In 1979, Jane Mattes was busy looking into adoption in hopes of becoming a mother. One of her single female friends had recently adopted a child, which intrigued Mattes and inspired her search.
But life swooped in and altered her plans. Mattes unintentionally became pregnant by the man she was dating at the time. He wasn’t interested in fatherhood and wished her good luck. His decision didn’t change Mattes’ trajectory. She had already been considering solo parenthood.
Today Mattes’ son is 40 years old. His single-parent upbringing didn’t phase him at all while growing up, according to his mother. “He was like, ‘what’s the big deal?'” she says. Despite her son’s ease with his family structure, Mattes didn’t always find it easy to be a single parent. In late 1980, she started a support group in New York City for mothers like her, which evolved into the nonprofit Single Mothers by Choice in 1981. Today, the organization provides a communal online and offline space for women and non-binary people predominately in the U.S. and Canada who are contemplating single parenthood, those who are already pregnant, and those who are single parents by choice.
Though Mattes loved every minute of her solo parenting journey, saying she was thrilled to watch her son grow from a baby into a developed person, she knows the single parent by choice road is paved with challenges.
Mashable spoke with Mattes and other experts to get tips for anyone who is contemplating going the parenting path alone (though most of the experts work only with women, a lot of the advice can also be used by single fathers by choice), and what they should consider.
1. Don’t be put off by people’s reactions
When Sarah Kowalski told people close to her that she was going to be a single parent by choice, she didn’t realize how much it would trigger other people’s insecurities. At 39 years old, she was without a partner but wanted to be a parent. She eventually received eggs from a donor as she’s infertile and, therefore, can’t conceive a baby with her own eggs. Though it was a long and sometimes challenging journey, Kowalski is now on the other side. As a fertility doula, she mentors women who are having difficulties conceiving, either because they don’t have a partner or have fertility issues, and offers support groups for single mothers by choice through her website Motherhood Reimagined.
Kowalski says in terms of people’s reactions, it’s beneficial to understand that most people don’t mean you harm, even if you hear presumptive statements like, “You haven’t given it enough time to find the right person.” Have compassion for them and realize their reactions might not be what you’d prefer but could be fueled by their own insecurities, biases, and fears. Still, stick to your guns about your decision with the people who matter to you.
“You might disappoint people or make people uncomfortable and that may just be a fact of life,” says Kowalski. Notably, she had friends who were parents who immediately supported her. She was also pleasantly surprised by some reactions. “There were neighbors who I felt I barely knew who mowed my lawn while I was pregnant or right after I gave birth, and people who walked my dogs for me for months.”
2. Consider the ways your life will change
It’s important to assess whether you’re willing to give up the fun parts of being child-free, like the freedom to do what you want when you want, before you take the plunge into the single parent life.
Kali says no matter how many times they tell their clients how much their life will alter as a parent (single or not), they don’t get it until they’re in it.
“The level at which having a child is going to fundamentally change your life still comes as a surprise to most people,” says Kali. “I think most people feel like they can have a baby, take some time off, and then pick their life off where they left it.”
If you’re unsure what single parenting might involve, check out Mattes’ Single Mothers By Choice blog, where single parents by choice detail these experiences.
3. Research your options
There are a lot of routes when it comes to having a child as a single parent — sometimes too many and it can feel overwhelming. First and foremost, you should consult your doctor, as everyone’s health and bodies are different, as are the risks associated with different options.
As there are many options and possibilities to consider, here are a few to think about:
If you’re considering adoption, check out the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory which lists contact information for all 50 states and D.C. for people who want to explore foster care and adoption. International adoption is also an option, but it’s become increasingly difficult given the closing of many countries’ international adoption programs.
Fertility tests to consider:
But if you want to have a baby yourself, Kristin Kali has a key recommendation. Though Kali is not a single parent by choice themselves, they are currently single with four grown children and work with single parents by choice on a regular basis. They are a licensed midwife with Maia Midwifery and Fertility in Seattle, with 15 years of experience at Maia. During that time, they have worked with many queer patients and says one-third of their patients have been single parents by choice.
Kali says if you are trying to conceive with donor sperm, you should get tests done like an antral follicle count and an (both of which ). Just know that donor sperm is expensive (sperm can cost about $300 to $600 per vial) and Kali says they don’t want people to spend unnecessarily if they can’t conceive.
To find out more about these tests and how much they will cost, consult your doctor. However, a 2017 study of 750 women between the ages of 30 and 44 found that women with low AMH levels were no less likely to get pregnant than those with normal AHM counts. While the research was limited (it only included women without a history of infertility, for example), it has raised questions about relying on AMH as a predictor of fertility.
Egg donor process:
When it comes to learning about the egg donor process, Kowalski suggests the U.S. nonprofit organization Parents Via Egg Donation. It also partners with egg donor agencies and has detailed information about choosing an egg donor. You can also learn about the on its website, along with , , and considerations. Surrogacy laws vary by state so you should especially when it comes to single parents’ legal rights. In the UK, the law has only very recently .
There are other egg donor organizations you can consult, but do some research (like checking out the professional backgrounds of people who run the organization and what, if anything, reputable media outlets have to say about it) to determine if they’re legitimate.
More infertility solutions:
Mattes suggests the website FertilityIQ, which has paid and free courses on everything from managing your mental health while dealing with fertility issues to in vitro fertilization (IVF), artificial insemination, and fertility for Black patients. Mattes also does consultations with people who are considering or want to be a single mother by choice. Additionally, you can visit the Egg Whisperer website which is run by the fertility doctor Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, suggests Kowalski, if you want to learn more about fertility. Dr. Aimee has a podcast too. Though, if you don’t live in the Bay Area, ask your healthcare provider what fertility specialists they recommend.
