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Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Single Parent?

More choose single parenthood. But why?

Jonathan Borba/Unsplash
Source: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

The perfect time to have a baby doesn’t exist in the real world and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made it any easier to time pregnancy. Deciding if or when to have a child, getting pregnant, and becoming a parent is complicated—and far more so if you are single.

In the 1960s and earlier decades before the feminist movement made strong inroads, women went to college to find a husband. If you weren’t married by age 25, you might be considered a spinster, an old maid. Few women were thinking of careers—of becoming dentists, scientists, or CEOs—and being able to support themselves and children financially. Culturally, even fewer still accepted the idea of a family with two dads, two moms or single parents.

That’s changed. Dramatically. Nearly one-quarter of kids in the U.S. live with a single parent—the highest rate in the world—according to data from the Pew Research Center. Single parents who have never been married roughly equal the proportion who were previously married. And, the U.S. Census reports that most children in one-parent households are being raised by single moms—one in five single parents are fathers—some because of divorce or the death of a spouse and others who choose to be single parents.

Many Start Families Later

Straight or gay, men and women don’t necessarily hold out for Mr. or Mrs. Right. But single people, like their married counterparts, do frequently wait to start families. The median age among solo parents is 38, compared with 34 for cohabitating parents who aren’t married, according to Pew.

Because many women are waiting longer to start their families, a huge and growing industry has developed that is no longer under the radar or a hush-hush topic. In vitro fertilization (IVF) has grown swiftly and the advances have been enormous and especially beneficial to single women who want to be mothers.

Freezing eggs for use at a convenient time is no longer unusual, either. Within my immediate sphere, I know three young women in their late 30s and early 40s who have frozen their eggs. They want to keep their options open. It may be they want to consider possible sperm donors, be more settled in their jobs, or move ahead when they feel they are able to support a child on their own—or hope to find a partner, but want to be sure they preserve their eggs.

Fertility doctors have been successfully freezing sperm since the mid-20th century, with the first human pregnancy achieved with frozen spermatozoa in 1953. While single fathers are greatly outnumbered by single mothers, their ranks are growing as well. Like their female counterparts, single men often wait until they’re older to become dads.

CNN host Anderson Cooper became a single dad at 52 via a surrogate. Whatever your views on surrogacy or freezing eggs and embryos, these medical interventions are here to stay, though they remain prohibitively expensive for many.

“One Good Egg” Is All You Need

For would-be single mothers, if you have one good egg, you’re good to go, as Suzy Becker, a humorist and “older” gay woman, reveals in her book, One Good Egg: An Illustrated Memoir. “For the first twenty-three years of my life, I was sure I’d have babies, at least two,” she writes. “Then it took me fifteen years to decide to go ahead and have just one.”

Becker details the many roadblocks she faced and sorts out the fertility jargon, from IUI to IVF, all the while informing the reader with delightful illustrations that are heartwarming and amusing. With a good friend as donor, her tale unknots the knotty hurdles of becoming a mother “later,” which she did at age 42.

Nancy, a woman I interviewed as part of a research study, was divorced without children. Her advancing age was only one factor that led her to become a single parent. “I started my journey at age 41. I had been on my own for several years and dating wasn't working out. I decided that I had a lifetime to find a partner, but the window was closing to become a mother,” she said. “I remember reading an article about parenting being the greatest education. It wasn't that I was dying for a baby, but I didn't want to miss out on the experience of parenting.”

Nancy considered adoption but was, after a long, stressful, and complicated time, successful with infertility treatment. Many single women choose to adopt for medical or financial reasons, and, like Nancy, don’t wait to find a partner to do so.

The Pluses of Single Parenthood

As a single person, whether you choose a sperm donor from among your friends or from a sperm bank, carry your baby to term, engage a surrogate, or adopt, the rewards are plentiful and enduring. You make the important decisions about your child’s development and education, about where you live and what and to whom you expose your child.

Nancy, whose child is now 8 years old, underscores that point. “I have complete control of decisions. There are fewer moving parts, making it easier for me to be all in with no distractions,” she says. “All in all, it’s fantastic: We have adventures; there’s spontaneity when it’s just the two of you.”

Unless you have an incredible support system, you can’t “pass off” your child to have a few hours to yourself. At times there are monumental challenges and the burden is all yours. Nonetheless, when you talk to single women who chose to be mothers, what is patently clear is their desire, determination, and grit, no matter how daunting the obstacles and disappointments along the way. They have the child or children they desperately wanted.

In the end, one single mother told me, reflecting the feelings of so many others, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Related:

6 Benefits for Children of Older Mothers

On Not Waiting for Mr. Right

Why More People Don’t Adopt

Copyright @2021 by Susan Newman

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