Single mums we love: Farrah
For the last few months I’ve been featuring the stories of powerhouse single mums. I wanted to share with my readers the kind of stories I would’ve wanted to read when I first started solo parenting. When I felt lost, alone and disempowered, I wanted to know there were examples out there of women who’d been through hell, but had come out the other end, armed with buckets of water for the women still consumed in the fire.
When I stumbled upon a post Farrah had posted on her Instagram, detailing her remarkable story, I had to stop what I was doing and literally sit down to take it all in. I cried. I laughed. I had goosebumps. I lied and told Ollie “mummy will be with you in a minute!” as I absorbed every word. This was the exact kind of story I wanted to share with my readers. But there was no point in interviewing her and writing my own version of her story because nothing I could write would adequately capture her journey like she has. Farrah was left as a single mum to her two very young children as she battled breast cancer. It’s unfathomable to think. But what she made of the situation is a testament to the strength of single mums. And although her journey differs to mine and probably yours too, we all identify with parts of ourselves in her story. She’s given me permission to repost it here for all of you under the condition I remind all the women out there to check your boobs! This is a story about resilience, hope, and above all… love.
Pour yourself a cup of tea. Chuck on Peppa Pig for the kids. And take a seat.
How finding love after Cancer proved to me that Unicorns do exist.
We all desperately want to believe in fairytales – especially happy endings. A Disney infused childhood and somewhat sheltered upbringing in a loving, quiet home instilled in me the belief that good would always prevail and that human kindness, love and being a good person would be the investment required to return a much wanted happy ever after.
In my twenties and thirties, my friends were meeting gorgeous men, enjoying intimate and trust-filled relationships and starting families of their own. I so desperately wanted to be a nurturing mother and loving wife that I had miscalculated a marriage to the first man mad enough to propose; it never occurred to me that the world’s most romantic proposal merely 8 months after meeting someone wasn’t enough of a reason to accept, and that saying “no” might have been better for both our sakes. But sometimes when you’re young, with low self-esteem and boundless optimism, you accept situations and circumstances you would encourage your best friend to flee from, and you compromise the values and standards you’ve spent your life building just to force a picture where the pieces don’t fit.
After an epic marriage meltdown, I met a younger guy who was on the outskirts of my wider circle and whom having grown up in my neighbourhood and being best friends with my BIL, seemed ‘safe’. Eventually he was the one with whom my baby dreams came true, but our relationship was extremely one-sided, unhealthy and always tenuous. From the outset it was clear how very different we were, but I did everything I could to mould myself into someone he might love. He was young and handsome and I was a divorced, ageing ‘Plain Jane’. I told myself I was lucky he even looked my way… but I see now that I was just an easy target and another face for his Facebook.
In the beginning, our differences were attractive – but all to quickly the things that make you intriguing become things that make your skin crawl and when I look back now, I see very clearly that he never knew me, nor ‘liked’ me for that matter. Gradually I shrunk into a shell and was whittled down from a confident and blossoming flower to a garden variety weed.
It seems ridiculous and unbelievable to me that we ever were together, but his working FIFO and the fact we both wanted children gave me enough space and time off-stage in between designated ”relationship appearances” to convince myself that I was happy and this is what I wanted. My mind was firmly sighted on that end-goal of a family. I kept telling myself, “it will be fine when…” – when he got that new job, when his back was better, when we got pregnant, when we bought the house/boat/bike/caravan/gadget that was next on the most-wanted list. But “when” never came.
I think in hindsight and with my life experience to date, I feel confident to assert that perhaps, some young girls and even women, have a very unhealthy perspective of what love is and what kind of treatment from your partner, is acceptable. I overlooked so many red-flags. They seemed few and far between at the time, but now on reflection, I was sailing through an endless crimson sea for far too long and I could kick myself for never being strong enough to jump ship altogether and make myself a priority for a change.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always awful… when we were doing what he wanted or he was getting his way and I was playing my part properly, I sometimes felt for a moment that we might, one day, work it out. But when magic happened and our miracle daughter arrived after years of negative pregnancy tests and IVF, and we became three, things really came apart. I had naively assumed he would miraculously turn into the family man I dreamed of – helping with night-feeds, changing nappies, taking walks in the evening, growing closer together as we marvelled in this tiny human we created. But it became clear to me that as far as the actual parenting went, I was on my own – a puzzle piece in the wrong box that had no idea what my picture was supposed to be.
Red flag after red flag presented itself, but my blinkers were firmly planted on my face and soon, it was the necessity of caring for an ill family member and his having to take extended leave from work due to an exacerbated back injury, that kept us together. He needed me to look after him and to raise his daughter, and having been made redundant on maternity leave, I was unemployed and had no way to make it on my own. We needed each other. And then, the most crazy thing happened and in the midst of the madness, I became pregnant again. My daughter was only 5 months old when we found out we were already 6 weeks along. I always joke it took four years to make her and four seconds to make him… but there was no mistaking it – he was on his way and the crazy, muddled up life that we knew was about to get even more complicated than I could ever have imagined.
Queue birth of baby, delivered with one extra detail; a breast cancer diagnosis. My cancer was large, it was aggressive, it had spread, and treatment had to start right away.
Three months into my chemotherapy regime, whatever relationship we had left was dissolved without repair when he left me on my knees, bald and crippled with side effects, holding a 3 month old baby while a slightly older one screamed from her high chair. I was begging him to stay - to help – but he stepped past me and straight through the door. As far as I was concerned, there was no coming back from that. Ever.
With everything I've been through these past three years; the cancer, the treatment, the breakup, the whole shebang - I feel very much like a light has gone on in my darkened brain... illuminating crevices and corners I didn't delve into before.
Two of the things I keep coming back to in every part of my daily life, are Respect, and Expectations.
