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June 21, 2018
Holly Haley, 2009-2010 WomenGive scholarship recipient and current WomenGive Member, shared the following story during the recent WomenGive Spring Social about her experience as a single mother.
I became a single mom at 19 years old as a college freshman at Colorado State University. I had come from a broken home, had a tumultuous childhood, was battling major depression and severe anxiety and made some bad decisions. I try not to be too hard on myself because at the end of the day I was just a kid trying to find myself. Upon finding out I was pregnant I had a big decision to make alone and was scared, and whether it be divine intervention, blind faith, or perhaps pure ignorance – I decided I would keep my child because I knew no one would ever love him like I could.
My son Jayden’s birth father did not support my decision, threatening physical violence against both of us, telling me how stupid I was, what a terrible mother I would be and what a horrible child I would have. I would have a child just like him, full of hate and anger. He left when I was 15 weeks pregnant.
Flash forward to being a single mom, having a post-partum body at age 20, and working two jobs while trying to obtain my Bachelor’s degree in finance at CSU as a full time student. By now I was a junior with a one-year-old, and I was struggling to pass my classes, behind on bills, maxed out on every student loan I could get and every state benefit I qualified for – Medicaid, food stamps, etc. I lived in low-income housing, and relied on Early Head Start and CCAP to help provide education and care for my son. I felt isolated from friends my age, unable to connect to older moms, had no contact with Jayden’s birth father and still had a rocky relationship with my family. I was alone.
I was overtired, overstressed, and frankly felt bitter. Every time I used my food stamp card at the checkout line, sat in a crowded waiting room at the doctor’s office with a grouchy baby or counted my change at the Walmart counter to buy a pack of diapers I saw those looks. Those “You should have known better” looks. Those “How stupid are you” looks. Those “I’m glad that is not my daughter” looks. Those “You’ll never be anything” looks. Sometimes I even got comments with the looks - “Why didn’t you consider adoption?” “Did you ever think about getting an abortion?” “Well this couldn’t have of been at a worse time, your life is over honey.”
I was very well aware that I was falling into every statistics out there. Teen mom living off state benefits falling into a cycle of poverty. A real shocker. All of this compounded and re-iterated to myself that I was indeed a terrible mother – I mean, who can’t afford to feed their own child? My grades reflected that I must be a terrible student and my social life seemed to show that I must not belong anywhere. I was so self-conscious I would avoid making eye contact with peers in class and began to isolate myself, allowing my depression and anxiety to take control of me.
Then in 2009 my body succumbed to the stress. I ended up in the ICU at Poudre Valley with multiple organ failure due to a rare lung disease. Now my own body was failing me too. Everything that Jayden’s birth dad had told me, all those who passed judgment on me, all those looks, they must of been right. Who am I to think I could actually raise a child on my own and become economically self-sufficient? Every time I thought I had hit rock bottom, it seemed there was just a little bit farther down to go.
At this point there was only a small piece of my heart left unbroken. A small piece that my son filled every time he looked at me or called me mommy. It was true, no one would ever love him like I do. So I held tightly onto this small piece of hope...but I didn’t know how much longer I could grasp it.
After two weeks in the hospital, I was behind in school, behind on rent and with the medical bills rolling in I knew I was in trouble. I was going to have to drop out of school and work full-time even though I was only a little over a year and half away from my degree. The issue was my CCAP assistance only covered the hours I worked two days week and did not cover the other three days a week I attended classes. My food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits were only approved as long as I remained below a certain income threshold. I felt trapped because the more I worked, the further I was from my degree, but the more I went to school, the further I fell down the hole into poverty.
After getting out of the hospital I went back to work at a restaurant in downtown Fort Collins. My manager had cut out a newspaper clipping about a scholarship for single moms. I thought maybe this was my beacon of hope to stay in school and become economically self-sufficient to support my son and provide him the life he deserved. It sounded too good to be true. I couldn’t believe that there were women out there who wanted to support me rather than shame me.
