My fertility specialist was a straight shooter.
He confirmed my age was already above the ‘ideal’ and narrowed his question to one: “In five years Anna, what do you want? Do you want a family or prince? Because they aren’t mutually exclusive, and you just need to choose.”
When I told him what I saw was a family, not a particular man (well not one that wanted me), he chuckled. “Great.” He said. “Why don’t we just have a baby then?”
I’ve always been unattached. Single, but never really alone.
I’m a social being who needs others to survive but I’d spent a lifetime becoming the third wheel in a bunch of my friends’ marriages.
And by 35, I’d spent more than a decade falling in love with emotionally unavailable men who had broken my heart (and after I’d blindly handed it to them wrapped in bacon plus instructions on how to claim a free meat smoker).
So, I gave myself the Christmas season that year, and in early February I made an appointment to see a fertility specialist.
I had a list of questions, no real plan and enough sugar induced courage to go alone.
It sounded so easy. I’d just get pregnant, have a baby, and with any luck, one day down the line the prince would show up, gushing with gratitude that I’d saved him from the sleepless baby years.
It was not, in fact, that easy. The prince still hasn’t shown up. And my heart has continued to be broken. But what I do have – at the ripe old age of 42 – is a beautiful, clever, sass queen who tells me every day that two is a family.
The road to solo motherhood is paved with good intentions. And just like all roads, there are pitfalls and potholes.
Sitting in a fertility clinic waiting room is not something I’ll forget any time soon. The crushing isolation of finding a chair for one can sometimes send you to the teary abyss you blame on hormone injections.
I would often see stone-faced couples looking for ways to build their own families. I’d see young women with their mum’s looking for early solutions to stalled periods or irregular cycles. What I didn’t see were other single women, waiting nervously, and rehearsing the words they’d never speak to convince a fertility specialist that having a baby on their own was the right option.
You rehearse that speech a lot when you decide solo motherhood is your actual Plan A. You think of all the reasons why you, as a human being, have the right and capability to have a baby by yourself, when all you’ve ever seen is how hard parenthood is with two parents. You rehearse the dialogue of the reasons your baby doesn’t need a dad. You rehearse the words you think you’ll need to justify your decision for the rest of your, and their, life.
But not one person has ever asked me to deliver those words in five years. The world accepts our family as it is. When the question does come up, the tiny human often replies for me – devoid of emotion, judgement, or the kind of fear that fills my words about the life I didn’t give her. She answers as a matter of fact about what has always been: “I don’t have a dad.”
My story is not uncommon to fertility specialists.
Even when it feels like you’re the only single person sitting in those infertility clinic chairs, take heart in the fact that there are more women than you think whose bum cheeks have shared that seat cushion, feeling the same way that you do… Alone, unsure, petrified but adamant that motherhood is a choice you’re making, and taking action to achieve.
The pitfalls of IUI are large. For me, hormone and trigger shots in the middle of work days, unviable pregnancy, induced miscarriage, unsuccessful fertility treatment, weight loss surgery to increase the chances of successful fertility treatment… and all within the space of three years.
Then, at 38 – three years to the month since my first appointment at the clinic – I was pregnant. At the ripe old age of 42, I have a five-year-old tiny queen who is about to start prep. I am a solo mum. I don’t have a second income. She doesn’t have visitation weekends with another parent. And we don’t have a biological family with a second adult to help with decisions, the mental load or even a second pair of ears just to hear about her day.
What I do have is a village that I built.
She has tens of ears that listen to her stories, and a different understanding of the words ‘brother’, ‘sister’, and ‘family’. Those words mean the people she can count on – not the ones related to her by blood.
Some days it’s tough. Really tough. And in the flair of brutal honesty, I don’t think I could be a solo mum without our broad definition of family. Day-to-day it’s just the two of us. But every day there is a face at the end of our phone checking in. There’s someone listening to her day and listening to mine. A neighbour who walks in the door with her vacuum cleaner. A doctor who writes a script for antidepressants when the world, and the exhaustion (and the the stolen meat smokers) all gets too much.
Being a mum is hard. Harder than I ever imagined. And solo motherhood has its challenges. But if it has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes, you have to ask for help.
And that’s not a solo mum thing. That’s just a mum thing.