By Sydney Loney
Jennifer MacCormack met the father of her daughter, Brooklyn, while in rehab for alcohol addiction at age 24. She’d struggled with depression and an eating disorder and started drinking during her first year in university. After losing everything — job, school, friends, family — she ended up in a recovery home and had been sober for seven months when she realized she was pregnant.
“But everything was going okay,” MacCormack says. She’d just moved into her own apartment and was working at a clothing store. “Things were really starting to pull together and I was starting to feel happy.” Then, when she was 37 weeks pregnant, the police came to her door. Her boyfriend had been in a car accident and was paralyzed from the waist down.
“I was due in 18 days, but my first order of business was to find us an apartment with wheelchair access,” she says. “We kind of accepted the situation and that we were going to get through it.” Her boyfriend was in the same hospital where she delivered and they were able to spend time together as a family for five days after Brooklyn was born. But when MacCormack went home with her newborn, she had to go alone. “Most parents can’t wait to get home with the baby,” she says. “I would have liked to have stayed in the hospital.”
A month later, MacCormack was still recovering from her C-section when her boyfriend came home. She struggled to care for both her daughter and her partner. “Things were really hard — he needed a great deal of practical assistance and he weighed 200 pounds. Those are the kinds of things I had to deal with then. I took it one day at a time and just kept thinking, “If I can get through the next hour, it’ll be okay.” But when her boyfriend relapsed and started drinking again, she moved out. “I just said, “Enough’s enough. I’m doing what I need to do and what’s best for me and for Brooklyn.”
MacCormack lived with her parents, working during the day and attending school at night to upgrade her marks. “My family has been so supportive through all of this,” she says. “I don’t think I would have made it without them.” Now she has her own apartment, and was accepted into a college program last year to become a licensed practical nurse; she will graduate in May 2009. “I left my job four days before school started,” she says. “The extra money would have been nice, but I felt as a mother I’d be missing out on too much with Brooklyn. I just need to focus on school and being a mom.”
Sometimes, MacCormack still can’t believe she’s finally realizing her dream. One day she sat down in class, logged onto her computer and, when her name came up beside the word “nursing,” she started to cry. “I just couldn’t believe I was there, where I’d wanted to be for so long,” she says.
She still has her struggles. MacCormack gets up early to get Brooklyn to daycare, goes to school all day and dashes back to pick her daughter up again. “I often don’t get her to bed until nine, then I start my schoolwork, clean, do the dishes and the laundry.” She also takes Brooklyn to see her dad every week. “Her father is still going through a lot, but they have an amazing relationship. Every time she sees someone in a wheelchair, she runs after them, thinking it’s him.”
The main thing, she says, is that Brooklyn is healthy and happy. “Our best time is in the morning. Because I’ve got so much going on, I try to appreciate those little moments that seem so insignificant, like just brushing our teeth together. I really try to stop and make them bigger than they are, make them count. Because otherwise it can all get lost in a busy day.”
MacCormack says she lives for her daughter, even when Brooklyn does things she shouldn’t — like writing all over the toilet seat in permanent black marker. “I didn’t even get upset. I just thought, “I’m going to get the camera, this is hilarious.” MacCormack is now three years sober. “I was given another chance,” she says. “I was given the opportunity to be the most important person in someone else’s life.”
“I try to make every moment I spend with my daughter special — from bathtime to eating breakfast together. I want her to have great memories of us together.”
“To me, being a mom is a gift — it’s the most honourable and amazing thing I’ll ever do.”