Life as a Single Parent: Interview With Sarah Stirk

Image of Sarah Stirk and Baby with the caption 'Life as a Single Parent'

Becoming a parent is a big step. No matter who you are, it’s a life changing decision and everyone’s experience is different. At Ickle Bubba, we believe it’s important to share the experiences of all parents, because sometimes it’s helpful to know what others are going through.

To mark National Single Parent Day, we caught up with Sky Sports TV presenter and new mum, Sarah Stirk. A single parent by choice, Sarah opened up about her journey to becoming a single parent and learnt what life is like now that baby Milo is here.

Watch the interview or scroll down to read the full transcript.

So, we must start by congratulating you Sarah on the arrival of baby Milo but also on becoming a new mum! How are you feeling and is life as a single mum what you imagined it would be?

It’s obviously amazing. The birth and the pregnancy went really well. The journey to having him was quite a long one with various IVF cycles but now he’s here, it’s just amazing. He was born at Middlesborough Hospital and he was breach so it was a C-section but everything went so well and the last few weeks he’s been brilliant. The reflux has started to become a bit of an issue but apart from that, it’s been amazing. Yes, it’s tough. The sleep deprivation is hard, as every new mum will testify but he’s a dream. He’s something I’ve wanted for so long and now that he’s finally here, it’s amazing. He’s a little joy!

You mentioned sleep deprivation but in terms of being a single parent, what would you say are the biggest challenges but also the biggest rewards?

Life’s not always straight forward. It’s amazing but there are tough times. Unfortunately I split with my partner and I knew that I wanted to be a mum. It got to the point where I had to make the decision to do it. I’m sort of seeing someone at the moment but it’s very early stages and I am very much doing this on my own but I think I’m a very positive person. I think life works out. I’ve got amazing family and friends who are an amazing support so I don’t feel on my own. I know I’ve got a lot of good people around me and all that matters is that I can give him all the love and attention that he needs and deserves.

I feel very lucky to have lived and have the life that I’ve got. My baby is conceived with donor sperm but for me, it’s just my normal life, I don’t look at it any differently. Yes, there are challenges but there are challenges for everybody in life. Whether you’re parenting solo or with a partner or you have family close by… a lot of couples or single parents don’t have family close by. I feel I have so much love and support and so does he.

Well, I think we all know that finding ‘the one’ isn’t always easy. It can take years and actually, we might be happy in our own company and content with our own lives so why should we wait and risk missing that window of opportunity if having a child is what we really want? I think that’s why it’s so, so interesting to hear from someone like you that’s taken charge and gone, you know what – I want a baby and I’m going to do it regardless of having a partner to share that with.

In terms of the process itself, you chose to go down the IVF route but I know there are other options such as adoption or artificial insemination. Are you able to share the process of IVF from your experience?

Image of Sarah Stirk pregnant with her child

Sure. Now he’s here and the pregnancy and the birth were fantastic but getting to that point, I found IVF really tough and I think it really does mess with your body and your hormones. I found it really difficult. It didn’t work with my partner and then I went through three cycles to almost try and freeze the embryos in time. I went down the sperm donor route with Cryos in Denmark. I froze the embryos a few years ago, so I was 38 and 39 years old. After three cycles, they were all tested through pre-genetic screening which was one of the best things I ever did because they collected a lot of eggs but the viability was quite low. When I got to the blastocyst stage, I had quite a number but when they were tested, through the three cycles there were only three viable embryos which percentage wise from the number I had, it reduced dramatically.

The Doctor explained that because these three embryos had been tested, they had a really good chance of resulting in pregnancy so that was really positive. So I knew that but I waited a few years because, being honest, I didn’t feel in the right mental space to have a baby. I knew that I’d get to that point but I wasn’t ready. After a few of the personal things that had gone on, I just wasn’t ready. I know it sounds a bit cliché but I was on a bit of a personal journey, getting to a place where I was really happy and settled. Then when I was ready, last April, I put the embryo back and it worked first time for me so I’ve still got two others in the freezer, depending on what I want to do with them.

For the implantation to work first time, that was brilliant, but I know leading up to that, it’s hard. It just takes its toll and I know friends who’ve been successful with IVF and friends who haven’t and it’s really difficult. I feel very lucky that I’m sat here now with my baby because it’s just such a numbers game.

I found in a lot of IVF clinics, you are a number through the door. It’s very expensive and I just found it a bit soul destroying. I found, being honest, just a lack of personal attention and care. They’re seeing hundreds of thousands of patients every year but when you walk through that door, you want to feel like the only one that matters and I did feel like some of the aftercare and personal attention was lacking. I think that’s something that should be looked at as you’re going through a huge amount physically and emotionally so for me, the care just needs to be a bit better in this country.

