant, I left him due to his abusive behavior that had escalated to the point of me and my children not being safe. I left him a month before my daughter was born, birthed her alone, packed up my house and moved, grieved my loss, and started to heal myself and make way for a new life that was best for us. My daughter was born into a world that was safe, and kind and loving. And that was because of me. I have given them a safe world, where they may not have a father, but they have people who have chosen them, who love them and show up for them more than he ever did. Sometimes life isn’t what you planned it to be, sometimes it turns out to be more not less. They are not lacking.
So, my pregnancy was beautiful for me, I loved every minute of it, and although I didn’t get the love and admiration from my partner, which is very hard, I gave it to myself. I learned to take care of me. Being pregnant I think is one of the most wonderful feelings. Every woman has her own experience, every experience is different. There are parts that are hard. I had a miscarriage early on, before I conceived my daughter which is common, not spoken about enough, and the process of conceiving and growing a person, then birthing them is a huge journey filled with every single emotion you can imagine. I think that goes for everyone.
I loved my pregnancy, the second time more than the first even. I had some interesting cravings, but my most extreme one was eating ice and drinking iced water. It’s a symptom called Pica. Which carried on until after she was born and got even more extreme. It is also a symptom of extreme stress, which I also had a lot of at that time. But I’m talking bottles and bottles of ice water all day long, couldn’t get enough of it! I ate a lot of spinach, with and on everything. It’s all I wanted to eat. But of course, it’s so good for you, it gave me all the physical strength I needed. And lastly, I ate a lot of chili. I just wanted to eat it on toast, on anything I could. Chili is also so good for you. Our bodies tell us what we need, by giving us cravings. We need to allow doing what our bodies ask, listen to our cravings. They’re no joke, they’re important.
"The life of a mother who doesn’t have a partner, works, and already has a four-year-old boy while being pregnant is constantly physical. I probably just needed more rest than I was getting."
When I was pregnant, I swam in the ocean, or in the swimming pool a lot! I just wanted to be in water, to float, to be under the water. It is something I always do, swim in the ocean, it’s the perfect exercise for pregnancy in my opinion. Easy on the body, good for your skin, your inner peace, and to be in touch with nature. The ocean is my favorite place, it will always be my go-to place on the hard days and the easy days. The life of a mother who doesn’t have a partner, works, and already has a four-year-old boy while being pregnant is constantly physical. I probably just needed more rest than I was getting.
I worked throughout my pregnancy, with flexibility. And my role in my job had to change, as I couldn’t do the heavy lifting and hands on work I was doing before. So, I started doing different tasks, that involved more sitting and driving for example. I was grateful to have the opportunity to adapt in my job, and new growth came from it.
I didn’t have any specific apprehensions about my birth, I was excited about the experience. I wasn’t driven by fear. I knew my labor would be what it would be, there is no way of controlling it, and a good way to go into your birth is by giving into it completely. Labor is always long, and always painful, and birth is difficult mentally and physically. Having who you need and trust with you, in a safe happy place of your choice makes the worlds difference to how your birth goes. When a woman feels safe in labor, her body releases the right hormones in order for her baby to be born. So, knowing I wasn’t going to be in a hospital, surrounded by strangers, having nonconsensual exams, monitors attached to me so I can’t move, and being forced to be on my back, with harsh lighting and a pushy obgyn telling me I have to have a c section, I knew I’d be more than fine.
In my pregnancy I generally wore little clothing, at the end hardly any! Being naked was my favorite way to be. I am a very simple dresser, and a white t shirt and draw string pants will do. Anything that can adjust and that is loose or holds your body to make you feel held is good. When I’m not pregnant I am small, petite and do when I am pregnant everything grows a lot bigger than what I am normally which means I basically cannot wear anything I wore before. Like I said, I spent it mostly naked or close to naked. But I really enjoyed my pregnant body, and unlike a lot of women, it made me feel beautiful and confident. Right before I gave birth I felt my best, amazing, like a pregnant goddess.
