In the past 30 years, the number of children living in a single-parent family has leapt from one in 14 to one in 4. Raising a child alone isn't easy, but here, two single mums tell us how, with support from family and sheer determination, they're bringing up their babies successfully.
My baby is my world
Sally Harrison, 32, lives in Essex with her son Caden, 8 months.
When I first met Chris, finding a man was the last thing on my mind as I'd just come out of a long-term relationship. When we met in a bar, I instantly fell for him and within months we decided to try for a baby.
Although I'd never thought about having children before, it just seemed right when I got pregnant first time. We were married at the end of August last year and our baby was due in February.
Soon, however, the relationship started falling apart and eventually it broke down altogether. I was terrified of facing everything alone, but if I'm honest with myself, mostly I felt relief.
"Now I can just concentrate on myself and my baby," I thought. But there were bad days, too, when I'd cry and worry myself sick thinking, "What will I say when my baby asks for his daddy?" and "How will I cope financially?"
Worst of all, I didn't feel anything for the baby growing inside me. I felt dreadfully guilty and even told my GP I was thinking about adoption. I just wanted the birth over with so I could get on with my life.
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When I went into labour, my sister Karen rushed over to my flat and took me to hospital. I was backwards and forwards for two days, but eventually Caden was born with my mum and sister at my side. All my doubts disappeared the second I saw my son, as I felt overwhelmed with love.
He didn't cry straight away, as the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and chest. I was terrified something was wrong but thankfully he was fine. They put him on my chest and I just lay there, staring at this little person and suddenly I knew I'd get through it. I had to - I was a mum now.
Seeing all the proud dads on the ward the morning after I'd had Caden was really hard, though, but at least I had help and support from my family. Caden and I went to stay with my parents for two weeks directly after I gave birth, and then I took him home.
Alone with him for the first time, I felt like crying. It was overwhelming learning to look after him by myself, but gradually I did feel more confident.
When I hear other mums talk about their partners, of course it hurts. But, to be honest, it makes life simpler only having my own emotions to think about and being able to make my own decisions.
Caden’s such a happy baby who hardly cries and sleeps for nine hours a night. I feel like someone is looking down on me thinking, “You deserve a break!”
Caden and I recently moved to a house that’s just 10 minutes away from my mum. I can’t afford childcare so she’s going to look after Caden while I go back to work, which will give me a focus outside my baby. It’s full-time, but luckily I can work two days a week from home.
Chris came to see Caden when he was 4 weeks old and he phones sometimes, too. Although it’s difficult for me, I’d never stop him having a relationship with his son.
I still look at Caden and can’t quite believe he’s mine. He’s my world and I adore him. It’s been a struggle, but I feel positive about the future.
- While you’re pregnant, make sure you surround yourself with friends and family who will support you and who are positive about your situation.
- Accept offers of help.
- Talk to people outside of the family. I love the chatrooms at www.babyexpert.com
I like making my own decisions
Emily Simpson, 25, lives in Upwood, Cambridgeshire, with her 2-year-old daughter, Cassie.
I was six-months pregnant when my relationship with Simon, Cassie's dad, broke up. Ironic really, as I'd left my husband David for him.
At first Simon and I were happy, but we were under a lot of money pressures and started rowing. We only had my wages from working in a shop to live on, so I suggested it might be best if I move in with my mum and he found somewhere else to live. I was distraught when the relationship then ended, but I wasn't frightened about being a single mum.
My own mum had brought me up on her own from when I was 11 and put me through school and college. If she could do it, so could I, and I knew she'd give me 100% support.
I enjoyed my pregnancy and Mum was at my side for every second of my labour. When Cassie was born, I felt such a rush of love for her. One of my first visitors at hospital was David, my ex-husband. No doubt everyone assumed he was the proud dad!
Cassie and I live with Mum and she's a great help. Lucky for us, Cassie's always been a good sleeper. Although I trained as a chef, I've decided not to work for now, so I'm on benefits. Money's tight but it's worth it to devote my time to my daughter.
Mum's happy to go by my rules with Cassie and I'm glad it's just me deciding her future - I've already put her name down for the school I want her to go to.
Even though her dad isn't around, I don't feel Cassie's missing out. She's close to my dad, so she's got a positive male role model in her life, and she never asks about Simon.
Of course, in a way I wish it had turned out differently. You presume you'll be with the father of your child forever, don't you?
It can be tough not having a partner, especially during the hard times. When she was a baby, Cassie was rushed to hospital with a urine infection. She had to stay in for four days and I was dreadfully upset, but I got through it with Mum's help.
One day I'd like to meet someone and have another baby, but I don't regret how my life's turned out. For now, I like having no ties as I can give Cassie 100%. My little girl's everything to me and I wouldn't swap my life with her for the world.
- You don’t have to do it on your own – ask for help. There are lots of associations you can go to for financial advice and support.
- Have your mum or a close female friend at the birth to support you.
- Don’t worry about making decisions about your child. You’ll know what’s best, just learn to believe in yourself.
- It’s often easier to set rules if you don’t have to take another person’s views into account.
- It’s easy to spoil your baby when you’re on your own, so be aware of overindulging.
For more information
It’s important for single mums to make sure they are sorted financially, legally and – toughest of all – emotionally, for the sake of themselves and their baby. Here’s where you can get help:
- Gingerbread Call the free phone helpline on 0800 018 4318 or visit www.gingerbread.org.uk.
- Child Care Link Visit www.childcarelink.gov.uk for information about childcare.
- Working Families Call 020 7253 7243 or visit www.workingfamilies.org.uk for info on flexible working and your rights as a single working mum.
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