Dating a single dad

Dating a single dad – not something I ever thought I’d be doing, having always imagined I’d be part of a traditional nuclear family.  Other than my own son, I’ve never felt that I’m particularly great with kids (and let’s face it, some days I’m not even that great with him) so the thought of dating someone who came complete with their own child would have been pretty daunting.

But the nuclear family dream went up in smoke a while ago now and I spent 2019 dating.  Single dads, child-free bachelors, nice guys, not-so-nice guys, younger guys, older guys – I met them all!  Dating a single parent seems to get more than its fair share of bad press, but it turned out that dating a single dad was the best decision I have made in a very long time.

I discovered early on that, when you date a single dad, you generally know what you’re getting.  You see what type of parent they are – and I’ve learnt that that can be a great indication of what type of man they are.  

You see what type of parent they are – and I’ve learnt that that can be a great indication of what type of man they are.

Brilliant fathers, who parent consistently rather than play Disney dad, can usually be relied on to stick around through the tough times.  Men who can be unashamedly silly, modelling pink bows styled by their young daughters, are the ones who will make an effort to keep things fun.  A man who scoops his child up, ready to kiss the tears away after a fall, will try to put the smile back on your face after a hard day.  A hero who chases away bad dreams will be the person you’ll want next to you on a cold night. And, of course, it works the other way too.  A man who is happy to cancel time with his child for the prospect of a date or will miss an important hospital appointment for a romantic weekend away, will almost certainly casually let you down too.  Parenthood is like a secret window into the soul, showing you just what someone is made of.

Dating a single dad, particularly as a single mum, is a huge responsibility.  The last time I dated, as a carefree girl in my twenties, the worst thing that could happen was a relationship not working out.  As a dating mum I’ve discovered something much more terrifying – the possibility that it could actually work out, because in doing so it opens my child up to the potential for more hurt.  There are four of us in this relationship and our children have already experienced enough change in their lives without having someone coming into it, only to leave shortly after.  It’s a sobering thought and one that I know my boyfriend is as aware of as I am.  Having said that, I truly believe that the benefits of this new relationship, for all of us, outweigh the risks.

It’s easy to overthink things when dating a fellow single parent and to jump ahead, envisaging problems before they arise.  But being open-minded and flexible can work wonders.  I was adamant that I would need to date someone for six months before introducing a partner to my son, but actually an early play date worked well for us.  We’re lucky that our children are close in age and that was a possibility – I’m not sure we would have gotten away with stolen kisses during a game of hide and seek if we’d each had a teenager to contend with!

There are of course certain tensions that come from two single parents dating.  We haven’t been without our problems and I’m sure we have many more ahead, but so far we’ve managed to resolve them together.  Our few arguments have been about our children, each of us rising to the defense of our own but we’re also realistic and don’t beat ourselves – or each other – up about it.  These things will happen but, as parents, we both know the importance of being able to say sorry.

As parents, we both know the importance of being able to say sorry.

Logistically, dating a single father can be more difficult.  In the past we’ve struggled to coordinate diaries taking into account two young children on different schedules, jobs in different locations, individual hobbies and keeping in touch with friends.  At the start of our relationship it took us 6 weeks to find a free weekend night for both of us.  It was frustrating but worth the wait.  Almost seven months in and we’ve just had our first child-free weekend away.  I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d been heading for two weeks in the Caribbean!

All of the above does however come with a caveat.  Dating a single dad doesn’t guarantee you’ve got a keeper (after all my ex-husband is one!)  While a single father can indeed ‘get it’, identifying with your parenting challenges, there will also be single dads who behave badly – just as there are plenty of single mothers who are no angels.

But it does mean there’s hope.  I used to moan to friends that the only available men my age were the ones that had been left on the shelf.  I’ve realised now that I had the wrong attitude.  

What I should have been doing was checking out the awesome ones that were just coming back on the market.  

About Emily

Emily is a frolo living in Bristol with her son Teddy. You can keep up with her on her blog Pop Goes Perfection.

Moving in with a new partner

As I looked around my cute two-bed Nine Elms flat last week, surveying the piles of stuff (read: crap) I had accumulated over the last 18 months, it became increasingly difficult to swallow the lump in my throat. This wasn’t the flat I had been in when my partner left, but rather the place I’d moved in to shortly after, the home I’d built for myself and my son. It was the space in which I’d learned to love myself again, the place I had forged a beautiful relationship with my little boy and grappled with all those sanity-draining toddler issues solo. While trying to hold down a full-time job. And have a social life. And exercise. And date. 

