There are times when I absolutely love being a single mum. I love that my toddler can creep into bed with me for a cuddle and no-one will object. I love that if we choose to stay out late, we can share
a toasted cheese sandwich in our pyjamas for dinner. And I love that I don’t have to consult anyone about important issues like what to tell the child about the existence of Santa or God. It’s like I am dictator of my own little universe.
Then there are the times when Greta is sick and I am up all night. Or when I’m on a deadline and she decides to throw a tantrum. Or when an unexpected bill arrives and I wonder if I will be able to pay it this month.
Technically, I chose to become a single parent, although I always wanted to raise children with a husband. But I hit 40 and with no husband in the house – or on the horizon – I was faced with a choice: have a baby via IVF using sperm from an anonymous donor, or miss out on motherhood. For me it was a no-brainer, and I chose the IVF option.
Although I was thrilled at the prospect of having a baby, I was worried about single parenthood and how it would impact my life, and I questioned my ability to cope. As it turns out, though, my experience has really shown me how outstanding the people around me are and also how brave and capable I can actually be.
The truth is, there are great things about being a single mum, and there are the not so great things. The trick is to make sure the good bits outweigh the bad – and the time to prepare for that is now, during your pregnancy. Here’s how.
Start a maternity leave budget now!
Pre-Greta, I never really stopped and asked myself, “Do I actually need another $500 pair of boots?”, so the thought of being without an income for a whole year while on maternity leave terrified me. Forget the footwear, I had a mortgage and bills to pay.
What you need is a plan. Start by calculating how much income you can expect. What paid leave will you receive? Make sure you include any maternity leave, as well as additional leave entitlements such as annual leave and pro-rata long service leave. Add to that any government maternity leave and family payments. Once you know how much money will be coming in you can start planning a new budget to see you through your leave.
Organise child support payments
According to Barbara Bryan, director of online resource centre Single Mum Australia, the time to sort out child support payments due from the baby’s father is now – because it could take longer and be more difficult than you anticipate.
“Australian children are collectively owed as much as $1.2 billion in child support,” she says. “Probably the most common complaint is fathers not declaring income from ‘cash in hand’ jobs, or otherwise hiding income.”
Thankfully, says Bryan, the Government’s Child Support Agency can act as intermediary and organise payments on your behalf. “If the father refuses to pay, they may be able to have it taken from his salary.” The amount of child support fathers are expected to pay depends on a number of factors including their income, particular or special needs of the child, the living arrangements of both parents and whether he has other dependents and is calculated on a case-by-case basis. Sperm donors are not considered to be fathers and therefore have no parental responsibilities such as the obligation to pay child support.
Get a freezer and fill it
One thing that sticks with me about the first few months of motherhood is that I was starving all the time (thanks to breastfeeding a child with an insatiable appetite) and that I was too exhausted / didn’t have any time to prepare food for myself. You are going to need all the nutrition you can get to function as a single parent, so it is vital that you eat well. Organise a large freezer and start filling it now. Just cook a couple of extra portions with your dinner and you’ll build up a collection of ready-made meals in no time.
Feather your nest thoughtfully
Given that funds are likely to be tight for a while, it makes sense to ask friends and family to buy gifts you really need. You might adore that retro-style cot mobile, but when you are trying to comfort a newborn with one hand, while boiling bottles over the stove with the other, you may wish you had asked for the electric steriliser instead.
A lot of baby stores allow parents-to-be to register, and trust me, your friends will be thankful for any guidance you can give them.
Organise your support group
I am sure I don’t say it enough: ‘Mum you are a lifesaver!’ When Greta was born, my mother moved in with us for two months. She cooked, taught me how to settle the baby, and stroked my head and told me I was doing a fantastic job whenever I burst into tears.
Every new mother needs mothering. If you are without a partner or hands-on mum, organise a roster of friends and family to come over and just help out in those first few weeks. Don’t ever imagine that you are a burden – you will be amazed at how appreciative people are of being given a meaningful and tangible way to help out.
Contact your local early childhood centre and ask for details of a single parent support group in your area. You can also search the internet for more specific groups, such as those for parents of IVF babies or gay couples.
Deal with the whispers
Pretty much the first thing people want to know when you tell them you are pregnant and single is ‘Who is the father?’ Make sure you have a couple of answers prepared so you don’t feel awkward or uncomfortable. ‘Her father and I are no longer in a relationship,’ should satisfy most questions and allows you to retain some privacy.
“In my own pregnancy, I learned to reassure people that I was in fact absolutely delighted with the baby, despite finding myself alone and pregnant,” says Bryan. “Once all my friends and family knew I was alone but happy, the questions and initial pitying stopped.”
Prepare for the birth
“Some single mothers are embarrassed or self-conscious about hospital visits,” explains Bryan. “If you can, take a girlfriend, mother, potential birth-support person or other companion with you to doctor or clinic appointments and birth classes. It will help you to feel less conspicuous.
“I had no support for the birth of my second daughter. But it was a lovely, relaxed and stress-free birth, with nurses and doctors all being wonderfully supportive and upbeat. It was a perfect example of how fulfilling the arrival of a new baby can be – even without a partner.”
Ride the emotional rollercoaster
“Single mother pregnancy can be a time of great joy – or upset – or a combination of both, depending on the circumstances under which you became pregnant,” says Bryan. If you are widowed or if your partner has left unexpectedly, you may be experiencing grief, whereas if you believed you were unable to become pregnant, you might be ecstatic.
On top of that, you might also be dealing with cultural issues or moral judgements from family or friends. And sadly, we still live in a society where some people view single mothers as smoking, drinking losers who are just in it to get the pay-outs.
If you find the emotional strain is becoming unmanageable, you must seek help. There is a lot of support out there for you (see bow below), and looking after your own mental health could be the first and best thing you do for your new baby.
“Having a baby alone is simply amazing,” concludes Bryan. “It’s tough, it’s wonderful – and it is a time of great and unforgettable joy in your life, and something you will never, ever regret.”
By Margaret Ambrose