I’m a single mum by choice. On one hand, it’s the thing I’m most proud of, but on the other, I honestly wish I hadn’t had to do it that way. Not that I ever had fairytale dreams, but it does mean that forever more, I am that person who had a baby by myself. There’s a crack in the foundations, in a way that I never expected.
How I got here
I’d looked forward to having children since I was quite young. I married in my 20s, we had a beautiful house and I thought kids would be the next step. We tried for a couple of years, but it didn’t happen. We weren’t right for each other ultimately, so I feel like it was the universe making that decision for us. We split up in my early 30s, and before I knew it I was nearing 40, thinking, ‘Fuck. I haven’t met the right person.’
I realised there’s a timeline. I’ve got the rest of my life to meet a partner, but only a certain amount of time to have a baby, so I put myself on the list for a sperm donor. I was realistic that it might not work, and determined not to be defined by whether it did or not. I’m fortunate to live where I do, have a great job, a great circle of friends. If I didn’t have a baby, I would travel, there’d be other kids in my life. It would be OK. I would have been very, very sad, but I knew it couldn’t be the thing that broke me either.
Once I made the decision, it felt nice to be doing something proactive, but by the same token, it’s lonely doing it by yourself.
It took two years between applying for a donor and Max being born. I feel really lucky that my mum and dad were up for hearing every tiny detail about the pregnancy – all the things I imagine most women talk to their partner about.
But there were definitely moments of loneliness, usually in the middle of the night while suffering with insomnia. That’s when I started gearing myself up for doing it on my own, sitting in bed repeating the mantra, ‘It’s just you and me, little human.’ It was the beginning of our bonding. We became a team, knowing that it might well look like that forever.
I felt a bit manic closer to the birth, overthinking what was going to happen. When they said they were going to induce me – because I was over 40 – I felt relieved. While it was scary in one way, the upside meant I wasn’t going to go into labour in the middle of the night on my own.
I wanted a birth partner, and I didn’t want it to be my mum. It would have been too much pressure for her, seeing me in so much pain, so I asked a very close friend. For the whole month beforehand, I made sure we were in an ongoing conversation. She was a total rock the whole way through, and I reckon she got more than she bargained for. More than 48 hours of me being induced and some time spent ‘down the business end’. There’s a bond that will never be broken between her and me, as well as she and Max.
When she left, about an hour after he was born, I didn’t want her to, but I knew she had to. There was definitely fear in that first moment of being by myself, but I think everyone experiences that at some point. Four nights postpartum, I was desperate to go home, but the midwives didn’t want me to leave, because they knew I had no support at home. They were looking out for me, but I’d been there six nights with no fresh air, and I was climbing the walls.
I was ready to test the mantra, ‘It’s just you and me.’
The day-to-day reality
What I say to women thinking of having a kid on their own is: don’t assume you’ll always have help. To give you an example, Max had hand, foot and mouth early on, so we had five days at home. I was sick, he was sick, no one could come and see me. It was really, really hard. But it’s about managing your own expectations. I went into this knowing there was no one to give me a sleep-in, or take over when he’s wide awake at bedtime, so there’s no resentment. There’s no ongoing tally of what fair looks like, or who’s doing more or less.
People sometimes say, ‘I went into having a child looking like the perfect family, and halfway through we divorced, and now I’m a single mum anyway.’ But it’s not quite the same, especially for the ones who share custody, a week on and a week off. It’s a whole other roller coaster, but at least they get a break. I’ve been tired now for three and a half years, with no real break. The mental load is huge, and I struggle with that.
My parents don’t live nearby, so they’re not always around to help, and although I do have some family in the same city and they want to help, people have their own lives. They’re busy, and when you do ask a favour, it’s at the risk of what their own kids’ need. I found friends who don’t have children are more able to offer support – they’ve got more time and more flexibility. Everyone says, ‘You know, you’ve got to reach out and ask for help.’ But it’s not as simple as that. Everyone thinks I’m all over it. The truth is, if you haven’t spoken to me in a while, I’m probably drowning. I need you to call me.
So, on the whole, I haven’t asked for help as much as I should have. Instead, I just decided I was a machine. I knew before I had him that efficiency was going to be the thing that got me through. I rarely let him fall asleep on me. If I did, I’d have a child on me, and I wouldn’t be able to have a shower. I’d whip around, tidying, topping up nappies, refilling water and making sure I was all set for the next shift. I still find bringing shopping in with a child very hard. And putting the bins out. They’re the really specific moments in time when I wish I had a partner.
I need financial stability to be able to function, so I had a nanny organised early. I did my first work small project when he was five months old, then went back three days a week when he was nine months, and full time at about 13 months. Now, he goes to daycare and I work, and it’s hard to keep all the balls in the air. I’ve tried to do my job in four days, but it’s not physically possible.
Doing it by myself, though, I’m very much in control of how much else I take on. If I’ve had a few busy days, there’s nothing in my world that stops me from slowing it down. I don’t have to think about supporting a partner. I can literally close the door and figure it out between me and Max. Life got so much easier when I stopped saying yes to everything on the weekend, and committed to just one thing. It’s helped me become very clear about who and what I say yes to.
I’m not ready to give up the concept that I might meet someone, but I don’t have heaps of time for anyone else at the moment. I might have more energy for it when Max is older, but for now I’ve got used to doing things a certain way. That’s the only way I can keep the show on the road.
I sometimes do a bit of swiping online, but it takes a fair bit for me to be interested these days. It takes a lot of chatting first, and definitely a phone call, to make sure we’re in the same place. I’m sure that’s very unattractive, but if you make it through that, I might be willing to pay for a babysitter.
It would also be nice for Max. He talks about dads all the time. He tells everyone, ‘I don’t have a daddy. It’s just Mummy and me and our two cats.’ That makes me sad – that he’s only three, and he’s totally aware of it.
But if I’m honest, I’m sad for myself too. I wanted a family, and I have one now, but not quite in the way I wanted. That doesn’t change how much I love Max – he’s literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But when women tell me they’re thinking about it, I don’t just tell them to go ahead and do it. It’s not something to be taken lightly, because it is really hard. I absolutely have moments of going, ‘I actually don’t think I can do this.’ And then the day passes, you kiss them goodnight, and you wipe the slate clean and start again.