So why was I so upset?

I haven’t been in this space much since lockdown started. In January of this year, despite putting myself firmly back on the shelf, I met someone

At Christmas, I had actively announced on Instagram that I was off dating for life, having had one too many self-esteem-shredding experiences in 2019. But then one of my most valued supporters, who only knew me in Frolo-dom, messaged to say, ‘So, I have a brother who is recently separated…’ 

My first response to the offer of a set up was a very polite, ‘No, thank you’. Which turned into, ‘Tell him to look me up in six months’. And then, once I’d seen his picture: ‘Ok, I’ll take his number but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything with it.’ Before I knew it a tall, dark and handsome man (wearing a jacket I still threaten to burn) met me under the clock at Waterloo. Though I don’t believe I had been living life as half a person waiting to be made whole by Mr or Ms Right, as soon as I saw him, I thought, ‘Oh, of course, it’s you.’

Fast forward six months and we had been through more than most couples in the honeymoon period. Contracting COVID-19 at the same time and isolating together, only to hear that fateful announcement about lockdown when I was only meant to be staying for two weeks. Two weeks has basically turned into forever. Paul met my son shortly before lockdown and the little dude was soon staying in a new house so that we had support when I was recovering from a milder case of the virus. Shortly after, I contracted a second virus, with symptoms that were much more severe: fevers, nausea, extreme fatigue – and being tested for diabetes. And just as that was on the wane, along came a chest infection. It goes without saying that during this time I was not the sex kitten you hope to be in those rose-tinted first months of a new relationship. But Paul couldn’t do enough for me. Even when my son had a bout of gastroenteritis and wanted to be glued to mummy and the sofa simultaneously, Paul went to the supermarket and came back with a care package of new pyjamas, a snuggly blanket and a monster truck. All while I worried that we were becoming too much of a burden. 

As the weeks have gone on, Paul has mitigated my trust issues, treated me better than I’ve ever been treated by any partner in my entire life and introduced me to the joys of Lego. He’s the first boyfriend who has wanted to talk things through when there’s an issue and who actually listens and adapts his behaviour where necessary. I loved him anyway, but knowing that desire to compromise and be better works both ways – that is truly priceless. Plus, he has overcome a severe aversion to bodily fluids to scrape my son’s wet turd from the carpet. If that’s not love, then, seriously…

Since lockdown my ex lost his job, I lost my child maintenance and had to take a pay cut. I’m very lucky to still have a job at all. Living in central London is no longer something I can afford and though I had plans to leave later this year to move closer to family, the longer I spent with Paul, the more I realised that he was my new home. My son – a dedicated Mummy’s boy – is still getting used to sharing me with the new person in his life, but for every not-so-accidental kick to the balls there have been ten times as many hugs and exclamations of ‘We’re a family’ and that’s what counts. This is not the romantic story they tell children in books. But it’s real. And that’s better.

So, as I closed the door on my South London sanctuary, it was emotional. I was scared. I do still worry about the future. But as this year has proven, you can really only do your best and take things one day at a time. 

My favourite movie, Garden State, discusses the notion of home and the point when the place you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore, it just becomes ‘some place where you put your shit’. Well, I did a hell of a lot of growing up in my London flat and it became so much more than just a place to store my (sizeable pile of) shit. But really to me, home is people. Home is my two boys sat with me on the sofa. And I’ve realised that’s all I really need. Forever.

About Sally

Sally McIlhone is a professional writer, editor, and a member of the Frolo community. She lives with her two-year-old son and her new partner.

You can follow her on Instagram @mcsalface

Dear new frolo: it gets better

Dear new frolo. Mother and children

Are you new here? Welcome. If you’re just starting out on your Frolo journey, I would wager that you’re feeling a whole mixture of emotions. Fear, panic, relief, guilt, shame, worry, and just a little bit more fear. Firstly, well done for finding Frolo; I cannot tell you how much having a support network of like-minded people around you, to support you and cheer you on, will help you find your way. Lean on them. 