I’d completely recommend the pre-genetic screening and I think you’ve just got to look after yourself and be kind. I was really thankful that my employer, Sky, were so empathetic and comforting towards me as they knew what I was doing. I think you have to talk to your friends and family and your colleagues and employer – you have to let them know because you’re on the IVF drugs. I remember being live on air, going for a toilet break mid-way through live TV programmes and injecting the IVF drugs. It’s not easy. I was travelling quite a bit, less so obviously the last few years, but if you let people around you know what’s going on, I think that really helps.

The other point I’d make is, I think it’s really tough on women to know when is the right time to be a parent. I’m still very much career focussed and ambitious. There’s a lot of pressure on women. You might go to school, university, get a job while trying to have a social life; seeing friends, just living life. Trying to find the partner and then your fertility apparently drops off a cliff at 35. You’ve got a lot to do in quite a short space of time and I think we need to be kinder to ourselves as well because it’s not easy.

There’s such a greater awareness of fertility and a lot of women’s issues now. The worst thing you can do is just hide. There’s that saying, always be kind because you never know what someone else is dealing with. It’s so true. It is a private thing and I was aware of that but I thought, if I let people know then my friends, family and work colleagues can be a bit more sympathetic towards things. Unless you’ve been through it, you don’t really understand. IVF is really gruelling and people need to understand that and empathise.

I feel like finding a sperm donor isn’t something that is widely spoken about. Did you find it hard to find the right resources at first?

Yes, I did. I mean I feel like a bit of an expert now but it’s like, where do you start? If you’re a single woman or a same sex couple, where do you begin? A lot of it is about researching information, reading, talking to people and just trying to learn. It’s a minefield, it’s really not easy but just trying to get all of the information you can and speaking to experts in that field to be able to make informed choices.

While you’re going through the process, I think you really have to look after yourself as well both physically and mentally. Exercise and diet are really important. Some people swear by hypnotherapy as well but just doing all of the right things because you have to put your mind in the best possible frame of mind and your body in the best possible place to really try and make it successful.

Image of Sarah Stirk and Baby Milo

Coming back to raising Milo without a partner. From a practical sense, how would you advise others to prepare for that? Obviously you have an amazing career but you’re still going to be juggling this with childcare when you do return to work (well you are doing now!)

I’m trying to work it out at the moment. I have had a little help from a night nurse which has been amazing but going forward, I have my parents, friends and people around me. It’s a case of leaning on those close to you but also trying to work out what I need in terms of childcare, maybe nursery in the future. I’m not back at work with Sky until September so I am taking nine months maternity leave but I have a lot of different projects on. I have a podcast, I write a column for a magazine, I’ve got a couple of properties as well that I let and manage. I’m my own worst enemy, I’m quite busy! It’s quite hard to shut those down as that’s just me, I like have lots of different things going on.

The C-section recovery was amazing. The first week was really difficult but I’ve always kept myself really fit and healthy so I think that’s really helped me. I’m back doing gym sessions and I try and take Milo with me. Sometimes he doesn’t seem to like it when I do! I’m going swimming with him every week and I’m going out in walking groups, meeting other mums. Obviously I’m not ‘working, working’ – I’m doing all of these amazing things with him and then just finding time when he’s asleep or getting a bit of help from friends and family so I can do all of the bits I need to do over the next few months.

It’s amazing to hear that work have been so supportive, along with your friends and family. Did you ever face any negative feedback when you decided to become a single parent by choice? If so, how did you deal with that?

Not at all.I look at it and I think, all that matters is that he has all of the attention and love in the world. That’s all any parent can do for their child. The world has just changed massively, even in the last couple of years, especially living in the UK. We’re very liberal and welcoming.

What’s normal anyway in today’s world? What’s the definition of normal? I’m a single parent, my baby is conceived by donor sperm, so what? I just believe in, if you want something, make it happen, do it – having the right kind of attitude. I’m a big believer in letting people be - doing what they need to do to make them happy. Thankfully I haven’t received any negativity and hopefully I won’t.

Finally, what would you say to anyone who’s thinking about taking the plunge and becoming a single parent by choice?

Just have confidence and faith. My mum’s been an amazing inspiration to me throughout my whole life in terms of being a working mum; having a successful marriage, having kids and a great career and kind of having it all. I know some people have this cliché comment, can women really have it all? I think you can. I mean I already feel a little bit of the guilt around being career focussed and being ambitious but I still want to be a great mum. I think you’ve just got to try and balance that and just listen to your gut – that’s the best advice I’ve had recently.

For women in this position who maybe aren’t sure or thinking they can’t do it, just have strength in yourself knowing that you can do it. I looked at in quite a black and white scenario and said, in ten years’ time, I don’t want to look back and regret not doing it. I didn’t want to be a bit older thinking, I’ve had a great career but there’s something missing in my life. I wanted to feel that love that a mum has for their baby and I just didn’t want to get to a point where I regretted it. Yes, it might not be easy but a lot of things in life aren’t.

Be confident and know that you can do it. It’s all about attitude I think. You’ve got to believe you can do it and you will.

Thanks so much for taking time out with us. We can’t wait to chat with you again soon about the sperm donor process and so much more.

To see updates from Sarah, you can check her out on Instagram.