My labor was beautiful. I labored throughout the night, walked around naked just feeling it out. Spent some time in the bath, and the bathroom. Did a lot of walking around, my son hung out with me. I just focused on the waves of pain, and my body and for me it was really nice. I enjoyed being present in a way you cannot do unless you’re in labor without pain medication. Our body takes us in and out of the pain, and it keeps us present in a powerful way like no other experience. It was quiet, and dark which is perfect for birth and labor, my midwives and doulas were there in a very gentle way, quietly being in my presence as I made all the noise I needed to. I just did whatever my body told me I needed or wanted. You cannot say how you will feel or where you will want to give birth. I thought I’d want to be in the bath but in fact I needed solid ground. That’s something you know only in the moment. I will never forget any part of it, its vivid in my mind, and I often think about it because it was special.
"Postpartum is really something else, for me it was especially overwhelming as I was a single mother"
Sandy was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her torso both ways, and she had a true knot in her cord. Both of these things didn’t affect her or me, but in western medicine it would have been enough of a reason for an obgyn to force you into having a c section. Of course that isn’t necessary, our bodies are made for this work, and babies are too. Trust is what is needed, in ourselves, our abilities and the process. As I say, Sandys birth was perfect. But after she was born I had a retained placenta, which is when the placenta doesn’t detach. And I worked for a long time to get it to release, I lost a lot of blood and it was scary and painful. I passed out from having lost too much blood, and fatigue but all the while little baby Sandy was on my chest perfectly okay. I managed to finally get my placenta out, with a team of paramedics and midwives and every bit of will power I had left. The babies placenta filters anything unwanted and doesn’t let it go to the baby. In my case, I had absorbed a lot of trauma and abuse from my then husband and Sandy’s magical placenta made sure to buffer it all from getting to her. So it took a bit of a beating, and I had to fight to get it out of me. The last part of my bodies pain, finally gone. Sounds poetic, maybe it is, but it's true. My doulas asked me after the birth if I would still have a home birth even though I had a retained placenta which caused me a lot of pain, and I said ‘YES!’ of course yes. It was all part of my birth, birth is work.
Postpartum is really something else, for me it was especially overwhelming as I was a single mother in between moving to a new house without a partner, and already I had my son. I don’t think anything can really prepare you for it. But I would say during the time after having your baby, you need help. I had the help of my mother, she did whatever she could to help me in that time. And family and friends who love you really need to pull through for you then. Cook for you, do your washing, make you tea, visit you, be allowing of your needs and difficulties.
"A lot of attention goes into the pregnancy but not enough focus is given to after birth"
That time is a blur, of blood, sweat and tears. I struggled with my hormones making me feel everything so deeply, and I was so vulnerable from having my heart broken and having been let down by the person I had relied on most in the world. I wanted to hide away, and not share anything with anyone. Which every mother has the right to do, it’s a sacred time, and should be shared with your closest people only, should be honored, and you should stay present with it in all its glory. Dripping huge painful milk filled boobs, your body feels like it's missing a piece that’s now on the outside of you, your hormones make you soft, and everything feels messy. I found it hard after my first baby was born, but children teach you to embrace the mess so by the time I had my second baby I kind of loved the mess and it made it easier to enjoy the moment.
A lot of attention goes into the pregnancy, which in my opinion is the easiest part and kind of does itself. Then the birth, which needs focus and research to prepare, but not enough focus is given to after birth. How hard that part is, breastfeeding, what your body feels like, how it changes, and how much healing and resting you need from the birth. In my opinion it is a great opportunity for the partner to help, step up, cook, clean, and take care of the mother and spend time together in the mess.
I didn’t feel like there was advice I wished I had received because I had done my research, I really got into every part of it because it was essentially the beginning of my passion for birth and not just my own. It wasn’t only a phase for me to care about it because it was happening to me but taken a bit further and then after Sandy was born, I stayed in that world. My passion and interest for pregnancy, birth, my adoration for the people who work to give in the world of birth work. It didn’t end and has brought me here.
Birth is a spiritual experience, it takes you further than you could ever imagine going, and when you bravely endeavor to do it full force you grow tremendously and is essentially the moment you birth yourself into a mother with your child. Western culture has tried to change it, cut out the spirituality, create fear, detach you from your baby, your body and yourself. Make you feel like you aren’t capable of birthing your own child. I understand ‘why be in pain when you don’t have to be’ as a philosophy, and I see how easily it is sold but I believe that pain is there for a reason. I have felt my fair share of pain, of many kinds now, I have seen how important it is in order to grow and be more. Motherhood will force you to be more of yourself and grow, you have no choice but to be more for your children."