The rough road of single motherhood — and one mom who defied the odds
Megan Resch, Megan Resch Photography
Jamie Dever was alone at the hospital with a nurse and midwife when she went into labor. The baby boy was big, almost nine pounds, he was face-down and she arrived too late for an epidural. The pain was terrific; the midwife held her hand and repeated, “Be brave, be brave” with each wave of contractions. Dever was unattached to the child’s father, and she labored without kin or partner. But she didn’t feel lonely — she felt it was an experience between her and her newborn child.
When he arrived, four hours later, Dever fell asleep with her baby boy on her chest. She didn’t send him to the nursery and didn’t part with him even to eat. At one point, she was moved to a room with another new mom who was married and surrounded by family. Dever remembers lying alone on the other side of the curtain that separated them and hearing laughter and happiness as grandparents and siblings passed the baby around. “I was envious that she had so much love around her new baby,” Dever said. “But that was that lady’s life. That’s wonderful for her. But I knew that wasn’t my life.”
Dever’s experience of childbirth wasn’t what most women want or expect for themselves. Much of her life wasn’t what she expected.
Her mother was a drug addict, and Dever spent much of her childhood passed around to family and fending for herself. She made the best of what she had; she was content to fall in love with the child on her chest.
Dever is one of a wave of young women in America who have decided to have children out of wedlock in their 20s. For much of the last century, teenagers made up the bulk of single parents, but in the early ’90s that began to shift. About 41 percent of births in America now occur outside of marriage, according to the CDC, and it’s 20-somethings that drive the nation’s all-time high of non-marital births.
Single parenting — a role usually shouldered by women — is still often a rough road. It can go hand-in-hand with poverty; indeed, the proportion of single-mother families in poverty increased for the fourth straight year last year to 41.5 percent, compared to 8.7 percent for married couples.
And although an increasing number of college-educated women are having children on their own, they are usually older and have higher incomes, according to Pew Research studies, while single mothers with a high school diploma or less make much less money than their educated peers. They are vulnerable as single earners who are often paid less than men and have trouble collecting child support. A recent Harvard study even shows that their kids are much less likely to move up the income ladder as adults.
So why are so many young people, especially at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder, having children out of wedlock?
The baby carriage
Jamie Dever, now 37, spent 15 years as a single mother of three boys. She had a difficult childhood. By the time she was 8 years old she knew how to cook heroin for her mother and her friends. Taking care of her younger sister was left largely to her, as the house was often strewn with passed-out adults. “We would nudge mom because she was in the same spot for four days at a time, and we would take whatever money was in her pockets, or her friends’ pockets, and walk a mile or two to buy food for Angela because she would rock back and forth and cry, and say that she was hungry.”
Eventually, an aunt intervened and took the girls in, but she was a cold and strict guardian. When Dever was done with high school, she didn’t have money for college, so she left Massachusetts and moved to New York with a cousin. She eschewed drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and wanted nothing of the habits that had ruined her mother. She wanted a clean, quiet life, so she moved back to a small town in Massachusetts, where she found odd jobs babysitting and started dating her neighbor. Then, she discovered she was pregnant.
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