The lovely Polly Kerr has shared her story of becoming a solo mum to support and inspire others thinking of following the same path. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the post below and Polly will try to answer them for you.
Name: Polly Kerr
Clinic: Oxford Fertility
Procedure: IVF with ICSI
What led you to consider becoming a solo mum?
I always knew I wanted to have children (in my imagination it was always two, probably a boy and a girl) but after splitting up with a fairly long-term boyfriend at the age of 28, I never got into another relationship so there was no chance of having a baby in the usual way. I had vaguely, but not very seriously, thought about going it alone but it wasn’t until I went through a really horrible time at work at the age of 36 which knocked my self-esteem to a very low depth that I decided to do something about it. I remember clearly that I was out running and going through things in my head and I was struck by the realisation that what I really wanted more than anything was a baby and that if I was serious I couldn’t afford to wait around for Mr Right.
What treatment did you have and how did it work for you?
Because of some health problems in the past, it was very unlikely that IUI would work for me so I chose to go straight in with IVF. I was a little disappointed that the staff at the clinic didn’t give me much advice or guidance about which procedure to have so my decision was based on my own research and what I knew of my body.
It took a while, although I know in comparison with some women, I was lucky. It felt like it took a long time to get started – for various reasons I was told to go back on the pill for three months which didn’t do what the nurses had hoped it would, then I started one course of drugs which gave me cysts on my ovaries. When they had gone (only a matter of weeks fortunately) I started a short protocol of IVF to stimulate the follicles which went well and 10 eggs were collected, 8 fertilised successfully using ICSI and four of which survived and grew well. I had one of those transferred which didn’t work but a month later I had one of the ones that had been frozen transferred and that resulted in pregnancy.
Where did you have your treatment and what was your view of the clinic?
I was treated at Oxford Fertility and on the whole I was happy with it. After the initial consultation, all treatment is carried out by specially trained nurses who then meet regularly with the doctors to discuss patients and their treatment. I built up a good relationship with a couple of the nurses who I saw for much of my treatment. That said, I did have to explain my situation and previous treatment many times when I didn’t see them and I did find that deeply frustrating and upsetting because it meant I questioned whether they were really on top of my individual treatment.
What was your experience of choosing a donor?
Looking back I feel quite embarrassed and slightly irresponsible for the way in which I chose a donor, but in my defence, I wasn’t aware that some women get far more information than I did. When I started my treatment, I asked the clinic whether they had sperm donors I could use and was told yes, so I thought no more about it at that time as it was still such early days. Months later when I was speaking on the phone to a nurse about something else, she casually asked where I was getting my sperm from – in horror I said ‘from you’ to which she then told me that they didn’t have many donors and had I thought about the European Sperm Bank. I hadn’t at all and was horrified at the thought of having to bring another element into it – I already felt quite overwhelmed and the idea of having to sign up with another agency and liaise with a whole lot of different people was more than I felt able to cope with. The nurse then asked if I wanted to hear about the donors they did have (all two of them) and when she described the first one, he was so exactly the sort of man I would have chosen (and also would have been attracted to had I bumped into him in a bar!) that I immediately said he would do fine. She then described the other one they had who was almost the complete opposite so I said I was definitely happy to go with the first one and thought no more about it. It was only much later when I was pregnant and since giving birth and meeting other solo mums that when people ask how I chose the donor (‘it must have been a lot of fun’ was one comment) that I feel terrible that I made what is quite a massive decision really on the spur of the moment on only what I had been told over the phone. But then I look at my perfect boy who I wouldn’t change for the world and I have no doubt that I made the right choice. However, in hindsight I feel that perhaps I should have done more research.
How did you find going through the treatment alone?
I have to say that most of the time I didn’t feel alone because I have really wonderful friends (one in particular) who came to some of the appointments with me and were always on hand whether that was in person to mop up tears over a coffee or to send loving, reassuring, supportive text messages. That said, there were a few times when I was sitting on my own in the clinic waiting room when I felt very alone and wished there were someone to hold my hand or give me a hug. On the whole though, I think having not been in a relationship for so long and so being used to doing a lot of things for myself without help from a partner, stood me in good stead for this.
What was the timeline of events from first considering following this path, to starting treatment, to getting pregnant?
April/May 2015: went to a free event called ‘Inseminar’ (yes, really!) at the London Women’s Clinic; got AMH test and ovary scan, both encouraging; had consultant appointment at same clinic – consultant (male) made me cry so never went back.
June 2015: saw GP and got NHS referral for appointment in October
October 2015: moved to Oxford and had to start all over again for new consultant appointment there.
January 2016: saw gynaecologist in Oxford, referred to Oxford Fertility.
