Whether it’s an unintentional or a conscious decision, having a child without a partner is often not an easy path to take. But there are many ways to provide support.
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The reasons why pregnant women are without a partner are very different. Perhaps the relationship proved unsustainable during the course of the pregnancy – despite or because of the pregnancy. Perhaps the child was born from only a short-term contact. Sometimes a woman has tragically lost her partner or partner in pregnancy. Or a woman makes a conscious decision to have a child alone.
In all of this, very different feelings often have to be coped with: Sadness, anger, (self-)doubt, disappointment, fear – but also joy about the pregnancy and the child. To some, their situation may seem like an almost unmanageable task. Others also feel new strength within themselves.
Without partner or partner, but not alone
What all these women have in common is that they are going through a very intense time without a partner or partner, facing challenges that others face as a couple. Not being in a partnership, however, does not necessarily mean "being alone," even though it may feel that way at times.
Women who were pregnant without a partner often report that they experienced a great deal of support and companionship during pregnancy and afterwards: from their own parents, who did not react as negatively as they had initially feared; from friends who accompanied them to check-ups and shared in the joy of the baby’s every developmental step; from women in the same situation whom they met on the Internet; from a midwife or doctor who accompanied them through the pregnancy with understanding and was there to answer their questions.
Pregnancy counseling centers are also important points of contact for many questions and needs. They know about support services and government benefits and help, for example, to apply for financial aid or benefits in kind from the "Bundesstiftung Mutter und Kind" (Federal Foundation for Mother and Child). If women experience a difficult separation during pregnancy or have psychological problems, psychological specialists in the counseling centers can help or refer them to suitable therapists. Pregnancy counseling centers also accompany mother and child beyond the birth, if the mother wishes to do so.
In any case, actively building a network of private and professional supporters is the best way to avoid being on your own.
Planning gives security
In almost every pregnancy there are moments when doubts and fears creep up on you. Will I be able to do it all? Will the money be enough? Will I be able to love the child enough? Many women who have started a family on their own have found it helpful to take active control of their lives during pregnancy. Organizing and planning for the time after the birth early on, applying for help and clarifying open questions relieves you not only in the first time with the baby. It also gives you confidence: problems can be solved, obstacles can be removed. I can manage with the child!
The most important questions that need to be clarified:
- Where will we live?
- When do I want/need to return to work or continue my education, and what care options are available for my child then??
- Does the child/have I a right to maintenance? What government support is available?
- What role will the (expectant) father of the child play? What needs to be considered in terms of acknowledging paternity and custody?
- Who can support me in everyday life – for example, as a babysitter when I am sick, or later to pick up the child from daycare??
Help with planning
An important contact for single parents – even before the birth – is the Association of Single Mothers and Fathers (VAMV). The federal association offers all the important information for single parents in its brochures and on its website, especially on legal and financial issues. The offices of the VAMV regional associations provide single pregnant women with addresses and contacts to local counseling services.
Our checklists "Organizational matters during pregnancy and "Behordengange nach der Geburt" can also help to plan the time until the birth and afterwards. Provide information about what needs to be done and when, and who to contact about it. Our checklist "Custody and child support" provides information on the most important steps to take regarding custody and child support.
When going through pregnancy without a partner, the "couple happiness" of others may sometimes be hard to bear. Many women therefore find it relieving and nice to have contact with other women who are in the same situation. The Internet offers here many possibilities of making regional and supraregional contacts.
In larger cities, special childbirth preparation courses are sometimes offered for single pregnant women. The regional associations and local groups of the Association of Single Mothers and Fathers (VAMV) as well as pregnancy counseling centers provide information about such offers. In some places there are also meetings or parent cafes of the VAMV especially for pregnant women and/or single parents with babies.
Dealing with the father – during pregnancy and afterwards
Children have a right to contact with each parent – and each parent is entitled and obliged to contact the child. This is what the law says. In practice, there is no patent remedy for dealing with the (expectant) father of the child. Some fathers-to-be are ready to share responsibility for the child with the mother from the start – even if they are not with her. Others may need time to get used to the idea and only find access to their child after the birth. Still others deny or ignore paternity and want nothing to do with mother and child. Or the mother does not want contact.
One thing is certain, however: if you have a child together, you will remain parents of that child for the rest of your life. Therefore, every effort should be made to find solutions in the best interests of the child. Since hurt feelings play a major role in separations, mediation by third parties is often necessary. Help and advice are offered by the Youth Welfare Office and a number of other agencies. They can help to find out how parents who are not (or no longer) a couple can jointly assume responsibility for the child. Custody and maintenance issues can also be discussed and decided there in an objective atmosphere. Information on counseling services is available from the municipal youth welfare offices.
Maintenance for the child
Even if the father-to-be refuses any contact with the mother and child or the mother does not want any contact, the following applies: The child has maintenance claims against its father. For this, however, paternity must be officially recognized or judicially established. Conversely, acknowledged paternity is a prerequisite for the father to be allowed to see his child. The so-called "Beistandschaft" (guardianship) at the Jugendamt (youth welfare office) helps to clarify which maintenance claims exist and what might be the right way to enforce them. The guardianship sees itself as a kind of lawyer for the child.
If the father is unable or unwilling to pay child support, there is a right to advance child support. It can be applied for at the child support advance office of the youth welfare office.
The challenge of everyday life
Almost one in five families in Germany is a so-called "single-parent family". This means that the child grows up in a household with only one parent. Single-parent families often live a daily life under difficult conditions. Because the care and support of the child is usually on the shoulders of only one person, who is also responsible for the material support of the family. Therefore, single-parent families are more often in a financially difficult situation than other family forms.
Not all questions and problems can be solved during pregnancy, but it makes sense to get information as early as possible: for example, about care options for small children, about possibilities of part-time work or part-time vocational training, or about housing and living arrangements that can help to combine family and career well. Information and the right support help to develop strategies to cope with the challenges of everyday life as a single mother.