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If You're Thinking of Becoming a Single Mom

In a perfect world, all babies would be born to mature, loving, solvent couples who wanted them desperately, and who had every resource in the world to care for them. Life isn't always this simple, however. Whether you've become pregnant by a partner who isn't going to help you raise the baby, or you're considering having or adopting a child on your own, it's important to remember that millions of healthy, well-adjusted children have grown up in single-parent homes.

If you choose to become a single mother, you'll have plenty of company: Cleopatra, Maya Angelou, Ingrid Bergman, Jodie Foster, Rosie O'Donnell, and Elizabeth Taylor are just a few of the high-profile women who have raised (or are raising) children on their own. To say nothing of Bill Clinton's mom, Sophia Loren's mom, John Lennon's mom -- you get the idea. In fact, current statistics place the number of children being born to single-parent households in this country as anywhere from 34 to nearly 50 percent.

This is not to say that it's going to be easy. Which is why the No. 1 piece of advice offered by experienced single moms is: Get support. Lots of support. The less money you have, the more support you'll need. If it took Hillary Clinton a village to raise a child, it's going to take you the city of San Francisco.

There are two ways to become a single parent: through conception or adoption. Within these basic categories, there are a number of options to consider.

Conception can occur through sex with a partner, insemination by a known donor, or insemination by an unknown donor.

Adoption can occur independently or through an agency; can be open (you and your child remain in touch with the biological parents) or closed; and can happen in the United States or abroad. You can choose to adopt an infant or an older child, with or without special needs.

Each of these options has pros and cons. If you're unsure of the direction you wish to take, talk with other women who have made the choice through support organizations like Single Mothers by Choice (www.singlemothersbychoice.com).

Once you've decided to move ahead, you'll have a host of special issues to deal with as a single mom-to-be. These include:

  • Telling people
  • Dealing with complications during pregnancy
  • Choosing your support team for prenatal visits, labor, and postpartum
  • Deciding what to put on the birth certificate
  • Telling the father (if appropriate)
  • Planning financial support
  • Understanding legal issues of adoption and single parenthood

Some of these issues will affect you, while others may not. As one single mom put it, "Everything I expected to be a problem -- loneliness, fear of giving birth, the belief that I'd never date again -- turned out to be no sweat. But things I never considered -- like getting laid off when I was five months pregnant with practically no money in the bank -- hit me like a Mack truck."

Still, the same mom adds, "My daughter is the most precious gift I have ever received. I would do it all again in a moment."

Web sites

  • www.singlemothersbychoice.com -- General help and support
  • www.adoption.com -- A good first stop for potential adoptive parents. Also check out www.adoption.org.
  • www.hellobaby.com -- The Web site of Pacific Reproductive Services, a leading sperm bank. Contains good general information on donor insemination.
  • www.surrogacy.com/online_support/pvsd/ -- An online discussion group for people attempting to become parents through sperm donation.

Books

  • Single Mothers by Choice, by Jane Mattes (Times Books, 1997) -- Geared to women in their mid 30s or older who are considering adoption or insemination.
  • Adopting on Your Own: The Complete Guide to Adopting as a Single Parent, by Lee Varon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) -- Comprehensive, thoughtful, and empowering. It's highly recommended.
  • Helping the Stork: The Choices and Challenges of Donor Insemination, by Carol Frost Vercollone (Hungry Minds, 1997) -- Geared to couples with fertility problems, but still the best source of information on donor insemination.
  • The Lesbian and Gay Parenting Handbook: Creating and Raising Our Families, by April Martin (HarperPerennial, 1993) -- A classic for gay parents, both single and attached.