Secondly, (and you’ll hear this a lot from veteran frolos), it WILL get better. It will get easier. It will get wonderful

I have been a single mum for more than three years now, and I can honestly say they’ve been the best three years of my life. I am happier now than I have ever been before. (I’m more tired than ever before, too, but I can sleep in a decade or two.) 

If you’re feeling shame around being a single parent, please let me assure you that single parenthood is like a new, trendy haircut that you didn’t think you’d ever go for, but that happened one day (accidentally? On a whim? Because you realised your hair was actually weighing you down too much? Because the bottom half of your hair found another head to live on instead?). At first, you’ll feel self-conscious. Everyone else seems to have long hair. Then you’ll start realising that people admire your hair. They think you’re incredibly brave for wearing your hair that way. The more confident you become the more you realise you’re actually loving your new haircut. You realise you were born to wear THIS haircut. (I’m still talking about single parenthood, if I’ve lost you.)

How to have an amicable separation or divorce – read here

‘Single parent’ (particularly ‘single mum’) still has quite a lot of stigma attached to it, but once you surround yourself with strong, inspirational, funny, honest, like-minded frolos, you’ll realise just how wonderful the community is. You’ll be thrilled to be a part of it. I am. 

The problem with single parenting is that it still doesn’t fit the narrative laid out for us in films, books and on TV. You find a partner, you build a home, you start a family. You find happily ever after. Without a narrative to follow once you’ve diverted from the script, it can feel a little like you’re lost with no new direction. 

So how do you ‘win’ single parenthood? 

For some, finding someone new to fall in love with, settle down with and build a family with is winning. And that’s fine, it’s more than fine, it’s wonderful. But for others, it’s learning to fall in love with your new life. Your life that slipped off the script. That didn’t make the Hollywood edit. That everyone told you meant you’d failed. Learning to love the life you always thought you didn’t want, and realising that it is the most wonderful way you’ve ever lived, that it’s filled with more love than you could ever know what to do with. Learning that you are thriving against all odds and building a wonderful family life for you and your children. 

That is how you ‘win’. That’s how you find ‘happily ever after’. And you will. 

About Rebecca

Rebecca Cox is a single mother to son Jack and blogs at www.singlemotheredit.com 

Caro’s frolo story

Caro Lundin, co-founder of ARC Club, a single parent-friendly neighbourhood workspace in East London, shares her story

Caro Lundin in her office at ARC Club
Caro at ARC Club

My name is Caro Lundin. I’m an architect and co-founder of ARC Club – a neighbourhood workplace in Hackney, London. I’m also the mother of a little boy, Francis, who is three years old. 

Since 2018, I’ve been a solo parent 100% of the time. I was supposed to return to an architecture practice after maternity leave but, being on my own with a small child, I quickly realised that wasn’t an option. I had no family around me that could help with childcare (I’m Swedish and they were all back in Sweden) and most of my friends in London are hard-working individuals without children. My days were lonely and rather tough.

I felt guilty about not being there enough for Francis when he was home. Or I felt guilty that the house was always a mess.

I had a few small architectural projects but my work/home situation was challenging. Francis and I lived in a small flat in Hackney with no outdoor space and I couldn’t afford a nursery full time. I had been given 15 hours a week by the government – but that’s not really enough. As a person, you sometimes crave, just once in a while, to have a shower alone; to meet with a friend; to go to work and even the gym on the odd occasion. 15 hours of childcare meant I could just about finish some household chores and get started with work. I felt guilty about not being there enough for Francis when he was home because I was trying to write, research or draw. Or I felt guilty about the fact the house was always a total mess. I needed to put some distance between my home and my work.

You might also like: Clodagh’s frolo story

I met with Hannah Philp in the spring of 2018 through a friend from my NCT class. She had recently left her job as the Marketing Director of an investment company and was working solo on a new venture – a coworking project. She wanted to interview me for a possible role as the designer. This was the start of a wonderful partnership – and friendship. We wanted to create a space for people like ourselves: freelancers and solo parents working from home. Hannah felt lonely and unproductive. I felt tired and in desperate need of a professional environment. 

Caro and Francis at ARC Club

We co-founded ARC Club last year and opened our first site in Homerton this July. We hope to open more in 2021. Hannah is the CEO and I’m the Creative Director.

