When life brings surprises

She never imagined she would be celebrating her 21st birthday as a single mother. But sometimes things don't go according to plan.

By John Pendygraft, Times staff writer
Published July 21, 2007

Exactly one year ago this weekend, Allison Haworth was celebrating her 20th birthday. She was having the time of her life, and time was on her side. The boys were cute, the beers were cold and the world was filled with possibilities to be explored, ignored or put off for later. Financial planning meant the month's bills were paid and there was enough change left over for some weekend fun.

She had no idea how hard the coming year would be. Three hundred sixty five life spankings, big and little, lay ahead. Strung together they would teach her that you ask for what you want and pay for what you get.

She asked for a knight in shining armor on a white horse. She paid for a man without a Trojan, his baby and his condolences. Included in the bill was an excruciating 25 hours of labor, followed by an early morning emergency caesarean section.

Five days before her 21st birthday, she became the single mother of a beautiful daughter with a sweet little made-for-Disney cry that has the nurses at Tampa General cooing, babytalking, and wondering out loud if they've ever heard a gentler sound.

Haworth works for $11.50 an hour at HSN.com, an online service of the TV shopping network. She graduated from Clearwater High School in 2004 and has dreams of becoming an RN. She has no fear of being a single mom, raising her daughter in her West Tampa apartment or being able to deal with life's curves. The only fear she admits to is the cost of child care.

"I have confidence in myself to raise her right; That doesn't scare me. Having or not having money doesn't make you a good parent. Lots of rich parents raise bad kids. Look at Paris Hilton. But you need to be able to make ends meet," she says.

"Day care can cost $600, $700, $800 a month. That can make or break you. After rent, bills and expenses, how will there be that much left over, plus money to save? With a baby you want to have a little something to fall back on. That's what scares me."

This year's birthday is sober. Haworth's vacated womb throbs and her head spins with questions she never dreamed of a year ago. But when she holds her sleeping baby daughter in her arms her mind settles. She listens to her baby's carefree breathing, feels a kind of love she never knew existed, and looks into a face she says looks both completely new and completely familiar at the same time.

"When I look back at this last year and all that's happened, maybe every decision I made wasn't the best one, but when I look at my baby, I know I wouldn't change it now for anything," Haworth says. "She's such a blessing for so many reasons. Now there's no choice. I have to become a better person. My life is lived for her now ... failure is not an option anymore."

About this feature

Seventy percent of families in the United States say they live paycheck to paycheck. American savings are in the negative, the lowest level since the Great Depression. In the Tampa Bay area, the financial pressure for many is acute: Average wages are lower than comparable Sun Belt cities, and median home prices have doubled in a decade. Add a related surge in property taxes and insurance bills (not to mention higher gas prices) and the challenge to make ends meet is quickly becoming pervasive. It's not a fringe problem. It's your neighbor; it's us. Times photographer John Pendygraft is seeking stories that put a face behind the phenomenon.

Tell us what you think

Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Or have you? Share your story at money.tampabay.com.