Editor’s note – Last year, Szuchman reached out to the Single Mothers by Choice organization requesting to speak with moms in the group for a story regarding the debate over “opting-out.” Following is her article from “Women in the World” on The Daily Beast.
At 35, Talia Braude left her job at a high-end architecture firm in Manhattan to be her own boss.
At 38, she bought a vial of sperm, via the California Cryobank, from a guy with blue eyes who is an avowed atheist.
At 39, she became a single mom.
Talia and her baby boy, now 10 weeks old, live in a fourth-floor walkup with a cat named Jini, in a Brooklyn brownstone she renovated with her business partner. As her own boss, she doesn’t exactly get paid maternity leave, so she went back to work pretty quickly, her sister helping out with the baby before a part-time sitter was hired. In a few weeks, the baby will go to day care.
If this isn’t the life Talia dreamed of back when she was 23, dating men she thought she might one day settle down with, then it’s a pretty f**king good alternative.
“It’s been great,” she told me recently over dinner. “My social life is better than ever. The baby sleeps, he never cries, I’m enjoying working, I’m enjoying everything more.”
We were at a restaurant in Park Slope, and Talia had walked there from her house in Bed-Stuy, pushing baby Rian in a stroller—that’s a 4.6-mile walk, if you’re curious. We ate, we drank wine, and at the end of the night, she hopped on a subway home, carrying Rian and about 15 pounds of gear.
I’ve known Talia for more than a decade, and I always considered her a hard worker (the woman not only has her own business, she makes her own clothes and churns her own butter). But it wasn’t until she told me she was having a baby by herself did it occur to me that “hard worker” doesn’t quite cut it. Unlike the much-maligned, married moms of the “opt-out generation,” Talia is what you might call an extreme opt-inner.
She can’t quit her job to stay home with Rian; there’s no one else around to pay the mortgage. She can’t go part time, either—at least not until he’s out of college. And let’s say she wanted to opt-out of parenting instead, just a little bit, just enough to focus on her career. Then who would pick Rian up from day care, or take him to the doctor when he wakes up with a 105-degree fever?
The amazing thing is that Talia’s not alone—in fact, there appear to be more Talias in this country every year. While birth rates for unmarried women age 34 and younger have fallen since 2007, they have actually been rising among women 35 and older. These are women who are more likely to be independent, financially stable, and making an active choice to raise children by themselves.
Jane Mattes started Single Mothers by Choice (SMC) in her living room 32 years ago. Today, the group has chapters in roughly 35 cities and a database of 30,000 women who have been or are now members. Many are well off. According to a 2009 survey, 22.4 percent of SMCs, as members call themselves, earn between $100,000 and $149,999, and another 16.2 percent earn more than $150,000.
“I had an accidental pregnancy, whereas 90 percent of our membership now is using donor sperm,” says Mattes, a psychotherapist and single mother of a 32-year-old. “At the beginning it was more like 60 to 70 percent. Others were accidentally conceiving. Over the years, it’s become more and more purposeful.”
That sense of purpose is reflected in the group’s philosophy, which has its own section on the website:
The word “choice” in our title has two implications: we have made a serious and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of raising a child by ourselves, and we have chosen not to bring a child into a relationship that is not a satisfactory one.
“The beauty of being an SMC is we don’t have to be beholden to anyone else’s decision making about our lives. Whether they’re right or wrong. If we make mistakes, they’re ours to make,” said Jennifer Whitney, a 41-year-old New Jersey single mother I interviewed for this story. Whitney has a 6-month-old, and is a devoted follower of Suze Orman, whom she credits with making her a better saver (“I have a solid eight-month emergency plan in place,” she told me). “The flipside,” said Whitney, “is that you don’t have that extra support and you don’t have the luxury of a decision to stay at home and be with your kid even if you want to.”
Not that Whitney wants to opt out. She works from home, and her son goes to day care down the street. “In my 30s, a lot of friends were getting married and starting families, and some wouldn’t go back to work, and I would look at them and say, ‘How do you give up the freedom of having income to match your husband’s?’ Maybe it’s a control issue. I would have a hard time being fully dependent on someone else even if I were doing all the housekeeping.”
Read the full piece at The Daily Beast here.