Being a parent and setting up a business is hard work. The workload is immense but, luckily, I work in a team where being a parent is supported. The team arranges meetings around my schedule and understands if I can’t show up when Francis is ill. Hannah has helped out with babysitting numerous times and Francis has joined me on-site for meetings, Zoom calls, and work trips. He thinks ARC Club is Hannah’s house, he’s been there so much! My hours are extremely flexible and I can do a lot of research remotely, which allows me to work around Francis’ schedule. I could never have a 9 to 5 job. Sometimes I get up at 6 am to work before Francis gets up – he’s a good sleeper so I usually get three hours of work done then.

You might also like: How to have an amicable separation or divorce

Working mums have been hit hard by the recent pandemic. A recent survey by Pregnant Then Screwed showed that more than three-quarters found it challenging to manage childcare and paid work during lockdown. And 57% thought increased childcare responsibilities had negatively affected their career prospects. Lockdown has shown us that mums still end up doing the majority of the childcare and housework – even in two parent families with both parents working from home. As one of many solo parents who ended up working for myself after having children, these problems aren’t new to me. But with remote working becoming more mainstream, they’re only going to become more common. 

A meeting room at ARC Club

We hope that ARC Club can be a convenient solution for single parents who want to get out of the house and into a professional environment that isn’t across town. I wish I’d had something like it around the corner from me when I was working alone – and even during my maternity leave. It’s lovely to be able to be at home and care for your child, but it’s equally important to feel like there’s another place just for you. To actually put on a pair of trousers instead of joggers and go to a space full of other adults that are working, even for just a couple hours, can do a lot for your mental wellbeing. That’s why we made the decision not to have childcare or an open playgroup at ARC. It’s a grown-up place, designed for work – somewhere between home and the nursery or school-gate.

It’s lovely to be able to be at home and care for your child, but it’s equally important to feel like there’s another place just for you.

ARC Club Homerton is serene and bright. We have a small canteen, bookable meeting rooms, a quiet area, a social area with large tables and a small lounge area. For future sites, we’re looking at London areas with a dense residential population and a local high street. When you’re a solo parent, you really appreciate having everything on your doorstep – and ARC is just a part of the solution. A typical ARC Club is a lot smaller than your ordinary workspace – we’re about 250 sq metres. You won’t find any beanbags or ping pong tables (there are enough toys at home) – just an accessible, functional, design-led space. Think Scandinavia meets the 70s. Fairly minimal. A clean, calm respite, although we love colour and fun details too.

Coming from Sweden where childcare is split evenly between both parents and affordable for solo parents, I’ve always known how important it is in order to get back to work after having a child. Even if the UK government won’t change, I hope more and more companies, like ARC, will step up and offer parents a more flexible solution.

ARC Club Homerton is a neighbourhood workplace for people who are tired of working from home. It offers full office functionality – meeting rooms, free printing and filter coffee – in a design-led interior to anyone in need of a professional space to get work done. 

Visit www.arc-club.com to join now. 

How one frolo successfully lobbied for single parents everywhere

During week nine of self-isolation and lockdown, I was cooking dinner with my youngest grabbing at my legs when Cummings’ voice came beaming out over the radio. When he described the situation he’d found himself in – his wife became ill and he drove to Durham for family support – as “exceptional circumstances” all my emotions were triggered. 

Cummings’ choice of words reminded me, and no doubt many other frolos and single parents, that despite accounting for 2.9 million people in the UK, our daily lives are often overlooked and misunderstood. At no point in early lockdown had the government considered our needs. This wasn’t surprising, government policies often treat us unfairly, businesses often charge us more for holidays and entrance fees, and many people can’t grasp how we have to navigate a world that is designed for couples. Fed up of feeling like a second class citizen, I knew I needed to do something about it.

A few days later I sat down and put pen to paper in order to scribe a raw and honest letter to Mr Cummings. My letter outlined how difficult life had been for me through lockdown – both in practical and emotional terms and how my mental health had taken a battering. I didn’t expect it to lead to any change, but I did want to know I’d tried my best and I hoped that, in amongst all the policy briefing papers he received, my handwritten words might just open his eyes a little. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d tried to raise understanding of the life of the single mum. Since my eldest was a toddler I’ve been writing blog posts and trying to get single parent voices heard in an attempt to raise understanding and awareness. My hope was that, once we had more of that, single parents might be better supported too. 

