Why are you pregnant and single?

There are many reasons why women find themselves pregnant and single. Most of these reasons are met with sympathy and understanding, such as:

– Your partner has passed away
– Your partner was cheating on you
– Your partner was abusive
– You are a victim of rape
– You are a single mother by choice via a sperm donor
– You are a surrogate mother
– Your partner left you

But what if you never had a partner and you’re not a victim of crime? As we all heard in sex education classes, it only takes one encounter to get pregnant. One drunken mistake. One case of failed contraception. One moment of passion. So why is society so surprised when women fall into another category:

– You got pregnant with someone you were only dating/met for the first time/hooked up with your ex/having an affair/a random one-night stand…and the list continues.

My pregnancy fell into the first category. We had been dating, it seemed to be going well and then the father blocked all contact with me when I discovered I was pregnant. Ouch. For me personally, carrying on with the pregnancy was not a decision to be made. I was going to have the baby. I did not encounter a single woman in my situation during my entire (ha – 30 weeks) pregnancy. And I was active on the mummy-to-be circuit; I was in a Mumsnet due date club and attended pregnancy yoga, NCT classes and birthing classes. I only discovered after L’s birth that a woman I’d met was also a single mum (but in one of the earlier categories).

It’s difficult enough in the early days to answer the endless questions about ‘the father’ both from friends and health professionals. It took a good few months before I could answer questions about the father to the range of midwives I encountered in London. But once I was able to nonchalantly answer any daddy questions, the onslaught would often follow. How long were you dating? Do you know any of his friends/family? Don’t worry yourself, he’ll come around after the birth. Did you think he was a nice person? So, have you heard from the father yet?

I guess some of these questions were well-meaning and just small talk. Instead of the usual ‘how are you feeling’ pregnancy chat, I always had the ‘what’s going on with the father?’ questioning. And the answer was the same for seven months – nothing. Zilch. My situation was clearly novel to most people. It was novel to me too and I spent so much time analysing other pregnant women I encountered. Checking if they were wearing a wedding ring. Feeling hopeful when I saw ringless women and wondering if they were part of my secret tribe. I could pass away hours in the evening (the time between 7-9pm when I had taken myself to bed straight from work) googling ‘single and pregnant’. I never quite found the reassurance I was looking for, just dozens of online forum posts from women asking the same question. But these women had usually been left by their long-term partners rather than my situation.

The closest analogy to the ‘single, pregnant and never had a partner’ category is probably the sad history of the Irish Magdalene laundries. These fellow fallen women were sent to workhouses to hide away their indiscretion. Someone actually commented to me (as a joke) that I was lucky things had moved on since then and avoided that fate. The laundries had expanded in the 19th century to confine women who had been seduced or behaved promiscuously, in addition to prostitutes.

Thank goodness things have moved on. But society is still a little baffled by us single, pregnant ladies with no exes in sight. I got so many blank looks when I said L’s father wasn’t involved – it isn’t rocket science. If you have sex, you accept there is always a risk that it could result in a baby. I wish I’d had the confidence to question why people were so puzzled.

Being a single parent is much more socially acceptable. The baby is the focus of everyone’s attention and maternity leave can be spent in a bubble with other mums and babies, trying to fill their days with playgroups and activities. The fathers have long gone back to work and finally you’re not the odd one out. But if you are still pregnant and single, you’re not the first or last person to get into the situation. Be kind to yourself and remember that it could’ve happened to anyone. It will get easier.

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Debrief me 

Like most parents of premature babies, I’ve been desperate for answers to my situation. I couldn’t comprehend how I had gone from heading into hospital for my third reduced movements scan (which I rationalised as my usual tendency to panic about everything) to suddenly being kept in hospital, learning that I couldn’t go home until my baby was born. At 7 months pregnant.

For the 5 days that I remained in hospital before L’s delivery, I constantly received different interpretations of my situation. In a matter of hours, doctors would fluctuate from deciding I would have a c-section within half an hour to discharging me as the baby had stabilised. It was, and remains, a difficult situation to get my head around. From what I could grasp, my baby was too small and was not getting nutrients from my placenta (a condition called absent end diastolic flow). There was nothing that I could have done. Google was my friend, the scant amount of references to absent edf that I could find reassured me that it wasn’t my fault. But my baby had been fine two weeks early at my 28 week scan. Surely I had done something to harm him.

So I sought answers. I have had three debriefs since L’s arrival five months ago, two of which happened while I was still on the postnatal ward. I suffered from extreme anxiety following my c-section (unsurprisingly) and the midwives arranged a debrief for me. Someone who seemed to be a senior midwife arrived in my room. I talked through my worries and mentioned how traumatised I was from the treatment I received the night before L’s delivery. But I wasn’t seeking to complain, I simply wanted answers. The midwife was extremely abrupt with me, spending our session defending the actions of the midwife in question and trivialising my behaviour on that night (where I could not tolerate an IV drip as I had an extreme reaction). She spent around 20 minutes with me and left me a sobbing mess, making me feel even more guilty.

