When You're Not Expecting

Exploring the emotional aspects of women's reproductive health

No Life Partner? Some women become single moms by choice.

No Life Partner? Some women become single moms by choice.

In my recent blogs I have been revealing the many faces of infertility. Most of us are familar with individuals and couples diagnosed with a medical condition that prevents them from becoming birthparents. However, also included among the faces of infertility are same sex couples (see my most recent blog) and single women hoping to become parents, the topic of today's blog. These folks, often medically capable of conceiving and bearing children, have what is called "social factor infertility," or the lack of a male partner.

In past years, whenever a single woman became pregnant, most people assumed that this was an unplanned pregnancy. However, today many women are becoming "single moms by choice," believing that their life dream of being a parent shouldn't be derailed by the absence of a life partner. Single Mothers by Choice, a 25 year-old support group, took in nearly double the number of new members in 2005 as it did in 1995. And the California Cryobank, the largest sperm bank in the U.S., owed a third of its business to single women in 2005. So these women, who are as dedicated to becoming parents as many of their married peers, reflect the face of social factor infertility.

Whereas medically infertile individuals and couples tend to evoke sympathy from their peers, people with social factor infertility may face stigma and disapproval from people who are convinced that heterosexual couples are the best parents. However, research shows that children raised by same sex couples have no negative outcomes related to their parentage and, in fact, are often especially accepting of diversity in relationships. Since the current divorce rate of couples is about 50 percent, we also know that many children are being raised in single parent homes, even though that had not been their parents' plan when they were conceived.

So what is the special challenge faced by women who, typically in their 30's and 40's, decide to become single mothers by choice? First is the question of how to bring a child into one's life. Some women may accidentally become pregnant and discover that they are thrilled at the prospect of becoming a mother. Many others will seek medical assistance for donor insemination, and they will need to understand the pros and cons of using a known donor vs. an unknown donor. They also will need to decide how long to pursue donor insemination before considering adoption as a potentially more satisfying way to bring a child into their lives. Women considering adoption will need to learn which countries and agencies are more "single friendly," and how to handle the inevitable adoption bureaucracy.

Whatever the route toward parenthood, single women are likely to seek acceptance and emotional support from loved ones, as well as from residents in their communities. Prospective single mothers ideally have a strong wish to parent, adequate financial resources, and the emotional resilience necessary for the ups and downs of parenthood. Beyond that they will need to anticipate the circumstances in which they may need to call on close friends for help -- either in an emergency or in more familial events like celebrating birthdays or holidays.

Several organizations exist to offer support to women who are considering becoming mothers by choice. The National Organization of Single Mothers, Inc. (http://www.singlemothers.org/) and Single Mothers by Choice (http://www.singlemothersbychoice.com/) offer online information as well as support groups around the country.

In my book When You're Not Expecting, I recognize the dliemma some women face as they grow older, very much wanting to be a mother, but hearing the ticking of the biological clock with no life partner on the horizon. These women may seek out infertility services or adoption agencies, yet their needs are unique and deserve careful consideration both by professionals and by loved ones.

Stay tuned for my next blog, when I'll explore the face of infertility presented by parents who now find themselves diagnosed with secondary infertility.

 

If you would like more information on this and other topics related to infertility, I have a newly released book title, When You're  Not Expecting. To find more information or to purchase my book, click here. To learn how you can enter to win a free copy of my new book, click here.

 

Connie Shapiro, Ph.D., is a professor of family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of When You're Not Expecting: An Infertility Survival Guide.

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