Another Kind of Choice

I was a married woman in a tumultuous situation. And I chose to have a baby.

I was married when both my kids were born, but in many ways I feel a kinship with those who identify as single moms by choice.

My daughter, now 4, was born to two parents in a reasonably happy marriage with a bright future ahead. But my son, 2, was conceived just a couple months after his father suffered a terrible accident that resulted in a brain injury. By all accounts the recovery was a miraculous one – despite signs of major damage my husband was walking and talking normally afterwards. But the anger, personality changes and lost cognitive skills were apparent immediately. I struggled bitterly to connect with the man I’d known and loved for 7 years. Everything I read told me that his future would certainly be troubled, and our marriage more than likely to fail.

I was in denial. His strong, defiant personality and initial recovery were so remarkable that I used them to convince myself our future would buck those prognoses. And so when I made love to him that time, that time when I knew it was not a good time of the month, and there was no birth control, I made a choice. I made a choice to believe that he would get better and we would continue on with our life plans – plans that included another baby. I chose not to go to the drugstore for the morning-after pill. I made a choice, and that choice was to do nothing.

I am an educated white woman living in the western world. I’ve been educated about conception and have knowledge about my own cycle. I have the financial resources that afford me birth control and live in a culture that give me access to abortions. And yet, that sunny morning when my family’s entire life was clearly upturned, I simply rolled over, disappointed that those few moments our bodies were together did not bring my husband back to me. Forty weeks later I had a beautiful, healthy son. Lucas’s sweetness and generosity were apparent from the moment we met.

But since his conception, my marriage unraveled, my husband – once a successful and accomplished video journalist – destabilized and the emotional and financial responsibility for my children fell upon me. By all accounts my kids and I are thriving. As their dad struggles to piece together a new life for himself that accommodates his injury, they have a loving and devoted dad – even if it is a man who is different than the one with whom I conceived our daughter.

I often worry that my children will call me selfish or stupid when they realize the whole story of our family. I know that many single mothers by choice face similar criticism. But what is really to be a single mother by choice? What if you chose to have a baby with a guy who is a substance abuser, has a history of philandering or is just generally a self-absorbed jerk? What about comparing a single mother by choice that has a rich extended family of relatives and friends, with that of a married couple with few outside emotional resources? How about consciously brining a child into poverty, or wartime or to a disintegrating marriage?

I don’t often dwell on the circumstances in which my son was conceived. I delight in that healthy, funny and eternally happy boy every day – and I know that his dad does, too. But a tiny part of me also wonders and worries about how Lucas will feel as he puts together the pieces of his history. And I wonder and worry if he will be as forgiving of me as I try to be of myself.

Emma Johnson and her two preschoolers live in Astoria, New York where she is a freelance business writer and blogs at

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13 thoughts on “Another Kind of Choice”

  1. its painful to read this woman’s article and also, her blog–I came upon it by accident after doing an Internet search.

    Would be interesting to hear from her husband, who she seemingly abandoned after his accident—I know there are two sides to every story–Ms. Johnson sounds terribly self-absorbed and its perplexing to understand how she identifies herself as a single mom since her husband shares custody with her.

  2. Utilizing the phrase “making love” when a wife whose husband suffered a traumatic brain injury attempts to morally justify rendering her partner, whom she promised to love in sickness and in health, as a sperm donor, is nothing short of selfish and disgusting.

    This is emphatically not motherhood, single or otherwise.

    A mother must become such as choice, not circumstance. “Making love” in this case was simple masturbation. What happened to the regard spouses should hold for each other? I have no spouse nor any children. I also do not have a mother, as she died young and my father raised me. I am still young and can find a compatible man to marry and raise a family with. I hope I approach marriage and parenthood without the contempt this woman holds.

  3. I see the difference but I also see the similarities. I am a SMC who is trying to get pregnant and going through all the planning and expenses that everyone is talking about. However, I still really enjoyed reading this blog and I found similarities, not only because she is also a Mom, but because she is a single Mom. Yes, she has a co-parent, so her experience is different, but she is still a single Mom in the day to day experience of raising kids on her own. But even among SMC, some of us can afford nannies, some of us have supportive families, some of us don’t. We are all unique in our situations. Even though she is not technically a SMC, I found it useful to hear her perspective.

  4. As an actual single mother by choice I am quite unhappy of the inclusion of this article. I visit this website for support and comradery with those that are actual choice moms. Our website makes it very clear what that entails and Emma’s question of “But what is really to be a single mother by choice?” shows her ignorance, or worse dismissal, of the struggles we have gone thru. Divorce leaving a mother “single” but children with a father (and often monetary support) is NOT AT ALL like what choice moms have gone thru and deal with every day. Write to a divorce support site but please do not sully our blog again with this sort of insulting and, quite frankly, whiny post. I am not touched, I am angry and upset that yet again I am faced with defending and explaining choice moms, this time in the last place I should ever have to…

  5. Sooooo many mothers are in wobbly marriages and still have children, then dump the husband they do not love and file for child support. Very few children in marriages are conceived in true love and stability and a large number will go through divorces, divorce courts, parental arguments,toing and froing from one angry parent to another. You may feel guilty of knowingly bringing your children into all that, but then it is far from being uncommon. As for us SMC,we have the true stability, consistency, peace that most married parents can only dream of. It is not how your conceived your children that may one day make him angry with you, but if you are negative and weak, that will…Whatever happened, you wanted two children, by the same dad, got it,life is unpredictable, just get on with it!

