This week I interviewed Diana, a 20-year-old single mother who resides in a cozy 1-bedroom apartment in Walden, NY with her almost 2-year-old daughter, Zoey. Diana is currently working full-time as a server at a restaurant on the Newburgh waterfront and is enrolled as a part-time student in the School of Education at Mount Saint Mary College. Diana’s journey of motherhood has influenced her perspective on education and the significance she associates with stability and love for all women. Diana describes her existence as “not being the life of the average 20 year old.” Due to the difference in lifestyles among her peers, Diana has experienced social isolation. She compared the Saturday night “college-partying mentality” that her friends have, to her evening activities of watching Sesame Street with Zoey. Diana loves her daughter “to the ends of the Earth” and would not alter the trajectory that gave her the “blessing of Zoey,” but she recognizes that the members of her social group have differing priorities and perspectives.
Upon discovering that she was pregnant, Diana had $4 in her bank account and a 4.0 GPA at the Mount Saint Mary School of Nursing for which she had a full scholarship. Diana expressed her love for nursing, but that passion was sacrificed for the love of her daughter when she took time away from all nighters in the library to give birth and care for her child. With the new schedule that Zoey brought to her life, Diana made the decision to change her major from Nursing to Education. Despite her fervor for nursing, Diana switched majors as a result of the limited time she now had to dedicate to her schooling as a new mother with limited community and familial support.
Diana’s pregnancy brought some unsupportive reactions from friends and family that left her in search of other outlets for mental, emotional and financial assistance. After experiencing disownment among her family, Diana had limited options for support. She described her experience with WIC in her first months of motherhood as beneficial, however Diana stated that as she rehabilitated into the workforce she was a member of the “working poor,” yet was not assisted under WIC because she no longer met the required income level. Diana expressed her distress in mentioning that people who work minimum wage jobs are not supported by supplemental governmental services. With diapers costing about $40 a box and rent absorbing about half of her income per month, Diana was faced with costs that social services and a full time job could not even begin to address.
Motherhood has brought Diana an immense amount of joy and love for her child, however the journey has had its ups and downs. About 9 months after Zoey was born, Diana was diagnosed with postpartum depression. The purity and truth behind Diana’s mental health story revealed to me that a lack of mental health comprehension serves as a form of resistance for mothers within our society. Diana was able to receive treatment, but it was not with ease that she was able to find support for Zoey in her time of need. Diana wants to serve as a voice of experience and understanding for any mother that has had depression or has felt alone. She has shared her story with a reflective undertone to inform mothers who feel alone that she and many other mothers join in their moments of loneliness.
Diana and I spoke of the stigma that is often attached to the phrase “single mother.” She has observed that people closer to her age tend to be more open minded and encouraging when they discover that she is a single mother, while the generation above her is typically more judgmental. Diana referred to the title of “single mother,” as being a lifetime label that is seeded in the expectation that relationships operationalize love, while she believes that love does not require a label or a category.