I didn’t set out in life with the expectation that I would be a single mother, nor a single mother by choice- I suspect not many of us do- but I didn’t shy away from the idea of it either. Honestly, for the vast majority of my adulthood, I held out hope that I would meet “the one”, or at least, the “not the one, but not too bad”, and then pop out a kid or two, but I always had in my back pocket the idea that I might have to go at it alone.
My upbringing no doubt had an impact on my way of thinking about single parenthood. My parents were married for nearly thirteen years before they divorced. Once they did divorce, my dad was not around much that I can remember. I was only three years old at the time of their divorce, so for me, pretty much from the beginning, it has been perfectly normal to see a household headed by a female with scant male presence around.
My mom was a single mom with four kids who often worked two jobs at a time. She was busy, but even so, she had the time to throw sophisticated parties every so often, and she even dated here and there. So, my idea of a woman, of “a mom”, has always been of a strong, independent, bad-ass woman who could truly have it all.
My mother remarried twice over twenty years, so I think the experience of having two stepfathers- not at the same time ingrained in me the idea that there were options out there. There were men who were open to dating a single mom. I could find love after having kids, and there could be more than one Mr. Right out there.
My decision to do IVF
When I was about 28 or 29, I remember reading something about sperm donors. It was a pamphlet or an advertisement or whatnot. Something clicked immediately when I read about those donors. It felt empowering to know that I still had the option of having a child even if I didn’t find a partner. I can’t lie- the idea of being able to pick and choose the father of my child based on a laundry list of traits somehow appealed to me too. Being only 5’0” tall at the time (I’ve since shrunk an inch or so), I loved the idea of picking a donor who was tall so I could hopefully give my future offspring more of a chance of outgrowing me by a few inches, at least.
I told myself that if I were still single by age 34, then I would just get a sperm donor and have a child on my own. I was taking into account the fact that a woman’s fertility dramatically declines by age 35, according to medical experts at the time. So 34 was the age that I set for myself that if I didn’t already have a child or at least a partner, I would seriously look into getting a donor and prepare to go at it alone.
So, making a promise to oneself and taking the plunge, and doing what you promise are two very different things! I remember being 34 and still very much holding out hope that I would find somebody. I realize now that this led me to have infatuations with people who were unavailable and inappropriate to me. I essentially wasted really valuable time. However, in retrospect, I’m glad it- parenthood- didn’t happen then. I still had some emotional growth and life experiences that I needed to do before committing myself to motherhood, which, in my opinion, is the biggest commitment you can make.
It wasn’t until I was age 37 that I walked into an infertility clinic at my local hospital one day. I was spurred to go there by a dream I had a few weeks earlier. In the dream, there was a baby- my baby- looking up at me, swathed in soft, white light and just full of so much love. I took this dream as a sign that motherhood was definitely in my future and that I needed to get moving with this.
I still believe that that baby in my dream was my daughter, but it was by no means a smooth road to get her here on the earthly plane. The first step- find a donor. I searched through the donor database of a sperm bank and found a donor that just felt “right” after reading his essay. Plus he was tall!
After five failed IUIs, I decided not to waste time and go right to IVF. IVF is notoriously expensive, and it was no different from my IVF procedure. It was a blessing beyond measure that the health insurance I had through my schoolteaching job paid 80% of the IVF fee, making the procedure very doable for me. My second IVF cycle- a FET- resulted in my beautiful daughter.
Advantages of single motherhood
So, are there any advantages to being a single mom? Well, of course. First of all, you’re a mom, which for me has been incredibly rewarding. Being a single mother is definitely challenging, but there are some things that are perhaps easier for a single parent than parenting as a couple.
First of all, what I say goes. I don’t have to compromise when it comes to making major decisions, or any decisions, for that matter. I would like to think I would’ve chosen a partner who would’ve more or less agreed with me about how to handle major things like what to feed our child, or how to discipline him or her, but you can never be sure. And I have to admit that I’m definitely not a fan of the idea of my daughter eating loads of sweets, for example, so it’s a relief not having that battle to worry about.
Secondly, with no partner, there is no possibility of a messy breakup, and thus, no awful custody issues to worry about.
Lastly, I greedily get the vast majority of my daughter’s love and affection. I wouldn’t have minded sharing, but being so close to my little one is extra special.
I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear me repeat that single parenthood can be challenging, especially when your child is very young and has high needs.
For me, one of the most challenging things about going at it alone is not having the extra pair of hands around to help out with things. For example, when you need something from the grocery store, or if you have an appointment that you need to go to sans child, or when your child is sick and needs to stay home from daycare; or even if you need to work on something for work but your little one wants to play or needs to be fed or bathed; these are times when it would be nice to have someone else to take the load off of you and you would be able to say, “Just take her!”
But of course, I can’t do that because it’s just me. You just have to get creative and make do.
Thank goodness there are great grocery delivery services in my town for those times when you need something essential from the store, like milk, and there’s nobody else to run out to get it for you! You really don’t feel like getting dressed and packing your kid up just to go to the store.
To get work done, naptime and bedtime are a godsend. I have to be careful not to nap too long myself though, otherwise, the work wouldn’t get done that way either.
Finding time for self-care is essential but very hard to do. This is where having my daughter enrolled in daycare helps out. I have started going to the gym again recently. I have a one-hour window of time from when I get out of work to when I need to pick up my daughter from daycare to fit in that workout. Working out helps me look better, but most importantly, I feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically after working up a sweat and getting that “me-time” by myself.
Of course, I’ll occasionally let myself daydream about what it would be like to have that extra support! But, I knew what I was signing up for when I went into this, and the benefits of having my beautiful, sweet, feisty, fun daughter make any discomfort more than worth it.
Looking to the future…
There are some things that I worry about for my daughter’s future, like whether she will be able to relate to men in a healthy way without having a consistently present male role model in her life. She does have an uncle that dotes on her when he’s around, which unfortunately is not often, but I think anything helps. I think the important thing is that she has positive interactions with male figures. But, who knows? I might end up finding that special somebody after all. I’m not actively looking, and I would be very, very cautious about bringing somebody into my daughter’s orbit, to be honest.
There are a lot of serious conversations that my daughter and I will need to have in the future, and I often think about the best way to handle them. So far, my only game plan is that I will discuss the topic of her parentage when it comes up organically in conversation. I will more or less let her lead with the questions and try to answer as openly and honestly as I can.
Things are even more complicated nowadays with DNA testing. They say that anonymous sperm donation has become a thing of the past now that home DNA kits are so popular. My policy will be that once she’s 18 she’ll be free to get her own DNA kit and possibly reach out to relatives on her dad’s side if she wants to. We’ll have honest and frank discussions about what she might encounter if she does choose to reach out to them.
Right now I have no regrets at all about the path that I’ve chosen to experience motherhood. I feel so blessed that I live in a day and age where it has become easier and more popular to become a single mother. All of the challenges are more than well worth it, and I welcome the lessons and experiences I’m getting along the way. I’m just taking things day by day.