Are you a single mom? Single mom by choice? What advice do you give women thinking of having a baby on her own?
Not a week goes by that I don't find myself in conversation with a childless woman in her 30s worried about whether to have kids, wondering about being a single mom. The typical scenario: She's not dating anyone she really likes, or is in a relationships she's not sure about, and really wants to be a mom.
But she is:
a) worried she won't find the right partner.
b) fears she does marry and they have a kid, but divorce.
c) considering having a baby on her own, but that it could turn out terribly because single motherhood is universally terrible.
She asks: How hard is it to be a single mom?
My advice is always the same to women thinking about being a single mom by choice:
Have a baby! You will never regret having a baby! Yeah, divorce is hard. Being a mom alone is hard. But it is not full of regret. Having kids in a tough situation is way, way easier than denying the very thing that your body is biologically designed to do and is screaming at you to manifest. Some women's bodies do not scream that at them. Yours is. Listen to that!
Do not live with regret.
Regret is the worst.
Have a baby!
Here's the thing with babies. You have no idea how much you will love them. I know one or two moms who will occasionally say they wish they didn't have kids. Or so many kids. I appreciate that. Totally human. But 99% of the moms I know will tell you:
Your love for your baby will blow your fucking mind. You think you have been in love with men. You think you love your family. You think you love Patrick Dempsey and Sephora.
You don't know shit.
Wait until you have a baby.
What about waiting around to marry “the one,” or whatever? Read my How many divorce stories started with ‘I knew he was the one!' Your fertility is finite. The years you will have the energy to parent little kids is limited. So go ahead and have a kid or three with your really nice boyfriend you're not 100% sure about because, listen — you have no idea how you will feel when you see him changing poopy pants, or when he steps in and takes over when you have crippling postpartum depression and your milk won't come in and you haven't washed your hair for 11 days and he spoons you in bed anyway.
And that guy who you're waiting for who with whom you imagine you will have that thing when you just connect and really gets it? Well, he might just check out and not really be interested in family life start spending long nights at the office/with that really pretty colleague and you have no way of knowing that right now. Because he isn't in the picture.
And if there isn't a really nice guy on the scene, well, you are an adult woman and you know the ways you can have a baby.
Because life is about taking risk. Marriage is risk. Having babies is risk. There are no guarantees. The best things are hard. All cliches. All true.
Have the baby.
Then you will be a single mom. And that is scary, and you will be afraid of being poor, and messing up your kids. But married moms worry about that, too. And half of married moms end up single moms. And you have so many amazing opportunities as a woman to earn a great living and control your schedule and bring up awesome children and still find romantic love. So just do that. I'm here for you. And other moms, too.
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Still looking for the right partner? Here is our guide to the best online dating apps and sites for single parents, including dads looking for relationships!
How about you? What do you tell women contemplating motherhood — or single motherhood? What is your advice to them? Share in the comments.
What is the best age to have a baby?
Let's look at the science to help determine the best age to have a first child, get pregnant and raise a child. These are all different measures, and they all have different answers.
What is the best age to get pregnant and have a baby biologically?
When it comes to straight fertility, it is easiest to get pregnant in your late teens and early 20s, when fertility is at its highest.
However, as women age, the risks of birth defects increase. Fertility declines starting at age 32, and starts to plummet starting at age 37, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The risk of birth abnormalities, including chromosomal abnormalities, increases as a mother ages.
What is the best age to have first child?
The question of maternal health goes beyond the first pregnancy.
Ohio State sociologist Angelo Alonzo compared the health status of women who had any births after age 35, and those who had finished having babies by age 35. Women who had had babies after age 35 had higher blood pressure, higher blood glucose, poorer mobility and poorer health overall later in life than women who had had all their babies before 35.
What is the average age to have a baby in the United States?
The average age a woman became a first-time mom in the United states was 26, in 2016, the most recent year the National Center for Health Statistics reported data. That's compared to an average age of 22.7 years in 1980.
The average age to have a baby for women with a college degree is 30 years old, compared to 24 years for women without a degree. Married women have a first child at 29 years old on average, compared to 23 years for unmarried women.
At what age is it dangerous to have a kid?
As women age, the health risks increase to both mother and child.
For example, pregnant women older than 40 years have an increased risk of preeclampsia, which can be fatal to both mother and child. Older pregnant women are more likely to miscarry and suffer stillbirths and other complications.
The ACOG reports that the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome, per the mother's age:
Best age to have a baby financially
While younger women are more likely to conceive and carry their babies to full term, and deliver healthy babies, there are other factors to consider as to the mental, social, financial and overall wellbeing of both mother and child.
From the New York Times, “The Age That Women Have Babies: The Gap That Divides America”:
“It feels like no one here has babies under 35 anymore,” said Mary Norton, interim chair of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Because of fertility treatments and genetic testing, there is less fear about health complications and less stigma about having babies after 35, she said.
By that age, parents are more likely to have one or more degrees and to be planning to invest in their children’s educations. The wage penalty for women who have children is high, so many try to advance in their careers before giving birth. They are more likely than young mothers to be married, and less likely to divorce.
They’re also less likely to live near their children’s grandparents, or because their parents are older, they juggle child care with elder care. And they might have fewer children than they hoped, because fertility declines during a woman’s 30s.
What about egg freezing for single moms?
For the last decade, feminists have been loving the new push for young, professional women to freeze their eggs to give them more flexibility in finding a romantic partner while prioritizing professional success with abandon. Google, Apple and Facebook all offered this expensive procedure as an employee perk — one harolded as an excellent step towards gender equality in the workplace.
