Single Moms Can’t Afford to Get Sick


Have you ever had food poisoning? Ugh. I just had my first bout this week, and it was unlike any other acute illness I’ve had.

I found an old gift card for a restaurant not too far from my lymphedema therapy. These days, I don’t eat from restaurants at all. I work diligently on my eating plan to follow the recommendations in the Lymphedema and Lipedema Nutrition Guide. Unfortunately, it’s been a tough task when I’m still struggling to juggle recovery from my first lipo-lymphedema surgery, prepare for my second surgery in two weeks, and also take care of my first-grader, Sophie.


Since the start of 2022, I haven’t been able to work nearly enough to keep up with groceries, monthly bills, and my constant medical expenses. And yes, recovery from surgery number one has been hard. So, when I found the gift card in my drawer, I had a moment where I really didn’t care about things like the sodium content in restaurant food.

I think we’ve all been there in one way or another, right? Sometimes, when you’re working so hard at something, but hitting so many extra hurdles, you have a moment where you sort of gives up. Temporarily, anyway.

Well, I did that earlier this week for an early dinner and ordered myself some shrimp. Sophie is allergic to shrimp, so her meal was entirely different. My meal tasted fine, but later that evening, I felt a bit sick to my stomach and bloated. I attributed it to too much sodium, a sugary sauce, and a little bit of gluten — ingredients I’ve been avoiding for months. I reminded myself to drink plenty of water and focus on high-potassium foods the next day.

When I woke up, though, I felt much worse. Super nauseated, and I couldn’t even bear to think about food without feeling ill.

I slowly got Sophie ready for school and tried to make myself eat a few grapes for breakfast. When I got home from dropping her off, I headed straight upstairs and went back to bed. I decided to rest until it was time for an appointment I’d made for some help cleaning the apartment that afternoon.

After a few hours, I realized I was dead wrong about thinking I was sick from too much salt or sugar. I woke up with a fever and chills, full-body aches, a pounding headache, and even worse nausea.

This is beginning to feel like… food poisoning, I realized. But I hadn’t experienced it before, so, I wasn’t positive. I decided to give it a bit more time, but within the hour, I knew. The bathroom issues, the waves of violent stomach cramps — the puking.

Omg, it was awful.

I had to cancel my afternoon appointment. Then, I messaged Sophie’s Nana that I couldn’t take care of Sophie. Nana picked her up from school and they stopped by so Sophie could pack an overnight bag. I had to stop four times on the stairs just to go down to open the door, and poor Sophie had to do her own packing because I was so ill. I tried to tell her everything she’d need, but I forgot about her ADHD medicine and antibiotics for strep throat.

Ugh, I felt like such a big jerk and terrible mom about that… even though I know it’s a natural goof.

Nana really saved my hide by looking after Sophie that night with zero notice, and then by bringing her to school the next morning. I can’t think of another time I’ve been that sick or had to ask for such last-minute help. It’s hard to explain how much I hate imposing upon people like that.

I ate the bad shrimp on Wednesday. Now, it’s Saturday. Sophie came home last night, but I managed to drive myself out to lymphedema therapy yesterday afternoon. I’m still on the mend. The cramps haven’t completely gone away, and I’ve still got some tight pain and pressure in my chest when I laugh or cough. But it’s gradually getting better.

I still don’t dare eat too much — I’ve had a few bites of banana, some avocado, and some simmered beans. Lots of coconut water.

It’s just one of those things. It happened at a terrible time when the last thing I needed was to get further behind on appointments and work, or further behind on cleaning.

I feel like I’ve been playing catch up for so long, and yet, I wasn’t remotely prepared for the reality that recovering from surgery would put me even further behind.

In many ways, I feel so stupid about all of it. As a single mom, I really should have known to expect things to go wrong. It frequently happens when you’re short on resources like time, money, or good health.

Becoming a single mom in 2014 with Sophie’s birth has taught me more hard truths about the world than almost anything else I’ve endured. It’s also — dramatically — changed my perspective about what really matters.

I’ve known for years now that single moms make tough choices every day. That’s because I’ve had to make them, and for the bulk of Sophie’s life, I’ve prioritized providing for her over meeting many of my own needs.

That’s not because I don’t think my needs matter, or because I don’t care about setting a healthy example for my daughter. On the contrary, I’ve carried enormous guilt about not being able to “do it all.” Not being able to juggle everything. Not being able to be everything I want to be. Or everything she deserves.

It’s hard to articulate the challenges of simply existing as a single mom in America — the expectations, the judgment. The disbelief that comes from others when you admit that you can’t seem to juggle your work, family, home, and self-care.

Just do this, people say. Adjust your attitude. Work harder. Work harder. Work harder.

Of course, working harder only gets harder when you’re also battling a chronic illness, disability, or some other sickness. Food poisoning certainly doesn’t help. So many single mothers know (well, live) this reality, yet we struggle to truly talk about it.

