What happens when that little-girl dream of meet-marry-motherhood goes somewhat awry?
Increasing numbers of women find they knock on the door of their 40s without the perfect partner, but still potentially craving a child of their own. Here’s the story of one woman who created her own ‘happy ever after’.
Cast your eye around any school playground these days, and you’ll be aware that there’s no longer an obvious ‘norm’ associated with the parental unit.
Increasingly, there’s an acceptance – particularly concerning mothers – that the perceived age ‘boundaries’ for conceiving your first child are being extended year on year.
What’s more, a growing number of women who enter parenthood are choosing to dismiss the generational tradition of finding the perfect partner with whom to bring a bundle of joy into the world.
Indeed, many are turning either to adoption or donors, and wholeheartedly embracing the idea of being a single parent by choice.
Janine Walker is one such woman.
A high-achieving professional with plenty of friends, family and life interests, she had never once imagined that she might be a single parent – and certainly not one who elected to have that life for herself.
“I’d go so far as to say the very thought of being a single parent absolutely terrified me,” she says candidly.
“In fact, throughout my 30s I had a few unsuccessful relationships and spent a lot of that time thinking that ‘I probably didn’t really want children that much’.
“It was only when, at 39, I found myself single again and was actually faced with an increased reality that I might not find someone, nor be a Mum, that I started questioning whether this was actually how I felt deep down.”
It is, perhaps, somewhat ironic that Janine, now 49, might ever have thought herself indifferent to the idea of parenting.
She, after all, had been the brazen youngster who would walk around the street where she lived, asking mothers if she could please be allowed to take their babies for a walk in their prams.
Roll forward a few more years, and she’d elected a role as an au-pair, taking on motherly duties for a family in the United States.
How then, could this same woman ever have conceived that she might be complete without parenthood becoming a chapter of her own journey?
“I suppose when you’re in a relationship and you’ve got plenty of time, you concentrate on it less and just feel you’re happy in the life you have – and that that perhaps isn’t shaping up to be one which includes children,” she says, picking up the story.
“For me, that change in mindset only really started to kick in when I finally realised that my opportunities were dwindling, and that before too long I would have no choice at all.”
Soon after her relationship had faltered, Janine, who has spent her career life in HR, became aware of more obvious ‘PMT like’ signs.
Although not particularly phased initially, she was ever conscious of the fact her elder maternal relations had either had hysterectomies in their 30s – or gone through the menopause much earlier than is usually the case.
At the age of 41, she finally decided a doctor’s appointment might provide clarity.
“I booked myself an appointment with the GP, sort of knowing in the back of my mind that whatever was to come out of any test, would be the decision-maker around being a Mum,” she recollects.
“I went for dinner the night before the results would be back, and remember vividly saying to my friend ‘well, if I get told I’m having an early menopause, that will be that. I’ll know it wasn’t meant to be and I won’t particularly mind’.
“How wrong I was.
“The moment I called the surgery and they gave me the news over the phone that yes, I was going through an early menopause, I just collapsed in a pile on the floor. I was utterly devastated.”
That watershed moment was to provide the catalyst for Janine’s new self-awareness around the stifled desire.
Yes, without a shadow of a doubt, she wanted to be a parent.
She wanted to be a parent, regardless of her current age, and regardless of the lack of a ‘significant other’ in her world.
“I suppose it took about four months for me to get myself into the place where I was ready to sit down with my GP and say ‘I’m ready to do this alone’,” she says.
“I’d had a few experiences in that time, like my periods returning after a period of irregularity – which mattered to me because I was convinced I couldn’t fall pregnant without that function, visiting the family in the United States where I’d been an au pair, and also speaking to a professional contact who it turned out had just had her own child by IVF.
“My doctor was absolutely fantastic and told me that it had taken her 15 years of trying to get pregnant. She said it was ‘the best news’ that I was thinking about doing this for myself, and she even ensured that the first cycle of drugs was funded by the practice – which is pretty rare I can assure you.”
With the process physically under way relatively quickly, Janine admits that gaining emotional equilibrium was considerably more challenging in the first instance.
As someone who had led her own strong and single life for so long, and who controlled every aspect of her professional and private world, entering into this unchartered territory was going to be a huge test.
“Up until that point in my life I had controlled pretty much everything,” she admits, laughing.
“With this, the success rates are so low, and there is so much of the unknown, that I had to really ask myself whether I was strong enough and willing enough.
“Perhaps the fact that I was prepared to spend tens of thousands of pounds was part of my way of knowing I was ready for it – whatever it might take.
“I’d looked into adoption from abroad and that was going to cost around £20,000. The donor route was to be somewhere between £5,000 and £8,000 per cycle minimum, without drugs, and while I knew it would potentially mean a few failed attempts along the way, it was certainly something I was more than willing to do.
“The financial issue no longer felt like it mattered, although ultimately it affected my decision to seek treatment abroad.”
Every year, thousands of women – be they alone or in partnerships – weigh up the implications of a decision as expensive and as potentially emotional and exhausting as trying for a baby via donor input.
Forums and support groups talk at length about those who have sold everything they own, remortgaged their home, or appealed to the generosity of friends and family.
It was women like this from whom Janine drew great strength – coupled with her own parents.
“I had been unspeakably nervous about telling my parents at first,” she confesses.
“I sat them down and took an age to get out what I needed to say, but from the moment I did, they were there for me and applauded my choice. In fact, my Dad said straight away that he was ‘already decorating the spare room’.
“If it wasn’t for their support, and that of so many friends and women in similar situations, then I’m sure I would have really struggled through certain aspects of the process – like injecting myself for the first time, or the first failed attempt, or, worse still, the second failed cycle where I lost my baby at 10 weeks.”
With the attempts proving ever more draining, Janine took the step of considering using donor embryos (believing her own eggs to be less viable).
One day in January 2011, she hopped on a plane to the Czech Republic and had two embryos implanted.
Two weeks later, her pregnancy was confirmed.
Some women opting for this route report feeling somewhat less elated at the news, in the knowledge that they haven’t formed their own baby genetically.
Janine confesses this was true of herself initially, but within a few months, she was allowing herself to embrace the identity of her baby’s ‘mother’.
“It was at about 19 weeks that I felt him kick,” she says, remembering fondly.
“At that point, things shifted for me.
“I knew that my baby would not be alive if it was not for my body providing him with that safe place to develop. He was my child from then on.”
Sebastian is now six, and has brought such joy and such ‘completeness’ to Janine’s world, that, to the surprise of some of her family, she decided at the age of 47 that she would start the process again, in the hope of having a playmate sibling for her son.
Cycle two achieved the dream. Reuben followed his elder brother into the world.
“I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am I chose to have my babies by myself, and that I didn’t let any prejudice about age or my single status get in the way,” she says.
“More often than not, people who hear my story say ‘good on you’.
“There may be a few that judge me, or assume things about single mothers without ever thinking that there are those of us who comfortably do so by choice.
“I don’t let those views affect me, and certainly I’m confident it won’t affect my boys negatively.
“Sebastian is already aware that Mummy chose to have him alone because there wasn’t a man perfect enough to be his full-time Daddy. I will always be honest with him, and let him and Reuben know how incredibly loved and longed-for they were and are.
“I’d say to any woman considering a route like mine, that while it isn’t easy, and there are a number of emotional, physical and financial challenges, the reward outweighs all of those issues. I’m so grateful for the life I’m leading and wouldn’t want it any other way.”