Forty percent of Maine births are now to single moms, up from 30 percent of all births 10 years ago. These are a series of vignettes of Maine moms who are raising their children on their own. We talked to them as part of an examination of a growing trend of births to single moms in Maine.

Teri Clavet: Three little girls, one single mom, making it work

Five feet tall and slim, Teri Clavet could pass for 16, something that rarely escapes opinionated strangers who eye her 7-year-old daughter and 19-month-old twins.

“I get these nasty looks in Walmart. ‘How old are you?'” said Clavet, 25. “I wish people would stop judging. I hate it. Everybody who sees a single parent in the store ought to high five them. That would be nice.”

When Clavet got pregnant her senior year of high school, her boyfriend denied the baby was his then moved to Florida. She dated the twins’ father for more than a year before getting pregnant again. Salina and Aliana were born in September 2010. He proposed in December. He pawned her engagement ring in March. That was the end of the couple.

She moved from Lewiston to another central Maine town to avoid him. Her ex is in Androscoggin County Jail now, awaiting trial.

“I’m court-ordered to bring (the twins) into the jail to visit him once a month,” Clavet said. “We ended on a really bad note, so I don’t like seeing him, but I go in there and try to keep my cool just for the sake of the girls.”

None of it — making a new home, caring for three girls, ignoring strangers’ contempt, finding work — has been easy. Clavet sold her car to pay an old electric bill; she’d had trouble affording the insurance anyway. She’s stuck trying to find a job close by, or within reach of a reliable carpooler, but there’s a catch. The state will help with day care if the job is 30 hours or more a week. She’s found positions for 15 or 20.

“I don’t like asking people for help,” Clavet said. “I do get (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). I pay full rent, about $600 a month, then I pay my electric bill and my phone bill and diapers and wipes and I’m through for the rest of the month. Everything they need comes before anything I need or want.”

She catches rides where she can. A family member leaves work early to help grocery shop. On Tuesday, two days before one daughter’s checkup, Clavet wasn’t clear how she was getting there.

“Somehow, some way, I will get another car,” she said.

The girls share one bedroom. Clavet has begun potty training the twins and getting them into toddler beds. She’s adjusting to their newfound freedom and predawn shouts of “Mom! Mom!”

“I do get frustrated a lot, but it’s one of those things. I’ll go in the bathroom for five minutes and take a breather and come back out and deal with the situation,” she said.

Clavet is five classes short of an associate degree in early childhood education. She had enrolled at Andover College after graduating from Leavitt Area High School and stopped attending when her father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Clavet wants to finish that degree and possibly study American Sign Language.

She’s taught the twins 20 signs. Please. More. Book.

They’re happy, curious kids. Clavet bristles when anyone suggests twins must be a handful.

Being single, she likes that she doesn’t have to argue with anyone else about parenting styles, and “(I) get all the compliments, too.”

“You don’t know every person’s situation,” Clavet said. “For me and for the girls, this was the better decision.”

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Raising Haven, breathing easier

Catherine Audet recently moved to a rural part of Lewiston, paying $100 more a month in rent, so her daughter, Haven, could breathe.

The 1-year-old has asthma. She spent her first eight months with frequent trips to the hospital.

Audet, 22, doesn’t get child support. Her daughter’s father, a college student, takes her one day on the weekend. Finances have been the most difficult part of being a single mom, she said, followed by not enough energy or emotional support.

“No one to crawl into bed to at night and just feel appreciated,” she said.

Audet works full time. She feels guilty going out with friends in the evening. She misses milestones and doesn’t get enough time with Haven, as is.

Her rewards these days: “Having the cutest baby ever, pretty much,” Audet said. “Hearing her say ‘Mumma’ and recognize me, and just seeing her grow and knowing I had a part in creating life.”

Though Haven’s father had encouraged her to get an abortion — “Little did I know, he had another kid on the way” — Audet still invited him to Haven’s birth.

“I wanted to tell my child, ‘Yes, your father was there even if we aren’t together,'” said Audet.

It didn’t go off as planned.

“He had to eat a tuna fish sandwich and then breathe in my face (during delivery),” she said, laughing. “I wanted to punch him so bad. It’s my labor story.”

* * *

‘The hardest part is being everything’

Cathi Gonzalez of Lewiston is one year away from a bachelor’s degree and already thinking about law school. She’s been a legal assistant for 20 years and a single mom for almost as long.

She got pregnant with her oldest son at 19, during summer break from college. It had been a casual relationship.

“I didn’t go back to the Christian college I was going to,” she said.

She had her second son four years later, with a man who would become her husband. They had one more son. It didn’t work and the couple divorced after three years.

“The hardest part is having to be everything to my kids,” Gonzalez, 39, said. That’s taxi, chef, teacher, mom and dad. She works overtime to afford extras. Her two youngest would like her around more.

She thinks she and her sons might be closer than if dad did live at home.

“(Her oldest) will say he’s a good kid because I did such a good job. Knowing I did it myself is awesome,” she said.

He’s now 20, in the Army and has baby on the way with his girlfriend. They’ll likely tie the knot after he’s back from Kuwait at the end of the year.

“I don’t feel like it’s horrible or he’s ruined his life, and I didn’t feel that way about myself,” Gonzalez said.

* * *

Hard questions, happy milestones

Stefanie Mills made it work after she had a son with an ex-boyfriend. Pregnant with her daughter three years later and put on bed rest, she moved home with her mom, the woman who had raised her as a single parent since Mills was 5.

“My mom is amazing,” Mills said.

The extra support helped her get back on her feet. It took a few extra years and semesters, but last May, Mills graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral science. She works full time as a pre-school teacher in a classroom of children with autism.

In February, she, her 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter moved into their own Lewiston apartment.

Mills shares custody of her son with his father. Her daughter’s father didn’t want to be involved. He’s never met his little girl.

“She’s starting to ask me (questions about him),” Mills said. “That’s been hard.”

When one child is sick, it means missing work. Before she had a job with benefits, that also meant missing pay.

“I am exhausted 99 percent of the time. It can be exhausting being both parents,” Mills said.

Still, she calls it “the most rewarding thing I ever could have done.

“I made choices, I’m a single mother,” Mills said. “It’s been a long road, but I’m getting there.”

* * *

College for mom and, someday, baby

Kayla Trepanier says she was teased during her senior year in high school when people found out she was pregnant. Her boyfriend brought up marriage. He wasn’t someone she wanted to marry.

She gave birth to her daughter, Ashlynn, in September.

Trepanier, 19, and Ashlynn live in Turner with Trepanier’s mother, who watches the baby while Trepanier goes to the University of Maine at Augusta three days a week. She wants a career working with families and troubled teens.

“I don’t think I would have gone to school (were it not for Ashlynn,)” Trepanier said. “I’d be the type that wanted to work.”

Trepanier signed her daughter up for the $500 Harold Alfond Challenge grant and she’s already put word out for Ashlynn’s first birthday: She’d prefer a donation to that college fund over gifts.

Caring for her daughter solo has been difficult. Ashlynn had digestion issues. She’s on special formula. Trepanier was up with her most of last weekend with a fever.

“She’s always laughing,” Trepanier said. “The only time she cries is when I don’t get her a bottle fast enough.”

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