As a teenager, there was one thing Stephanie Holt became certain of: she someday wanted to have a child of her own to spoil with love.
The 26-year-old Brisbane childcare educator says she was exposed to the child protective system with her twin sister as an adolescent. She describes the experience as “very lonely”, and she distinctly remembers telling counsellors she would never wish her situation upon any child.
“I never, ever want a child not to have family support… It’s the worst feeling in he world,” Holt says.
“I always felt like there was a missing piece in my heart, that I had so much love to give, and just knew that I wanted to have a child, to raise that child how I should have been raised so that they can have that experience and feel all the love that children should feel growing up.”
Fast forward about a decade, and Holt continues to be as committed to this than ever. So committed, that at the young age of 24, she decided to take motherhood in her hands and walked into a fertility clinic for the first time. Today, she is happily single and nine weeks pregnant.
Holt, who appears on SBS’ Insight on Tuesday night, says she chose to become a solo parent after relationships with former partners didn’t work out.
“I’ve met so many people in the past who have wanted to have kids, but are now in their 40s and are only just going down the IVF path and are really struggling,” Holt says.
“I didn’t want to become a number in those statistics and I knew that I really wanted a child so, I figured there was no better time to start than now.”
Holt says it was “a little bit daunting” when she first started researching IVF.
“I didn’t think doctors would take me on. But I researched a little bit more and came across stories of women who had done the process and hadn’t regretted it. So I bit the bullet and went to my GP and said, ‘I want to become a mum. I want you to refer me on to someone who can help’.”
LISTEN: Deb Knight did 14 rounds of IVF and then had a baby naturally. Post continues after audio.
The fertility clinic she visited initially thought she was there to freeze her eggs.
“When I told them I was there to have a baby, they were a bit thrown.”
She underwent extensive counselling to ensure she was fully prepared, as well as procedures to check her fertility. Once she was given the all-clear, she first tried intrauterine insemination – which is simpler and cheaper than IVF. She did six rounds, and all failed. So she turned to IVF.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s been, hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There have been many highs, many lows. It’s a roller coaster of emotions that you kind of want to get off when it doesn’t work.”
Holt says she felt “really lucky” because she responded really well to the retrieval process, with 17 of her eggs picked up.
This turned out to be a bittersweet result, however. Holt became ill with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome – a condition common in people under 30 who get their eggs harvested, because their ovaries are still very active.
"I got really sick, really quickly. My stomach started swelling like I was pregnant because it started filling with fluid. I couldn’t breathe properly, I couldn’t move. I was like, 'oh my God, I’m going to die'."
Holt spent six days in hospital recovering. Then, she endured more hardship when her first two embryo transfers failed.
"Obviously it's so expensive to do IVF. Every transfer costs about $2700 and the initial IVF is about $10,000. Then you have all the doctors' fees and medications that you have to take. So it all starts to add up."
But it wasn't just the cost that was weighing her down. The pressure was taking its toll on her mental wellbeing.
"When I had OHS and the two transfers didn’t work, I was like, alright... I’m going to give up. But then there’s something inside you... and you’re like ‘I can’t give up. I can’t give up on those embryos’. I made (them) for a reason and one of those is going to be my bring-home baby.”
Now, after a third attempt in May, Holt has her "little baby on board".
She's over the moon, but it hasn't been an easy couple of months.
"You think you pay $37,000 you’d be guaranteed a stress-free pregnancy with no complications," she says.
"There have been many tears and it’s been very stressful. Especially doing it by myself... (And) I haven't been able to work."
At seven weeks, Holt feared she was having a miscarriage when she started bleeding. It turned out to be a large hematoma - a solid collection of clotted blood - and she was put on bed rest.
"We don’t know what will happen with this pregnancy, but we can pray for a miracle.”
Holt says reaction from loved ones to news of her having a baby through donor sperm at the age of 26 has been mixed. Many think she is "crazy" and simply don't get it. Others are enormously supportive of her decision.
"My twin sister supports me wholeheartedly and I do have some close-knit friends who know me and know that this isn’t something that I didn’t just choose lightly," she says.
"No one pays $37,000 for a child they don't want, let me tell you."
Holt says she understands being a single mum will be challenging, but she takes comfort in the support network of aunts, uncles and friends around her.
For now, she is focused on getting through her pregnancy.
"I just hope (my child) knows how loved and how much they are wanted."
You can hear more from Stephanie Holt, and other solo parents, on SBS Insight on Tuesday night at 8.30pm.