IVF is available for single women in the U.S., but it’s often not covered by health insurance, and even with that, it’s quite expensive in terms of co-pays, and medications, says Mattes. Likewise, donor insemination is also not universally covered by insurance, particularly if the woman is single, although it’s much less expensive than IVF, according to Mattes. In the UK, some IVF clinics refuse to offer their services to single women.
Legal considerations and discrimination:
Mattes says the main legal concern regarding pregnancy is to create a will and name a guardian. “If something goes wrong during the pregnancy or birth, the child will have a guardian and not go through the foster care system, even temporarily,” says Mattes.
When it comes to potential discrimination against queer single parents by choice in fertility clinics, Kali says, “I think when people are single and they go into a clinic, unless they’re transgender men, then people can decide whether or not to ‘out’ themselves if it’s a matter of homophobia in a fertility clinic.”
“I think going in as a single person in a way is protective when clinics don’t want to serve LGBTQ folks,” Kali says.
4. Take stock of your finances
You’ll want to weigh the costs of the options available to you, whichever route you take. When Kowalski’s OB-GYN first told her she’d likely need an egg donor to get pregnant, she wasn’t ready to accept it. Kowalski spent nearly $10,000 exploring other infertility options before she went with an egg donation, so she recommends setting a budget.
“Once you enter into that world of fertility, it feels like there’s always that one last thing you can keep trying,” explains Kowalski. “You can get sucked into this hope and you need to temper that [with your budget].”
You’ll likely have to visit a medical provider if you want to get pregnant unless you go the route of intracervical insemination (ICI) — one type of artificial insemination that some people refer to as the “turkey baster” method. Here are a couple of ways artificial insemination is performed (both are done just before ovulation):
This process involves either asking a male friend for their fresh sperm, says Kowalski, or you can use frozen donor sperm from a sperm bank, which will come with a financial cost. Kali cautions people against using sperm from someone they know just so they don’t have to pay for it. While they don’t say people should never go this route, it’s smart to know what can go wrong.
At-home insemination with a known donor may introduce legal considerations that you should both talk about with a lawyer — and these will change depending on what country you’re in. For example, Kali says, it’s possible for a known sperm donor to initially not want to be involved in your child’s life and then change their mind.
LGBTQ people might run into this problem more often. In their experience, it’s common for people in queer communities to recommend donors to each other, Kali added. “As a queer person you might have a bunch of friends who have used a donor that’s somebody that they know, as a straight person you probably don’t have a bunch of friends that have used a donor that you know.”
Kowalski also recognizes the cost to create a family as a single parent can be incredibly expensive. Overall, you should keep in mind the long-term costs of raising a child, not just the cost of fertilization or adoption. In the U.S., egg donation can cost between $16,000 and $45,000 (this isn’t factoring in medical costs or multiple rounds of IVF), while adoption can be anywhere from nothing (for foster adoption) to $44,000, according to the nonprofit Creating a Family. The adoption tax credit can whittle down the cost to zero if you foster adopt.
Yes, it’s a lot, but don’t immediately rule out options. Do your research and see what’s affordable and desirable for you.
5. Find or cultivate a support system
A support system can be invaluable for any parent, but it’s essential for a single parent who doesn’t have a partner to lean on for childcare duties or emotional support.
Start early (think: while you’re pregnant, throughout the adoption process, or while undergoing IVF or similar options), especially if you need to re-cultivate a relationship with the people you reach out to. This also gives you more time to prepare them for what you need.
You can’t be afraid to ask for help and you have to be clear and specific about what you need, says Kowalski. Don’t start off the conversation with something like “Hey, would you babysit sometime?” You likely aren’t looking for an occasional babysitter but rather someone who can be there for your child more consistently.
Instead, you can say, “I’m looking to create a support system for my child. I’m wondering if you could watch my kid [insert number] times a week?” or “I know I’m going to need help, I’m not going to be able to afford to pay for a sitter all the time. What would you be able to commit to?”
There’s also the option of becoming close with another family (single parent by choice or not) who would also benefit from mutual child care support.
This strategy has been crucial for Kowalski, especially during the pandemic. She and a family who lives across the street hang out constantly, look after each other’s kids, and provide in-person social contact that has become difficult to come across throughout the pandemic. Kowalski’s pandemic pod minimizes the risks of contracting COVID-19 to both families and can help maintain each family’s mental health during the pandemic.
If you don’t have the option to form a pandemic pod, you can look into nanny shares, suggests Kowalski. Two or more families share a nanny and each chips in to pay for them. This can cut down on costs for an individual family and provide your child with socialization — the same strategy works even if you’re not a single parent, of course.
You should also consider a support group like what Mattes and Kowalski offer. It gives you access to people who know what you are going through. You can also look on the website Meetup.com to find single parents by choice groups near you or create one yourself, says Kowalski. Kali suggests searching for Facebook groups to find queer single parents by choice.
“Support is probably the most important thing [as a single parent by choice],” says Kowalski. “A lot of single parents by choice find that the people they thought were going to show up, don’t and the people they didn’t expect to show up, do.”
If you’re going to take the leap to be a single parent by choice, do your own research and find out what’s right for you. Remember, this is your choice and your future family — and most importantly, you’ve got this.