This story was written by Hannah in 2018.
For every pregnant woman, even before your jeans get snugger and your dresses shorter, the questions start. “Why aren’t you drinking? Why are you so tired? What are you looking so happy about?” But as a solo mum, there was a knotty layer of questions, explanations, obfuscations, white lies and downright fibs in the early days of my pregnancy that – along with navigating others’ reactions – I was wholly unprepared for.
Explaining my growing bump was, in some ways, straightforward. To strangers, a pregnant belly is a pregnant belly, however it got that way. The people who gave up their seats, the colleagues I know by sight but not name, the nurses at my check ups: they simply saw a mother-to-be. I loved these people.
Friends and family, I assumed, would be equally easy. Most close friends – as well as almost all my family – knew I was trying for a baby, so when I told them I was pregnant they were as overjoyed as I was. With a few exceptions: one friend was trying for a baby at the same time. She was with me when I chose my donor, red wine in hand. I got pregnant first and even though she never once showed it, I can imagine it wasn’t easy. Nonetheless, she came with me to my first scan. By my first NCT class, which she came to with me, she was a few months pregnant.
But I had a few tricky conversations with friends I saw less often and hadn’t told that I was trying for a baby. Telling a friend I was pregnant led to him confiding that he and his partner had tried the same treatment with his sperm, unsuccessfully. On another occasion, eating pizza between rehearsals, I was happily telling a woman in my orchestra I barely knew that I was pregnant (easy!). But further down the table was a good friend, a gay man. “You’re pregnant?” he said. He was understandably baffled, as he knew I was single. I took him to one side later and explained how I wished I’d had the chance to tell him on his own.
More uncomfortable still was a conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen for ages, as she’d moved back to her home country. Over lunch in London when she was visiting, I told her my news. I was nervous: I knew she and husband had been trying to have children for years, and she was competitive, blunt. Her reaction was aggressive. “Why didn’t you just go and get pregnant with someone at a party?” she asked, as if that were the issue. I knew she was hurt; possibly she felt I’d cheated the system, that it was unfair. The lunch ended and the following day, she sent me an unprecedented email to apologise. She now has two kids of her own. But our friendship hasn’t been the same since.
Work colleagues fell into three camps. Those who were delighted and knew nothing of my single status. Those who were delighted if a little confused as they assumed I was single. And those who were delighted and asked a lot of questions. (I’m a journalist, so my colleagues are by nature a nosy bunch). “Wow, I didn’t know you were with someone! Who is he, how long have you been together?” It caught me off guard and, I’m ashamed to say, led to a few tall tales. I told a true story – that I had recently had a short, ultimately doomed fling – with one important untruth: that it had ended in a pregnancy. But after a while, I got the hang of it, telling others: “It’s a bit complicated, but it’s all good”. No further questions were asked.
Occasionally, people I wanted to tell never asked. My NCT group – a lovely bunch of liberal, open-minded women – never once asked me what my situation was. So one day, fed up with waiting, I just told them. Elsewhere, in the early days of my pregnancy, my mother – never one to not speak her mind – told people, unprompted: “She used a sperm donor!” I had to take her gently to one side to explain that, first, it is my story to tell, and second, there’s no need to go into that much detail. A simple “She’s doing it on her own,” is enough.
But far and away my favourite conversation was with my colleague, a friend in her early 40s who also happened to live in the flat above me, renting it from my neighbour. She had a partner, but they didn’t live together. As we grew closer, she confided that the children thing had just never happened for them. When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to tell her my whole story, so we sat down to coffee. And then she told me she was pregnant too. We cried. And we gave birth a day apart.
Today, I am as open and honest with people as I am with my daughter. But if people don’t directly ask, I don’t directly tell. I have a lifetime of talking and telling ahead of me: to her, to new friends, to teachers. I will doubtless make mistakes over and over again. But I read a great quote recently: “Good judgement comes from experience; and experience comes from poor judgement.”