Why I Became a Single Mother By Choice

This post is appearing simultaneously here, on OMG There’s Three, a blog written by Sarah, a single mother by choice of triplets.  For the entire month of September, she’s collecting stories of women who have decided to become a single mother by choice.  She says “the decision to become a single mother is often made for similar reasons, but the paths leading to the choice are as varied as the women who make it.  Here is a collection of stories answering the not so simple question “Why did you decide to become a single mom by choice?”

It is a wonder that I didn’t get pregnant when I was a teenager. Not because I slept around, because I didn’t date at all in high school. But I was obsessed with both boys and babies. I had crush after crush, almost as far back as I can remember. By tenth grade, I was full-on boy-crazy, so much so that one of my nicknames was derived from the way one of my crushes looked. (Don’t ask which animal people thought he looked like.) The notes that have survived from that time are cringe-worthy. But all of my obsession over the boy of the month was unrequited. I turned 16, 17, and then 18 without a single guy showing romantic interest in me. My aunt supplied my cousin to take me to my senior prom, and I wasn’t kissed for the first time until after I graduated from high school. Because I didn’t date, I had plenty of time to babysit. I babysat for neighbors and for my cousin—I loved babies and little kids.

College was slightly better. I was still boy-crazy, having graduated from passing notes with my girlfriends to putting up centerfold posters from Playgirl magazine in my dorm room. (My more modest roommate made me place a construction-paper heart like a fig leaf to cover up the goods.) I still chased boys, but this time my love life wasn’t a complete drought. I had one relationship that lasted six months, but otherwise went to dances with friends and continued to keep a man in the back of my head to crush on all of the time. I chose my major—Chemistry—because most science classes were filled with men.

All of this romantic obsession and deprivation led me to marry when I was twenty-four, in a whirlwind of feeling like I was swept off of my feet. I met him through a personals ad, when I was living a thousand miles away from most of my family, and had just moved cross-country three times within fifteen months. We talked on the phone for twelve or sixteen hours over four days before we met in person. After he came to see me the day after our first date, he never slept in his apartment again. We were engaged within a month and married within nine months. I wish I was kidding.

On the surface, I enjoyed the rest of my twenties, traveling around the country for my job and spending money with my husband, even though he was showing the troubling tendency of getting let go from job after job. He had already had two kids by two previous women, so my rational mind kept me on the Pill. I thought we would eventually have kids, maybe after I went to graduate school when I figured out what kind of graduate degree I wanted.

Then I turned twenty-nine. My husband didn’t remember my birthday. I drove to work that day in tears because I was beginning to realize that I would not ever be able to have the kind of life I wanted, while I was married to him. By then, I had decided that I wanted to go to law school. But my biological clock was ticking, and I was afraid to keep hitting the snooze button. I wanted a baby and a family. But I was overwhelmed living with my husband. He was dramatic, co-dependent, and disrespectful to me. I had to do everything. The house was a mess if I didn’t keep it clean; I paid the bills, scooped the cat litter, and walked the dogs. We had accumulated a lot of consumer debt, so we had trouble keeping up financially, especially since he kept spending money even when he wasn’t working. I could not imagine taking care of a baby, along with work, the pets, and the house, while he just sat on his ass looking at porn on the internet.

I started seeing a therapist because I thought I needed help making the decision of whether I should go to law school or have a baby. I decided to go to law school at night, while I worked my day job.

We divorced between my second and third years in law school.

I was beginning the process of listening to myself and to my instincts. It was slow going, because I had always been focused on doing things that would make someone else love me. I didn’t really know what I wanted.

When I graduated from law school, I was in another relationship. But this time I was thinking more clearly. He was a sweet man, but when it became obvious that he never wanted to become a father, the relationship ended quickly. Having kids was a deal-breaker for me.

Now I turned to my therapist for help making another choice—should I become a single mother, deliberately, while I wasn’t in a relationship? I had turned thirty-four in April, 2002, and after this birthday I had a plan. If I hadn’t met anyone with good prospect of turning into a serious relationship by the beginning of 2003, I would do anonymous donor insemination and try to get pregnant on my own.

Something inside was telling me that if I didn’t become a mother now, I might not have the chance. I didn’t want to miss out on motherhood as I had missed out on adolescence.

Wasn’t thirty-four still young? Why didn’t I continue to try to meet someone?

My track record with men wasn’t great. By that time, I had only had three or four relationships that had lasted longer than a month or two, and I hadn’t made the best choices. My thinking was that I would separate marriage from child-rearing. I was certain that I could be a good mother, but I wasn’t yet confident in my ability to choose a man who could be a good father.

I had heard of women who had decided to have a child on their own, so I think I always knew in the back of my mind that it was possible. Becoming a single mother made a whole lot of sense to me for several reasons: I feared that if I didn’t have a child soon, I might not have the chance; I had already delayed motherhood once to go to law school; and I could afford to have a baby on my own because I was working at a large law firm. Becoming a single mother by choice was not a very difficult choice for me. My family supported my decision, and I had a network of friends to help.

As far as having a man in my future child’s life—I thought that I could take care of that later. I could meet a man who I could have a relationship with anytime. But my fertility had an expiration date. I also thought that I would make better choices in men if I had someone else to consider when I was making my decision as to whether a man was “relationship material” or not. I might make a bad choice for myself, but, if I was thinking about whether this man would be good for my child, I would make a better choice.

I thought that bringing a child into a bad relationship, or exposing him or her to someone who was abusive and would cause emotional damage, was far less preferable than deciding to have a child on my own when I wanted and desired a child with my whole heart. No, I couldn’t be a perfect parent and bring a child into a perfect relationship. But I had the belief in myself that I could be a good-enough parent.

I went to the doctor’s office for insemination on December 30, 2002. I couldn’t wait until the beginning of 2003—I had just ovulated, had decided on an anonymous donor, and thought I might as well try it. The chances of getting pregnant with frozen sperm are very low—only about 13%, or a one in seven chance with each cycle. So I was prepared to try for several months.

I got pregnant on the first try.

My daughter turned ten last month. Her middle name is Aislinn because it means “dream” in Gaelic.

It has been quite a ride, so far, bumps and all. When she was twenty months old, and still nursing, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and did the whole shebang—surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstruction. A couple of years later, I had to have my ovaries removed.

I was never so glad to have trusted my instincts.

This was just a few months after she was born.

This was just a few months after she was born.

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