Single and Pregnant
by Teri Brown

When most women imagine the perfect birth it generally consists of a devoted husband and doting family. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes the father isn't there. Sometimes families are geographically separated or simply don't want to be involved. Before becoming resigned to giving birth alone, however, know this: It doesn't have to be that way.

Community Counts
Creating a birthing community when you are all by yourself not only gives you a sense of support throughout the birthing process but also helps set you up for a successful parenting experience. Just because you feel alone doesn't mean you have to be.

Melody Cryns was a single mother when she gave birth to her now 11-year-old daughter Megan. Megan's father severed their relationship when Cryns was 6 months pregnant, leaving her with three older children from a previous marriage. With no family nearby, Cryns knew what it was like to feel alone, but she soon created a strong network of support.

"The people at work were wonderfully supportive," says Cryns. "They had an awesome baby shower for me because I had nothing for the baby. My older kids were already 11, 10 and 8, so I had long ago gotten rid of all the baby stuff."

To her surprise, Cryns also received a lot of support from the other parents at her children's Catholic school. She was originally a bit worried about their reactions and feared her children would be treated differently because of her single-pregnancy status, but her worries were unfounded.

"Parents and teachers constantly asked if our family needed anything," says Cryns. "I have never been very good at asking for help, even under those circumstances."

The school became a part of Cryns' birth community; they helped her with tuition and brought baskets of gifts for the family at Christmas, as well as soon after the baby was born.

The Challenges of Birthing Alone
Logistics are often the first thing a woman considers when faced with having a baby on her own. Who is going to help with birthing classes or drive you to the hospital? Who is going to take you and your new baby home? Who is going to be there to help out with the baby when you are totally exhausted?

These logistics seem like small details but can look like a mountain to the woman facing them alone. In addition, the weight of that constant responsibility can really wear you out just at a time when you need all of your energy and positive focus.

As you look down the road at pregnancy and single birthing, you will need to look at your priorities and decide what you need to keep in your life and what you need to let go of. You won't be able to keep up with everything you had going prior to becoming pregnant and having a child. Figure out a way to care for yourself so you will be in the best emotional and physical shape to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Once you have done that, it is time to consider how to build your birth community so that you can take care of all the little details that pregnancy and birth require.

Why Create a Birth Community?
Christine D'Amico, professional birthing coach and author of The Pregnant Woman's Companion (Attitude Press, 2002), believes there are many advantages to creating your own birth community.

"By having a strong birth community you can take really good care of yourself throughout the process, rather than toughing it out alone through pregnancy, labor and parenthood," says D'Amico. "A birth community also provides you with a wealth of resources to draw upon throughout your pregnancy and first year as a parent."

D'Amico believes that women, especially those pregnant with their first child, are often confused and bewildered by the changes in their lives and bodies. Having someone you can call when you're scared about the health of the baby, someone who can go with you to a prenatal appointment and someone to share in the amazement of the process will go a long way in helping a new single mother feel confident in her own abilities to get through it successfully.

Another advantage is the fact that your birth community won't just disappear when you give birth. Most people will be there as you raise your child, and this sort of support is irreplaceable during those first few overwhelming years of mothering.

"By taking some time to build this kind of a community for yourself, you don't have to feel alone when you go through some of the larger challenges that come with pregnancy," says D'Amico. "A supportive birth community gives you access to the wisdom and perspectives of others, and when it comes to pregnancy and parenting, wisdom and perspective can be invaluable."

Creating Your Own Family
Hazel Larkin, a 30-year-old writer currently living in Singapore, found herself pregnant and alone when the baby's father left. With her own family living in Europe, Larkin had to create her own birth community.

"When I found out I was pregnant, I contacted a doula and met with her for an in-depth discussion of what I need and want from my birth experience," says Larkin. "I'm having a homebirth, which is unheard of in Singapore."

Finding a midwife in Singapore was more challenging, but about 20 weeks into her pregnancy, a highly experienced midwife moved to the area from the United Kingdom. The three women met and got on very well, each sharing a similar attitude toward the birthing experience.

"So I have two women who will both be present at my baby's birth and who both share my views on the whole process," says Larkin. "I'm looking forward to having my baby in my own home with a team that I have chosen, who understand exactly what I want and have no difficulty providing it."

By creating her own birth community, Larkin has turned the uncertainties of being alone and pregnant into a positive experience.

D'Amico recommends that single women begin by finding at least one other person they trust to ask to be a partner throughout the pregnancy. This is the person that will come to prenatal appointments, bring you to the hospital and be with you through labor and delivery. You will also need someone to stay with you the first few nights you are back home with Baby to make sure that you are recovering well.

"In addition, you'll want to have a handful of people who live close to you that you can call on at any time to help out with some small little detail or another," says D'Amico. "You will be surprised how many times you will need an extra pair of hands for a few minutes."

Susan Isaacs Kohl, preschool director and author of The Best Things Parents Do (Conari Press, 2004), agrees, especially if some of the people the mother surrounds herself with are already parents.

"If the community consists of people who are already parents, a mother-to-be will have a much more realistic picture of what making the transition to motherhood entails," says Kohl. "She can plan for the changes in her lifestyle more effectively and take steps to get the help she needs."

Searching for a Birth Community
There are many places a woman can look when creating her birth community. Most people are flattered to be asked and more than willing to help in some way. Kohl believes that the opportunities are everywhere once you begin looking for people who are warm, compassionate and caring.

"Single mothers can take parenting classes, go to yoga or reach out to people who are in the same circumstance and want to build a team," says Kohl. "For a single mother who will work right away outside the home, a family daycare provider or nanny can give needed advice. Midwives are also great people to have as part of a birth community."

Other places mothers can look to build her birth community:
o Neighbors
o People you work with
o People from your parenting or birthing classes
o Your doula or midwife

Creating a birth community for you and your unborn baby is a wonderful way to start off your child's life. People do not have to be a blood relative to become a loving and helpful family member. They just need to be trustworthy and as excited about your little one's entrance into the world as you are.

About the Author: Teri Brown is a senior contributing writer for iParenting Media.