To my surprise, I received a reply to my letter via email. Two weeks later I was discussing support bubbles and other possible policy changes for single parents with an advisor from number ten. Were they really going to listen? Two days later it appeared they had – support bubbles were announced. I wasn’t the only one campaigning on this of course. Many others – single parents included – had been lobbying long and hard and now we’d had a success. While the support bubbles were a welcome change, the bigger shift was in the fact that Boris Johnson gave a special mention to the needs of single parents when he made the announcement. 

Will this mark a shift in how this government – and successive ones – treat single parents? Will it bring us to the front of the government’s mind as they develop policy? It’s too early to say, but it does raise the hope that things for single parents might improve. Now they’ve let us out of the bag, they might find we are hard to put away again. 

Single parent campaigners, myself included, aren’t sitting back and putting our feet up anytime soon. Our next push is for single parents to be granted equal rights with married people. For as it stands, unfair treatment of single parents isn’t considered discrimination because we aren’t a protected group in law. Being discriminated against by the anti-discrimination laws would be almost comical if it weren’t so cruel. Only once this legal oversight has been changed can we expect to be treated fairly by government, businesses and individuals. 

About Ella Davis

Ella Davis writes a raw, honest and occasionally funny blog at www.ellamentalmama.com on the trials and tribulations of life in London as a single mother to two young boys. 

She covers an eclectic mix of topics including mental health, divorce and donor conception. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @ellamental_mama and Twitter: @EllamentalMama

How single parenting changes as your kids get older

Jo Middleton, also known as Slummy Single Mummy after her brilliantly honest and funny blog, shares her reflections on the way single parenting changes as your kids get older

I’ve been a single parent on and off for nearly 25 years now, which seems like a crazy thing to say as I’m sure I’m only about 28 myself, but there you go.

I first became a single parent aged 19, when my eldest daughter Bee was two years old. It was tricky, especially financially, but I had a wonderfully supportive family who took care of Bee while I drove up and back to university, and we lived a simple but quite happy life, despite lacking some of the basics. (We only went without a fridge during the winter, which just meant leaving the milk outside on the back step.) I do remember it being tough, but I also remember a strong sense of freedom and autonomy, of being in charge of my own life.

My second daughter, Belle, was born five years later, when I was 24. I was in a relationship with her dad for nine years, but part of me wonders how much I really let the single parent mentality leave me. How much of his apparent hopelessness was actually down to him, and how much was enabled by me, not wanting to relinquish control after having had to manage alone?

We separated over 12 years ago now and although I’ve had long term relationships in that time, I’ve never felt like I was able to share the role of parent, I have always been a single parent in my heart and practically too, even when I’ve lived with a partner. Perhaps I’ve always chosen badly (I absolutely have) but it’s always felt more like having an extra child to look after than an equal that I could depend on. I’ve always known that the buck stopped with me.

What I’ve found most interesting over the years as a single parent is how children present new and different challenges at every age. When my girls were little I was convinced, naively, that the older they got, the easier parenting would become. I counted down the weeks and months until they started school, ticked off milestones as they grew up, all the while waiting for that tipping point where the sense of responsibility started to fall away.

Spoiler alert: it still hasn’t.

They have ever-changing, complex emotional needs, needs that aren’t easily met any more by a firm hug and the offer of chocolate buttons.

Although the physical demands are different – (sleepless nights and early mornings are far less common, although not unheard of) – their emotional needs have grown. They don’t have tantrums in supermarkets any more, but they do have ever changing complex emotional needs, needs that aren’t easily met any more by a firm hug and the offer of chocolate buttons. Toddlers are intense for sure, but they are much more straightforward and although their tears are exhausting, there is a satisfaction in being able to easily put a smile back on their faces.

Parenting teenagers and young adults is a completely different ball game and one that I’ve found much harder to deal with as a single parent. I felt the lack of another adult much more strongly as they’ve grown up and the challenges they face have become more complicated. More and more often I’ve found myself longing for another parent to share that responsibility with – someone to talk to, share ideas with, someone to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing and that everything is going to be okay.

I don’t think I really appreciated just how much I missed that person in my life until about six months ago when I started a new relationship. My new partner is a father of four himself, but more than that he’s a kind, thoughtful and emotionally intelligent man – something of a revelation for me after all this time. For the first time I truly feel like I have someone who I can rely on, someone with whom I can share that sense of responsibility, someone who understands what being a parent is all about, even when your kids do get older and start lives of their own. It had made me realise just how much, emotionally, I was carrying on my own, and how often we focus on the strain of single parenting small children and forget that being a single parent of teens can be just as hard work.

