Karen was 34-years-old and very successful in her career when she first consulted several years ago. One day, after watching a CBS 60 Minutes special on the biological clock in women, she had an awakening. She realized two things. One was that she was getting older, with no man in her life, and two, she was very sure that she wanted children some day. After being in a few long-term relationships in her life, she had stayed completely single for the past two years. Her original intent was to come in and ask about egg freezing, but after I gave her the statistics on the poor success rates with frozen eggs, she realized that her best choices were as follows: She could continue to hope to meet Mr. Right and become a mommy the traditional way. She could look into adoption. Or she could try and conceive by insemination with donor sperm. After further discussion, we agreed on a plan. She would NOT undergo any fertility treatment at this time. Instead, she would get focused and very actively spend the next year exploring different ways of meeting people. She would also take a voluntary cut in her work load so as to have more free time for dating.
A year and a half later, she called to make another appointment. When I saw her again, she was 36. During this second meeting, she started by reporting her past 19 months, describing her experiences with online dating, joining groups through her synagogue, trying outdoors clubs for active singles, and agreeing to any attempts from her friends and coworkers to set her up. While she had met and dated some men, she joked that she had come to the conclusion that "There just aren't any good single men in Los Angeles".
She reiterated that she was very stable financially, had good support from her mom and friends, and had been thinking this over for the past year and a half, reassuring me (and herself) this was not a rash decision. After discussing her options, she opted to go with donor insemination. She conceived on her second cycle and went on to have a baby girl.
Over the years, she would call our office and give us updates. Her stories of her child's first words, the Chuck E Cheese birthday parties and the joys and frustration of motherhood sounded the same as any of our other patients who graduated from our program. The big surprise came years later when she called to share that she was now happily married and spontaneously pregnant with her second child.
Many studies of children who grew up in fatherless families report higher delinquency rates, lower high-school graduation rates and and more psychological disorders. However, those looked at children who were raised by a single mother after a divorce or accidental pregnancy. In contrast, a research study out of the UK reports very different findings when women become single mothers by choice, through donor insemination. Specific measures discovered in these mothers include greater maternal pleasure in their child, lower levels of anger and perceptions of their children as being less "clingy" in comparison to a control group of married women who also conceived by donor insemination. Possible explanations for this difference include the fact that single mothers by choice represent a special group of women who are motivated, educated, financially successful and surrounded by good social supports.
Careful follow-up with my own patients support these findings. One question I often ask is "If you could go back in time and counsel yourself back when you were considering this big decision, what advice would you give yourself? Invariably, the answer is "I'd tell myself to do it! Going forward with having my child is the greatest thing that's happened to my life." I've even had quite a few patients come back to conceive their second child already.
KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER:
- Single mothers by choice often go through many years of deliberation before making the big decision to adopt or conceive. They are different in some ways from women who involuntarily find themselves as single mothers in that their situation is more planned with more careful financial preparation, and without the trauma of having gone through a painful unexpected divorce.
- Almost all have a well-established circle of loving support from parents, siblings and friends.
- Some of them derive all their satisfaction from motherhood and show zero interest in dating. Others report a improvement in their approach to new relationships as compared to how they were before becoming a happy parent.
- Most single mothers by choice have explored traditional relationships initially before deciding on this alternative option.
- Single parenthood is not a matter to be taken lightly. There are many resources out there to research before deciding on making this big life decision.