Fiona Doyle, mum to Ciara and NCT branch coordinator for Haringey, tells us about the breakdown of her relationship, the amazing support she’s received and the bright future ahead for her and her daughter.
Ever since I was little I’d dreamed about being a mother. Needless to say, the reality was very different.
My partner left me when I was 13 weeks pregnant. I took him back because I wanted a life together with our child in a household with two parents who loved her and each other with equal fierceness.
My NCT group and the teacher could not have been more supportive
It was my partner’s idea to do an NCT course and the first class was excruciating because our lovely teacher had assumed that everyone in the room was part of a loving couple.
I was sitting next to a man who, just some months before, had told me he didn’t want to be a part of my life anymore.
Later on, when we had our women-only day, I told the rest of the mums-to-be it was likely I was going to be a single parent.
Every ounce of shame I was feeling lifted and I felt much more truthful about the experience.
My partner left again when our daughter was two weeks old. It was at a time when I thought I’d suffered every kind of blow imaginable and didn’t think I could cope with much more.
My NCT friends really did pull me through those first few difficult months – with phone calls, 4am messages, cups of tea and walks in the park.
We were soldiers trudging through a baby-battlefield with no real idea what on earth any of us were doing and it was wonderful to have such a good group of friends to see it through with.
My partner came back, but left again when Ciara was fourteen months old. I took him back – again – because I loved him and wanted so badly to believe him when he said he loved me too and he had just been scared and hadn’t realised what he’d given up.
He left again just after our daughter’s third birthday. This time, I’m pretty sure he’s not coming back.
Suddenly, the future seemed bleak and depressing
I went through anger, depression, pity (my own and from everyone around me) and grief. The loving household I had imagined bringing Ciara – and our subsequent children – up in disappeared in the blink of an eye.
One of my lifelines was the local NCT magazine. I really enjoyed reading stories and experiences from real people who lived nearby and visited the same playgrounds and baby classes.
When I saw an advert in the magazine, I knew I wanted to volunteer because I understood exactly how it felt to spend days on end feeling like you were drowning – with an hour’s meet-up with other adults being the only highlight of the week.
‘I’m part of an amazing team of strong, funny, interesting and smart women who all have a hundred things to juggle every day, yet still find the time to answer emails, host meet-ups, organise sales, pub nights, first aid courses, breastfeeding sessions, Maternity Services Liaison Committee (MSLC) meetings and so much more.’
I wanted to facilitate that for other mums who might be feeling the way I’d felt for so long.
As chance would have it the branch coordinator role was vacant. Three years on and I’m still volunteering and enjoying every minute.
People often ask how I find the time, but if something is important to you, you just get on and do it.
I’m often told I’m not what people expect an NCT volunteer to be (whatever that means!) I don’t fit a mould and I’m working hard to break the stereotype of what someone involved with NCT should be and what a single mum is.
Volunteering gave me back a sense of self after I’d had my baby; it was like dipping a toe back into the water of the real world and I’ve been so grateful for the experiences I’ve had, and continue to have, as an NCT volunteer.
My NCT friends and I are still in touch now – with our children having just started primary school. I hope we will remain close for all of their future milestones too.
I have learnt a lot as a single parent. Firstly, to accept help when it’s offered. This is an excellent rule for all new parents, but especially for people bringing up a child without a second pair of hands in the house.
Help can come in all sorts of forms – people visiting and bringing food, friends offering to take you out for an evening, someone helping with the washing up.
I went through a period of martyrdom where I felt I had to be everything to my daughter, 24 hours a day.
In hindsight, this was ridiculous and I was only making my life more difficult and exhausting.
I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I was doing just fine, thank you very much.
As all parents eventually realise, a couple of hours off can work wonders for your sanity and mean you’re slightly calmer, more relaxed and more able to cope with it all when you return.
Single parents like me are raising our children in the best way we can – and that’s all we can hope for
Secondly, I’ve learnt to own my situation. No, things didn’t work out as planned. So what? Make a new plan and go for it.
This is far easier said than done and it’s taken me years to get to this stage, but now there’s a sense of promise and excitement about what’s coming next.
There are thousands of people in the same situation and, for the most part, we’re all ok.
If someone wants to criticise or condemn your situation that’s their problem. Be proud of what you’ve achieved so far and look forward to what comes next.
Thirdly, it’s ok to grieve for what you’ve lost. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to reflect on what’s happened without breaking down into hysterical tears over the future babies I thought I would have and the big decisions I thought I’d be making with someone else by my side.
‘More and more women are bringing up babies in single parent households and we’re seeing them at NCT classes, meet ups and baby groups. Some women are choosing lone parenthood as they haven’t met the right person and some, like me, have had a breakdown in their relationship.’
It’s very sad that things didn’t work out the way I’d hoped and a big part of being able to move forward has been letting go of all the dreams I had for us all.
For now it’s just my daughter and I and there’s a lot to be grateful for.
What I hadn’t realised is that as she’s grown I’ve gained a little life partner and team mate!
The future now looks very different from what I’d always imagined but I’ve realised it’s no less bright than my original plan. Ciara and I will head into it together and that’s a wonderful thing indeed.
Local branches run lots of activities for parents in their area and you may meet people in the same boat as you
We run a range of antenatal and postnatal courses to support you through pregnancy, birth and your new life as a parent
NCT support line
0300 330 0700
For practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood including help with feeding
NCT information about relationships
With changes in relationships common after having a baby, we talk about ways to deal with relationship stress and how to tackle issues
A charity providing expert advice, practical support and campaigning for single parents
A website for single parents offering information and advice through separation, divorce and rebuilding lives.