Changing Perspectives: Being a solo mum by choice

Sarah James
By Sarah James | 15 May 2024
Sarah James and son.

The MFA DE&I Council would like to see an industry where everyone can thrive, feel heard, supported, and safe to do their best work. Let’s meet the Changers who are sharing their own lived experiences to inspire us all to change for the better.

Hi, my name is Sarah James and I am a Solo Mum by Choice (SMBC) – a title I am extremely proud of.

My journey started when I was 36 years old. I chose to freeze my eggs as a ‘motherhood insurance policy’ with the personal promise to myself that I would follow this unusual (at the time) road to motherhood if I hadn’t met anyone by the time I was 40. 

I am now mother to two-year-old Freddie and work full time as Managing Director of Initiative’s Melbourne office. There is no denying both are (almost) full-time jobs, but with lots of support – plus an ability to operate on less sleep than the average person and a ‘can do’ attitude – I’m confident I am achieving success in both roles.

So, let’s unpack this a little for those women who may not understand the ins and outs of being an SMBC, but want to, and for those who are just curious about how the hell I do it.  

Here’s my best advice and tips for a way forward:

First and foremost, don’t listen to the naysayers. Ultimately, this is your decision to make and if you feel it is the right decision for you, the chances are you’re spot on.

These days, being an SMBC is more common than when I made the choice and if you have a supportive friendship group and a supportive and flexible workplace, it’s not such a hard choice to make. When I started on my journey, I struck up friendships with four other mums also going it alone and I found it cathartic to swap stories and talk about navigating the biggest decision of all: ‘choosing dad’. 

However, my biggest advice to any woman thinking about this is: freeze your eggs now, don’t procrastinate as their fertility decreases with every passing month and having them on ice provides you with the best insurance policy out there. Not to mention it is much more affordable now than it used to be!

For me, freezing my eggs half a decade before I used them allowed me to focus on building my career, travel the world and ultimately allowed me the time to ready myself for motherhood.

I turned 40 during COVID and in the back of my mind, I knew I had arrived at decision time. I had spoken proudly of my intention to trailblaze down the SMBC path if I hadn’t met anyone to share parenting with but when the time arrived, I freely admit it was still a little daunting!

So, when I decided to push forward as a 41-year-old, it was reassuring to use my 36-year-old eggs, knowing they were of much better ‘quality’. At the time I was only 1 of 600 women in Victoria to do so, which seems crazy when you think of how common it is now. I secured 18 eggs that were frozen off three rounds of stimulation / treatment. A lengthy and sometimes debilitating process.

Which brings me to my next bit of advice if you are travelling the SMBC must work for a supportive organisation.

Luckily, I do, and Initiative has allowed me the flexibility to ensure Freddie comes first. The team was especially helpful when I returned to work, allowing me to ease back into the often-frenetic nature of our industry, but still consider Freddie as my first priority.

I think what stops people from asking for help from their employer is is often people don’t know where to start as it’s such a personal journey and there are just so many questions to be asked and answered. I cannot recall how many conversations I had when I was first pregnant, asking about the ‘how’!! So many people were fascinated about the donor process, which made me realise we need to talk about it more. Luckily, I am very comfortable talking about my journey and how I chose ‘the one’!

But back to decision time... once I made the decision to move forward, I thought I would be given a rolodex of potential donors to choose from. How wrong could I be? In reality, a spreadsheet of maybe 10 donors came into my inbox each fortnight and sadly over time I just I didn’t align with any of the suggested profiles.

But luckily for me, my fertility clinic had just affiliated with an American donor bank and within six weeks of being on the wait list, I was presented with two profiles to choose from. With a deadline of one week to say yay or nay, I sought the advice of family and friends and ultimately picked ‘the one’ who met most of my criteria – and before I knew it Freddie was on his way.  

It was the best thing I ever did. Freddie was born in March 2022. I took seven months’ leave and came back three days a week for three months before returning full time in January 2023.

Fast forward to today and we are in toddler mayhem, plus arguably one of the most challenging periods of our industry’s history! Which makes the challenges of my life more challenging, but arguably the rewards more rewarding.

How do I cope? It’s all about being organised. I always need to be thinking a few hours and days ahead to give the best life to Freddie, but also ensure I put my best foot forward at work.

Much like other families, it is about choices and making the right ones for your family’s best interest and circumstances. At work, it’s all about surrounding yourself with the most amazing and skilled team possible, delegating where you can and giving it your best shot when the buck rests with you.

Being an SMBC feels so right for me and something I gladly advocate for, especially in the industry we work in where we can celebrate peoples’ choices and share stories widely to create impact. 

DE&I may be the catchphrase of the decade, but it comes in so many shapes and sizes that we must live and learn by experience. I hope our industry can learn by mine.

Sarah James is Managing Director Melbourne at Initiative




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