Solo motherhood: what to expect when you're expecting on your own

Natalie Imbruglia announced her first pregnancy on Instagram on July 25.
Natalie Imbruglia announced her first pregnancy on Instagram on July 25. Photo: Natalie Imbruglia

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have my own children. I didn't know where, when or with whom, but like most straight women of my generation I assumed I'd meet a man, get married and start a family. It didn't work out quite that way for me, and I'm not alone.

When the 44-year-old singer, Natalie Imbruglia, announced this week she was pregnant with her first child, thanks to IVF and a sperm donor, I privately welcomed her to the burgeoning club of solo mums by choice, of which I'm a happy member.

"I'm expecting my first child this autumn," Imbruglia revealed on Instagram. "For those of you that know me, this has been something I have wanted for a very long time and I'm blessed that this is possible with the help of IVF and a sperm donor. I won't be saying anything more on that publicly." I have fewer qualms about sharing my journey to motherhood.

During my 20s and 30s I had a few long-term relationships. At the age of 33, I moved from north-west London to Israel for a new adventure, and effectively relived my 20s again: I had no major responsibilities, a good job in a hi-tech firm - and plenty of time to have fun. I travelled and met amazing people, but no one with whom I wished to have children. And I didn't wish to merely settle for a man who wasn't right.

At 37, something changed. I lost someone very close to me and it altered my perspective on life. It made me take stock and consider what mattered to me most. And what mattered was becoming a mother, at any cost.

Given that I was single at the time, it wasn't going to be straightforward; but the more people I speak to, the more I understand that starting a family is very often not straightforward, even for those in a couple. Alternative ways of having a family are becoming more common.

Earlier this year, figures showed the number of IVF attempts by women without a partner had almost quadrupled in Britain in a decade, rising from 351 in 2007 to 1,290 in 2017. More than half of those attempts were by women aged 40 and over.

In Genevieve Roberts's recent book Going Solo: My Choice to Become a Single Mother Using a Donor, she helps normalise the experience of this growing number of women, who are doing things differently, and both of us belong to a nationwide solo mums support network on a social media site.

For me, becoming a solo mum was a no-brainer. Motherhood was non-negotiable, and in the back of my mind I knew that if I reached a certain point, I'd do whatever I had to do, to have children of my own. Within a fortnight of my bereavement I went to my doctor and told him, "I would like to have children, please. But I will have to get pregnant using a sperm donor. Help me."

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I had no fears about going it alone. It helped that in Israel the subject is far less taboo than over here, but I also knew myself well enough to realise I could handle it and make a success of it, too.

I chose an anonymous Israeli sperm donor based on a limited amount of information, knowing only his height, hair colour, eye colour, ethnicity and education level and went through five rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI), in which sperm is inserted directly into the womb.

Although I was completely healthy, the treatment just wasn't working, so aged 38, I moved on to IVF. It took six attempts, a process that took its toll, both physically and mentally; two years of hormone treatments, injections, hope, failures, tears and a billion other emotions.

Every time it failed I asked myself the same question: "Are you ready to give up your dream of being a mum?" My answer was always, without fail, a resounding "no". So, with a mixture of determination not to be beaten by it, and an inherited stubbornness, I pushed on and finally fell pregnant. At the age of 40, I gave birth to healthy twin girls, who are now almost three years old. I couldn't have been more delighted.

The fertility treatment cost me in total something in the region of $18,000 - far cheaper in Israel than in the UK - and I am lucky, not only that I could afford it, and have the means to raise my children with only my income to draw on, but to also have an amazing support network.

My mother and sister flew out to be with me when I gave birth and, when my daughters were three months old, I moved back to London so as to surround them with grandparents, cousins, aunts and lots of friends. I wanted them to have it all.

I knew I could give them a loving and stable childhood, and I'm pleased to say it's been working out as hoped. Which isn't to say it's all been a breeze.

Any new parent will tell you that managing young babies is tough, however many you've got. But in hindsight I'm glad I had twins as I wanted any child of mine to enjoy the close sibling relationship I have with my sister, and it fills me with joy that my little girls are best friends.

It's still regarded as fairly unconventional to have children in the way that I have. It doesn't help that those who have trouble conceiving naturally are often depicted as selfish career women who have left it too late to start a family. Nothing is that black and white.

It is easy to point fingers and tell women "it's your fault, you should have thought about it sooner". Others blame commitment-phobic men, for squandering their partners' fertile years, but I don't think anyone is ready until they are ready, male or female.

I made a choice to have children at 40 in a way that was possible for me. I also made a choice to go back to work full-time, finding a nursery for my daughters when they were seven months old. Both they and my career have flourished.

Some people have asked me why I didn't just "go out and get pregnant". The answer to that is an easy one: I knew from the start that at some point I would need to explain to my children where they came from. I did not want to have to tell them, "well, Mummy went out and got drunk". I want to tell them that they were the most wanted children in the world.

Most people seem to understand this. Outside my immediate (and extremely supportive) circle of family and friends, the majority of those whom I meet tell me, "it's amazing what you've done, good for you, I respect you," when I tell them about how I conceived. I've never had a negative reaction.

If I had my time again, would I change my path in any way? Not for a single second. I've had an incredible life: I've travelled and lived in lots of countries. Then I settled down and had children. Yes, they come from a single-parent family. Is that detrimental to them? Hell, no. I don't provide any less stability or love than a child growing up with two parents would receive.

I would be really happy to meet someone in the future and welcome them into our lives, but I believe there's no time limit on that. Unfortunately, biologically, having children does have an "end date". I'm glad I did it in time.

As told to Rosa Silverman.

The Sunday Telegraph