My Baby Taught Me What Marriage Really Means. (First appeared on Huffington Post)

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It had only been a few weeks since our daughter was born. Between feeling exhausted, sleep deprived and always hungry, I also felt like there were two strangers in my bed. First, the baby herself. And second, the husband. I am sure he must have felt the same too. Because for many weeks to come we were going to be less of each other’s friends and more of a parent to our child. Babies change everything. Your heart, your mind, your bed, your house, your priorities, your marriage. They bring joy and they also bring chaos. 

Before our daughter was born, marriage to me had a different meaning. We were like live-in partners. Doing our own thing while still sharing our lives. There was love, there was space, there was trust, there was respect, in that order probably. We were still living our single lives, together. Sometimes, the fights were trivial but in that phase they seemed mighty; choice of cutlery, colours of the curtains, who sleeps on which side of the bed or who gets to hold the remote. These counted as serious matters.

And then, we became parents.

For the first few months, we were glad that we had curtains, we got some sleep and we didn’t really care about the remote. We were both constantly giddy in this 360-degree flip of our lives. Babies test everything; your patience, your anger, your love, your respect for each other. And that’s when chaos begins. Sleep deprivation drives you insane. The pressure of selfless love makes you crumble. You are sort of always coping. Trying to understand your new avatars while looking after a newborn. Because now suddenly everything becomes about the baby or that’s what we think. And in this insanity and chaos, ungrateful words come out. 

That’s when marriage enters a new phase. It doesn’t begin to grow old, it starts to grow up. Here, respect for each other becomes more important than love. You can fall in and out of love, but when you fall out of respect, you never really fall in again. There is no space for blame games here. Yes, there will be meltdowns. Yes, there will be I-haven’t-had-a-break-in-months but in the end the wheels of the bus must go round and round. Appreciation becomes a new form of communication. Saying that you understand how tough it must be to give up your job to stay home full time, is far more important than saying the three taken-for-granted words. Saying that you understand how tough it must be to miss one of your daughter’s early milestones because you couldn’t make it on time is more important than sulking or arguing over it. 

In this phase, it’s never about you or him or the baby, it’s about ‘us’, it’s about being a family that gives all three a sense of security and togetherness. And that’s what memories are made of. Because those memories make a marriage more beautiful. That’s why, once in a while, no matter how tough your day was, it’s important to come back home and tell each other that you are doing a fabulous job.


mom now, wife later says Claire.


I have always been in awe of this mother, Claire Peters, a South African who works as an account executive at one of the top advertising agencies in Johannesburg. And she is a single mother by choice, through artificial insemination.

About three years ago, Claire gave birth to a beautiful life with the help of a sperm donor and she named her Phoebe. Phoebe is just like her name, bright and shining. Here’s more about Claire who decided to take this plunge alone, into this sometimes thankless, yet the most fulfilling phase of a woman’s life.

Claire, you are a single mother by choice, through a sperm donor, what made you want to take this plunge?

I was a mother waiting to have a child. All my life I wanted children. I was in a relationship that didn’t go very well and eventually at 34, I decided to see the doctor who suggested that my eggs were fine and I could wait for another couple of years. At 36, I still hadn’t met anyone and thought I can’t not have a child and I also didn’t want to regret hitting 40 and not be able to have a child then. So, at 36, I saw the doctor for artificial insemination.

Any initial apprehensions?

Lots of them. I lost my mother when I was 23 and I don’t have a sister. I think, those two people are very important in a woman’s life when she is having a baby. Also, I wanted to have a perfect child. You know, how everyone wants to get married, have children and live happily ever after. I had hit 36 and that hadn’t happened for me so I had to make it happen for myself. 

I was worried about things like what the baby was going to look like and what was I going to say to the child. Also, financially I was worried. In advertising you don’t really make millions, it’s quite a volatile industry, you are not always guaranteed of a job. I took advice from a wonderful therapist who helped me through this decision and talked me through the pros and cons.

How did your family and friends react to this decision? What were their initial feelings?

I have an amazing stepmother, a father and two brothers. However, my father was 72 when I decided to take this plunge and for him it was a big thing to get his head around. It was a big decision for my family, because if something happened to me they were going to be responsible for me and my child. They were also apprehensive because I had quite a few issues in my life earlier.

Six years prior, I had been in rehab for alcohol addiction and it was a big thing to make sure I didn’t drink again.

And now, after having Phoebe, my father says it was the best thing I have ever done in my life. And Phoebe has brought so much happiness to my life and to his.