  6. Yes, we do all make some choice to be a mom – but the decision to be a mom with a partner – and to know that ultimately you have someone to coparent your children, is much different than the decision of an SMC.

    I When you conceived your child, you went into it as a married person, having difficulties with in that marriage definitely, but hoping that the relationship was going to correct itself and workout, with the intent of coparenting. Most SMCs go through years of agonizing to decide if this is right for them and accept that at least at the beginning they will be a single parent and knowing that all of the burden and challenges of parenting will fall on them alone. Even now, your children have a father who is coparenting with you. That is not the same. You are a divorced, coparenting mother; not an SMC.

  7. Hi Emma,

    I do agree that all mothers are “really mothers by some choice”, but this site is about mothers who choose to be single mothers by choice. I too, like the posters above, are confused by the relevance of this blog post. Your situation, whilst very touching, really should not be associated with SMC.
    As the posters above have mentioned, a single mother by choice is a whole different kettle of fish. Just to begin with, the simplicity in which you were able to get pregnant depicts a glaring contrast to the months/years of agonizing up-lead a prospective SMC must face. Please, i mean no offence, however as a prospective SMC i find myself quiet defensive of the term as the process to which i am leading up to this life choice is vastly different and far more in-depth than your own journey.
    The title implied another type of choice. I thought this would be another kind of choice for a SMC.

  8. While I do give credit to this woman’s decision & feel compassion towards her circumstances, I am confused as to why this was posted on the SMC blog. I, also, do not feel she is or should be considered a SMC. Even on this website it states:

    “About half of our members are women who became single mothers AFTER their divorce. Since we define an SMC as a single woman who CHOSE to have or adopt a child while single, if you are divorced and have had or adopted a child AFTER the divorce, or are considering having an additional child as a single mother, you would be welcome to join SMC. (There are many other groups for divorced moms that can offer better support than we can on typical divorce issues, such as child support and visitation, as we are not familiar with these kinds of issues.)”

    I just really don’t relate to her issues & decisions she faced as a part of my journey or a journey of someone as a SMC. My definition she is co-parenting with her husband and both of her children are by her husband. So therefore not a SMC.

    Again, nothing against her story or situation. I just don’t think it applies here.

    1. We are not suggesting, nor is she suggesting that she is an SMC. It is just an interesting post on a choice she made, and contrasts very clearly with the SMC choice.

    2. What Jane said – I don’t pretend to be a SMC, but I do want to raise the question: aren’t ALL mothers really mothers by some choice, particularly in the West where we have so much control over our bodies and personal lives.

      1. But by saying you feel a “kinship” and publishing your story on this site, you insinuate that your situation and that of SMCs are comparable. Yes, most mothers do make some sort of choice that results in them becoming mothers. But the deliberate, unconventional choice to become a mother as a single person is VERY different than any choice made within a couple relationship which conforms to societal expectations. That’s the reason Single Mothers by Choice was started. If we all were kin simply because we chose to be mothers, SMCs would not feel the need for the support and friendship of other SMCs. As I’ve said, I find your story touching but I don’t see it comparable to mine in any way.

    3. I have to agree, she is a single mother by circumstance. Had her husband not had his accident, she would likely still be married. Both her children were born to a couple in a marriage, even if that marriage was on the rocks. The only common demoninator here is that we are all mothers. However, the SMC route comes after some long hard soul searching, in in many cases at great expense. In fact the pregnancies by in large from the SMC group are planned. To me that is a very big distinction.

  9. Interesting and touching story. However, as one who for years thought of every in and out of single motherhood, struggled with every emotion, fought to weigh my own desires against society’s expectations and mandates, and planned, planned, planned, I don’t see your rather quick “choice” as the same as the one I gave blood, sweat, and tears in order to make. In view of this article, it concerns me that single mothers by choice might be grouped into a stereotype of people who made one quick decision, never REALLY planned, and embarked on motherhood with the hope that we would NOT be single mothers. I am part of a group that I consider TRUE SMCs: we didn’t expect ever to co-parent, went into motherhood as ready as possible to do it without a partner, and we put into place as much of a supportive community as possible in order to compensate for not having a partner for ourselves or second parent for our children. I am not concerned about explaining the beginnings of my child’s life to her because they were intentional, happy, and very supported. She is loved by a whole community who we call family. There is no sadness or disappointment in it. IMO, the difference between single mothers by choice and single mothers by circumstance is that SMCs go in with eyes wide open and a happy heart. Single mothers by circumstance usually do not. They often have heavy hearts and I feel sorry for their pain. The two kinds of single mothers, however, are, in their very core, quite different.

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