Claire Peterson* had always yearned for a mixed-race baby, but then she fell in love with Phil and Ally, 13, and Maeve, 10, were born. When her marriage broke down but her biological clock kept on ticking, she started to revisit the idea of completing her family…
As a teenager, my peer group was very multicultural. In the town where we lived, on the outskirts of London, some people called my black friends racist names, which I hated. I’ve always been drawn to dark-skinned people: my first boyfriend was black and the truth is I found him more attractive than my white boyfriends.
Perhaps it was because of these experiences when I was growing up that when I thought about motherhood, I always imagined myself having a mixed-race child. It just seemed natural to me and I would daydream about what my family would be like. When I fell in love with Phil, who was very handsome: tall, green-eyed – and white – it crossed my mind that I wasn’t going to have my mixed-race baby with him, but I was happy so I accepted it and we had two lovely daughters. All I wanted was a loving family.
Going to BarbadosSix years later, recently divorced and living in another part of the country, I bumped into my first boyfriend, James, who was also single. We hooked up again and the next time my girls went to stay with their father, James took me on holiday to Barbados, where he was from. Unfortunately, the reasons why we’d broken up years earlier soon resurfaced and with a sense of déjà vu, I ended the relationship again.
I moved out of the holiday home we were renting and found somewhere else to stay. I only had a couple of weeks to unwind in the sun and I was determined to make the most of the turquoise sea, white sands and perfect climate.
Lust at first sightA couple of nights later, I was sipping a cocktail in a beach bar when a man asked me to dance. The combination of wild music and waves crashing on the shore was so seductive and as we began to Salsa on the sand I found it easy to relax. Leo was an artist/surfer; he was tall, fit and funny. We spent the rest of my holiday together and when I flew home he came with me.
I know it sounds rushed but we’d fallen in love and couldn’t bear to be apart. We had a fantastic relationship and my daughters liked Leo, but he found the British weather intolerable and developed asthma for the first time in his life. I bought him a wetsuit so he could surf, but he said it didn’t feel right having a barrier between his skin and the sea.
Marriage wasn’t on the cardsDespite Leo’s reservations about life in the UK, I was in love with him and was desperate for us to have a baby. When he agreed to try, my feet didn’t touch the ground. There were a few people who wanted to pull me back down: some of my friends and family didn’t understand how much I loved him and were worried that it couldn’t work long term.
I was so excited when I fell pregnant, but then I miscarried. I was devastated. Leo was supportive, but he missed his home and after six months his visa was about to expire.
I would have married him, but my ex-husband would never have let me take the girls to live in Barbados. I had to face the sad truth that Leo wanted to go back to his roots and marrying me wasn’t really on his agenda.
Once he went home, it took a long time for me to recover. Not only was I missing him – we stayed in touch for a while, but then I heard he’d met someone else, which hurt as I was still in love with him – but I also struggled to get over the miscarriage. I knew I had to be strong for my children, but I really wanted that baby and it was very tough.
Listening to my body clockAs mums do, I got on with life with my girls, but I never stopped longing for another baby. It was just something I felt I had to do. The clock inside me was ticking and I felt instinctively that I had to have another child.
I’d only known Joe, who’s from French Cameroon, for three months when I conceived again. He said he wanted to have a baby with me, but I wasn’t in love with him. I didn’t think of the consequences: I tend to deal with things as they happen. I was thrilled to be pregnant and throughout the pregnancy I just tried to focus on the outcome.
A single parent againI found Joe quite strange from the start, but my desire to have a child was so strong I ignored my doubts. He’s based in another town so he didn’t live with us and a few months into my pregnancy I had to face the fact that we were incompatible. He’s not a good communicator, which I find difficult because I like to be straight with people.
I found out that he’s still with the woman he was seeing before he met me and he has several children – at least three I know about – by different mothers.
When I told my parents – who’ve been together for more than 50 years – about my pregnancy, my mum was brilliant. She always knew I wanted a mixed-race child and that time was ticking away for me (I was 43 when I conceived). She’s always supported me in my choices, but my dad wasn’t happy. It had nothing to do with Joe being black: it was the fact I got pregnant so quickly, to a man they didn’t know, that upset him.
As my belly grew, my relationship with Joe faltered. The more I learned about him, the more certain I became that we would never be a real family.
Clemmie was born at home, to the sound of Van Morrison singing Brown eyed girl, surrounded by all my close female friends and family. It was a wonderful day and when I cuddled my beautiful brown baby with her black hair, I was ecstatic.
However, Joe let me down badly. He ignored my attempts to contact him during the third trimester and although he popped in to see me a few days before Clemmie was born, he didn’t hang around. She was nine weeks old before he held her in his arms and even then, we argued about the lies he’s told me about his other woman. I was so cross I decided not to put him on the birth certificate, which means he has no automatic parental responsibility.
Me and my girlsI feel disappointed about the way things have turned out with Joe, but I can’t be low for long because I have my three gorgeous girls and we’re all well and happy. Learning to cope without a partner has made me stronger and I’m lucky that Ally and Maeve have a great relationship with their dad and see him as often as possible.
Now Clemmie is two, life has settled down. Joe comes to see her occasionally and I facilitate their relationship because I feel that’s the right thing to do, but he doesn’t support her financially. When she’s older, I’ll tell her the truth about how she came to be born: I hope she will understand how much I wanted her. Hopefully, if she wants to explore her father’s culture and meet his mum and the rest of their family in Cameroon in the future, he will help her.
My family and other peopleWe live in a very white community, so I’m quite surprised there haven’t been more racist comments. Once, in our local coffee shop, a man said, "She’s got the colours mixed up, the colour’s not quite right", which was rather strange. Another time, a couple of little boys in the street giggled and said, "Where’s Africa?". But nobody’s come up to me and said, how come you’ve got a brown baby and two white girls? Some people assume Clemmie’s adopted: last year, the girls and I were on holiday in Turkey and every other person who saw us asked if she was mine.
I’ve never regretted having Clemmie: she’s adorable. And Ally and Maeve absolutely dote on her: she’s very loved. I’d still like another child – preferably mixed-race, for Clemmie’s sake – although I know it’s unlikely to happen now.
I love our English village and the girls are very happy growing up here, so I wouldn’t want to uproot them. I do love Barbados, though – the culture, the food, the music, weather and lifestyle – and once my children have flown the nest, I’d love to spend more time there. Who knows, one day I might even go and live there permanently.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.
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