Insight: Why I became a solo parent by choice
This week's Insight explores the world of solo parents, and the journey women undertake when having a child solo. Isnight, Wednesday Xpm on SBS.
I am a solo parent by choice, and I am currently planning a second baby. I'm still unsure whether this is the best or worst idea I've ever had. Two little people and only one set of hands sounds like a phenomenal amount of hard work.
But it is precisely because I am a solo parent that I want to have two. I don't want to be my child's only family. I want them to have someone to whinge with when I won't let them watch the telly, or to turn to if I am no longer around. Two can be a lonely number when there's only one parent.I had my first baby at the age of 35, on my own, using a friend as the donor. I was aware I had fertility problems and didn't want to waste any more time waiting to meet the right person to start a family with.
There's an unspoken sentiment that anyone outside of the "ideal" nuclear family model shouldn't have a child because they will need "too much" support.
Being queer I was always going to need to use a donor anyway, so the decision to do it alone didn't feel like too much of a leap. A second child, however, is a big decision for anyone. "Can I afford another baby?" "Can I handle another baby?" "Will I ever sleep again?" But for me there's an added question: "Will I be supported in this decision, or will people disapprove and think it's irresponsible?"
Unlike most people, for me the act of getting pregnant is such a deliberate and planned event that it's vulnerable to outside opinions. Last month I packed up my toddler and bought a spontaneous ticket to Cambodia to visit my mum. I went, not to go and lie in the sun or to scamper over temple ruins, but to sleep. We were on the tail end of six weeks of incessant colds and teething, and I needed help. The first thing my mum said to me when we arrived was: "Are you sure a second baby is a good idea?"
I understand where she's coming from – she wants me to make decisions that are good for both me and my child. My family are absolutely wonderful, and have always been there to help out. But her words that day made me feel as though her support was conditional on me not actually needing her. From a quick survey of my partnered parent friends, being in a relationship is absolutely no guarantee that it will make parenting any easier. In fact in many ways I feel doing it on my own has been a far smoother road.
There have been no compromises or arguments, and there's been endless freedom. I've done a six-month road trip around Australia with my newborn, in a red polka dot teardrop camper. We've been to eight different countries, and visited almost every friend in my address book; we've done bush walks, boat trips, cave walks and cat sits. I've deeply relished the fact that I have no one's needs to consider other than mine and my child's – no partner's career to hold me in one place, no insular relationship to absorb most of my energy and time.
Instead, I have spent precious months travelling with my mum and her partner, and evenings and weekends with my sister and my friends. Most of the time I am the happiest I have ever been. But sometimes this is also the hardest thing I've ever done. I have to remind myself that if I occasionally need a little bit of help it doesn't mean I've made the wrong decision. It just means I'm ordinary – a normal parent who needs a break just like everyone else. When you have made the conscious choice to do it on your own, there's an unspoken pressure to be able to do it all on your own. Other than when we're too sick to even get out of bed, most solo parents I know hide the hard times and soldier on.
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child – but this misty-eyed fantasy doesn't account for the reality of Western culture, where people are too busy and life is too individualistic, particularly at 2am when the baby has just been sick all over the last set of clean sheets.
It feels like there's this dichotomy of "deserving" and "undeserving" parents. There's an unspoken sentiment that anyone outside of the "ideal" nuclear family model – anyone who is single, disabled or poor, for example, shouldn't have a child because they will need "too much" support.
My childless sister said to me recently, when picking up my kid for a day of babysitting: "I never chose to be a parent, you know." Sometimes I almost feel guilty that my decision has affected so many people around me. But it's not like I'm asking anyone to raise my child for me. All I want is a few hours to myself every now and then to vacuum the floor and go to the toilet in peace.So do I want another child? Yes, I do. Very much so. And that is something I am willing to do largely on my own – the day shifts, the night shifts, the screams, and the smiles. But like any other parent, I also need to know that when I really need to I can turn to those I love and that they won't just say, "you're the one who chose this".
Holly Zwalf is a guest on tonight's episode of Insight on SBS at 8.30, which explores why more and more people are choosing to become solo parents. She also has a blog.