The author and her children
Editor's note: Throughout the month of February, ParentMap is exploring the concept of "having it all." Each week, we'll feature a different essay from a mother that explores her idea of what "having it all" means and how she's adapted the idea to suit her needs and the needs of her family.
When my first daughter, Greta, was born a man somewhere received a letter saying the baby was a girl and she was healthy. When my second daughter, Rori, was born, he received another letter telling him the same thing. I don’t know who this man is, but I hope he knows that because of his anonymous donation, there’s a woman somewhere who feels like she now has it all.
For me, "having it all" actually means not having the one thing most mothers have: a partner.
My partner and I had been together for over a decade and we had always wanted to start a family, but when we didn’t get pregnant straight away we weren’t too concerned. Then, when a year passed and nothing happened I went to see a fertility expert. And so began a grueling year of tests that ultimately ended with my partner and I splitting, and me making a decision that would change the course of many lives forever.
There’s nothing that can prepare you for the investigative stage of IVF. As the doctors work through the process to discover what is preventing you from achieving what comes so naturally to most others, it’s physically painful and intrusive, with highs and devastating lows. And for the man, there’s a lot of time spent alone in a room with a magazine and a cup.
Then came the day my partner said he didn’t want to do anymore. It would be overly simplistic to say IVF broke us up, but IVF does put pressure on a relationship that simply isn’t applied to others.
In the initial days, weeks and months of motherhood, the absence of a father wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about.
My next visit to the IVF specialist was less about results and more about examining my options — and without a partner, my only option was sperm donation.
When I tell people this story, the most common response is "Oh, you are so brave!" but I didn’t feel particularly courageous at the time. I felt desperate, but also optimistic. Finally the struggle of managing a partner’s emotions was over, and now all that needed to be done was get pregnant.
Choosing a donor from what seemed to be a shopping list of sperm was very odd, but actually isn’t that what most women are doing when they go on a date? Sure, many women hope to fall in love, with everything that entails, but deeper than that, aren’t they also choosing someone to father their unborn children?
The first embryo transfer didn’t take at all and the second one I miscarried after seven weeks. The third embryo, though, resulted in a pregnancy and the birth of Greta.
One year later I went back and had another embryo transferred, and that was Rori.
My mother was with me at the births and frankly, seemed a lot better option than a husband. She’s had four kids so she knew what to do, and what I needed. From what I could see, other mothers in the hospital spent half their time checking to see their husbands were okay.
In the initial days, weeks and months of motherhood, the absence of a father wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about. Most of my thinking was devoted to things like wondering if baby was feeding properly, trying to determine if she was too warm or too cold, wondering if I would ever get more than a couple of hours sleep at a time.
Being a single mother is hard, there’s no question about that. There’s a tremendous weight of responsibility falling entirely on your shoulders; there’s having to be both parents as well as the sole breadwinner; and there is the loneliness of not having someone to talk things over with at the end of the day.
But there are also terrific things about being a single mum. The kids can crawl into bed with me at night and there’s no one to complain; if we decide to take an impromptu road trip to somewhere that sounds like fun, we can do that; and I never have to compromise on what my kids are taught and how they are raised.
And even on the toughest day as a single parent, I still feel like I am living the dream. Maybe that’s because I came so close to never being a mother, or maybe it’s the amazing, crazy, beautiful reality that a gift from someone I may never met makes me feel every day that I am someone who has it all.