A single mom's story

Writer and editor Alyssa Shelasky lives in a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment with her 10-month-old daughter, Hazel. Until recently, they shared her small nursery at night. But, as a single mom with a new romantic relationship and an increasingly independent toddler, she had to make a change. Here’s her story of how a velvety piece of furniture changed everything…

I’m a relatively calm person. I value composure. I’ve often contemplated getting a small tattoo that reads: Courage is grace under pressure.

Sure, some things stress me out: chopsticks; aggressive air conditioning; love and marriage; that I’ll never read Just Kids for the first time again; all the hardcore serious suffering happening in the world every single day; decaf drinkers.

One thing that arguably should have stressed me out? Having a baby on my own. Did it? Not really.

That’s not to say I didn’t think deeply about the single-mother-by-choice choice. At 36.5 years old, after a rough breakup in Rome that knocked me off my feet (and then straight back to Brooklyn), I knew two things were true: I was seriously romantically burnt out and all I really wanted was to become a mom anyway.

Around that time, I contacted two women – friends of friends – both embarking on the sperm donor journey. Over coffees and croissants, I inhaled their stories separately. I took feverish notes. They were both so beautiful and badass. It didn’t take long for the donor decision to feel blazingly right for me. My family and friends unanimously agreed. And a few months later, once I learned that the IUI procedure worked (holy shit!), I never flinched. I never looked back. Not once. Not ever.

But back to my so-called inner grace. I remained calm when I brought my daughter, Hazel Delilah Shelasky, home one month early, a little small — determined to grow her ferociously in the October sun. Breastfeeding was excruciating, but I tried to stay composed. And while my family helped me every single day, at night I was alone. For about 300 nights straight, I was alone.

I’m not saying any of this for applause – millions of moms have it harder — I’m just trying to make it clear that freaking out is not my nature; that I can knock myself up, have an emergency C-section and survive on Kind Bars and kinder people for 8 months straight.

But when I decided to move out of my daughter’s bedroom and into the living room, now that almost ruined me.

I live in a one-bedroom apartment. From day one, Hazel and I shared a room and often a bed. Until she was five months old, she barely touched her crib. At six months, with guidance from our pediatrician, I “lightly” sleep trained her. It kind-of worked, but just like her mama, she’s an extremely light sleeper. We continued to wake each other up several times a night.

The reality is, Hazel is bursting with love for friends, neighbors, country music, the subway, the bus, brunch and bejeweled human beings, but sleep? Not so much. It’s just not her thing. So, I gave up on it, too. Which was okay; I had everything else. (Although on more than one occasion I did google, “Can you die from no sleep?”)

Then, a few months ago, I started dating someone I really liked. (And still do!) At night, we needed our privacy. This — combined with our collective, ongoing sleep issues — left Hazel and me with no other option: I had to move out of the nursery. It was time! It was time. I would have to sleep in the living room. So, I devised a plan.

The answer came in the form of a daybed, specifically the Devyn daybed from Restoration Hardware, which I had an instant online crush on. I proceeded to obsess about ordering this daybed for 30 days straight. I measured and re-measured. I made frenemies with fabric swatches. I stalked my dear designer neighbor, Sasha Berlin, even as she went into labor. Seriously, it was easier for me to buy magical sperm than this hunk of tufted velvet.

The daybed decision made me nuts. For the first time in the history of being Hazel’s mom, I felt fragile. Should I or shouldn’t I? Will I or won’t I? WTF is wrong with me?!

What I realize now is that I was using the daybed as a crutch for something else. Since the day she was born — no, the day I made the life-changing decision to (at least try to) have her alone it was mama and kiddo forever. The two of us against the world. I would have Hazel’s back until the day I died, and even after that. So, how could I leave her?

The reality was, life with Hazel — whose every breath, giggle and grunt I knew by heart, and who woke up seven times a night by laughing, not even crying! – was evolving. As it should! Her needs were shifting, my needs were shifting, our needs were shifting. And that’s gorgeous! Our little duo was makin’ moves. I was no longer a new single mama wandering around in the dark. I was a mother with a plan that would better my family.

So, I leaned in to the changes. I ordered the daybed. I ordered a twin-size mattress online. I ordered pillows and sheets, so that I’d have a sophisticated couch by day — and a super comfy bed by night.

Everything arrived a week later. Hazel, my peasant-dress-wearing, clementine-loving, happy-go-lucky extrovert, had a field day with all the friendly delivery guys. Her smile was so big, I honestly thought her face might break. Immediately, we delighted in her own new room. It felt sweet, whimsy and airy without the clutter of my bulky mattress and alpaca throws.

Still, as I said goodnight to her that first evening, I couldn’t help but tear up while walking away. I already missed her. But I lit a candle. I poured some Tempranillo wine. I curled up to my friend Julia Turshen’s new cookbook, Small Victories. I texted my guy to come over and see if we fit together on the daybed. Sure enough, it felt nice and adult.

By the end of the week, both Hazel and I were getting deep, healthy sleep – which was really the only thing that mattered.

Maybe it has something to do with the pleasure of having her own space, or the newfound touch of independence, but these days Hazel is more luminous than ever. And the restoration of my hardware feels quite triumphant.

I am calm again, although the greatest thing I learned is that I don’t have to be so tough – that a “never let ’em see ya sweat” ethos is a lost cause in this sappy love song called motherhood.

Because there will be nights that I will weep into velvety upholstery for no reason whatsoever… and there will be nights that I will crawl in and lie on her floor praying to God or plotting a frittata… and there will be nights that I won’t sleep at all because I’m just too scared, excited or overwhelmed by all of it.

But tonight, I’ll sleep just fine. Hopefully, I’ll dream. After all, they do come true.

A single mom's story

Alyssa and Hazel.

A single mom's story

Family photos.

A single mom's story

Hazel’s nursery.

Alyssa Shelasky has contributed to New York Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Cosmo and Self. She is also the author of Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In & Out of the Kitchen.

P.S. My motherhood mantra and a quote about single parenthood.

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo. Alyssa’s dress by Morgan Carper.)