I conveyed my disappointment to the midwives; it was pretty clear to see, as I spent all my time on the ward in tears (when I wasn’t hobbling down to NICU of course). They scheduled a session with someone they called ‘MoM’ which I understand is the manager of midwives. She was absolutely incredible. The MoM spent over 90 minutes with me, reading every single page of my maternity notes and checking if there was anything I wanted to discuss from each appointment or incident. She apologised for the treatment I had received the night in question, which meant a lot. But most importantly, she explained as much as she could about absent edf. She had never encountered it during her time as a community midwife. I was unusual and extremely unlucky. Or lucky, in her view, that I had trusted my instincts and reported to hospital. I felt as though a weight had been lifted, finally.

But as time went on and I witnessed L go through numerous medical procedures, guilt crept back into my conscience. I needed an explanation from the consultant who made the final decision to deliver my baby early. The last time I had seen my consultant, I was hooked up to the CTG monitors after a night of no sleep and starved for a possible c-section. The last thing she told me was that my baby had a 10% chance of dying during the surgery. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to arrange a debrief; I called her secretary and a few weeks later I received an outpatient appointment for Antenatal Clinic. For some reason, I still needed my blood pressure taken on the day (120/74, go me).

The consultant explained my situation with excellent clarity. I had suffered placental insuffiency, which had led to the absent end diastolic flow. As a result, L had become severely growth restricted (IUGR). The results from my placental analysis confirmed that it was infarcted. The placenta hadn’t been able to cope with L growing any further. He probably stopped growing sometime after my 28 week growth scan. I had reported the reduced movements at just the right time to save L’s life.

The consultant couldn’t explain why this had happened to me. I didn’t smoke, I wasn’t too young or old and I wasn’t overweight. My only risk factor was a first time pregnancy. But not all mums end up with their first born in NICU! My risk of subsequent placental insuffiency is increased compared to the general population, but the consultant thought it was unlikely a future baby would be so severely growth restricted. Interestingly, she said my chances would be increased if I had a baby with a different father (which is obviously the case). Apparently the body tolerates subsequent pregnancies with the same biological father in a better way.

I left the debrief with the knowledge that my stress and worry during the pregnancy didn’t cause L’s prematurity. If I fall pregnant again, I’ll be put on a course of aspirin. But I can’t help thinking my second baby will also be a NICU baby too.

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Single, Pregnant…oh, and a preemie.

It’s fair to say that my life has changed pretty dramatically over the last year. On 16 November 2016, I discovered that I was pregnant. A week later the baby’s father had blocked all contact with me and I faced the prospect of being pregnant and single. I was TERRIFIED. Surely no-one else had ever been in this situation?!

I was thrilled to discover Christine Coppa’s amazing book Rattled a few weeks later; Christine seemed to be my perfect soulmate, another career woman who had fallen pregnant while dating. She seemed pretty positive about the whole situation and had even gone on a ‘babymoon’ before her bundle of joy arrived. Except Christine had two older brothers who were clearly destined to be the perfect male role models. She had a large circle of friends who showered her with cute baby outfits throughout her pregnancy. My US geography isn’t great, but it seemed pretty simple for her to move back to her hometown and commute back to her old life. Happy days.

Rattled gave me a lot of hope that I could be single and pregnant. And I survived. But I didn’t meet anyone else in my situation. It was the darkest and longest period of my life, where I faced complete upheaval by moving back home away from all my friends in London. But of course, it wasn’t that long. Just as I was preparing to freak out put my feet up for maternity leave, my baby’s movements were reduced. Fast forward five terrifying days in hospital and my baby boy L was delivered by emergency c-section at 30+6. My little 2lb 10oz baby. I had to ride the NICU rollercoaster for six weeks before I could bring him home.

And here I am. Baby L is tucked up in bed asleep. And nearly a year after that pregnancy test, I’m still reeling. My life has changed beyond all comprehension. But I’ve survived! Somehow, it has all worked out. So I want to share my experience with others, if only to make sure that any other frightened ladies who type ‘single pregnant help me!‘ into Google aren’t faced with the same list of random articles (none of which seem relevant – except the excellent articles by Coppa, which do help) or an array of forum posts. The endless forum threads always promise the mum-to-be that things that things will get better – but the control freak in me wanted to know exactly how bad it could get! If you’re single, pregnant and end up with a premature baby, then you’re in for a real treat…(and message me, you mythical creature!)