"Why doesn't Evelyn have a dad? Everyone has a dad," my 5-year-old daughter's friend blurted out innocently as she looked around our home, taking stock of the toy collection in the corner. It was her first time over for a play date, and I wasn't expecting this question to pop up within the first 10 minutes of her arrival. Before I had time to consider my response, my daughter answered, "My mommy is my only parent because she really wanted me!" Her friend shrugged her shoulders, accepting this answer, and the girls bounced off to play.
At 31 years old, I conceived my daughter with the help of a known sperm donor as a single mother by choice. A single mother by choice (SMC) is a woman who chooses to have a child on her own. I've had long-term relationships, but none of them panned out, and because I knew my fertility was finite and love could come at any time, I made the decision to have a child on my own.
I'm not alone in choosing to parent solo. "We don't yet have large scale data, but in my own practice I've noticed an increase in the number of single women pursuing fertility treatments to conceive," says Andrea Reh, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Shady Grove Fertility in Arlington, VA. "The first step is a consultation where we discuss medical history and share information, followed by a full fertility assessment, including ultrasounds and bloodwork," she adds. "Women who plan to conceive through the use of donor sperm will meet with one of our social workers, and once these things are complete, we discuss next steps, which is typically intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in-vitro fertilization (IVF)."
Making the decision to become a single mother by choice is one that most women don't take lightly. Single mom by choice Sarah Kowalski is a fertility doula and life coach who works with single mothers-to-be. "Most of the questions I get from women are around finances and whether or not they can afford it," she says. "I also get questions about how they will choose a sperm donor, which can be an emotional process." Kowalski also hears more personal questions—women wanting to know if she regrets her choice to be an SMC. "I love being a single mom and wish it was a first choice and not a last resort—that's how happy I am with it," she adds.
This is a common thread amongst SMCs. "One thing I've heard other SMCs say is they wish they had done it sooner, and now that I have my daughter I totally agree. There will never be a perfect time to have a baby, so if it's something you want, don't let your relationship status stop you," says Gwen Clark, a Denver resident and 34-year-old single mom by choice to her 4-month-old daughter, Harper.
A study conducted by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology comparing the well-being of children growing up in single mother by choice and heterosexual two-parent families has found no differences in terms of parent-child relationship or child development. The study did find that single mothers by choice typically have a stronger support system than those who are coupled.
"Having a support system—whether it be relatives, friends, or organizations—the village you have to help you raise your child(ren) is so important," says Jane Mattes, a psychotherapist in NYC and founder of Single Mothers By Choice, an organization that offers support to single women who are considering or have chosen to parent solo. When Mattes became a single mother to her son in the early 1980s, she sought out others like her and formed a support group in the city. Single Mothers by Choice now has more than 60 local chapters throughout the world.
We often hear about the hardest parts of single motherhood—the lack of physical help, the strained finances, the worry about being enough for our children. And while those things can be a concern, there is so much good that can come from choosing this path.
"I'm on duty 24/7 and I haven't slept through the night in over 3 years. But the love our little family has makes it so worth it," says Carly Riddell, a resident of Sydney, Australia & SMC to Lucy, 3, and Theo, 11 months. "I like not having to compromise on my parenting choices. I can make a decision and run with it, and there's a certain pride that comes with "manning the ship," so to speak. I don't have to try to maintain a relationship with a partner whilst parenting my children, and I'm grateful in that sense that I can truly focus on my babies and their needs."
Through parenting my daughter on my own, I have found strength and resiliency in myself that I didn't know existed. I've found support in my community that has lifted me up on my hardest days. I've learned not to sweat the small stuff. My daughter is happy, well-adjusted and surrounded by love. When people ask me what I think about being a single mom by choice, I tell them it was the best decision I've ever made. And I mean it.