If I’ve learnt anything as they’ve grown up it’s that you never stop being a mum, no matter how old your children get.

It’s ironic perhaps that I’ve met a potential co-parent just as Belle is set to become an adult, but if I’ve learnt anything as they’ve grown up it’s that you never stop being a mum, no matter how old your children get. It may have taken me 25 years to finally feel like I’m not a single parent, but it’s definitely better late than never.

About Jo Middleton

Jo lives in Somerset with her 17-year-old daughter Belle.

She’s also written a novel – Playgroups & Prosecco – which you can check out here.

www.slummysinglemummy.com

@slummysinglemummy

Clodagh’s frolo story

Clodagh O’Hagan shares the highs and lows of her solo parenting journey

Clodagh and her mum

Known as Clo to most of my friends, I’m 43 and am a kind, caring, social creature who believes that smiling, a positive attitude and a little bit of charm will get you through most things in life. When it came to having babies, I was never somebody who dreamt of having kids and counted down the days until it happened. Rather, I always knew I didn’t not want to have kids.

In my late twenties and early thirties my priority was enjoying myself. I was a late bloomer in terms of self-confidence and it was at this time that I really began to enjoy the person that I was. Working in PR really supported this, as it’s very social and my day job involved working on music festivals and going to lots of fun events – it was quite the dream. In my mid to late-thirties, I really wanted to meet my ‘one’, and I was in a relationship where I started to feel that this might be it, we might have a family. It was at this stage that I started to think about my lifestyle and working life in a different way.

I had been working for myself for five years, running a small PR company which, being in the height of the recession, could be quite precarious, so I made the decision to look for something more secure. I moved to the corporate side of the tracks and started working client-side at Vodafone Ireland, where security was key, work-life balance was a pleasure, and market-leading maternity benefits were the icing on the cake.

While my working life flourished, the relationship came to a natural end. I suppose it was during the years that followed where the thoughts and efforts of meeting ‘the one’ and starting my own family life were ever-present.

 I didn’t meet somebody that I wanted to spend my life with. At the same time, my want for a baby and awareness of my age infinitely grew

While over the next few years I dated, enjoyed life, and had a couple of relationships, I didn’t meet somebody that I wanted to spend my life with. At the same time, my want for a baby and awareness of my age infinitely grew. While I still was open to and hopeful about meeting someone, I started to think about potentially ‘going it alone’ and started to put things into place to support this.

I had been renting and living in gorgeous, big houses which I sublet and houseshared for almost 10 years. I made the decision to live on my own in a space that could accommodate me and a baby and bought a two-bed house in Dublin 12. It was a stepping stone to my pending suburban life. Happy that I was in a good place, life continued – I was open to meeting someone and comforted by the fact that if I didn’t, I was set up to do it myself.

Then, 18 months ago, I was having a delightful time on a beach in Croatia when I received a routine call from my doctor on recent blood tests. All were fine except for a comment that my phosphorus levels that were low, followed by a reassurance that this didn’t matter as I wasn’t trying to have a baby. I corrected her, saying that while I wasn’t trying right now, I was planning to in the next 12 to 18 months – either with somebody or on my own.

Thankfully the doctor’s manner was lovely because it cushioned her very straight-up initial response, which was that if I wanted to have a baby, I would really want to set that in motion now. She explained (rightly) that even if I began the process then and there, the likelihood was that it would take a minimum of a year to happen, if not more. She continued that if I was to hold off as I had intended, my chances of success would be depleted and I would be 45 by the time I had my baby (if it happened at all), and advised me to think about how that would impact my life.

I made the decision that day, looking out at the beautiful ocean, to just go for it

It was a very sober conversation accompanied by a lot of tears on my part, but I made the decision that day, looking out at the beautiful ocean, to just go for it. It was a very bitter-sweet, scary moment. Yes, I was joyous and relieved that I was finally just going to go for it, but also sad accepting that I wasn’t going to fall in love and make a baby with that person – for me, that was definitely a grieving process that I had to go through.

Over the next four months, I underwent tests at my local doctor and in St James’s Hospital. These tests were sent to a specialist. At this stage, I was told I was in pretty good shape for baby making, which actually shocked me because of my age, and I was referred for one more internal X-ray before being directed to a fertility clinic.

