I remember doing a project in high school that involved making two choices—and writing about the how those choices would impact our lives 15 years in the future. We had to write a timeline detailing how each choice led to whatever the final outcome was. The choices I was assigned were about choosing a career after high school versus choosing to go to college. I examined each choice and did a pretty awesome project, even photoshopping photos of what my future self would look like 15 years from then.
When I was pregnant and trying to make a plan for my child, I often thought back on that project. In a way, what I was doing was the exact same. Looking at two choices, examining how those choices would affect me in the near and distant future, and determining which choice would ultimately lead to the desired long-term outcome.
Because abortion was not even an option for me, my caseworker strongly encouraged making a parenting plan first, and early. She wanted me to be as prepared as possible and to have access to all of the resources I would need, should I choose to parent.
My parenting plan looked a little something likes this:
Live with my mom and step-dad, work full-time as a pizza delivery driver, and put as much into savings as possible up until baby was born. (My goal was $5,000, or $500 available in savings every month to cover costs of baby for the first 10 months.) Hopefully from the beginning I would be able to NOT use savings and could live off my income alone, but I wanted a buffer just in case. I was very blessed to be double-insured, and knew that I could qualify to have my baby on Medicaid or CHIP from the very beginning.
Once baby was born, I would keep baby in my room indefinitely and go back to work as soon as possible (6 weeks was my anticipated maternity leave, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford more than that). Many people in my life had offered to assist with tending my baby while I worked and/or went to school, and I talked to five of them to be sure that between them and my mom, I would always have someone available to watch him. Everything seemed to be working out.
My caseworker brought up the very real possibility that I would not be able to exclusively breastfeed, and to prepare for that reality. I knew that I could pump and provide my baby with breast milk, but I already knew that it would not last long because his biological father would want some sort of shared custody arrangement. He was not a dangerous guy nor would he be a bad father, but he lived an hour away from me in one direction, and his family (who was also determined to be part of this baby’s life) lived an hour in the other direction. I prepared myself mentally to be making hour-long drives back and forth with a newborn and not-so-silently cursed the situation, even though I knew I needed to be fair to my son.
I planned to go back to school when my baby was 6 months old and had a timeline set up for when to apply, which program I would be in, and which classes I would be taking that could work around a work schedule and still give me time with my son. Overall, my parenting plan seemed to be working, at least short term. My hope was to finish school quickly and become a registered nurse, possibly date somewhere in there, and not have a brutal custody battle with his father throughout. I had so much family and friend support, and I felt okay with the idea of parenting. It would be hard, but my son would be worth it.
My placement plan, on the other hand, looked like this:
Live with my mom and stepdad, work full-time as a pizza delivery driver and put as much into savings as possible up until baby was born so that I would be able to go back to school as soon as possible. I would choose a family that could give my son everything I hoped to eventually give him, including a mom who could stay at home with him as long as she wanted to without the worry of finances or being supported by parents. He would be insured by their insurance after placement.
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I could take as little as 3 weeks off from work, dependent upon how I was feeling, and get registered for school while I was still pregnant. I wouldn’t need to worry about childcare or making sure I was balancing my work, school, and time with my son; he would have the care and loving attention he needed from his parents. I could walk away from my ex and we could live our separate lives and be happy without each other. I could date without worrying about bringing different people into my son’s life, and without the constant worry that my ex would somehow feel that I was trying to replace him in my son’s life. He would have a father who was there, who loved and honored his mother, and there would be no shipping an infant back and forth between homes. I could go through school more quickly, work whichever hours I needed to, and rebuild my life without my son ever going without.
While I felt my placement plan was a little weak, and somehow looked to outsiders like I was taking the “easy” way out, I knew that both my son and I would thrive and be able to make something more of ourselves. Although I had a plan set in place to put myself into a better socioeconomic and educational position, I knew the statistics were not on my side. Being a single mother is SO hard, and I knew the reality was that it might take YEARS to get where I wanted to be, and I would be an emotional mess sharing my son with someone who loved him but did not want to be part of MY life. It was disorganized, and the idea of parenting made me feel like everything was crashing around loudly in my head. I felt zero peace, even though my plan was pretty solid, and I nearly always had a pit in my stomach thinking of the sweet, innocent baby I was about to bring into such a dysfunctional lifestyle.
When I thought about placement—and by this point I knew who his parents would be if I chose to place—the crashing became silence. The panic became calm, and I could clearly see a solid future for both my son and myself. I also knew, very strongly, that he would grow up always knowing me and that I wasn’t just “giving him away.” I was giving him the very strongest start to life and giving myself a second chance. In that situation, I believed it was okay for me to be a little selfish and want a better life for both of us.
Now, six years into my “15-year plan,” I am certain I made the correct decision. So far, everything has panned out just as I anticipated that it would. My relationship with my birth son is wonderful, and my relationship with his parents has been a joyful blessing in my life. I am married to a man who respects my choice, and we have two (soon to be three!) beautiful children together. I was able to go back to school, and now I can stay at home with my babies and not worry about how I will pay for their diapers or meals. I am so blessed, and my son is so blessed. By making both plans, I was able to see that I was capable of parenting, but I could go with my maternal instinct to decide which was best for my son . . . and I have never regretted my choice, even though it was definitely the more difficult decision.
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