Husna became a single mother of three at 24, and loves the outdoors, trekking and reading. Five years after her separation, she works as a journalist at leading media organisations including the BBC and ITV. In her blog, she writes about her experience of progressing up the career ladder – and how single parenthood hasn’t been an easy ride, but she believes nothing is impossible to achieve.
I’ve heard a few people talk about pivotal points in their lives which suddenly snap them into great change. Some are triggered by certain experiences, trauma or inspiration; others are triggered by a sudden thought which completely transforms the course of their lives, either for better or for worse.
I wouldn’t say my divorce compelled me towards my success; rather, there was a particular experience following it which led to a chain of events. A thought-jerking incident that kick-started a spark I lost in my mid-teens…
One word: declined.
“Your card has been declined.”
“Perhaps I’ve punched the pin in incorrectly; I’ll just try again.”
“…Sorry, it’s been declined again.”
After the first time she mentioned the word, I already knew that it meant I didn’t have enough money in my account to pay for even the basic groceries I had in my trolley. But I attempted a second time anyway out of embarrassment and got declined again, as expected.
A queue of people building behind me, asking a million unspoken questions.
“Ah, it’s the wrong card!” I said. “May I go home and collect the right one please?”
“Sure, I’ll keep your trolley to the side for a moment.”
Head hanging, tears starting to roll down my cheeks and mouth drier than the Sahara Desert, I left the supermarket empty-handed.
I knew I wasn’t going back to collect food. I knew I had used up the little benefit money I had in my account. I knew it meant my children would have to go to bed without a proper meal that night and the morning after.
With my family in a city almost 100 miles north, I didn’t want to worry them about my financial situation, so I didn’t say a word to them about it and was too embarrassed to go to the few people I knew.
The tear rolling down my face hadn’t dripped off yet before my phone rang. It was my friend.
She was heavily pregnant and despite how I felt at that time, not really wanting to talk to anyone, I answered her call in case she needed something. She did.
“Are you doing anything this evening?”
“Okay, good, then you can’t say no to me.”
“Well, you know that lovely shepherd’s pie and pastry you made us the other week?“
“My husband has just gone out to get the ingredients. Please come to my house and make it again for us. Please come with the children and we can eat all together tonight. You can’t say no to a pregnant lady craving food and you just said you don’t have any plans!”
I was speechless.
“Of course, I’d love to.”
That night, my children ate well and went to sleep like little stuffed baby elephants.
I was relieved and grateful. But that day, I still left Asda empty-handed, and still full of regret and remorse. You don’t have to be a parent to appreciate how a mother feels returning home to her children without food.
Their comfort was my priority
I’d gone hungry many times – I wasn’t concerned about my own empty stomach. The days when they stayed with their father, I wouldn’t eat much to ensure I had enough money for when they returned. I had just got my own place after having stayed with a friend for months during the court case, so there was a lot to get for my empty apartment and things I needed to get for the children. Their comfort was my priority before my hunger.
There are many tales of declined cards, and I’d always find funny excuses as to why they didn’t work. I somehow found humour in my poverty – I amused myself.
There were many times I would hold my breath until the payment would go through and would give a sigh of relief when ‘APPROVED’ showed on the screen. Watching the receipt roll out was so satisfying, an internal celebration for being able to afford something.
At that time, I had shared custody with my children’s father. We were going through a nightmare court case and he was still in receipt of all the benefits as he was when we were married. I didn’t have any savings after the divorce and no income apart from a little Jobseeker’s Allowance, which is breadcrumbs to live on and barely enough for one person – never mind four.
Three young children.
A week with him. A week with me.
It was torture.
Sometimes, while they would be at their dad’s, I would stay in bed. I preserved energy. I consumed less food, no heating and little water. It saved money. My bed was my best friend when I was alone.
But that day in the store when the children returned in ‘my week’, I just didn’t have enough.
Perhaps it was the little ‘shopping spree’ on eBay where I won myself a second-hand coat for winter after my old one had ripped. It wasn’t expensive but I blamed myself: how could I have been so careless with my money?
