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How I survived divorce as a young mum

Celebrities and their dramas don't usually interest me. The pictures of Katie Holmes with her young daughter Suri in her arms caught my attention, though, and with it a flood of memories came back to me.

I was 26 when my marriage ended in 1993. My daughter was just a year old. There was no divorce in Ireland then, and I got more than one sideways stare and disapproving look -- everyone speculating what went wrong.

At first, I felt a huge sense of relief, and of liberation. Then my baby would look up at me with her huge blue eyes and grief would punch me full-force in the stomach. What about her rights? I'd dreamed of giving her a happy, loving home with both parents to care for her. A normal family. What would I be giving her now?

Yes, she'd still have a relationship with her father, but we'd agreed it would be better if she lived with me.

Her father could see her as often as he wanted to, which thankfully was often.


Still, I felt I had short-changed my daughter, given her a disadvantage. Every time I looked into her eyes, my heart broke a little more. Yet, I knew this was for the best.

I bought a small terraced house and felt great about finding it myself, and getting my own mortgage. The day I got the keys, I was alone. The last time I'd bought a house, my first home, I'd been with my then fiance. We'd popped open a bottle of Asti and looked around the bare rooms, as we talked about our future plans.

But this house was just for me and my child and I'd no idea what our future looked like. I turned the key with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The door wouldn't open. Two black rubbish bags had been left against it. I pushed them out of the way, and walked around the house. The place was filthy -- the toilet wasn't even flushed and that, it seemed, summed up my life. I sat on the stairs and cried my heart out.

When my father saw the state of the house, he set about getting it redecorated. I accepted help, relieved to be his little girl again for a while, and not someone's wife.

It's amazing how something as simple as ripping up carpets and tearing down wallpaper can be so symbolic. I had been given a fresh start -- a blank canvas on which I could paint my own future. I turned my future pink. That house was the prettiest, most feminine house I'd ever seen. I had made a home for me and my daughter, albeit a pink one.

It was time to start our new life. Yet, there was still the stigma to deal with. It was one thing being separated, but another thing to be seen out enjoying myself. Besides, when I'd married I'd moved away and lost touch with my friends.

I wanted to go out, and have fun, but I was in this No Man's Land of not fitting with the singles scene but not fitting with the couples scene either. A man I'd grown up with called me when he heard the news I was back. He'd invite me along to social events and introduce me to people. I went out the Malahide estuary one day and he introduced me to his girlfriend, Hannah. I could only watch the jet-skiing from dry land as my daughter was with me. Hannah was on crutches -- so land-bound too, she sat with us.

That was my first conversation with my best friend.

Slowly, I built a new life. I had to deal with a host of challenges, such as how to run a household, fix things, put shelves up, use a drill, work full-time, be mother and father on a daily basis. Then at weekends I'd socialise with other twenty-somethings -- most of whom were still living at home with their parents.

I'd put on extra make-up, to hide the dark circles under my eyes from sleepless nights of dealing with a teething toddler. I smelt of baby lotion instead of CK One.

It was like I had two personas. The carefree woman eager to fit in, and the single mother who'd spend Sunday catching up on laundry, making dinners for the week ahead and tidying toys away.

I was one of the lucky ones -- I had the support of a loving family. But still, when I closed my door, it was just me and my daughter. I was solely responsible when most of my peers didn't think beyond the weekend.

So how did it turn out? My daughter has just earned her degree from DCU. She is starting out in life -- I was getting married at her age. She has a good relationship with her dad.

As for me, I am a stronger person. I don't live my life in fear of what other people think of me.

We talk quite openly about my daughter's rocky start. I owe her that.

I was young, naive about marriage and didn't understand the postpartum depression I experienced after childbirth.

It was a case of too much, too young.

I don't suppose Katie Holmes will have to worry about keeping up with laundry, but her emotions and feelings probably won't be that much different.

If I could give advice to other young women in this situation it would be to let go of feeling guilty -- it's a wasted emotion.

I for one, look forward to seeing Ms Holmes and Suri, blossom. I wish them well on the adventures that lie ahead.

The Other Woman, by Siobhan McKenna, is published by Poolbeg, price €12.99.