THEY say families come in all shapes and sizes. Mine certainly does. Me - a single woman in her early forties, Theo - an eight-year-old Russian Blue cat with only four teeth, and Sam - a three-and-a-half-year-old girl who's the love of my life.
The decision to have Theo join my household was a relatively simple one. He was popped on to a plane from Townsville and I picked up the skinny, grey, sharp-clawed creature from the airport and we became a family of two.
The decision to have Sam was not so easy and really was the culmination of a series of broken hearts - all of which happened to be mine. Borne out of frustration from wanting someone to love, I decided to take a detour from relationships, and instead thought long and hard about what I really wanted, what I really needed. I knew I had a great capacity to love someone - I just needed to find that someone who wanted and needed my love.
Deciding to have a child on your own is not something you rush into. I'd had the idea simmering at the back of my mind for a while, but suddenly the timing seemed right. Still concerned about my motivations for having a child, I spoke to a close friend, telling her I was worried that I was doing it for the wrong reasons. She looked at me and simply said: "People have children for all sorts of reasons." I found that reassuring. And if I did have a child, I knew he or she would definitely be very wanted and very loved.
But still I prevaricated. Could I afford it? How complicated was the process going to be? Could I parent a child on my own?
One day, doing the most mundane of activities (dragging a wheelie bin out to the kerb), I was hit with a bolt of unexpected confidence - I could do this!
So I found a fertility clinic and left a message saying I was interested in having a child with their help. I didn't think I would hear back quickly, but they contacted me the next day and made an appointment for me. From just being a distant dream, suddenly it was happening, and faster than I expected. I had my first appointment with my fertility specialist in December, with a follow-up appointment made for February (as the clinic closed for Christmas). In the meantime I was sent a list of sperm donors to choose from.
My Christmas holidays were spent poring over profiles of men who lived on the other side of the world, trying to find just the right person to be part of the genetic make-up of my child.
One was ruggedly handsome - an athlete with curly brown hair and bright blue eyes, but in his profile essay he sounded incredibly depressed and talked a lot about death. I decided a happy nature was more important than good looks. Another described himself as being incredibly uptight. I was hoping for a placid baby so I decided to keep looking. Finally, I found the right donor. From the essay he wrote in his profile he sounded kind, easygoing and just plain nice. So I rang up the clinic and bought a vial of his sperm. Another step in the process was completed.
A couple of months later, I started taking hormones, ready to have my eggs harvested (the term made me feel like I was a farm). I was under general anaesthetic one Friday when my doctor managed to retrieve 10 eggs. Wow, I thought. I had fantastic visions of a family the size of the Von Trapps, or maybe I could donate the remaining eggs to someone in need.
Later that day, my eggs were introduced to the sperm I'd purchased, and left to develop overnight. On the Saturday, my doctor rang to tell me that only four embryos had formed from the 10 eggs, and there was no guarantee there would be any embryos suitable for implanting on the Monday morning. Reality hit me. I could be going into the hospital only to find there were no viable embryos and I'd be back to square one. I spent the rest of the weekend in a state of stress.
Monday morning arrived and I caught a taxi to the hospital, wondering what the news would be. Was I going to possibly become a parent or was I faced with the costs of another round of expensive IVF?
When I went into the theatre, my doctor told me there was just one good embryo. But it only takes one, she told me brightly.
So I lay back on the table, a scientist came in with a test tube, and then I had this one precious embryo inserted. Suddenly there was an announcement over a loudspeaker in the room. I panicked, thinking that with both my feet up in stirrups it was a lousy time for a fire drill. The doctor explained to me it was the scientist talking to her from the lab, saying, "It's not here", meaning he'd looked in the bottom of the test tube to check the embryo was not still there. But it wasn't there. It was inside me. So that was that. Time to go home again and wait.
And wait, and wait, and wait. Two long weeks of wondering, constantly Googling possible pregnancy symptoms, and basically just driving myself nuts. I had a blood test at the fertility clinic and then had to wait for a phone call from my doctor. Finally, around midday one Sunday, my doctor called and said: "I have happy news. You're pregnant." Cue much excitement and happy tears.
Nine months later, I made it through what seemed like a very long pregnancy (though no longer than most) and finally reached my due date. However, my baby decided she was perfectly comfortable where she was. A week later enough was enough and both the doctor and I said, 'let's get her out'. So I was booked in to be induced in a couple of days. My friend Kate, who was going to be my birth partner, picked me up on the Sunday night and drove me to the hospital. About 4am Monday morning my waters broke and it was action stations. The midwife rang Kate, who arrived in time to help bring Sam into the world. Five hours of labour and Sam was born. My family had now become me, a four-toothed cat and a beautiful, healthy little girl with a mass of dark hair.
My wonderful mother stayed with us for the first two months of Sam's life - cooking for me, doing the washing, and taking turns walking up and down the hallway with a little girl who didn't want to go to sleep. Once things settled down mum headed home and it was just Sam and... and Theo.
More than three years later, it's been the most amazing, exhausting, rewarding and difficult journey. We've survived Sam catching just about every germ available in her first couple of years at daycare, countless ear infections, tonsillitis, mysterious spots, sleepless nights and anxious moments. There's been loneliness, stress and not a lot of spare cash. There's been tears and tantrums from both of us. In order for me to be able to get things done, Sam has watched more TV than the experts recommend, but the upside is she knows so many lyrics and actions to Play School and Wiggles songs.
I work full-time with Sam in daycare. Would I like to have her home more? Yes, very much, but I simply can't afford it. Fortunately Sam is in a marvellous childcare centre, where she is happy, secure and shown much affection by the caring staff there. And we just make the most of our mornings and evenings, and have wonderful weekends together building cubby houses, having picnics, baking biscuits, going on adventures and, yes, still watching lots of Play School and Wiggles. It's quality over quantity when it comes to our time together.
Do I have any regrets about having a child on my own? Absolutely not. It's definitely been tough being a solo mum, carrying the emotional, physical and financial burdens on my own, but I have wonderfully supportive parents nearby who do what they can to help out.
And what have I gained? I'm the most content I have ever been, with a sense of purpose and a new-found strength and resilience. I'm the mummy to a precious, happy, imaginative, delightful and twinkly-eyed little girl who tells me often that she loves me. Who loves to snuggle up to me, has an awesome sense of humour, is an expert at blowing raspberries, has inherited my love of musicals, gives me a rock star reception when I arrive to pick her up from daycare, and has complete and utter faith in me.
I don't have the tidiest house and we don't always sit down to a dinner of meat and three veg, but we have a home filled with love and laughter, kindness and cuddles. Oh, and a four-toothed cat.
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