Griet had a baby on her own: “Thanks to my support system, I hardly have the feeling I’m in this alone”
“I hold the envelope tight in my left hand as I look for the key to the front door. I reach for the door knob, my mind running a million miles a minute. As if I’m on autopilot, I take off my winter coat and shove my bag in the corner of the hallway. The cold winter air is replaced by cosy warmth when I settle myself into my usual spot on the couch. I take a deep breath and tear the envelope open. The word I’m looking for on the sheet of test results catches my eye immediately. It’s a boy… My body tingles. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve known that one day I’d have a son. His name would be Niels, after the famous children’s book Nils Holgersson. I might have no clue yet how I’m going to pull off motherhood – but my son and I are going to take on the world together.”
“Around the year I turned 30, the desire to become a mother sprung up. I first played with the idea of foster care – inspired by my parents, who, while raising four children of their own, set the table and made beds for kids in need every summer. Eventually, I chose a whole different path: the day before my 30th birthday, I applied for an Australian visa. I spent a year living in the southern hemisphere, before moving to the US for work.
When I crossed the ocean and landed back in Belgium, the thought of motherhood kept lingering – until my sister became a single mother in 2015. I remember thinking, “I could do this too.” She’d gone through a long process to get pregnant, so I thought I’d check my chances. In 2016, I submitted my application to become a single mother to a fertility clinic in Brussels. Every detail of my life was turned inside out in lengthy questionnaires and intimate conversations with psychologists. A few months later, they gave me the green light to start the procedure. Before I knew it, I spent most of my time reading outdated magazines while waiting for someone to call out my name for the next ultrasound, blood test or hormone exam. While discussing the timing of the process, my doctor was clear: it was now, or maybe never.
When I told my family about my plans, they were supportive and excited. I’d been worried about how to combine doctor’s appointments with work, but my colleagues were understanding. Only two of them – older, conservative men, reacted negatively: what was I going to do to this child? I put their comments aside and focused on the positive ones instead. Surrounded and supported by a bunch of family and friends, I went through three rounds of artificial insemination. Each one failed. The doctors were having difficulty tracking my ovulation, so I drove 104 kilometers back and forth to the hospital almost daily. When the combination of stress, fatigue and disappointment reached its peak, I decided to take a 6-month break and do what I love the most – travel.
Feeling all the feels
After my time off in Iceland and the US, I felt recharged and ready for the next step: my first IVF attempt. Two weeks after the embryo transfer, I went in to draw blood. I hadn’t noticed any significant changes in my body, so I didn’t know which news to expect. When I finally received a phone call from the doctor’s office, the friendly voice on the other end of the line spoke the words I’d been longing to hear for over a year and a half: “Congratulations, you’re pregnant.”
I shared the news with family and friends right away – everyone was thrilled. I was happy, but – as difficult as it is to admit – I wasn’t euphoric. A giant wave of fear washed over me. I’d lie awake at night wondering if I was capable of raising a child on my own. I’d burst into tears and feel a heaviness in my chest realising there was no way back. Until I heard my baby’s heart beat for the first time. That was the moment I knew – this is it, I’m going for it.
My pregnancy was a dream. I continued going to the gym and dance class several times a week. And I remember one night I partied until five in the morning, two weeks before my due date. I was five days overdue when they eventually induced labour, in the middle of a May heat wave. I had wanted to try a natural birth, but the experience was too painful. When they broke my water, the rush of panic returned. “I can’t do this”, I thought, “They can’t take him out…” The walls of that hospital room bore witness to the many tears I shed. I was lucky enough not to go through it alone – my mother, sister and a friend were there to hold my hand.
When they put my son into my arms, my first thought was: “What do I do now?” The experience was overwhelming – all these different emotions came together. I held this beautiful baby close and took care of him tenderly, but I didn’t feel like his mother. A dear friend I had confided in told me I had to be patient – and he was right. When Niels and I arrived home from the hospital, I looked at him and thought, “You’re mine.” I realised we’d be okay together.
Mother + me
Those first weeks after Niels’ arrival, I struggled with the insecurities every new mother relates to: is he eating enough? Is he comfortable? Luckily, I was well surrounded by my mother, sister and a maternity nurse, who helped out with cooking, ironing and babysitting. When another rough night rolled around, that’s when I missed a partner the most. I’d sleep next to Niels with his bottle within reach, so I didn’t have to get out of bed every time he woke up. Now that he’s a bit older, I would have liked someone by my side for the organisational part. As a single mother, I constantly have to arrange things on my own, like childcare before and after school. Niels is always in my head.
I had a vibrant social life before I had my son and don’t want to give that up entirely. I’m not only a mother – I’m Griet, who likes to have fun and spend time with friends. The spontaneity is gone, because I have to look for a babysitter and justify myself each time I go out, but I try to not let it stop me. My take on motherhood has a name apparently: ‘slashparent’, a concept I heavily identify myself with. I feel a huge responsibility towards my child, but I’m a happier, healthier mother when I regularly take time for myself. I have lost a few friends who don’t agree and believe mothers are supposed to stay home. But if there’s anything I’ve learned these past years, it’s to let it go. The opinion of others is not my problem. I love my son to pieces and I can’t imagine a life without him, but if I could go backpacking alone for a month… I wouldn’t think twice.
I’m thankful for the large network I can rely on: my parents, sisters, brother, friends – even parents of friends, who tell me I can drop Niels off in case I can’t manage on my own. I sometimes do reach out, because I’ve learned it’s okay to ask for help – that goes for any parent. Niels is a sociable child, there’s no place he doesn’t like to go to. He might be a bit shy at first, but he quickly feels at home and behaves like his chatty little self. I think that’s a huge advantage for him when he gets older. At summer camp, he’ll never be the child that cries because he’s spending a night away from home.
I’ve made sure Niels is surrounded by father figures. Before he was born, I asked my brother and brother-in-law to be his godfathers. They’re both good with children and love playing with my son. I can’t wait until he’s older so they can build camps together or take him along to soccer matches. One time, my niece asked my sister where Niels would go if something happened to me. My sister reassured her they’d take him in. In that respect I have nothing to worry about. I’m a 100% sure he’ll always be well taken care of.”