Who is Mari Gallion…
…and what does she know?
I will forego the standard third-person biography and tell you what is important to know about me if you are considering reading my book.
I'll start by saying that I've been at this for a long time: 20 years at the time or this writing (including my pregnancy).
The fist incarnation of The Single Woman's Guide to a Happy Pregnancy was written in 2001. While my heart was in the right place, it was essentially a knee-jerk reaction to my ingenuous surprise at how our society negatively viewed single mothers-to-be, coupled with my shock that no such book had existed previously. Having grown up Catholic, I'd been surrounded by the tenets of charity, humility, life above all else, and a religion centered upon the story of a baby born in admittedly unusual circumstances. Certainly everyone could see the value in helping women in non-traditional parenthood scenarios see that they're not the only ones going through what I now call an unsupported pregnancy with plans to parent the babies they were soon to bear. Certainly everyone would agree that to help them was in the best interest of all!
The book was initially picked up by a small but predatory publisher. This gave me great pride in my work before the company made a bad name for themselves for the third time, subsequently going through several more name changes before disappearing from the face of the earth.
It was while marketing this initial book to pregnancy help organizations that I heard the first of a string of punitive accusations for daring attempt disseminate a positive message about single mothers-to-be:
Okay, so… maybe they were right. I didn't know much. I knew that I was a good person and that I was doing well despite currently being a new single mom, and I wanted to help others through what had been one of the hardest parts of my life thus far: the pregnancy. True, I'd endured a frosty reception at these places when I was pregnant, but I figured that was mostly because I looked so young that it really was that surprising that I was of a higher level of education than the person sitting opposite me, telling me I'm "not that smart" if I "wound up pregnant." Or maybe I stumped them by coming in when I was not really in crisis, but would still like to know where I could find a support group or someone who knows about child support. I thought they'd give me a couple of brochures and phone numbers, and maybe talk to me, but that's not what they did at all-so later I thought I'd help them out by writing an entire book they could give out to their visitors.
Yeah, no. They weren't interested in anything I had to say. Again, I "didn't know anything."
That said, I set out to educate myself on the sociology of being single and pregnant while getting my master's degree, my thesis being the second, better-researched incarnation of The Single Woman's Guide to a Happy Pregnancy. My thesis committee consisted of an Asian lesbian single mother of a child adopted from China, the natural mother of a university staff member who'd been given up for adoption, and a business-owner friend who relished her status as a great skier and the second largest property owner in her ski resort town despite being the only African American woman people would see in that town for days. All my thesis committee members thought what I had to say was extremely valuable, and that it would be embraced by anyone whose mission it is to help single women keep wanted babies.
However, the popular assumption amongst single pregnancy "help" professionals continued to be that single pregnant women were certain to be bad parents, and that by giving them survival strategies, nutritional advice, and words of encouragement, I was giving these women strategies for being bad parents! After arguing that I myself didn't fit the "bad parent" stereotype and my confidence that there were others like me, I was told that I was a major exception to the single mom rule in that I wasn't wacked out on some drug, somehow collecting more than my share of public assistance, or trying to land a married benefactor, "because that's how they all are."
So I set out to do some more learning about my audience through a survey on my website and a support group. I did learn some surprising things from my research. From the survey I learned that many single pregnant women don't seek child support because they want to prove that they were never after someone's money. I learned that some women are never told about Medicaid or other programs that could have helped them and end up in financial trouble as a result. I learned that some people were essentially kicked out of their families for having children out of wedlock. From the support group I learned that most single pregnant women have a short-term high-stress season in life where they need more than the average share of community, advice, and affirmation—but that life calms down a lot after about a year of parenthood. I learned that this is the time that single pregnant women have to surround themselves with positive influences and other who have walked in their shoes, lest they abort a truly wanted baby or believe that the child is better off with different parents simply because they have more money and look great on paper. I learned that single pregnant women are often threatened and intimidated by the natural fathers of their children, are often afraid of economic ruin, and are often under great social pressure from their communities to transcend the quality of two-parent families simply to prove that they are worthy of parenting their own children. I learned that single mothers-to-be who did not internalize the social stigma of their single-and-pregnant status normally found appropriate romantic relationships more easily than those women who were ashamed of themselves.
Most importantly I learned that I was right all along-that single mothers-to-be were so highly diverse in age, education level, income, culture, and values that it was impossible to assume anything about them or generalize in any way about "how they all are," other than that they often work much harder than two-parent families to prove themselves to their critics while doing their best to economically survive and personally grow. Furthermore, of the many hundreds I have met, the vast majority of these women have been concerned with their futures: Will I be able to continue towards my educational goals? Will I be able to support myself and my baby? Will I be a good enough parent?
Never have I met a woman who simply wants to have several babies in exchange of a larger welfare check. While it would be naÏve to say such people don't exist, I believe that they are an extreme minority of women who find themselves in this situation, and that it's both ignorant and coercive to assume that a single pregnant woman fits this profile. While I also understand that some single mothers become addicted to drugs or otherwise fail at parenthood, I feel that we can greatly reduce the number of such situations by adequately addressing a woman's needs during pregnancy and early parenthood. After all, many use drugs to escape the pressures of life. If the pressures are decreased, so is the desire to escape.
I found that most single mothers-to-be were just like me: Decent people who wanted to know that they were not alone and share ideas on how they can make life more rewarding and successful-and that they can. Twenty years after finding out I was pregnant, the following of my life goals have been attained: I've raised a child to adulthood while saving money for his education, helped him plan a career path, and sent him off to college. I've maintained a perfect credit score, and have thus been able to get money whenever I needed it. I've consistently owned a home since before my son was born. I've earned my master's degree. The determination to follow through with goals is a skill that I can teach to others on the brink of parenthood. And rest assured that my life as an always-single parent has not been all work: I've traveled with my son both internationally and domestically. We have stayed in countless rustic cabins, eaten at the finest restaurants, and have sampled the country's best waterslides.
But of course, there have also been challenges: Periods of unemployment, underemployment, and cash flow issues; health issues with my son, myself, and my parents; law suits; mechanical failures; business failures; failed relationships… I've been on the same roller coaster as any other human being. But did that stop my progress? No-and I've used my negative experiences to help single mothers-to-be avoid or manage these types of problems. And have any of these experiences made me regret having and keeping my son? No way! They were bumps in the road-that's all.
Alas, you be the judge. What do I know? At this time, I've been doing this a lot longer than most people who consider themselves authorities on the topic. I know that most of the help out there is manipulative and coercive. If an individual or facility doesn't fit that stereotype, they can do what so many single mothers-to-be are expected to do: They can prove themselves. They can earn my recommendation by clicking the link on the right and demonstrating that their true mission is to help single mothers-to-be face their challenges with confidence, competence, and courage.
As for those of you who happen to be single and pregnant, while I admit that I know nothing about you except that you are single, pregnant, and human (thus naturally worthy of honor and respect), you don't have to prove anything to me. I am your advocate.