In 2009, Rita Wendrich’s life was going according to plan. She had just turned 30, she’d been married for two years, and she was happily pregnant with her first child. “I felt like I could see the next 50 years of my life stretching out ahead of me,” says Wendrich. Then, five weeks before her due date, her marriage fell apart. She moved out of the Crowsnest Pass, Alta., home she shared with her husband. “When I decided to leave, all my plans just went out the window, and I realized I was going to have this baby on my own.”
Whether by choice or by circumstance, dealing with the ups and downs of pregnancy and planning for birth—and life with a newborn—can be daunting without a long-term partner in the picture. But with the right support systems in place, there can also be advantages to solo parenthood.
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“I couldn’t have done it without my family and friends,” says Wendrich. Her mom and best friend volunteered to be with her at the hospital during the birth, and she found a new living arrangement with her brother, sister-in-law and their three-month-old. She felt lucky to have family willing to take her in, but admits it was sometimes hard to see her brother and sister-in-law so happy with their new baby. “I couldn’t help thinking, that’s what I wanted—what I was supposed to have,” she says.
Women who choose solo parenthood quickly realize the importance of asking for help, too. Erin Wagg, a 38-year-old police officer and self-described “solo parent by choice” to a one-year-old daughter, Poppy, got pregnant via donor insemination. The Victoria mom says admitting she couldn’t do everything for herself “took some getting used to.” But once the baby came, she was overwhelmed by others’ generosity. “Friends filled my freezer and helped me clean the house, and people have come out of the woodwork to give me hand-me-downs.”
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Simone Vigod, a staff psychiatrist at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, says pregnant women who don’t have a partner living with them may need to be more proactive about asking for the help they need, including practical and emotional reinforcement. Many women are quick to recognize the need for assistance when it comes to tasks that require an extra pair of hands—painting a nursery, for instance, or taking a turn bouncing a restless newborn. But you also need to seek out emotional connections, similar to what a long-term partnership might provide. You’ll need to lean on others, says Vigos, “to help you work through this new experience of becoming a mother.”
Susan Wright, a Toronto single parent by choice to four-year-old Owen, has had lots of help from her friends and family. “From the moment I decided to get pregnant, I always felt very supported,” she says. “But sometimes, especially when something really exciting or beautiful happened, I wished that I had someone there who cared as much as I did—who could have really shared in that experience of being a new parent.”
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Wagg remembers having a hard time relating to the other women in her prenatal group, especially when they all started swapping stories about how their husbands were dealing with the pregnancy. “But you know what? Most of the stuff they were saying was actually negative, about how their husbands were stressing them out or disappointing them,” says Wagg. “And I got to focus on myself and my baby without worrying about anything else.”
Wendrich agrees. “I liked not having to negotiate with someone else about how to do things, and I learned to trust myself and my instincts. Looking back, I’m glad I did it alone. And I’d do it again.”
A version of this article appeared in our May 2014 issue with the headline “On your own,” p. 47.