Australian women are increasingly seeking assisted reproductive treatments and choosing to become single mothers, but it’s not often we hear these stories openly shared.
Someone who can speak to this experience is ceramicist Chela Edmunds, owner of Takeawei, whose gorgeous 18-month-old daughter Ocean was donor conceived.
From deciding to become a single parent at 40, and the intimate details of the IVF process, there wasn’t a single question that was off limits in our interview with Chela. We’re so grateful she shared her family story with us.
Have you always wanted to become a mother?
I always enjoyed being around children, but I hadn’t given motherhood much thought. I guess I just assumed one day I would meet the right partner, at the right time, and we would have children together.
I turned 40 and making the decision to have a child was probably the hardest thing I’ve done. I had so many questions that just couldn’t be answered: would I miss being free to do as I please? Would I be a good parent? Would Father’s Day be awkward at school? Would I be enough…just one parent?
I felt that I would be happy and fulfilled with or without a child. Some people seem to know without a doubt that they want children, so did I want it enough?
The deciding moment came when a friend asked how I’d feel if I found I was pregnant right then, and I was so elated with love that I just knew I wanted to be a mum, and all those other questions could be worked out along the way.
What did your life look like when you decided to have a child?
I had just turned 40, and I was happy where I was in life, career, geography, and I felt financially stable. I had spent most of my 20s partying and traveling and my 30s focused on career and building my small business. I didn’t have a partner and I wanted to have a family, so I had to be proactive about it and take steps to make that happen.
How did you then eventually decide on the donor conception route?
I initially went to the IVF clinic to see about getting my eggs frozen and see how my fertility was tracking. My first appointment I was shown a pretty bleak graph with age versus eggs, and later my test results seemed to confirm that my chances of becoming pregnant were slim. It was then I realised I had no obligation to wait for a mythical partner before starting a family, and it was now or harder the longer I waited.
Choosing a donor was just part of the process to me, as I didn’t have anyone I would ask to be in a father role or share parenting.
The most common questions I receive are misconceptions about donors (don’t call them dad) and their role, which is fair enough, because I didn’t know much about sperm donation until I went to the clinic, received the compulsory counselling sessions, and did my own research about the process.
What exactly was involved in your IVF treatment and the process?
Blood tests, hormone treatment, lots of self injecting, then choosing a sperm donor, egg harvesting, and an embryo transfer a few days later.
I had gone on a holiday prior to starting the process, ate well, gave up smoking and drinking, and received acupuncture and craniosacral therapy to help me feel balanced.
I found the worst part was the wait from egg harvesting – watching embryos not make it – and finally after the embryo transfer being told how important it was to stay stress free and happy in order to give the transfer the best chance of success. I was also opening my first solo retail store with Takeawei at the time, and just generally in the thick of Christmas trade 2019, so it was not an ideal, stress-free environment!
They even recommend watching comedies that I just bawled my way through and then felt bad about crying. Being light and cheerful is really so hard when you are full of hormones and wondering if this little life inside you is going to make it.
I was surprised and finally genuinely cheerful when I found out the transfer had taken the first time.
What was your resulting pregnancy like?
I loved it. I felt like mother nature with all the changes in my body but also the changes to my mind. I think I became kinder also – like I could see the child in everyone – and I really stopped worrying about small stuff.
I would get really tired some days but I knew those were the days when Ocean was doing some serious growing so it made me feel everything was going well.
Mostly I was just a bit slower and rounder, and I could smash three punnets of blueberries in five minutes.
Were you able to take much time off work after Ocean was born?
I took three months parental leave where I left the day-to-day running of Takeawei in the capable hands of my staff. Here and there I would answer emails or jump online and do a website update or Instagram post.
Most of all I was just really happy to spend down time at home getting to know Ocean and stare at her for hours. I don’t think I put her down for the first month.
Ocean is 18 months now and she has just started daycare, so although I have been working, it’s a very different work schedule. I do most work at night.
How do your days now start and end with Ocean?
We co-sleep so waking up to Ocean saying ‘up up!’ and giving me a kiss is a good start to the day.
Usually I just grab a coffee at home, have a little breakfast on the balcony, and watch the dogs get walked or the garbage truck come past.
If Ocean is up for it we take snacks and the push trike up to our local cafe and onto the lookout at Jan Juc beach, or to the park for a play. After that we are both pretty tired so we have something to eat and while Ocean naps I get some work calls or emails done, tidy up a bit, and then Ocean is usually awake again.
The second part of the day we grab a snack and might go to the studio for about an hour to take some photos of pieces, chat with my colleague Tessy about what we are making and firing, and any orders we have.
If we have time I’ll take Ocean to the park or the beach before we go home, and then her dinner, bath and bedtime starts around 4.30pm. I eat with her, but it feels really weird having dinner at 4.30pm, so I usually have another dinner later and do some work on the computer. Once Ocean is asleep, I read or watch a movie if I haven’t fallen asleep feeding Ocean.
I throw a lot of things on the back burner as the most important thing is getting the food and sleep we need some days. I’m excited for both of us now that Ocean has just started daycare two days a week. I feel like she will get the play she needs with other kids and I will get some time to do so many of those things on the back burner. My mum and aunt babysit once a week while I teach, and I love that they have a close relationship with Ocean.
Who have been your greatest supporters as a parent?
My mum, Pauline, is just my biggest support always. She was the first to jump in and say ‘of course you can do it’ when I first questioned having a baby. She told me it would be hard and it would also be fun, which is so true. Mum came and stayed with us the first month; she took care of me so I could take care of Ocean.
My friends have also been a great support. I had three close friends at Ocean’s birth and I’m so thankful to all my friends that made sure I was fed for months afterwards, or held Ocean while I took a shower.
What have you learned since becoming a mother?
To be kinder – everyone is dealing with their own stuff.
What advice would you give to other single women hoping to have children?
How do you explain to someone how hard something can be but how none of that matters when so much love fills your life?
Having Ocean is the best thing I have ever done, I love her beyond words. I would like Ocean to grow up proud of her birth story and her life. I think that talking openly with respect to all parties involved is important.
Also, don’t let the washing get out of control – it will bury you.
Family activity or outing?
We love to go to the beach.
Our local, Swell.
Ideal ‘me time’ activity?
Hamam or a surf.
Sunday morning breakfast ritual?
Anything with lots of eggs, because Ocean likes cracking them and would do the whole carton if I let her!
Down along the Great Ocean Road to Lorne.
Shop Takeawei ceramics online or at their new store at 120 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.
If you’re interested in learning more about donor conception, and the experiences of donor-conceived children, Chela recommends the following resources: