As I sit at home, alone and feeling anxious, my phone buzzes into life. I snatch it from the sofa and answer with a nervous, “Hello?”
It’s the nurse from the egg-freezing clinic. I hold my breath, but it’s not good news. “We can’t treat you here because your fertility is so low. If you want a family, you should get a wriggle on or consider egg donation.”
I’m stunned, cheeks flushed like she’s slapped me in the face. I’m 38 and this is my last chance. Without a man, I can’t be a mum. My biological clock is ticking loudly.
Becoming a mum was always a dream of mine, but I’d been waiting for my moment. I’d spent my 20s as a free spirit, partying with friends and enjoying holidays abroad. Craving independence, I moved out at 17 and owned a house in Hertfordshire at 30.
I had a good job as an IT sales account manager, but realised there was something missing from my life.
I was ready to meet a man, settle down and have a family – but the older I got, the harder it was to meet someone who felt the same way. My last proper relationship was in 2013, when I was 37.
Months later, my mum died and it threw my life in the air. I was grieving and our relationship just fizzled out.
In the dating world, I was no match against a hot 20-year-old woman – the younger model was much more appealing.
Where were the men who wanted a relationship? It seemed they were all looking for fun and one night stands. Then the kids question would crop up.
I changed tactics time and again. If I lied and said I wasn’t ready, they’d judge me for not wanting kids.
But if I was honest, every guy had a script – an excuse to walk away: “You’re a bit too old,” or “I feel like I’d hold you back,” or “I don’t think I’m ready”.
They were cowards, backing out and making my age the problem – cheers for that!
I met a couple of guys over a few months in 2014 and each time we enjoyed a few dates together before it all went wrong – one minute we were laughing together, the next they were running for the hills.
I thought I had a spark with one man. I was 38 and he was 39 – he was a lovely, interesting and genuinely nice guy. But after our third date, I found myself scrolling through his essay-style text about how he would hold me back from being a mum.
My friends told me that I was too picky, joking, “You need to sort out your standards, Michelle!” But I didn’t want to settle with a man who wasn’t right for me – I’d been there too many times before.
In my 20s I had thought, “Of course I’m going to meet someone.” I didn’t consider that it might not happen and I waited too long to find out. I was desperate to be a mum and egg freezing wasn’t an option back then – I’d never thought of it.
The thought of motherhood slipping away broke my heart. It was time to look at IVF using donor sperm.
I had enough money to support my dream – I’d always saved with my future baby in mind. The emotional toll of being a single mum was a concern. I had no parents and limited support on the doorstep.
If I was going to do this, I’d be doing it by myself.
Many of my friends had children already and they warned me it’d be hard work – the IVF and motherhood – but my mind was made up. “They were right,” I thought as I sat there, a 38-year-old singleton among nervous women clutching their partners’ hands in the clinic waiting room. I felt so alone.
I had made the decision to start IVF very quickly because time wasn’t on my side. I used the London Sperm Bank to find a donor. It’s a bit like searching a dating website but with no pictures, just a description of their features, beliefs and education.
The treatment costs felt like a product offer in a supermarket, not the exciting parenthood journey a typical couple would enjoy.
I had four attempts in two years, 2016 and 2017, paying £4,000 a time to inject my belly with drugs to suppress my periods and boost my egg supply.
Then I took blood test after test in hope of good news. I had two egg extractions and two abandoned cycles (when the follicles in your ovaries don’t grow, so pregnancy is very unlikely) and one very early miscarriage.
They call it a chemical pregnancy because the baby is lost at less than six weeks. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
I spent the Christmas holidays of 2017 so excited that I might be pregnant, then I started bleeding.
When they told me that I’d miscarried I nearly gave up on the whole dream. Having gone straight back to work in January, I was in floods of tears hearing a colleague’s baby news.
I was turning 40 that September and time was rapidly running out.
The process took over my life – I ate, slept and breathed babies – and it nearly destroyed me.
But a friend urged me, “Just do it one more time or you’ll always wonder.”
So I sat in that waiting room, watching couples come and go, for my fourth and final IVF cycle. That’s when a miracle happened.
Blooming and beaming I was 40 when I became pregnant with Lois and 41 when I had her. My pregnancy was a dream – I glowed and loved my new curves. At 12 weeks I began buying babygrows and proudly posting on Facebook. I was really having a baby!
I beamed as colleagues congratulated me. I could tell they were itching to ask who the father was. I’d grin and say, “There is no dad.” They were so confused.
But I wasn’t ashamed – I was proud of what I’d achieved. I wanted to have a child so I did it by myself.
Because of my age I was classed as a “geriatric” pregnancy and induced before 40 weeks. I went into labour on 12 January, 2018, taking two friends as my birthing partners. It wasn’t the dream birth that women wish for. I rejected an epidural and regretted it!
Yet at 5.24pm on 13 January, Lois was born. My first thought as she lay on my chest was, “Oh my God, I’ve got a baby. I’m a mother.”
The first two weeks – alone with this helpless, totally reliant baby – left me reeling, without a partner to reassure me that everything was OK. When Lois cried I’d call a friend in tears in the middle of the night. But soon the shock wore off and we got into a groove. I finally felt like a mother.
Sure, I was a bit envious of the other NCT mums who had help, but it was my choice – nobody could let me down. I sought advice online when I was struggling, making friends and playdates on Mush – it’s like Tinder for babies.
I also found a fellow “solo mum” – I prefer that to single mum – and we help each other. There’s never a break and only a few people to help with school runs or provide support in an emergency, but I manage.
I’m fortunate to have people to call upon if I hit breaking point, but I often say to myself, “Put on your big girl pants and get on with it, Michelle.”
Before I had Lois I worried, “Is she going to hate me for not giving her a dad?”
Some women in a similar situation may ask a male friend or relative to be a role model for Lois, but I haven’t considered asking anyone and I don’t feel pressured to either.
We’ve got a good thing going, just the two of us, and I’m not ready to share her yet. For now, we are all each other needs.
Any day she might ask where her father is so I’ve written a book for Lois called Where DidI Come From? about how she came into the world. I want her to be aware of what a donor is and that being dad-less isn’t sad.
I’d love to publish it to help other children, too.
She doesn’t have a father, but she still mentions a mummy and daddy during imaginary play. When she turns 18 she has the choice to contact the sperm donor (who lives in Australia) if she wishes.
Lois has turned my world upside down. I can’t remember what my life was like before – I’m so tired now, as you can imagine. But now I have a purpose. I wake up the happiest I’ve ever been, even if it’s 5am.
IVF is daunting when fertility is depleting, but when you hold your child for the first time, words cannot describe the feeling. The rewards massively outweigh the hardships. I look at her every day with so much pride and think, “Wow, look what I made.”
It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, of course. But I don’t need a man in my life to help care for my child.