Once upon a time there was a woman who had two beautiful kids by herself and they lived happily ever after.
This is a greatly condensed and diluted version of the story, which skips past a ravaged bank account, a laundry basket that won’t quit, the mental tippexing out of various ill-timed viruses, the installing and deleting of dating apps, self-loathing next to other – seemingly perfect – parents, and hundreds of half eaten tins of baked beans.
Dad raised my brother and I on his own, following a nervous breakdown which played a part in my Mum leaving him. It was 1981, I was 4 and Matthew was 6. That same year, David Bowie released ‘Under Pressure’ which served as a fitting soundtrack. Dad ran his own business and taught me what truly mattered. He warned me of people who viewed kindness as a weakness, showed me what he could of the world, and left me with no doubt that I could reach my own cookie jar – regardless of age or stature.
It’s 2020, I’m a gay single Mum with a 5-year-old boy who I want to dance with every night (even when he requests Bruno Mars) and a 1-year-old daughter who is more independent than me at times, and says hello to cars. ‘Rain on Me’ has been released by Lady Gaga which, again, seems fitting – only they should have released a ‘lockdown mix’ involving swear words and something unkind about our government when played backwards.
I seemed to turn 36. I’d got plenty out of my system by then, but I had also rudely lost both my parents to cancer in close succession five years before and knew, in a bone-chiming way, that I was ready to embark on my biggest ambition of all: parenthood. Despite my romantic efforts to find a co-pilot and a second set of nail-painted hands with whom to start a child-rearing home, my desire to start a family became a deafening obsession and I developed Kanye West-flavoured swag and eerie calm that I could totally do this solo.
I had heard of Stork Clinic in Copenhagen via my Danish friends – and I had fallen deep in toe-tripping love with Denmark on a visit at the age of 19 – so I went to discuss my options and chances to conceive. They were bloody brilliant in every regard and it felt like I was strutting into a classy private members club which I couldn’t afford, and yet the VIP lounge was at my disposal 24/7. I found the chapter of choosing a donor to be surreal but comforted myself with the fact that, actually, what does anyone know about the person they pro-create with beforehand? Do they know, like I do, that their aunty has green eyes and curly hair and the professions of both their parents? I was blown away by how elaborate the profiles were and found that the European Sperm Bank operated a super slick and friendly service, which helped to oil all the cogs turning in my head. Stirring your DNA with another human being goes beyond a paint colour-match at B&Q on a Sunday.
Johan finally made his royal arrival into my life after a turbulent year and a half. The sixth IVF attempt won me his deep, devoted eyes, determination, and dirty nappies. Despite being acutely aware how much each failed attempt hurt, I would do it thrice times over, and with a vodka shot in my eye, knowing him and how utterly game-changing motherhood is.
My boss of 12 years excluded me from meetings the moment I fell pregnant. I chose to actively ignore this reality as it seemed too retro as a concept – and ignoring it made coming into the office each morning more palatable. I was forced to play a game of uncomfortable verbal chess when I was only offered statutory maternity pay, despite knowing my value and loyalty to the company. Upon Johan’s arrival, I was refused the option to work from home one day a week, despite living on the other side of London with no grandparents or partner at my disposal. My Hallelujah moment happened in the form of one of our biggest clients learning of my situation: he nudged me to quit and offered to personally finance the set up my own agency. Representing a different skill-set, I was given complete creative freedom and Johan was now 5 months old.
In Crowd Agency was born from my bedroom with a red Ferrari-shaped phone, a laptop and a pocketful of optimism. It’s my third baby who never sleeps but pays for the life that we have by the sea in Brighton and the eye-watering costs incurred from childcare. Fertility treatment inadvertently preps you quietly for what’s in store with parenthood: you learn to find patience you never knew you had and money when your piggy bank is a pile of porcelain dust. I moved my home and office to Brighton when heavily pregnant with my daughter and whilst, in hindsight, I can see that was a little hardcore, it’s a move that I pat my instincts on the back for daily – especially when I leave the office, scoop up the kids, and head to the salty air of the beach.
Silke also made me fight for her existence as she didn’t turn up to the party until the sixth attempt either but, again, the idea of her not being nuzzled into our family, dancing like a drunk uncle, and putting valuable objects into our kitchen bin, is unfathomable. Sure, I’m tired. But I’m also aware of the advantageous aspects of solo parenting and, even in my darkest hours as a parent, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am and shudder to think about the generations who stood tall before us – minus mod-cons, in true poverty and during wars etc.
I’m a solo parent but I have an ammunition cabinet full of the most luminous friends. My spaghetti junction mind means I’m never alone and always working with a known and trusted crack team: me, myself and I. I exist in organised chaos, but it’s my noisy, sticky, permanent marker-stained chaos and when that play date happens, or Silke slow dances with Mr. Sandman, gifting me an hour, all I can hear is the dishwasher whirring and myself missing them.
Holly is a frolo who lives in Brighton with her son, Johan, and daughter, Silke. She is also the co-founder of In Crowd Agency.