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 if she should become a single mom by choice.
The typical scenario: She's not dating anyone she really likes, or is in a relationship she's not sure about, but really wants to be a mom.
She worries that:
- She won't find the right partner.
- If she does marry and they have a kid, it will end in divorce.
- Having a baby on her own will 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.
Mind = Blown.
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 are 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 man of your dreams you're waiting for with whom you just instantly connect? Well, he might just check out and not really be interested in family life or start spending long nights at the office with that really pretty colleague. In short, you have no way of knowing what life with that guy will be like.
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 risks. Marriage is a risk. Having babies is a 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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Why women become single mothers by choice
Dr. Jennifer Roelands, an integrative medicine trained OB/GYN who runs a telehealth practice based in Los Angeles, says there are a lot of reasons a woman might choose to become a single mother:
- She hasn’t found the right partner and wants to have a child (or children) before her fertility window ends.
- She's invested a lot of money and time into a successful career.
- She doesn’t want to devote effort into a relationship but wants to be a mother.
- She never wants to get married but still wants to be a mother.
- She had a bad relationship and feels like she’d prefer to parent alone.
How do I prepare to be a single mom by choice?
To prepare to be a single mom by choice, get advice from women who have already made the decision.
Mikki Morrissette is a publisher and editor at Minnesota Women’s Press and is the author of numerous books about becoming a single mom by choice, including Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman’s Guide.
She says there is no perfect formula for deciding to be a single mom by choice, but you can ask yourself these questions to determine if it’s the right decision for you:
1. Can you afford it?
Research the costs to conceive, adopt, and any other method you plan to explore. Consider the monthly budget you will need to raise the child, including child care, education, medical needs, clothing, and more.
2. Do you have support?
Morrissette says that no one can become a single mom by choice without a village, no matter how self-sufficient, strong, and excited they may be about the journey. Her advice? Begin to build your support system.
3. Have you researched first-hand experiences?
Find other moms who have already become mothers by choice and get insight from:
- Reddit – The subreddits r/SingleMothersbyChoice and r/Parenting offer a forum where you can ask questions and read posts from single moms who decided to have children without a partner
- Facebook groups – Search Facebook groups for “single moms by choice”
- Apps – Friend apps like Meetup and Nextdoor can possibly connect you with single moms in your area
- YouTube – One mom, Alicia Latrice, shares her journey here about how she decided to become a single mother by choice:
Jennifer A. Salem, Esq., founder and owner of Origins Legal Group, LLC in Las Vegas, adopted her infant daughter at the age of 41.
She offers this advice for women preparing for single motherhood:
- Find a job with a flexible schedule: Salem owns her own business so she can dictate her own hours. It helps if you can find a work-from-home job like bookkeeping, or a position with flexible hours.
- Seek help: Salem’s mom took care of her daughter when she first went back to work full time. Figure out a plan for child care before you have to scramble to find someone.
- Go with the flow: Salem says she decided early on to have fun and go with the flow, knowing she wouldn’t always have a sitter and would have to bring her child along for errands and time with friends.
- Consider adoption: Salem says some women think they cannot adopt if they are single, but she is proof that it’s possible.
Another single mom by choice offered this advice:
“Get a strong community together, and ask for help! Save money as a cushion. Before baby comes, food prep so it's easy to heat and serve. Make sure your car is in good working order, and get backup car seats and bases for your community. It’s really doable!”Beth, SMBC of a 6-year-old
This is some advice single moms by choice shared on Reddit:
What you should know before becoming a single parent by choice
If you’re considering becoming a single parent by choice, Roelands says these are some questions to ask yourself first:
- How do you see your role as a parent?
- How do you want to raise your child(ren)?
- Are you emotionally and financially ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood?
- Do you have a support system to help?
Above all, Roelands says, “it is simply your choice.”
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, according to the Cleveland Clinic1.
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 Gynecology2.
The risk of birth abnormalities, including chromosomal abnormalities, increases as a mother ages.
Will you choose IVF and use a sperm donor?
In vitro fertilization or IVF involves collecting eggs from the mother and using sperm to fertilize them in a lab. The fertilized egg(s) are placed into the mother’s uterus or frozen for later use.
A less expensive alternative to IVF is intrauterine insemination (IUI), where the sperm is injected into the uterus. Of the two fertility treatments, IVF has a higher success rate, according to the Cleveland Clinic3.