Talking about it feels… too vulnerable. Maybe too weak. You start to talk about it and people want to give you all sorts of well-meaning but terrible advice. Make everything from scratch to save money. Stay up late and get it all done while your kid is asleep.

It’s so dang daunting when traditional advice doesn’t work for you and society insists the problem is that you don’t have your priorities straight. Or, you just don’t “want it bad enough.”

For years, I’ve worked my fingers to the bone as a working single mom — first with a content mill position, then, as a reasonably successful blogger. I worked all day and all night to provide for my daughter, but it sure caught up with me. Well, my lipo-lymphedema caught up with me. Leg infections and fatigue became my mainstays and pain began to interfere with my ability to finish a blog post in a day or two.

Now, one post can take me weeks.

Motherhood is already complicated — but chronically ill single moms can especially feel the weight of grueling double standards. You know what I mean. In our culture, “fun dads” give their kids a fast food dinner. “Bad Moms” do the same dang thing.

“Good dads” make an effort to fix their daughters’ hair and it’s still sweet even if they’re not good at it. “Bad Moms” don’t make enough of an effort if their kids’ hair doesn’t always look great.

I know it’s easy to say don’t let it get to you, but if you dare to build a public career (like in writing), people will constantly be in your business when you’re a mother. I still get people who criticize my parenting skills by saying I’m raising a fat kid, hating on me for “red-shirting” my daughter, and insisting that my inability to juggle my health, my kid and work is a serious mental defect in me.

Single dads get to be brave when they admit they can’t do it all. But single moms get accused of being unfit mothers.

There are so many other things I’d like to be writing about these days. I miss covering other social issues. I miss writing about pop culture and evangelical scandals.

I’m just itching to cover a Chattanooga megachurch’s recent demise we’ll call “chiligate.” Oh man, I also want to tell you all about The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Seriously, there are so many stories I’d love to cover, and these days, I’ve got more quarter- and half-written drafts than ever before because I simply don’t have the energy to see each piece to fruition. Not in a timely or productive manner that allows me to support myself and my daughter.

How did I get here? I’ve been making different hard choices. Putting my ambitions on hold. And prioritizing my health above finances and hoping it will all work out in the end.

Hoping and aiming to reach the point of getting back on my own two feet once I’ve got my health in order.

It’s a risky move, I know. I understand that I’m gambling so much on this belief that healthcare for a single mom matters. That getting my lipedema (lipo-lymphedema) treated is worth putting certain career goals on hold. I’m nervous that we’ll lose our apartment and cannot handle moving on top of everything else today.

At the same time, I know I’m risking even more if I don’t stay on this road. If I don’t put my health first, I’ll lose my mobility altogether. And likely die young from the complications of undertreated lipo-lymphedema. My life will continue to shrink, and my ability to take care of Sophie will shrink too.

Her life will suffer in a hopeless way if I don’t do this.

I have to frequently remind myself about all of that. The guilt I feel about writing so little during my recovery and earning even less income is all-consuming. I’m tempted to give up and (try to) go back to my old habits of working all day and night. Or even just being more… strategic about writing stories that might make better money.

It’s tempting to go back to all of that and forget about putting my health first because I know damn well that single mothers can’t afford to be sick in a world that exalts money over people. Our society isn’t built like that.

That’s the really crummy reminder lately. And it’s not just true for me. It’s true for single moms with cancer, or depression, for single moms with autoimmune diseases, and for kidney failure. The list goes on.

It’s true for any single mom without the financial ability and local support system to handle taking so much time off work to focus on her health.

I’m one of the lucky ones, though. I’ve only gotten this far with my treatments and surgeries because I’ve had online support. And I’ve only gotten the support from having established a reasonably successful (though quickly fading) writing career.

Even so? It’s still lonely. Still scary. I second-guess myself constantly and I feel like a terrible mom. I definitely don’t feel like much of a writer either. Oh, I know, I know — it’s temporary.

I just feel so far away from myself sometimes. But so much of that feeling comes from the fact that our society is set up against single parents who pause their careers to take care of an imminent health crisis. Against those who suffer from an illness, most physicians don’t even recognize.

My daughter Sophie has been watching some of the Winter Olympics and is now utterly enthralled with figure skating. As soon as she began watching, I could see the little wheels turning in her head — she was imagining herself twirling on the ice.

Sophie began to ask a lot of questions about figure skating and ice dancing. She wanted to know how people learn to skate like that, and we began to talk about professional athletes and the highly-focused lifestyle Olympians live, typically from early childhood.

She began to make future plans in a notebook about how she wanted to spend the next several years learning how to skate, and then practice for so many more years, and eventually “retire” from skating at 35 to focus on painting or music. My kid loves to dream big things and make plans for future businesses and careers.