March 2016: consultant appointment at Oxford Fertility – consultant (female) made me cry but in a good way because she was so kind (my sister was about to give birth and I was all over the place emotionally and she just said it was ok to be happy for my sister but also feel sad for myself).
May 2016: HyCoSy test showed fallopian tubes fine.
June 2016: put on Provera to induce a period (health problems meant I hadn’t had one for years) – this didn’t work so I was put on the pill for three months to see if that fooled my body into having one, which it didn’t.
October 2016: started first IVF treatment protocol with nasal spray – this gave me cysts on my ovaries which weren’t serious but did mean I had to abandon the treatment and wait for them to go.
January 2017: started different treatment protocol – more injections than usual one but shorter; this worked fine and at the end of the month I went for egg retrieval – 10 eggs were collected, 8 fertilised successfully using ICSI and four embryos grew well until day 5. I then had one transferred about a week later.
Feb 2017: Sadly the transfer didn’t work and I had a negative pregnancy test.
March 2017: Saw consultant who reassured me it was more likely than anything else to have been a chromosomal abnormality with the embryo and not something I did that caused it to fail, and therefore no reason not to try again as soon as I wanted.
April 2017: Second cycle of IVF this time with a frozen embryo resulting in a successful pregnancy test on 1 May 2017.
Were your friends and family supportive?
I couldn’t have asked for better support. I was anxious when I first told friends about what I was hoping to do that they might think I was crazy and try to dissuade me, but without exception they were positive, encouraging and excited for me. Although my sister knew from the beginning, I didn’t tell my mum until I had had some of the tests and then my dad a few months later. I was surprised by how unsurprised my mum was and again, how she made no attempt to change my mind. My dad was just wonderful – I’d been worried he might think what I was doing was a bit odd, but if he did, he kept it to himself and was nothing but happy and excited for me when we first talked about it, and as the process went on and there were ups and downs, just tactfully quiet a lot of the time and didn’t ask too many questions. And he’s now thrilled to bits to have a grandson and another boy in the family!
Who was your main support throughout your journey?
Probably my close friend Harriet who is basically an angel in human form. She came with me to many appointments and was one of my birth partners, and although she was away in Australia for four months of my pregnancy, she always checked in on me – we FaceTimed when I was in hospital having an iron transfusion and I sent her regular photo updates of my bump. She was with me when I went for my first early scan at 7 weeks and we both cried when we heard the baby’s heartbeat. And since Noah was born she has always been around, cycling up the hill to see us after work and join in bath time. She is one of Noah’s guide-parents and it makes me very happy to know she will always be in our lives.
Would you have done anything differently?
Hard to say but I don’t think so except maybe take more time and look further afield for a donor. But as I said, I wouldn’t change Noah – to me he’s perfect and that therefore means I used the best donor for me.
Tell us a bit about your baby
I describe Noah as the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done. He pushes me to levels of patience and energy I never knew I had – I have never been more tired or happy or anxious or in love. He is my beautiful, cheeky, blue-eyed boy. I want so much for him but I will do my utmost to let him be who he wants to be, and not my second chance. I never thought that this is the way I’d have a child and if I’d had the choice I would have gone for having a loving partner to do this with. But I guess I’ve been on my own for so long that I’m used to doing everything for myself and from what friends tell me, having a partner isn’t always helpful. I agree with something I read by the journalist Sophie Heawood who said the hardest thing about being a single parent is not the tantrums or sleep deprivation, but it’s not having someone to share the love with – all the tiny things he does that are so special and that only a parent really gets.
What advice would you give to others starting the journey?
Be sure of your support network – friends, family, healthcare professionals, not just for the first part of trying to get pregnant and then childbirth, but for afterwards when you have your baby. Who can you call on when you’re throwing up and can’t look after a baby? It will happen and for your sake and your baby’s you need to be able to pick up the phone and know that whoever you’re calling is going to be able to drop everything and help out. But also as I mentioned before about having people to share all the good times with – hopefully you will be as lucky as I have been and make wonderful new mum friends, but you need old friends who have known you a long time too.
Anything else you’d like to share?
It can be hard keeping up with friends from ‘before’ especially those who don’t have children. I don’t really have a solution to this other than to accept that different friends are more present in your life at different times and so maybe while you have a small baby, you don’t get to hang out with the friends you had before so much. But hopefully you will have a made a whole new bunch of lovely ‘mum’ friends, who can give you the support and love and fun that you need.
If you would like to help other women considering on embarking on their own journey to solo motherhood, you can share your own story on the Stork and I Solo Mum Story Page. Just download the template here and send it over to me at firstname.lastname@example.org