You can choose your sperm donor for IVF or IUI — either someone you know or a named or anonymous donor you don’t know.
Here are some factors to consider before choosing IVF vs IUI:
|Success rate||50-75% with one round||40-50% after several rounds|
|Cost||Can be $20,000 or more per IVF round, according to GoodRX Health4||Between $500 and $4,000|
|Procedure||More complex, involves multiple procedures over time, including medication, bloodwork, ultrasounds, and anesthesia for egg retrieval before the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus||Less invasive, performed during ovulation, takes a few minutes as an outpatient procedure, may require some medication to improve success|
|Risks||According to the Mayo Clinic5, some risks include multiple births, birth defects, low birth weight, premature delivery, miscarriage, and other health risks||Risks include multiple births, spotting, and possible infection of the area being treated|
|Time||One round of IVF can take two or three weeks (you may require more than one round)||Procedure takes a few minutes, and the office visit might take about 20 minutes (you might need more than one round)|
|Pre-screening the embryo for genetic disorders||Yes, because embryos are developed in an incubator, they can be tested for genetic diseases||No, there is no access to the fertilized embryo in IUI|
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 heralded as an excellent step towards gender equality in the workplace.
Harsh facts about egg freezing
However, the Washington Post6 published an extensive article broadcasting what fertility experts have long known: egg freezing is successful only a small percentages of the time, a fact that the burgeoning fertility industry keeps under wraps.
Are there any single mother by choice regrets?
There are plenty of famous women who became single moms by choice: Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, and Mindy Kaling, to name a few. While Bullock and Theron both adopted their children, Kaling has two biological children and hasn’t revealed their father’s identity.
Bullock told People after her daughter’s adoption in 2015 that there’s no doubt in her mind she was meant to adopt her children: “I can tell you absolutely, the exact right children came to me at the exact right time.”
Several women on Reddit have sought — and shared — advice about becoming a single mother by choice:
Most had no regrets about their decision to become a single mom:
While others admitted to struggling without a supportive partner to help out:
Are single mothers by choice happy?
Overwhelmingly, single moms on Reddit said they didn't regret their decision to become a single mom by choice. However, that doesn't mean single mothers by choice are always happy and never struggle:
Roelands says she had a patient who decided to undergo IVF to have a child.
“She decided that she wanted a baby and was in her early 40s and did not want to miss the chance,” Roelands says.
The woman had supportive friends and her mother backing her up throughout the process.
“She is a wonderful mother and happy with her choice,” Roelands says.
When deciding to be a single mom by choice, consider these facts
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 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.
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 broke7.
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 I once read with horror a New York Times Magazine article8 about college women and the hookup culture, which found:
- Young women are 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
- Wome are not factoring in a husband or children into near-term goals.
- 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 do 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 to encourage my daughter to develop every part of herself.
Bottom line: You're not getting any younger—don't wait for a husband before having a baby because you can be a single mom by choice
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 Harriet 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.
- “What’s the Best Age To Get Pregnant?” January 21, 2022. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/best-age-to-get-pregnant/
- “Having a Baby After Age 35: How Aging Affects Fertility and Pregnancy” February 2023. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/Having-a-Baby-After-Age-35-How-Aging-Affects-Fertility-and-Pregnancy?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=otn
- “What’s the Difference Between IVF and IUI?” January 31, 2022. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/iui-vs-ivf/
- “IUI vs. IVF: Which Is Right for You?” June 13, 2022. GoodRx Health. https://www.goodrx.com/conditions/fertility/iui-intrauterine-insemination-vs-ivf-in-vitro-fertilization
- “In vitro fertilization (IVF)” Sept. 10, 2021. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/in-vitro-fertilization/about/pac-20384716
- “The struggle to conceive with frozen eggs” January 27, 2018. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2018/01/27/feature/she-championed-the-idea-that-freezing-your-eggs-would-free-your-career-but-things-didnt-quite-work-out/?utm_term=.73a6b96a1e1a
- “Dear Fertility Doc: Should I Be Worried About My Biological Clock?” Jun 23, 2022. Forbes Health. https://www.forbes.com/health/family/biological-clock-impact-on-fertility/?ss=forbeswoman#304181a95d92
- “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” July 12, 2013. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/fashion/sex-on-campus-she-can-play-that-game-too.html?pagewanted=all