Last month, singer Natalie Imbruglia combined the announcement of her new record deal with a more unexpected one: at 44, she is pregnant with her first child, having decided to go it alone. As she explained, ‘This has been something I have wanted for a very long time and I’m blessed that this is possible with the help of IVF and a sperm donor.’
The singer is one of a growing number of women who are deciding to head into parenthood alone. Recent statistics show that the number of IVF attempts by women without a partner across the UK have risen from 351 in 2007 to 1,290 in 2017 (and perhaps further since). On a broader level, the number of single parents is substantial: one in four UK families are now headed up by a single parent, of which 90% are women. But what support is out there for them? Finding your fellow survivors when you’re knee-deep in Sudocrem is no easy task.
For Genevieve Roberts, who has had two children using donor sperm and is the author of Going Solo: My Choice To Become A Single Mother Using A Donor, building a network took conscious effort. In her case, that meant being proactive and asking around if friends knew other parents with similar circumstances, who had ‘the shared experience of not having a partner to divide the work with’.
‘Solo mums go into parenting alone with their eyes wide open, and have usually planned very carefully,’ she notes. ‘I think it’s easier for me than if you separate from your partner unexpectedly, because you set up your support network from when you’re pregnant and aren’t expecting to share the load emotionally.’ Still, in a society that teaches us to expect a lifetime of help with the night shifts, doing it alone can feel bleak at times, whether it’s by choice or circumstance. And, as an unexpectedly single parent myself (albeit one with a very engaged co-parent), I know that shooting the breeze about motherhood with new mum friends before realising your experience is utterly different from theirs can feel hugely lonely – especially when they refer to their partner being away for a few days as ‘being a single mum this week’
Mother’s Day is a particular trigger for a friend of mine and fellow single parent, who now takes a few days off social media to avoid the ‘hashtag blessed’ parents, who are off for a photogenic roast at their favourite pub while she’s left holding a packet of fish fingers on that ‘most special of days’. At the same time, reaching out for help – or simply to connect – with existing friends who are busy with their own family units or catching up with their partners can compound that sense of solitude. Weekends and holidays can be particularly tricky: a trip to the local farm, family festival or even a holiday abroad can leave you vibrating with ‘otherness’ (not to mention exhausted by the undertaking that is a long journey or big event with only one parent to hand). In these moments, even someone who ‘gets it’ to roll your eyes at, let alone split the practical load with, can feel like a glass of cool water in a desert populated by only happy nuclear families.
Even Facebook groups purporting to help can be thorny, with women wary of sharing kids’ specifics on a public space online. That’s where new app Frolo, which aims to connect single parents (mums and dads) who are flying solo on account of relationship breakdowns, bereavement or, indeed, the choice to parent alone, hopes to win out.
Starting life as a local community, it’s as if Mumsnet and Bumble had a baby, with location features and in-app messaging to help you find parents in a similar situation nearby. Crucially, where other parenting apps such as Mush or Peanut expect you to list your single parent status alongside your hobbies, with Frolo it’s a given. The idea grew from founder Zoe Desmond’s initial sense of failure and isolation when her relationship broke down while her son was a toddler. ‘All I could see were happy families around me, and I didn’t want to impose on friends or family or admit how tough I was finding it,’ she says. en, one day, she got chatting with a neighbour she had known for months, discovering that she was also a single mother. ‘We both felt immediately frustrated by all of the Sundays we could have hung out together had we known.’
Taking ‘friend’ and ‘solo’ to create the name Frolo, Zoe, 38, is now on a mission to connect other diverse families, taking the sting out of those days when you crave an understanding adult to hang out with. Though the app doesn’t go live until 30 August, the fast-growing network of Frolos have already hosted a Mother’s Day event and their first group outing, to the Camp Bestival festival.
It may not sound like much, but it is: normalising family lives that exist outside of the narrow ‘two kids and a dog’ parameters – and extending the support networks available to them. After all, it takes a village to raise a child – it’s just that these days that village is changing, too.