Harsh facts about egg freezing
This weekend's Washington Post published an extensive article broadcasting what fertility experts have long known: egg freezing is successful in only a small percentages of the time, a fact that the burgeoning fertility industry keeps under wraps:
In an age when egg freezing has become so popular that hip employers such as Apple and Facebook cover it as a perk and grandparents help finance the procedure like they might a down payment for a house, there’s surprisingly little discussion about what happens years later when women try to use them. Fertility companies tend to advertise egg freezing — “oocyte cryopreservation” — in scientific terms, as something that can “stop time.” And many women believe they are investing in an insurance policy for future babies.
But the math doesn’t always hold up. On average, a woman freezing 10 eggs at age 36 has a 30 to 60 percent chance of having a baby with them, according to published studies. The odds are higher for younger women, but they drop precipitously for older women. They also go up with the number of eggs stored (as does the cost). But the chance of success varies so wildly by individual that reproductive specialists say it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome based on aggregate data.
James A. Grifo, a fertility specialist at NYU Langone Health who is one of the pioneers of the procedure, calls the whole notion of being able to “control” your fertility — perpetuated by the media and embraced by feminists — destructive. “It’s total fiction. It’s incorrect,” Grifo said. “Your whole life it’s beaten into your head that you’re in control and if you can’t have a baby, you blame yourself. There has to be more dialogue about what women can be responsible for and what they are not responsible for.”
This news is devastating for women who have frozen their eggs, or are learning about harsh realities of fertility windows. I know several people who have struggled with fertility, and it ranks among the most stressful experiences of one's life.
This is really a call for women to take full control over their lives. The Post article profiles a half-dozen professional single women who froze their eggs in an effort to prolong a grace period in which they could build their careers while waiting for the perfect man with whom to create a perfect family. A couple of the women found partners, but by then fertility for most remained an issue — and surrogates, donated eggs, adoption and other options were explored, sometimes successfully. But like the issue of financial autonomy for women, the message for family planning to women is the same:
Ladies, you cannot wait for a man to save you.
There are no guarantees. Even if you meet that great guy, there are still no guarantees.
Take the pressure off yourself to have a “perfect,” life. Embrace that that might not make you happy in the first place. Embrace the power of your career, economic, and legal opportunities as a woman— which are unprecedented in history. Embrace the growing social acceptance of having a child outside of that Ozzie and Harried fantasy. Embrace your choice.
At the end of the day, you cannot predict the future.
Life happens, and you have to take control when you can.
It is unfair that women have a devastatingly smaller fertility window than men. But the science is there. Embrace it. Inform your daughters and friends accordingly. Support the single moms and all women as we navigate these unprecedented waters, as we seek out fulfillment for ourselves and our families, and equality and choice for women everywhere.
You're not getting any younger—don't wait for a husband before having a baby
Your uterus and ovaries take a turn for the worse at age 27. Age 35? Yours is officially a high-risk pregnancy. Come 40 — forget it. Your chances of having a baby without significant fertility treatments are slim. Women who find themselves facing those chances often also find themselves devastated and broke.
These are facts. Not trends or social movements. You cannot change biology.
Other facts: humans find relationships with other humans to be the most important and enjoyable parts of their lives. Relationships with romantic partners. Relationships with children. Another force of biology.
And yet. And yet this weekend I read with horror in The New York Times Magazine article about college women and the hookup culture, which found that young women are a) so busy pursuing their careers that they don't have time for real boyfriends, and instead have “hookup buddies” and dole out copious numbers of blow jobs as the sole way they connect with men, b) College women are not factoring in a husband or children into near-term goals, c) College guys get what they want sexually because they are now the minority, and market economics dictates they have the power to get what they want sexually. And what they want are BJs.
This article made me a little sad, and a lot angry. If in your parenting you relegate family planning to an afterthought, you denigrate your children, their innate dreams and desires, and stunt their potential to truly achieve fulfillment in both work and family that we all strive for.
Yes, we have a lot of work to on the front of gender equality at work. Yes it is fantastic that young women see a clear connection between their hard work and smarts and professional potential. But this article quotes numerous college students and experts who say that pressure from parents and society is for young women to focus on professional achievement above all else — and far above marriage and children. A few quotes:
“I positioned myself in college in such a way that I can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I’m always busy.”
“They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine.”
“Increasingly many privileged young people see college as a unique life stage in which they don’t — and shouldn’t — have obligations other than their own self-development.
“A. said that she did not want to settle down until she could choose a partner knowing that his goals and values were fixed.”
“[The women] tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman’s marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career.”
I admit that I have held that latter attitude. I was 28 when I married, 31 when I had my first child. People — and by “people,” I mean New York City liberals — often remark how young I was when I married, even though I was a full year older than the national average for women, and pushing my fertility luck when I got pregnant. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my mom casually said: “You should have your kids by the time you're 30.” At the time that struck me as sexist and old-fashioned. Today it sounds to me simply sensible and respectful of nature.
Which is exactly the message that I will impart on my daughter. It goes without saying that my daughter's intellectual interests and aptitude will be nurtured. But what about her personal ones? The standard-issue advice for college-bound women is to establish a career first, then start a family. But the laws of fertility include a time limit. Career does not. The laws of the heart demand spontaneity and serendipity. Women need love — romantic love, maternal love. Career is but one part of a young woman's development. As a mother, it is my obligation encourage my daughter to develop every part of herself.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.