"Nobody can raise a child on her own," were the words that got me banned from a solo moms' online support group recently. Although most parents wish to appear strong and capable, there seems to be a particular taboo among single moms to admitting that you’re struggling. But if you don't have a partner and you plan to have a child, it's a good idea to find an extra pair of hands before you burn out. I know — because I am a single parent. And it has driven me to the brink.
Three years ago, I gave birth to my longed-for and much-loved son, Dex. But when he was 4 months old, my partner Chris walked out. We had met through a screenwriting class when I was 37. I was in between IVF cycles and was on my way to becoming a solo mom with a sperm donor. He already had two children and wasn’t perturbed when I asked him, early on, if he’d go out with a single mom. We talked about trying for a baby together, but I didn’t want to add that pressure to our new relationship (and I didn’t want to wait a moment longer, either.) So I went ahead. Chris came with me to the clinic, and I had a blissful pregnancy during our year together. He was the first to hold Dex after he was born, and to begin with, couldn’t have been more supportive. But when Dex was 4 months old, Chris left after an argument and never told me exactly why. I found out later from a friend that he’d felt no bond with my baby. I was in shock and soon after, I was brought to my knees.
One evening as I was struggling to get home on the bus with a stroller and shopping bags, Dex woke up and wouldn’t stop crying. I lifted him out to cuddle him, but when the bus turned a corner, the empty stroller fell over and spilled my dinner all over the floor. Nobody helped. I got home and my son still cried. I changed him and he kept crying. It was November, it was dark, and there was nobody else. No neighbors, no grandma, no aunt to help — just me and a screaming baby in our small apartment.
Some dark, terrifying thoughts entered my head. Eventually, I got Dex to sleep, but the dread I’d experienced wouldn’t let me rest until I’d written a post on an online parents forum. I’ve always found writing therapeutic and needed some support. Although it’s hard to fathom why some people hurt their children, I could, for the first time, empathize with the thought process they must go through, and I wanted to express the terror I’d felt.
Less than 24 hours later, two policemen turned up on my doorstep to check on us. Someone had contacted the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a charity in the United Kingdom, because I sounded so desperate. The officers found a calm scene with us on a mat playing with toys while classical music played. I talked to them for about an hour and they left, and reassured that I was coping. They told me to expect a call from social services. The experience left me both terrified and reassured. It also made me aware that nobody has the capacity to care for a child on their own, 24/7, 365 days a year in isolation. Sleep deprivation is a killer, and even women whose partners work long hours still have someone to talk to at the end of a long day. They also have another pair of hands to take over early in the morning.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Although I’m truly grateful for having the option of becoming a mom through sperm donation, I want to be honest about how hard it can be. I’m strong, educated, organized, and resourceful, yet I felt pushed to my limits caring for a baby with no emotional support.
Baby groups, meetings with coffee, play dates, playground friendships, and moms’ networking apps all have their place in enhancing your new life with a child, but they don’t provide the safety net of a partner. My mom, who lives in Germany, comes to stay for the weekend every four to six weeks, and I cling to those little islands of relief. But when Grandma leaves, Dex misses her for days. Her coming and going only reinforces the sense of incompleteness when we are by ourselves. Thankfully, I know that as my little boy grows, so will our network of helping hands. In sharing my experience, I want people to realize that single parents need support. Getting the building blocks for life from a sperm bank is the easy part — it’s human connections that make a baby thrive and help a mother cope.
This piece doesn't necessarily reflect the views of First for Women.
This post was written by Ellie Wiseman. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.