It was December by the time my first appointment at the fertility clinic actually took place, and I was chomping at the bit to get started – but still a little bit terrified.

The main things that played on my mind were: would I manage on my own? Wouldn’t I be terribly lonely and isolated and in turn resent my decision? Could I cope financially? I appreciate these are standard fears for many women – regardless of their marital status – but the fear was real nonetheless.

That first appointment was without a doubt the lowest part of the whole process.

That first appointment was without a doubt the lowest part of the whole process. I was told the harsh realities around the chances of success for somebody of my age, eggs, and hormones levels was 2% for IUI (intrauterine insemination), up to 5% for follically-assisted IUI and only 7% for IVF (in vitro fertilisation). I cried more in that consultation office and in the weeks over Christmas than I could remember for a long time. The self-loathing was the worst: berating myself for leaving it so long, or not meeting somebody.

The feeling was one of pure and utter despair. I wallowed over Christmas, but I also started to formulate a plan. I took myself off to Number 1 Bootcamp in the UK for a week over the new year period and spent the time working out and getting physically and mentally strong.  There were also a few tears shed for very different reasons during that week, as I achieved a number of personal goals – proving to myself that I was strong and capable of a lot more than I gave myself credit for. 

I came home buoyed and full of confidence with a plan of action. I returned to the clinic and told them I would like to proceed with two rounds of follically-assisted IUI and, if that didn’t work, I intended to go abroad for double donor IVF (when both donor egg and donor sperm are used to create an embryo) because the chances of that working were greatly increased compared to regular IVF, and it was a similar price.

I was comfortable with this approach as I was giving myself a year to throw everything at this, and thought it was the most sensible approach to spending the funds and time available to me. I would give IUI a couple of chances using my own eggs and, if that didn’t work, I would go straight to the option with the highest percentage chance of working. So that was it.

Clodagh O'Hagan showing her pregnant bump on her birthday
Clodagh on her birthday.

In March, I ordered my donor sperm, selected from Cryo International Sperm bank in Denmark, and began my treatment in April. This involved taking one injection for seven days to grow the follicle, adding a second injection to the mix for the following seven days to prevent ovulation, and a final trigger injection to start the ovulation process 36 hours before the insemination.

You are monitored with internal scans over this time to see how the follicles are growing and to make sure they are not overstimulated. The clinic is looking for one or two follicles of the right size before proceeding. I started this process twice without completing the treatment; the first time it was cancelled because I confused my injections and took the wrong one at the wrong time and had to abandon it for that month; the second time because my follicles collapsed just days before the planned insemination for no known reason.

This was the second hardest time in the process, with also a lot of tears. It was almost a year since I had made my decision in Croatia and to stop literally hours before the procedure was just gut-wrenching. It was at this stage that I decided to take a break from it all.

I was going to a friend’s wedding in the following weeks and wanted to really enjoy it, and then went to a couple of festivals and had a ball. It was a long road and I was now more aware that I had no idea how long it would actually be. I wanted to have recent joyous memories to get me through what might be some hard a challenging months ahead.

It was two days after the festival Love Sensation that I started my third round of treatment, this time to completion. And against all the odds, it worked first time.

I waited a full 16 days to do the test, starting to believe it might have worked after day 12. I compared the little cramps that I was experiencing to that description of feeling on an embryo catching to the side uterus, which would be normal on day 12 if the round has been successful. I woke up at 2.30am, went to the bathroom and made myself go back to sleep. I woke up again at 4.30am, did the test, cried tears of joy at the word pregnant, and sent a picture of it to my nearest and dearest, waiting for everybody to wake up!

This is the happiest and luckiest that I have ever felt.

The word I would use to describe this moment and every moment since then (amidst the usual fears of the first weeks of pregnancy) is content.

My family, friends and colleagues have just been phenomenal throughout this whole experience. I firmly believe that alongside the beauty of science and medicine, holistic healing, acupuncture and positive visualisation all played their part in making this happen. Positivity, support and love emanated from everybody around me and I believe played its part in making my dream of a baby a reality.

(At time of publishing, March 21st)  Clodagh is now 30 weeks pregnant. You can follow her journey in her weekly column launching next week in the Sunday World Magazine or @Clodeine on Insta.