As a 46-year-old solo mom, looking back on my arduous path toward motherhood, I remember the confusion, stress, anxiety, shame, and uncertainty I felt while stumbling toward parenthood all too well.
Like many women, I spent the better part of my twenties and thirties building my career, indulging a glittering social life, and feeding my insatiable wanderlust. Think Sex and the City, set in San Francisco.
However, like too many of my peers, I had a misplaced belief in the power of modern reproductive technology, a plethora of celebrities who give birth well into their forties, a lack of information about what it’s really like to attempt pregnancy at a later age—I believed that motherhood would be readily available to me, whenever and if ever I wanted it. So, I put the question on the back burner and continued to devote myself to my career and living a fun-filled, adventurous life.
One morning it hit me in the face, I was nearly forty, partner-less, on the eve of perimenopause, and longed for a baby. I had to face that if I was going to become a mom, I was going to need to do it on my own.
This wasn’t what I pictured though — I’d been gripping onto the storybook image I’d created for my life. Could I really let go of the dreamy partner, the white dress, the picket fence and 2.5 kids and become a single mom via sperm donor?
It took me months to put down the fairytale. When I was finally ready to take the leap, I bounded into my OB/GYN’s office ready to get the lowdown on donor conception. Seeking advice on procuring sperm, insemination, and optimizing my chances for pregnancy, she shocked me instead with something I had never expected to hear: “If you want to get pregnant, you will likely need to use an egg donor.”
What the hell?! I was blindsided. Shocked. In denial. An egg donor? No, way.
It was easy to deflect her suggestion and pin my hopes on beating the odds. A quick Google search revealed a plethora of miracle baby stories. So I tumbled down the rabbit hole of infertility options: alternative treatments, herbs, dietary changes, stress reduction—you name it, I tried it.
After hitting my head against the wall for a while, and almost giving up many times, I had to admit that if I wanted a baby, I needed to use an egg donor or adopt.
I was pissed. I’d already revised my idea of parenthood from partnered to solo, my sperm source from a beloved man to an anonymous stranger and now I had to question my genetic connection to my baby. It all seemed so unfair. I felt I had failed at two fundamental aspects of womanhood: getting married and having a baby.
Through much self-reflection, torment and introspection about what it meant to me to have a baby, I finally put down the storybook images and had a baby via both sperm and egg donors.
Though I wouldn’t choose that painful path again, being forced to question my assumptions about family structure, conception, birth, and motherhood, has made me a more compassionate and open-minded mother. Purging the fairytale has helped me deal with the shit show of motherhood, allowing me to be less in control of the outcome and present for whatever’s happening.
And, more importantly, even though my son shares none of my genes, I know I got exactly the kid I was meant to have. What’s more, the simplicity of single motherhood via sperm donor, mainly no fear of custody battles and splitting time with my son, makes me rejoice every day.
Alternative Family Structures On The Rise
The truth is that most women have a fairy tale vision of how they will become mothers. Yet, as we continue to question our roles in society, and as we continue to pursue careers before finding a partner or having kids, more women are finding that their lives don’t match up to the normative vision.
The age of first time mothers is also steadily increasing. The CDC reported that in 1970, only 1.7 out of 1,000 women were having their first child between the ages of 35-39 years. In 2012, 11.0 out of 1,000 women were having their first child between the ages of 35-39. Similarly, the rate of women having their first child between age 40-44 has risen steadily since 1970.
And, as the rates of single motherhood decline across the board, there has been only one group of unmarried women for whom the birthrate increased in recent years: those 35 and older who also tend to be educated and choose to become single mothers.
We can deduce that as more women remain unmarried and have babies at an older age, that more older, single women are having babies.
According to a New York Times article, “They are still a small minority. But if these trends continue, single motherhood could become less of a sign of family instability. It could increasingly become one of the new ways people are choosing to form families, in an era when both marriage and divorce are declining.”
Culture of Silence and Shame
But the reality is that even though it’s more and more and more women have babies later in life, remain unmarried or use advanced reproductive technology to conceive, there are plenty of naysayers out there, ready to pounce on me about not adopting, having a child later in life and let’s not forget, having a child alone.
Because of that it’s not easy to find women to talk to about single motherhood by choice, infertility and the plethora of paths to motherhood available.
It seems we’ve made a promise in society, not to openly discuss infertility or purposefully having a baby outside of partnership. We suffer quietly, remaining secretive about our infertility experiences, and feeling scared to admit that it’s possible to have a baby minus a man without damaging our kids.
I can only guess why others to remain silent. Maybe it’s the ever-present idea that infertility and having a baby out of wedlock should be shameful and secretive. Or, maybe they are afraid they might slap the next curious, but misinformed person who asks a ridiculous question. (Believe me there are plenty.) But more likely, they want to avoid the judgment many people boldly voice about how IVF is selfish when there are babies in the world that need homes through adoption or those who find single motherhood morally reprehensible.
If someone had told me this at the beginning, that I would be able to say with complete certainty, I have no regrets using an egg donor as a single woman, I can only guess how much heartache (not to mention time and money) that would have saved me. If I had heard other women’s stories about the incredible bonds they share with their donor-conceived children, and the joys of raising a child alone, that would have normalized the process for me and reassured me that this was a perfectly satisfying path to motherhood that according to research is not going to damage my child as long as I can provide him with a stable loving environment.
To avoid the judgments of friends and strangers, I could remain silent about my son’s origins. But, I’m determined to be transparent about my son’s origins. I want him to know how much pride and joy I feel for my son and that begins with being vulnerable and open about my rocky journey to motherhood. That’s why I wrote my memoir, Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming a Mother Doesn’t Go as Planned –because I want to lift the veil by recounting my real-life, messy-honest struggle with infertility as a single woman. In time, if more women share their accounts, perhaps we can lessen the shame that comes with infertility and change the attitudes towards single mothers.
My path wasn’t as planned, but now given a chance, I wouldn’t change a thing. In my opinion, there is nothing less than in my situation. There will always be critics, but to them I say, that unconventional paths to motherhood can be equally, and possibly more rewarding that the path imagined.
And that’s why I’ve become a spokesperson and coach for women struggling with whether to become mothers on their own or struggling with infertility. I hope to inspire women to release any regret, shame, or confusion they carry, to accept themselves and their circumstances, to reimagine motherhood on their own terms, and to walk confidently down their unique paths toward the children they’re ready to love.