I’m what’s often called a “single mom by choice” (SMBC), also sometimes called a “choice mom.” According to the website Single Mothers by Choice, this means that I’m a “single woman who decides to become a mother knowing, at least at the outset, that she will be the sole parent of her child.” For me, this was done with an anonymous sperm donor. I was 34, no boyfriend or husband prospects on the horizon, and my fertility was waning (yes, clinically—I had tests run). I didn’t mind waiting to find the right guy, but I didn’t want to let my fertility pass me by, either.
It’s a funny thing: When a person gets pregnant or has a child, no matter what the situation, all of a sudden people’s filters seem to disappear. Most of the time, when someone made the assumption about a daddy or that I was married, I’d gently tell them it was just me and that I used a donor. More often than not, I was met with enthusiasm and things like “that’s so cool!” Friends messaged me to tell me they’d been thinking about doing the same, or asked questions about the process. Even my then-90-year-old grandmother’s friends thought it was great. “I wish my granddaughter would do that,” they’d say. “I’m still waiting for her to have kids!” I appreciated honest, respectful questions, and was honest in my answers; I think it’s important to show that there are many ways to become a mother.
And yet, there are still many (many!) people who say offensive things like the following.
“Wow, that’s going to be so difficult, going it alone.”
Why, thank you! You know, I hadn’t thought about that. I had NO IDEA parenting might be pretty hard.
Snark aside, I get what these people mean. Parenting is hard with two parents; single parenting can feel downright Sisyphean, with the unrelenting exhaustion, constant feeding, laundry, diapering, bathing and everything else. But this was one of the main things I considered before making the decision to get myself knocked up. When a person is pregnant and will be raising the baby alone, rest assured they know—or at least have an inkling—how difficult it will be. The least you could do is not bring it up when they’re already anxious about how life will change and whether they can do it. Instead, offer support and encouragement, like so: “That’s awesome! You’ll be great!
“But kids need a dad.”
Listen, dads are great. But kids don’t need them. A 2017 study found that kids in SMBC families do just as well as those in two-parent households. What’s important is social support and having adults and a parent who love and care about the child. Will I make sure that my son has male figures in his life? Sure. I am still holding out the possibility of meeting the right guy, falling in love and getting married, too. But here’s the thing: Families are made up of lots of different people. One mom. One dad. Two moms. Two dads. Grandparents. One grandparent. Foster parents. Co-parents. A family, at its core, is based on love. Having a mom and dad is worthless if it’s a house filled with abuse or lacking love and attention.
“If I ever went the sperm donor route, I’d be very picky. I’d make sure the sperm was tested for everything.”
This has been said to me on several occasions after people find out my son has some different needs. As if I wasn’t picky, and chose whatever random sperm I was offered. As if the sperm bank doesn’t test for all sorts of genetic conditions, diseases, familial syndromes or take family histories. News flash: Things like autism, sensory issues, speech delays, cancer and developmental issues can happen to anyone. Your kid could be born typical and then, God forbid, fall ill or have an accident. Your kid could turn out to be a huge jerk. Things happen. When you decide to be a parent, no matter how you do it, you take a leap of faith. You don’t know who you’ll get for a child. You pray for their health. Things happen. And you deal with whatever comes your way.
“My partner travels a lot for business—I’m single momming it, too!”
Nope. Nope nope nope. All the nopes. While I get what you’re saying, you have a partner. You get emotional support, financial support, help with the kids and more. It is not the same. Not having a partner is different than a partner not being present at that moment or not around for a bit.
“But Mr. Right is out there for you! Why didn’t you just freeze your eggs?”
First of all, I’m glad you know so much about my love life. Second, while my eventual husband might be out there, my fertility won’t be around forever. You don’t know the particulars about anyone’s fertility or medical issues, and for some people, like myself, I didn’t want to take that chance. Now that the pressure is off to find someone in time for me to have a child, it’s made things a lot more relaxed, which is great.
“I could never do that.”
This one is tricky, and it depends on the context. Sometimes it’s meant to be a compliment; other times, it’s meant to be a bit shaming or a subtle insult. While I understand where the compliment comes from, the truth of the matter is this: If your heart is really, really set on something, most of the time, it’s possible to find a way to manage. I’m not superhuman. None of this is easy or painless. If you’re saying it in admiration, please know that even if you think we’re juggling it all with aplomb, you’re likely not seeing the whole story. It’s hard to admit that everything’s falling apart to someone who thinks you have your shit together.
“How do you do it?”
I do it because it’s just what I do. It’s like going to work or the gym—you wake up and do what you have to do. Of course I’m exhausted and need more sleep and sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) I’m stressed and slightly bitchy. But I still have to adult. And I’m cool with it.