I feel, looking back, that so much of the relationship faux pauxs I suffered through in the past, have come about purely from the fact that I had Expectations that weren't being met, and ultimately, there was no Respect at the heart of it all.
I could make all the excuses I wanted, but that is the honest truth. I didn’t respect myself. They didn't respect me enough to behave appropriately with my friends and family, or even with me. And in turn I lost respect for them, as did my friends and family as I so obviously attempted to cover the crime scene with sallow excuses and sticky tape.
This lack of Respect resulted, basically, from my Expectations for the type of behaviour I deemed appropriate. And as soon as your expectations are not being met - that's a red flag to either, change them, or remove yourself from the situation. I did neither and I continued to be hurt.
When everything was falling apart in 2016, I would visit my therapist and discuss the transitions my life was going through. The big takeway from those sessions was that I needed to establish what it was I wanted from my life, to ensure I made the best choices for me and my children - kind of a guide for making better decisions and finding my way out of the mist. What I came up with was five simple words;
Peace. Clarity. Calm. Health. Happiness.
My oncologist once told me that I had won the lottery. An aggressive and advanced cancer diagnosed just after giving birth and at such a young age - the odds were almost impossible. But I had won. And I have won another lotto.. I've hit the jackpot. I have all my five things. I see each of them in every day, in spite of my complications, ongoing infections and side effects. They are here, because I made the changes I needed to get back on track. To regain some self respect and to reaffirm the things I expected from a relationship weren’t irrational or unrealistic – they were just far greater than I was allowing myself to settle for.. and I needed to give myself permission to move forward and upward.
I may have only officially become a single mother the day my daughter turned 2, but as far as I was concerned – I had been alone in that relationship for years.
What makes a smart, successful, grown woman stay in a toxic relationship?
In my case it boils down to poor self-esteem, and stupidity, with a sprinkling of eternal optimism and a dash of desperation to build a family of my own, not to mention my misplaced loyalty and commitment to ‘finding a way to make it work’.
I have not spent much time on my own as an adult. I floated between romances with all the wrong men, that fizzled out quickly when it became clear we didn’t want the same things. Looking back, I see similarities with all my relationfails, again involving Respect and Expectations. It all comes back to that. RESPECTATIONS.
In 2017, I met a Unicorn. I have never been so proud as I have been to be with Mr Unicorn. This must be what love is. A constant feeling of peace and pride. He doesn't have to do anything in particular - he is just himself, and we fit. I gave myself and everything in my life up to the Universe this past year – at a time when I was convinced I was so broken I would never be loveable again. I had pretty much resigned myself to being single and I had made my peace with that. I didn’t think a man would want a woman with no breasts and two small children in the mix… I’d dated men who ultimately hated and berated me for my “baggage”, when the truth is that we are all really just the sum of our stories, and we should be proud of that.
When I had finally rediscovered my self-respect and went in without any expectations, the universe delivered; a magical, beautiful, incredible man who RESPECTS me and meets alllll of the EXPECTATIONS I didn’t know I had - three fold and beyond!
The difference between being in a toxic or a healthy relationship is only so glaringly obvious to me now that I’m actually IN one and OUT of the other.
I used to be afraid to speak up about what I liked.
I used to be afraid to speak up about what I wanted.
I used to be afraid to speak up about what I had done, where I had been or who I’d been talking to.
I refrained from playing my favourite music. I was uncomfortable to stay back at work, visit friends, see my family or make any plans that didn’t involve him.
I was discouraged from pursuing my passions.
I was scathed and scolded for spending money on anything at all.
I was teased and taunted for not fitting into someone else’s mould that they wanted for me, to suit themselves. “You should do XXX so I don’t have to work!”, and so on..
I was cut-off from my friends and family.
I was made to feel that everything that upset me was in my head and it was always all my fault.
“…Don’t poke a cornered dog, or it will bite” he’d say.
I was yelled at, pointed at, spat at, sworn at, held down and frightened into silence.
I was whittled and chipped at til I was a shell and so far removed from my past and my potential, I couldn’t see clearly anymore.
I know now, after meeting Mr Unicorn, this was never love. From that very first fight where fists were shaken and raised in my face, where C-bombs were dropped as easily as confetti and I found myself apologising just to shut down an out of control argument; THIS IS NOT LOVE. And it never has the potential to be, either.
I was lucky it didn’t escalate past headlocks and throat-hands. I was lucky he didn’t drive me off the road in anger when he escalated the speed of the odometer to match his rising temper. I was lucky, because it could have so easily been worse. And it saddens me to think just how bad some women have it. That they may have never known a kind hand, or a soft-touch, or a warm embrace – just because.. That fear and feral behaviour are their home standard and toxic masculinity runs rampant round the edge.
Where have all the good men gone?
Well it turns out my Unicorn was online. Waiting to meet a dinner companion, share a cocktail or two and deconstruct the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Just like me. I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for friends. To rebuild my trust in men and to get out of the “breast cancer and babies” headspace I had been in for so long.
On the weekends that my children’s birth father had visitation, I found myself the loneliest I’ve ever been. I needed to get out and reconnect with the world beyond the things I’d known the years before. I needed to live.
I set myself a YES task for 2017; just say yes to every opportunity. Give everything a chance and go where the universe takes you. Ultimately I needed to get lost a little, out of comfort zone in a non-cancerous way and to let go of the control I had so desperately clung to, yet had yanked away all the same.
I had to give myself permission to let go. And I did.
And so entered Mr Unicorn. And after that first meeting – where we supped on cocktails and brushed fingertips through a Marvel movie – as he walked me to my car and asked, “So, do you want to see each other again?”, I said “yes”.
And by giving it a chance, being open about my situation and just being myself - making no excuses… I have stumbled into the most loveliest of love imaginable.