Like many women, Mary’s dream of having a child involved visions of a house, a picket fence — and a husband. But life just didn’t turn out that way.
“I was in a very serious relationship that I thought was headed toward marriage,” says the 37-year-old Boston-area project manager. “He was divorced and had two kids, and he knew I also wanted children. Then two weeks before the wedding, he said, ‘I can’t commit to having more kids.’ I was 34 when that happened, and at that point I just shifted gears.”
Anxious to have a child before it was too late, Mary opted for donor insemination. Today her son is almost 2 years old. “It feels good for me to have separated the two goals — baby and husband,” she says. “Being a single parent isn’t ideal, but what is? I’ve made tough choices that for me have been the right ones.”
But it hasn’t been easy. “I found a birthing class run by a nurse,” she says. “I called and explained that I was going to be a single parent with a friend for a labor coach. She said it would be fine. But by the last class, I was hysterically crying. It seemed like everyone else was part of a happy couple, my hormones were getting to me, and although I was fine with the decision to have a baby alone, I underestimated how difficult it would be.”
For 53-year-old Eileen Moskowitz, the decision to be a single mother was made in an instant of pure clarity. “I remember the moment: At 42, I went in for a pregnancy test because I hadn’t gotten my period,” recalls the Los Angeles-based children’s educational content developer. “The doctor said, ‘You’re not pregnant — you’re starting menopause.’ I was devastated; then I ran to the nearest fertility clinic.” Three years later, after enduring what she terms “fertility hell” and an adoption roller coaster with three different birth mothers, she adopted Mariah, now 8.
A growing trend
These days, single women are redefining the family — and turning the stereotype of unmarried mothers upside down. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the childbirth rate for unmarried women ages 30 to 39 rose from 31,000 in 1980 to 58,000 in 1998. (Some of these women are living with partners but are not married.) And 35 to 40 percent of the sperm samples distributed by California Cryobank are for use by single women.
They might not have met Mr. Right, but these women are determined to not miss out on motherhood. And celebrities from Madonna to Rosie O’Donnell and Jodie Foster are putting a decidedly public face on the decision to parent without a partner. “Single motherhood is much less shocking today,” affirms Jane Mattes, C.S.W., a psychotherapist and single mom who founded Single Mothers by Choice in 1980 after her son was born. “When I did it, people would ask if I was a man-hater or gay — as if those were the only reasons you would do this.”