How do you manage everything by yourself? Are there any secrets to your being such a great single mom?
I think I wanted a child so badly and I underwent three years of therapy to make sure that I was ready. I have a wonderful nanny who loves Phoebe like her own. And like every other mother, I have to be selfless. Because my time is not my own, my holidays are not my own.

Also, motherhood is a thankless job. Nobody says to you how brilliant you are. Your child doesn’t tell you everyday how brilliant you are. 

As a single mother, I had to be ready emotionally and financially. I cannot envy other couples. I had to be prepared for things like the first day of school, which happened this week for me. All the children arrived with their mommy and daddy, and Phoebe arrived with a mommy only. And it didn’t even cross my mind, it didn’t bother me, I didn’t envy anyone, and that’s a very important thing to prepare for.

Another important thing I have to be prepared for is people’s questions. People are always going to ask me why did I do this on my own and if I’m prepared for when Phoebe asks me about her dad.

How do you balance work, life and Phoebe?
I like my Monday mornings. Because I get to be Claire again and not Phoebe’s mom. Even though I love being her mom, it’s the adult company that I miss because when I get home there is no adult company. I feel, if I was with Phoebe all the time I would have maybe lost a bit of myself. I get to work by 8am, after dropping Phoebe at playschool. When I am at work, I think about her, I talk about her, I check up on her to make sure she’s okay, she is still my priority. Also, it’s important that at work I use my office hours sincerely so that I can leave by 5pm and get to Phoebe.

And I think that balance is important.

On a Saturday morning I catch up with close friends or get my hair done, while she is with her nanny.

What keeps you going?
She does. Our lives do. I want more for her. I want so much for our lives together. I want to succeed so that we can have a good life, she can have a good life.

Do you worry about the time when Phoebe will start asking tough questions? What will you tell Phoebe about her “father”?
I will be honest with her. She must know the truth that, mommy wanted her so badly that I went to a special doctor and he helped me have her. That’s the first step. I think it’s important to tell her as much as she can handle at a certain age.

Some mothers might not like it when Phoebe says that her dad is a sperm donor. But that’s their problem not mine, not Phoebe’s. Phoebe will be number one for me, her feelings are my priority.

Also another thing that I would like to do is send her for play therapy throughout her growing up years, just to assess if she is okay and to get advice from professionals on how to deal with things. The wonderful therapist who helped me through my apprehensive days also talks to children who have single parents or divorced parents. And that would be of great help.

Do you ever feel the need for a partner while having to manage all by yourself? Would you be open to having a partner in the future?
Definitely. I think it’s human nature for women and men to live together, have children. But I am not yearning for someone in my life right now. I would love to have a partner but it would have to be the right person, someone who loves children and wants to have children. As of now I have chosen motherhood over a partner. And I am not desperate to find a man to have a baby with.

How has motherhood changed you?
In every way. I am not as social as I used to be. I am a lot less selfish. Motherhood has grounded me. After I lost my mother at 23, a part of me died. And I was always looking for something, something was always missing. Partying and alcohol were the only things that made me feel okay then. It kind of numbed me. I was not looking to have a child to fill that gap. But now I am happier. I just feel complete again. I feel whole again. I have given up alcohol, I gave up smoking.

What is the toughest part of being a single mom?
Finance. It’s just a challenge. I think it’s a challenge for all parents but as a single parent you have to prepared that you have to pay for everything.

And also when Phoebe gets sick or when I fall sick. I have nobody to handover to. And that’s why I am thankful for an amazing nanny. Or if I have to go away for work or if my nanny has an emergency then my family is here. You need some form of support system. And if I fall sick, I need someone to look after my child. That is the hard part. I can’t fall apart because there is no one to pick the pieces. I just have to cope. I can’t fall into a heap and feel sorry for myself.

Can you explain how did you go about with the process of artificial insemination?
I had to first check if my eggs were okay and that my hormones were okay. Then the doctors made sure my uterus was functioning well and that there were no blockages or anything. Once that was all cleared, I had to choose my sperm donor. The fertility clinic sent me a list. I thought choosing a donor would be something that would be chosen by me, my family and my close friends because I used to seek approval from everyone. That’s one more thing that has changed in me, I don’t look for approval from everyone anymore. They sent me a list of Caucasian, Indian, white and Asian donors. In South Africa they don’t have a picture of the donor because it’s meant to be anonymous. I was worried about who I would choose. But my doctor explained it beautifully to me. He said that the sperm is the smallest cell in the body just think of it like that. The baby is going to be 100 percent me. 

