Fun Experiences of a Solo Parent
Posted on September 4, 2013 by Daniel at 2:00 am
Building a family and having a baby with Mr. Right was what Anna Wharton, and probably most girls, have always dreamed of. Never did she expect that she will only be getting half of the bargain – yes, only the baby! But she proved to herself and the world that it’s perfectly OKAY and FUN to be a single mum!
Two years ago, I never imagined my life turning out the way it did today. Back then, I was a newspaper expensive earning 60,000 a year, with a generous expense account – so generous that it afforded me nightly dinners to the best London restaurants and champagne drinks whenever I and my friends went to bars. I lived in a North London flat, and treating myself to a black cab home was never an issue.
I worked hard, often at 70 hours a week, thus I considered myself deserving to a treat every now and then. Constantly arriving on my desk are those little – or rather big – black Net-a-Porter bags; and spending 400, 500, 600, or no matter how huge the amount is, didn’t matter as long as it’s something for myself. Not too far back in my mind, just like any other woman in the mid-thirties, was the dream of meeting Mr. Right before my ovaries expired. We would then get married and have children. The next thing I knew, I was in a situation that I never would have imagined myself in.
In 2011, I was swept off my feet by the man I thought was Mr Right – Mr Perfect, in fact. He was the frontman in a successful band and we quickly fell head over heels in love. Despite the fact that I’d just been promoted at work, and we hadn’t been together very long, when he said that he wanted us to have a baby it didn’t take me too long to agree.
Why? Because like many women in their mid-thirties, I’d waited a long time to meet this so-called Mr Perfect. Because all the time I was sipping champagne and walking around in expensive Mulberry boots, I’d actually been longing to settle down. I was working, shopping and socialising while I waited for my real life to start.
So I didn’t mind leaving the newsroom at 11pm, because it was temporary. Real life was going to come and find me, and that meant a man who loved me, a baby, a family, a future.
Like many women of my generation and in my position, I also feared that day would never come. Once my 35th birthday had passed I had an intermittent worry that dedicating myself to my career and waiting for Mr Perfect had actually meant that I was going to sacrifice being a mother. I only had to look around every office I’d ever worked in to see that fate had befallen many other career women before me – the women over 40 who had “left it too late” to have children.
It turned out, however, that the day came quicker than we could have expected. Within four months of meeting – and a month of trying – I was pregnant. It was what we’d wanted, it should have been perfect. Instead, it was a disaster.
Within a week of me announcing to him that I was pregnant, he was telling me he didn’t want the baby. I was devastated by his about-turn, of course.
I simply couldn’t have a termination. We’d put a baby in my womb with love, I wasn’t going to extinguish its life just because my 40-year-old boyfriend (and already father to a three-year-old) had “changed his mind”. I couldn’t do it. So, against his will, I kept the baby.
Most friends were supportive, but some were pretty direct about my predicament. One in particular didn’t pull any punches when she said: “Urgh, your life is going to be s*** now.” The ones who already had children (and partners) just told me what hard work it was for two of them – let alone one, but they said that if anyone could do it, I could.
Because of the circumstances of my pregnancy, I didn’t bask in the usual congratulations. My family were too worried about me to indulge in thinking about the joy my child might bring.
I was no longer the social butterfly out at bars and restaurants. In fact, with my growing bump and no-one’s hand in mine I felt too ashamed to go out. Despite knowing that families these days – particularly in liberal London – come in all shapes and sizes, I felt that old-fashioned shame that I was a pregnant single woman. I couldn’t face antenatal classes with couples, knowing I’d feel like the odd one out.
My baby’s father came and went for my entire pregnancy, each time promising he loved me and that he’d just freaked out, then once I’d desperately clung onto any hope, leaving me again.
He was there when I gave birth to our daughter, Gracie, in August 2012 – although as he’d been Awol for months before that, I’d had to make plans for my new life in his absence.
This is what these plans consisted of: leaving my lovely two-bedroomed flat that I’d been living in for ten years, my job and all my friends, and buying an old house that needed renovating next door to my mum in Peterborough. Moving back to my home town was my idea of hell, but with a baby on the way and no father around, I felt that I had no choice. My salary might be healthy but I’d seen enough couples struggle affording life and childcare in London. Plus, most importantly, I knew I needed someone on hand – and the only person that could be was my mum.
You won’t be surprised to hear that my baby’s father was gone again days after Gracie’s birth. So all the sleepless nights were left to me.
It was particularly hard as I was recovering from an horrific forceps birth and had been prescribed bed rest. That is not possible when you are caring for a newborn alone (at this time I was still in my top-floor flat, waiting for my new house to complete).
So this is what I mean by roughing it: rocking a Moses basket with one hand for hours while you desperately text a friend with the other asking “When does this get rewarding?!”
Not even having ten minutes to yourself, when your newborn is grizzly in the evenings, to fix yourself a meal; then, once she is down, being too exhausted to eat anyway.
“Ssshing” your baby until you feel your jaw is going into spasm when she’s crying endlessly and you have no idea what’s wrong because you’ve been breastfeeding her until you felt your nipples would fall off, you’ve already changed the clothes she’s puked on (four times), the nappies that she’s pooed in (and often out of), and there’s no-one to turn to, or hand her to, and say: “What do you think is wrong with her?”
Then there’s the financial side of things, living on 135-a-week statutory maternity pay after my six weeks maternity package finished – not enough to pay the mortgage. Then, after that, just 37 a week from my baby’s father (he chose to pay the minimum amount dictated by the CSA) and 20 child benefit.
We moved four times in the first five months of my daughter’s life. We stayed with friends while the builders were working on our new house. Honestly, the builders were pretty understanding and had put their efforts to expedite the process of construction. For those wondering how we came across them, you would easily get their name recommended if you look for advice on residential construction in Yorkshire or nearby locations (from professionals).
However, though the builders were doing everything to speed up the process, the movement from one place to another was quite traumatic. Four times, I was barely holding it together.
Once the builders left, in-between breastfeeds, I scrubbed the quarry-tile floors of my 200-year-old house and painted the walls so that my daughter and I had a place to move into. The dining room that I’d completed with a farmhouse table and six acrylic chairs remained unused because my London friends didn’t come and visit.
Life may have changed unimaginably for me, but everyone else was still doing what they always had – I saw on Facebook that they were still drinking fizz in the same bars while I spent my nights soothing a teething baby.
The loneliness: that’s a killer. I got my baby into a routine early on, but once she’s in bed at 6.30 pm, I have no-one for company except the telly.