Levey-Burden, a native New Havener and founder of a consulting company called Launch, told the crowd of nearly 50 people Monday that she had a lot of plans for herself at an early age particularly around love. But being a mother was not among those early imaginings.
“I knew I wanted to be a wife,” she said. “I knew we would have the kind of wonderful relationship that writers write about and storytellers talk about. But I knew that I never wanted to have children, even as a teenager.”
Though she loved children, after seeing her own mother through a tumultuous marriage and then widowed at age 30, Levey-Burden said she swore off motherhood.
“She had three children who were not the easiest to raise,” Levey-Burden recalled of her mother. “As I got older and reflected, I knew I loved her for what she did for us, I honored her but I did not want to be her. It just looked too hard.”
She swore it off again when she discovered herself pregnant at 19, during her sophomore year at college in North Carolina. Rather than stay with her boyfriend at the time and keep the baby, she came home to Connecticut. And she said for many years she never told her mother why she had decided not to return to school in that state.
When she did finally get married, she made sure to discuss her desire to not have children. As their friends also started to marry and eventually have children, her then-husband asked her to revisit the idea. Her mind hadn’t changed. But her fate would change about four years into the marriage.
“I knew before I took the test,” she said when she discovered she was pregnant. “I knew it. I cried for two days.”
They weren’t tears of joy, but she wasn’t willing to terminate the pregnancy. She went through the pregnancy “dutifully,” not particularly excited about the process of growing a baby she was certain she didn’t want.
But when her son Seth arrived, she fell in love.
“This baby’s amazing,” she said, drawing a chuckle from the audience. “He is all the things. He’s gorgeous. He smells good, and he’s fun.”
But while she was “growing in love as a mother,” she was “falling out of love,” with her then-husband, she said. The marriage broke up.
In the early days, she was angriest with her ex-husband for making her the very thing she never wanted to be: a single mother. She said it wasn’t the love story that she envisioned. But her love for her son helped her embrace motherhood.
She said she named her son Seth, deliberately because the biblical Seth was “God’s promise.” The meaning of his name is something that she now reminds him of regularly as they navigate systems, particularly school, where they are both confronted with labels like “aggressive,” and “out of control,” when his behavior is in question.
Motherhood has been hard for her, she said, but not necessarily in the way that she thought. It’s been hard to confront the fact that people don’t see her “really tall, really big, little black boy” the way she sees him. She said it has been her job to remind Seth, who will soon be 11, that he “is not bad, not a problem, not a behavioral issue.”
“That’s not the name I gave to you,” she said she tells her son. “You’re God’s promise.”
“There’s always a happy ending,” Levey-Burden told the crowd. “I get to be his shield and his rear guard. I get to tell people how to treat him. That is a love I didn’t know I had the capacity to give.”
She also found romantic love again and got married in July.
What’s In A Name?