I applied for the WomenGive scholarship and was awarded my first semester of daycare funding in 2009. Back in 2007 when I was pregnant with my son I struggled to get a 2.6 GPA. After receiving the WomenGive scholarship I finally hit a 3.0, than a 3.9, and then a 4.0 making the Dean’s list senior year. The brain space, the mental load, the stress of working multiple jobs, being behind on bills and not knowing if I would be able to afford another semester had been taking up valuable space. For the first time, in a long time, I felt a little weight taken off my shoulders, my steps felt a little lighter and life finally seemed a little brighter.
I completed my junior year and finished my senior year with the help of WomenGive. Eight years ago from yesterday actually, I graduated from Colorado State with a B.S. in Finance in four years, like I had originally sought out to do, despite either being pregnant or a single-parent seven of the eight semesters. That was a statistic I was okay with.
Not only did WomenGive provide me financial assistance, it helped build my self-esteem that had plummeted. I started feeling more confident in who I was, knowing that there was a group of successful women out there who did not judge me, but instead encouraged and empowered me to be successful.
So where am I now? After graduating I took a position in KeyBank’s management training program to begin a career in finance, and Jayden and I moved down to Denver. I thought about dating again, but I was not ready. I knew the situation I had gotten myself into, I had to get myself out of it on my own. I wanted to become economically self-sufficient, so no one could say that I settled down because I needed the help, a co-parent or money. I realized I had to be my own hero.
One day, close to a year after graduating, I got up in my apartment, that had cable, internet and air conditioning, and drove MY car and dropped MY son off at his school that I paid for in full, went to work, brought groceries with my own money – I knew that I had done it. The war was not over, but the battle was won. I did it. I was MY hero but more importantly I was my son’s hero.
I finally went out on that date that I had been putting off for two years. Now, eight years later, two military cross-country moves, two houses, three apartments, two elderly cats, a crazy dog, and another son later we are still together. I found a man who loved me for my strength. My courage. My tenacity. My independence and my son. Last year my husband officially adopted Jayden, taking that last bit of weight had been carrying on my back for so long.
The funny thing is that with burdens, you tend to carry them so long you forget they are there. They become a part of who you are, and even when they are gone they leave a residue, a resting space, like the dead grass under a large rock that has been overturned. But I have learned over time that the grass can grow back and it can spread, but you have to tend to it and work hard at it. I have started counseling, working through a lot of the pain I buried so deeply 10 years ago. And my heart has been opened.
I officially joined WomenGive as a member this year. In addition I’ve begun volunteering at Florence Crittenden, a high school for teen moms in Denver in hopes of providing hope for other teen moms. Jayden is now 10 ½ and wrapping up fourth grade. He placed in the 99th percentile in mathematics in the state, and placed first in his school amongst all grade levels in a Math Olympiad competition. A true math nerd just like his mom. He is funny, smart, caring, incredibly stubborn (not sure where that came from) and has a tenacious zest for life. He has aspirations to go to, and I quote “at least six years of college”.
I just started a new position and am now working for CNA insurance in Denver as an executive assistant to the vice president of the branch with the intentions of becoming an underwriter. My new boss has already begun to mentor me for a long-term career in insurance.
The financial stability WomenGive directly provided me was only the beginning. I try to pay it forward whenever I can. In my new position at CNA I have already become a member of the volunteer committee and hope to do more in my local community. I have had the opportunity to connect with so many amazing women, many who have faced struggles, judgment, shame, and who have embraced with open arms.
I can say with the utmost confidence that if it wasn’t for WomenGive providing me the financial assistance and confidence I needed at my lowest low, I would not be where I am today nor who I am today. Because of the generosity of WomenGive Members, I am so happy. I live a comfortable life, but more importantly my son has a comfortable life too. WomenGive creates a ripple effect with its members’ kindness and generosity – that I spread to others in hopes they will carry it on as well. Thank you WomenGive Members for believing in me, for inspiring me and for empowering me.
Copyright 2015 United Way of Larimer County