The pivotal point in my life
The day I left the supermarket, I still walked home with EMPTY hands.
I still returned to an EMPTY kitchen.
I still opened an EMPTY fridge.
And that’s when I told myself: ‘Never again.’
Never again would I be declined.
That pivotal point in my life.
It was the day I actively decided that I would work hard to make sure my children lived comfortably. Never again would we live in poverty – hungry, cold, weak.
I wasn’t going to give up
So from then on, every day, I would drop the children off to school, run to catch the hour-long, three-bus journey from Walsall to Birmingham, worked, took three buses back, ran to school to collect my children (sometimes late, and got told off by the teachers for not being on time), and then fed, played with and settled the children.
These were long and hard days, often retiring to nights aching, exhausted, drained.
On the days they were with their father, I would work a second job and sometimes returned home at 3am or later, absolutely shattered. I didn’t rest when they were away. I worked harder.
I went back to my studies and after finishing my science access course, I got a place a great university to do the biomedical degree I always wanted. But things got worse as court cases dragged on and I felt more bruised internally. My financial situation seemed to be getting worse too.
With my studies on hold, I wasn’t going to give up. I decided to build my skills and volunteered at a radio station in Birmingham. They saw my passion and believed in me. Within months, I became a successful radio presenter. I presented three shows, became the main news anchor, and recorded adverts and community announcements while supporting the manager to find new talent and edit shows for broadcast. I would travel to different cities to get great interviews and landed a few with some incredible people like Harry Fear and The Singing Dentist, Dr Milad Shadrooh.
I had discovered my passion for media: my excitement and buzz in finding, exploring and sharing stories.
I wouldn’t quit
Managers and board members of the radio station sat me down and told me how I had great potential. How, if I had gone to university and it wasn’t for my unfortunate past, I would have achieved many great things by now – but I still had time.
I thought: “I’m going to teach my children that when you fall, when you face an obstacle, when you trip over a hurdle, never stop running towards the finish line.”
I could only teach them to do it by doing it.
Someone said my aspirations weren’t realistic for a single mother in my ‘situation’ when I said I wanted to work at the BBC. But before I knew it, I was doing projects with them.
I recall sitting with a friend for coffee and cake (chocolate, of course) and he asked me how it was going at the BBC. I told him how much I enjoyed it and how I would love to actually work there. He gave me one of those smiles, the ones you give a five year old who says she wants to be a unicorn when she grows up.
“Husna, the BBC…it’s big. It’s really tough to get in to, and with all due respect, they’ll want someone with a journalism degree, or a media degree, or any degree. Husna, people who have studied hard at university for years don’t get in and…”
I listened silently but inside I asked, “So?”
“…You’re also a single mother. Try something else.”
I left that short conversation grateful because it made me realise how much I wanted it, and how hard I was willing to work for it, and how no matter what anyone said, I wouldn’t quit.
Stereotypes and stigmas
I hated stereotypes and stigmas. It was the same narrative I’d hear perpetuated over and over again. Being a parent is tough stuff and doing it alone is a completely different ballgame. It’s NOT easy to carry the world on your shoulders when you’re on your own with children, but I wasn’t going to let other people set my fate.
I continued working on the projects at the BBC, shared ideas which were filmed, broadcast and even went viral – and one day, I was asked to apply for some training.
Now, here I am after finishing my qualification in creative content and production after having worked on major shows such as The One Show, Rip Off Britain Live, and Sunday Morning Live. I even jumped onto a Christmas special for ITV.
Now, I’m back at the BBC on another great show as a journalist and researcher with my own name in the credits alongside producers, executives and directors on some of the greatest programmes on TV.
Looking back to when I left the supermarket empty handed, embarrassed and with a heavy heart, I cannot emphasise how valuable that day was to me. How the word ‘DECLINED’ pushed me. Had someone told me I’d end up working at the BBC two years later, I would have thought they were mocking me.
Everyone has different pivotal points in their lives. It’s hard to see it at the time but sometimes and as cliché as it sounds, they really can be blessings in disguise.
So here I am, single-parenting through life…
Follow Husna’s journey on social media @husna.wd