As she showed me her little notebook, I felt that familiar ache inside my heart because I grew up in a dirt-poor single-mother household in the Twin Cities. I had friends who were talented figure skaters at the local levels. I still remember what it felt like to learn that skating lessons, dance classes — and basically, anything else that wasn’t free through the public schools — were all beyond my reach. Most sports were out of the question for me and my sister due to our finances.

For Sophie, sports fell out of reach with COVID, and now, our finances too. But I remind myself that it’s all still temporary. That we’re going through the sludge right now, but it’s going to allow us to have a better quality of life in the long run. In the future.

When the pandemic first began, I was slowly realizing how something like a trip to Disney World was out of reach because my mobility was swiftly declining. I didn’t understand lipedema or lipo-lymphedema back then, but I knew something was terribly wrong.

One of the goals that keep me going right now is becoming healthy and mobile enough to eventually take Sophie to a place like Disney and actually be able to walk long distances without a struggle.

Growing up, my mother didn’t have a vehicle, and we often couldn’t afford bus fare. We walked everywhere for years. We easily walked from our apartment complex on the Eastside of Saint Paul to Lowertown, ran errands Downtown, and even walked to my doctor appointments nearly 5 miles away.

I spent most of my teen years living in these Eastside apartments. This is where my dad once broke down our door, and my mom once grounded me for more than a year for kissing a boy.

Sure, my gym teacher thought I was a big baby because I couldn’t run worth crap and all of my doctors complained that I was too fat. They had no idea that walking 8 to 10 miles in a day was normal for me. I didn’t actually think about it either.

Even after my divorce when I lived alone in Falcon Heights, it was normal for me to walk more than a mile to Target for groceries, or over 5 miles to reach the library.

My first little apartment after my short-lived marriage.
My favorite library in the Twin Cities

Making the way back home from those walks was sometimes… daunting. I often got caught in the rain, and in the cold Minnesota winters with lots of snow and ice, I definitely envied the people driving by in warm cars. Still, it felt good and exhilarating to be able to walk such long distances with relative ease.

When I worked for Ecolab in my mid-to late-twenties, older co-workers often marveled at my ability to walk so briskly from the bus stop, up the parking lot, and into the main doors. I was far during most of those years, but I walked well.

Even when Sophie was an infant, I pushed her stroller through the snow, rain, and humid summers to get groceries in Brooklyn Park. When we lived in Bloomington, I used to wheel her around at the Mall of America just to get out and pass the time before I began writing for a living.

Walking. Such a tiny, simple thing — I had no idea that I would lose my ability to make those walking trips just a decade later.

Had I known then what I know now about lipedema, and had I known that moving to the South would lead to such a sedentary life with so few sidewalks or walkable roads, there’s a lot I could have done differently.

I don’t know that I would have had the same outlook on sacrificing my health for making ends meet. But let’s be honest. Often, single mothers in America are given a series of impossible choices.

Over the years, I’ve made my choices out of a heart to build a strong, healthy, and lasting bond with my daughter. It was important to me to be present and keep her out of daycare. It was important to me that I pursued a creative career and used my writing skills to work from home.

There’s nothing wrong with those choices. It’s just next to impossible to make healthy, balanced decisions for yourself and your child as a single mom who’s also got to worry about making ends meet, skimping on your own healthcare, and working all night while your kid is asleep.

But I don’t have any wonderful or wise answers. All I know is that we as a society can’t keep on living like this. We can’t keep on accepting that life is just bound to be hard for single mothers, so we shrug our shoulders and say “oh well,” when single moms fall ill. We can’t just assume that health insurance or welfare will be there for them, or that they really should have made “better” choices somewhere earlier along the way.

Collectively, America has not made better choices for its people. We don’t take care of children but tend to demonize moms who struggle financially by complaining that they never should have had kids in the first place. Or, that they should have been better prepared for a catastrophe.

Maybe when all of this is over for me — at least, when I get to the other side of my lipo-lymphedema and regain a greater ability to walk long distances again — perhaps, that will give me more perspective and energy to make a difference. To successfully fight for quality healthcare.

As it stands, I simply don’t see how we can expect brilliance or remarkability from American children when we don’t even care if their caregivers have decent healthcare themselves. Hell, we look down on those caregivers if they have a chronic illness or happen to be fat. We label everything a lifestyle disease.

We can’t expect to flourish as a nation in any sense of the word when we continue to exalt traits like productivity or making money above actual people.

We have to put people first, and so much of that starts at home with families and the recognition that single mothers are not machines able to work endless shifts without a reprieve — we’re human beings who need more help than most of us would probably like to admit.

I’m still crowdfunding for my lipedema treatment. Please share the link to help raise awareness of the disease they call fat.

If you love my work and want to support my efforts to break cycles of stigma and shame through awkward honesty, visit me on Ko-fi. From there, you can follow and support my future projects, and subscribe to my newsletter.

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