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A Chorus Of Empathy for Baby Mamas

Paylor believes that Fantasia's song "reinforces stereotypes."

"I never considered myself a 'baby mama,' " she says. "I consider myself a mother . . . and a woman. [The song] almost discredits the efforts of the single mothers trying to break out of the stereotype of what a single mother is -- on welfare or having five kids by five different men."

Although it's "totally understandable" that a woman might give birth to a child out of wedlock, she continues, "I've heard teenage girls on the bus glorify being pregnant without a male in the picture, or being pregnant without being married or in a stable environment. As if it's . . . trendy."

Perhaps it is. God knows, too many children suffer for their lack of fathers and positive father figures -- and that society suffers by extension. God knows I support my strong-willed friend who refused to throw a baby shower for a young, unwed relative because, she says, "I didn't want to send the wrong message to her younger sisters."

And yet my own desire for children was so powerful that had I never married, I might have -- as a responsible, employed adult -- chosen single motherhood, as millions of wonderful mothers have. Some married men are terrible fathers. Many who sneer at young, unmarried moms ignore that in our sex-steeped culture, some teens inevitably will become pregnant. Is abortion "braver" than motherhood?

Nothing is simple. All Paylor knows is, "I've had a hell of a time raising my child on my own," she says. "To be 15 or 16 and have two children, without a stable environment or father for your child? That makes me wonder."

In June, Paylor, whose daughter has a "limited' relationship with her birth father, is marrying a "wonderful man." That's not all.

Two weeks ago, she says, "I picked up my invitations for graduation. I stared at them for hours on end. . . . If someone asks Nadia if she's a first-generation college graduate, she can say, 'No, my mother graduated. She did it while she was raising me.' "

Few lives fit inside the boxes into which stereotypes would squeeze them. It is fascinating that Ashley Smith, celebrated for using Scripture to persuade an alleged killer to release her, was arrested for shoplifting and driving under the influence as a teenager.

Smith's past missteps only deepen her story's redemptive power. Isn't that potentially true for us all?

Returning to Hecht's, I found the salesgirl I'd overheard and mentioned Fantasia's song. "It doesn't apply to me -- I'm living with my baby's father," explained Angel Proctor, 22, whose son, Robert, just turned a year old.

"Do you think you'll get married?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," Proctor replied, as if no other option existed. She sighed. "People see all [single moms] as just waiting on a check. It's wrong to judge . . . .

"But before I had my baby, I used to do it myself."

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