Luke entered into an unwritten contract with Catherine. He was attracted to her, she wanted a baby. They had a physical relationship for one month, at the end of which Catherine was pregnant. She had no more use for Luke although he is allowed to see his daughter, now two-and-a-half, from time to time, but not as 'daddy'. 'At the time I had no concept of what it would be like to have a child that I could not acknowledge as my own. It is a painful experience to see this little girl who thinks I am just a friend of Mummy's who brings presents when he visits.'
The majority of lone mothers are women whose relationship with the father of their offspring has failed. However, there is a growing number of women, especially in the professions, who choose to go it alone. They do not rely on the state for financial support and they are not victims. From the start they choose to exclude the father permanently from their own and their child's life.
This social phenomenon takes the natural feelings of exclusion many men feel at the birth of their child to an extreme conclusion. During labour and for the first few months of a child's life, men can feel useless and superfluous to the needs of both mother and baby, says Dr Raj Persaud, psychologist at the Maudsley hospital in London. 'These feelings can vary according to different factors,' he says. 'Research suggests that men feel most exclusion if they have not helped out at the birth, if the mother is breast-feeding and if the birth was straightforward. If, however, the man senses he is 'needed' by the mother, to hold her hand, or if the child needs extra medical attention, these feelings will not be so powerful.'
For most men in good relationships, these feelings do not last long, especially if the mother helps him feel a vital part of the new family. But if the mother excludes the father altogether, like Luke, the experience can be very painful.
Of the 200,000 or so babies born out of wedlock each year, some 50,000 are registered by one parent only, usually the mother. Although most will be unplanned accidents, a significant proportion, especially where the mother is over 30, will be planned and wanted - but after conception the father will be extraneous to the equation.
Luke entered into his contract with Catherine quite willingly. He, now 28, is a currency dealer in the City. She is older, 34, and a well-paid currency analyst. They met through friends in a wine bar and Luke was struck by how self-assured she was. 'She was very in control. She was not going to spend her life ironing someone else's shirts. She had a lovely flat, she could afford beautiful clothes and good holidays. What more did she want?'
Luke and Catherine went out to dinner on a number of occasions. Although they got on well, there was never any attempt by either of them to get romantic. 'We mainly talked about our overwhelming passion - currency markets.' Then Catherine invited him round to her west London flat. 'She cooked pasta with tomato sauce and we drank a lot of white wine. I don't usually drink very much so I became very giggly. One thing led to another and she dragged me into the bedroom.'
Catherine made it quite clear she was not interested in an emotional relationship. 'Right in the middle of things she told me that she wanted a baby, she wanted me to give her a baby. I said that we were being silly not using a condom on the first date and she said we both looked healthy enough and what was the problem?'
The arrangement lasted for about a month. Then Catherine stopped telephoning Luke. He did not know it, but she was pregnant. Conception coincided with his going away on business and he did not discover she had a child on the way until he telephoned her some weeks after his return. 'At first I was a bit panicked. I was young, not ready to settle down, but she told me she would not ask me for a penny in maintenance, and she did not want to have a relationship with me. But for my part I was not to let the baby know I was the father.
'I felt very strange - it was unreal. How had I got myself into this situation? But it was when the baby was born that things really began to hurt and I felt the first twinges of regret. I first saw the baby when she was about three months old. It was very strange. She has dark hair and dark eyes like me. I was holding my daughter, but she was not my daughter. Catherine made it very clear that she did not want me to come round too often.'
Luke says that each time he sees his little girl it becomes harder to suppress his paternal feelings, but he knows he entered into this contract with his eyes open. 'I don't feel used, because I enjoyed those few weeks when my daughter was conceived. But I do feel that I am missing out, that Catherine has had it all her own way.'
The pressure group Families Need Fathers says that 90,000 fathers every year lose contact with their chidren and that a growing number of these will never have seen them at all. Bruce Lidlington, a spokesman for FNF, says: 'I know members of FNF who fit into the category of 'man used as stud' and sometimes it is only by chance they find out they are fathers. It seems to be happening more frequently.'
Women who opt for babies without partners are predominantly professionals in their thirties and early forties who hear their biological clocks ticking. Psychotherapist Jill Curtiss has clients who fit this description. 'For these women the physical urge to have a baby can be overwhelming. They want a baby despite the lack of life-time mate and regardless of the consequences.'
In addition, women in long-standing relationships with married men will choose to have a child on their own, says Nicky Jones, spokeswoman for the National Council for One Parent Families. 'She has been hanging around waiting for this man to leave his wife and one day she realises that he never will and she thinks: Well, at least I will get a baby out of this relationship.'
Steve's girlfriend, Emma, saw her relationship failing and decided to get pregnant before the whole thing fell apart. Although Steve helped to look after the baby during the first few months, he is now fighting for access through the courts.
They met in 1974 when he was 45 and she was 38, he recovering from a collapsed business, she from a collapsed relationship. 'It wasn't a meeting of souls, just two people helping each other through a difficult patch,' says Steve.
The relationship continued on and off for five years. When they met, Emma was on the pill, but she came off it after she turned 40. 'She didn't really talk about it very much, she just said: 'This relationship isn't working but at least this way I might get something out of it',' recalls Steve. 'She was quite broody. Whenever we went to see friends with children she would cry when we got home, saying she thought she had left it too late.
'I know the relationship was not working very well. We moved in with each other, then out again quite a few times. We had fights, we went through periods of not seeing each other at all. But one day she came to my flat and told me she was pregnant. I couldn't believe it - I was overjoyed. I was convinced that with the child we could be a happy family, that things would work out.'
But their physical relationship came to an end after Emma became pregnant and she began to withdraw after the baby was born. 'It was as if she had got what she wanted. She didn't want me and all the heartache of the relationship.' Steve's daughter is now 11 and he has not seen her for a year. Before that, access was patchy and grudging.
Steve has been to court several times to try to get access, but he believes he is a victim of Parental Alienation Syndrome, a term coined by Richard Gardner, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Columbia University in New York. Steve's daughter says she does not want to see him and court welfare officers have to think of the child's wishes when examining issues of access. But Dr Gardner says children can be subconsciously 'schooled' by the partner with custody.
Steve had a long-term relationship with Emma before their daughter was born. In the first few weeks he helped look after the baby as Emma suffered from post-natal depression. But what about the father whose child was conceived through a one-night stand? Does he have any fewer rights?
Jeff, 53, became a father after a one-night stand with a friend of a friend. 'We went to bed after a party and, as far as I was concerned, that was the end of that. But then our mutual friend told me that Gill was pregnant with my baby and that Gill had wanted to have a baby for some time.
'At first I didn't believe that I was the father. How could I be sure? I thought she might be trying to trap me. We did not see each other for nearly three years. I thought no more of it until I saw Gill again and she showed me her two-year-old girl. The feeling was uncanny - it just shot through me - this was my daughter. She looked like my sister did when she was a toddler.'
After Jeff realised he was a father, he tried to start up a relationship with his daughter even though he had missed out on the first two years of her life. 'At first I tried to get access informally, to sort it out between me and Gill. It was obvious she was not keen and so we came to an arrangement - Gill did not have much money and I started paying maintenance of pounds 33 per week. I felt a responsibility towards my daughter. I hoped it would increase my chances of being able to see her.'
So far it hasn't; he has been to court nearly 40 times to try to get access. His daughter is now six and lives with Gill in the north of Scotland. 'I can't afford to see her now, and she knows it. As the father I should have equal rights. In the beginning I had one night of pleasure and she had nine months of pregnancy, but because women are able to control where and when they have a child, they must recognise that fathers have rights too.'Reuse content