I decided on a Caucasian donor.

I wanted my child to look like me as much as possible. Instead of choosing the model who liked surfing I looked at someone who is the same height as me, has the same eye colour and the same hair colour. I wanted Phoebe to look as close to me as possible. I liked the fact that the donor was as sporty as I am. He was musically inclined, he wrote a bit about himself and sounded a bit of an introvert and I am an extrovert so I thought it would be nice to have a combination.

Few months later, I went to the doctor again, chose my donor, the sperm cost 700 Rands for about two straws. The lab made sure I was in my cycle and performed all the required examinations to make sure everything was fine. I had given myself three rounds of artificial insemination and an IVF option in case everything else failed. 

I was told that I had a 15 percent chance of having a baby, but I got pregnant the first time itself. The whole process until the pregnancy cost me approximately 10,000 Rands. My medical aid did help a lot. The very first time I heard my baby’s heartbeat, I cried with sheer joy. I was wearing my mother’s necklace and holding on to it really tight. I just knew she was there.

And all the things I was worried about just disappeared when I held Phoebe for the first time. I have never been this happy. Ever.

Lastly Claire, what is that one thing you want Phoebe to learn?
To be proud of who she is. To love herself. That’s it, to love herself. I learned to love myself only in my thirties and since then my life has been so much better.

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Once upon a Tuesday at a chocolate factory.

Right in the heart of the windy city of Chicago stands a humble dark brown building. It’s a building you will never notice but there’s something about it that I will never forget. 

Every morning pure white speckles of snow would gracefully drift down on the street lights, eventually settling down on the rushing beige and black coats. And about that same time a delicious whiff of melting bars of chocolate would make it’s way into the dark alleys of our tiny noses. 

So, one morning little I & I polished our noses, wore our snow boots and decided to follow that distinctive aroma.

No GPS, no Google maps just our pink, cold noses for directions.

And there we were standing happy and hungry in front of the doors of that dark brown building. A chocolate factory to be precise. The church bell gonged eight times as if it were a drum roll for us to begin our breakfast of pure decadent chocolate. 

Little I would have imagined herself in her blue stripped swimming costume sliding into a pool of melting chocolate when I told her that we are going to see and eat lots and lots of chocolate.

As we were about to slide down into that inviting pool, a lady at the door informed us that the chocolate factory was no longer open for public visits. 

‘But why?’, asked my disappointed voice and little I’s eyes.

The words that came out of that polite lady’s mouth yanked me out my deliciously dreamy pool of chocolate.

‘A lady slipped into one of our mixing tubs while taking pictures’, she said.

Suddenly, I felt the chills of the cold wind and I saw someone else in our pool.

I tried to yank little I out of that pool with that stranger lying in it, but little I held strongly onto the sides screaming ‘chocolate’!

And once again, the next morning as a fresh batch of snow flakes gracefully settled down on car tops, a fresh aroma of melted chocolate obediently made it’s way into the dark alleys of our tiny noses.

And all I wanted to be was that lady who fell into that mixing tub of chocolate, into our dreamy pool. This time with a two and a half year old and a stroller.

Mothers, please laugh a little louder.

Sometimes as a mother I get so busy playing my part that I forget that little I is watching me so closely. Picking my every action and reaction. 

After all, whatever children see, children do. And whatever children see the mother do, they definitely do.

So, draw more stars on a frosted car window.
Smile a little wider.
And don’t forget to speak a little warmer.

Walk with a bounce in your step.
Take a deep whiff of that delicious dish.
And don’t forget to sing when you’re cooking.

Don’t panic if you fall.
Don’t hide your tears if it hurts.
But remember to laugh about it later.

Stop and see if the moon is still walking with you.
Put on those snow boots and make a snowman with a neck and a hat.
And remember to give it a warm hug before it melts.

Read a book as if it were a song.
Make a mess with whatever you want. 
Roll the dough, cut the cookie and don’t worry to stick to a mould.

Turn your daily chores into a musical.
And don’t forget to turn up the volume even if it sounds whimsical.

Make that humble carrot look exciting.
Make funny faces with her in the mirror even while you’re waiting.

Don’t worry too much about the world.
Look a little happier for the one who thinks you are her world.

She might not remember every word you said.
What will stay with her is how it felt.
And that’s what will reside in her subconscious. 

So mothers, hug a little tighter, try a little harder.
And don’t forget to laugh a little louder.

Because children learn what you teach them.
But children learn a lot more when you are not teaching them.