I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a highly sensitive and emotional person. I’m totally that girl who will replay the probably innocent thing you just said to her over and over in her mind, dissecting all of the ways in which you might be upset/disappointed/irritated with her. Do you know what doesn’t help this affliction? Douchebags. Cold, insensitive jerks who spew their unwanted opinions without any care in the world about what effect their cruelty might have.
But I’m starting to realize that they’re not the whole problem. While they’re definitely jerks, part of the problem is me.
Let me back way up.
My first pregnancy was unplanned. I was unmarried, straight out of college and in a relationship with a guy who was unsure he ever wanted kids (Hi, Bad Dad!). Did I realize I would be judged? Of course I did. I’m not an idiot. When people learn that you’re an unwed mother (or, in my case at the time, mother-to-be), they immediately jump to conclusions about you. However unfair that may be, I get it. I was (mostly) ready to deal with it.
I had a “friend” who told people he wanted nothing to do with me and my baby. I had a boss who referred to my child as a bastard. There were a slew of completely insensitive and disgusting comments I had to deal with. The kicker for me was someone who made assumptions about my unborn baby and felt the need to share them with me. That’s the one that really got me in the gut.
OK, let me back up again.
A combination of my boss’ stupidity and my inability to stomach the smell of fried foods led me to leave my part-time restaurant job in search of something more laid back. I was already working in Manhattan at a publishing company part time, but I needed something for the evenings to round out my work week. A reception position at a gym affiliated with our local hospital seemed perfect.
The crowd was mostly older people who loved to linger by the front desk and chat my ear off before (and sometimes after) their workouts. One particular older man came in almost daily and would talk about everything under the sun. When he learned that I had been to Ireland he even bought an Irish hand-knitted sweater for the baby.
Then one day he came in and noticed I wasn’t wearing a ring on my finger. He joked with me, asking if my fingers were too swollen in the heat to squeeze it on. I smiled naively and told him, “Oh no, I’m not married.” He looked at me for a second, blinking a few times before half asking, half asserting “But you’re getting married?” When I told him I was unsure, he stared at me for what can only be described as an uncomfortable amount of time.
But it wasn’t as uncomfortable as what came next. He told me that he felt sorry for my child and went on to say that my now-husband and I were incapable of being good parents… because we weren’t married. Before this conversation, my mothering skills were never in doubt. But now? Psssshhhhh. He went on to imply that my child had no chance as well as a few other, equally ridiculous things. And then he never spoke to me again. He acted as though I didn’t even exist.
Now, most people might have just written him off as a douchebag and forgotten about it. But I wasn’t able to. Something about my normal hypersensitivity combined with a massive hormone flow sort of broke something in me.This was the first time my baby was being judged—and it was because of me. This man had already decided my child was a lost cause, simply because I was unmarried.
I became obsessed with making sure that this situation didn’t happen again. I avoided conversations about marriage and began referring to Tim as my husband when I had no way out (to be honest, the only thing we were missing was a legal document that I wasn’t sure I wanted). I even told people that I eventually thought of as close friends that we were married. It made me nauseous when these conversations would come up, but I was determined to not have any of the ridiculous ideas associated with having a child out of wedlock projected onto my daughter.
Eight years later, I’m so annoyed with myself for allowing it to get that far. Do you know how douchebags get their power? They get power because we give it to them. And just because some idiot says something that strikes a nerve, it doesn’t make them any less of an idiot—and it doesn’t make their stupid opinions truth.
So you know what? Screw that guy and all of the fools like him. My age, marital status, race, employment history, and religious affiliation (or lack there of) have absolutely nothing to do with my ability to be a good mother. And it might have taken me the better part of a decade to get here, but I have no reason to hide how I got to where I am today. My (now) husband and I are raising two smart, feisty and fabulous daughters in spite of what jerks like that guy had to say. And you know what? I dare a similarly-minded douchebag to come at me today.