Who Knew What Would Happen?

As a proud Single Mother by Choice (SMC) of amazing seven-year-old twin girls it’s sometimes hard for me to remember the feelings of fear and failure I had when I embarked on this journey. In fact, like most SMCs I meet, I am so happy with my kids, so clear that single parenting (though hard) comes with distinct benefits, that I sometimes wonder if the world has changed to the point where the feelings I had have become anachronistic. But I made a documentary on the topic, and women thinking about becoming SMCs sometimes contact me to ask questions or just to talk and when they do I see my embarrassment and terror all over again.

Obviously women calling for support are a select group. I know women who say they didn’t sweat the decision. But what I see when I get these calls are smart, capable, relatively financially stable women doing important work who fear disappointing parents, fear not giving a child a father, fear whether they can really handle it, fear that they will never have sex or a romantic relationship again, and mourn the loss of a life they’d scripted long ago. Some of it is just apprehension about parenting itself, but the volume is just much louder. And I can’t help but think that, despite all the media on it, an image of just how powerful this choice can be hasn’t fully reached the mainstream.

I have two playful, smart, quirky kids, an outrageously supportive family and an old boyfriend, “Uncle Ian”, who’s become a huge part of my kids’ lives. But I have something else, something that I don’t think I could have predicted, something that I know many other SMCs have that I think is worth noting: a heightened sense of personal freedom, a confidence that I can do what’s right, both for me and my family. I’m different now and not just because I’m a mother. I’m different because I’m a single mother—by choice — and this journey has changed me.

I gave a first pass of this to my friend L and she said, “But Deirdre, is it really about becoming a single mother? You’re just brave; you’ve always lived out of the box.” But what’s different now is that I no longer hold out for refuge in a “normal life.” Yes, I used to make bold choices, but I was always thinking it’ll be easier when I get married or get a 9-5 job. It’s not that my predilections are so different now, but that my choices are less fraught, filled with more joy. I no longer want it to be different both because I went out on a limb to do something irrevocable, and because I know there is nothing second-rate about our family.

When I interviewed psychotherapist and SMC Founder Jane Mattes, a couple of years ago, she said, “To have a healthy SMC family you have to acknowledge that you are an alternative family — because that’s what you are.” For me, it took making the choice, a pregnancy in which I dated a man, followed by our break up and the first year of my kids’ life before I could wrap my head around that notion. Luckily it came before they started asking questions. When they did, I’d worked through my own baggage enough to present our family as no more complicated than a woman who wanted children and went to a sperm bank to make that possible. Passersby on the street seeing L and M with their “uncle” always assume he’s their father. But my children unselfconsciously correct them, uncomfortable not with our family configuration, but with their situation being misread.

It used to be hard for me to tell strangers, but that embarrassment has been replaced by a powerful sense of energy and pride. And this “coming out” has freed me to live the life I really want – on many levels. I didn’t have a relationship the first three years of my children’s life. There was no time and the few dates with men I met on match.com were fiascos. But when I met a woman at a party and there was a shared attraction, I suddenly felt totally different about my sexuality than ever before. For years I’d had relationships with women, but always returned to men and that sense of normality. But literally in a moment, I knew I felt different. After choosing to become a single mother, after going to birthing classes as the only single woman, after being asked repeatedly by my fertility clinic where my husband was – despite having begged for them to just put a big god damn S on my files – being with a woman no longer felt risque. Now granted the world is a hell of a lot more hospitable to lesbians and lesbian parents than it was twenty years ago when I had my first relationship with a woman. But what I couldn’t embrace even a couple of years before, suddenly felt both exciting and totally natural, and I saw how much making this choice has been transformative for me.

And this feeling of comfort, this trust in my own instincts has pervaded every area of my life. Two years ago when I saw that my video production business was becoming a casualty of the recession, that teaching full-time on the college level was no longer possible without an MFA, and that the documentary world was becoming a brave new world of web 3.0, I decided to go back to graduate school in Integrated Media Arts. Did it feel weird and scary to go back to graduate school at 49 after being out of school for 25 years and having taught as an adjunct for 15? Yes and I knew it would be. It felt like jumping off a cliff into icy water all over again. The difference is I didn’t stress the decision. I jumped fast because making a difficult change, not caring what anyone else thinks, has become a lot easier. Now, instead of feeling like the bus is leaving without me, I feel an incredible sense of being part of something cutting edge and new.

I met a woman recently who, like many people who get divorced and end up as single parents, deeply resented parenting alone. Breakups are ridiculously painful and I can’t imagine what a punch in the stomach it is to lose a long-term partner when you have a small child. But five years into doing it solo, her perspective was all about loss — despite financial security and having so wanted her child. And I was reminded again that it isn’t just having children alone that is empowering. It’s the embracing doing it alone (whether at the beginning or somewhere along the trip) that can be life changing. Perhaps society will eventually evolve to the point where being a single parent is seen by everyone as just a choice and not a departure. But for now I just wanted to acknowledge that making the choice in and of itself can be a transformative experience — whether you wind up having children biologically, through adoption or even in the case of one friend of mine – not having children at all.

I’m doing auditions for a new educational drama and interactive website, have to read two books for class, and am about to run pick up my daughter at the bus. It’s a hectic life, but it’s rich and it’s mine. Women owning their desire, controlling their destiny (reproductive and otherwise) has rarely been supported throughout history. That we can do it now is something I think is worth celebrating.

Deirdre Fishel
To learn more about the film go to spermdonorx.com


14 thoughts on “Who Knew What Would Happen?”

  1. Will get the film and look forward to it. I have just turned 43 and have been working very hard to raise the finances for fertility treatment (IVF with Donor Egg and Sperm). It took me years to find the courage and self-determination just to begin to start this journey and it is very early days and many hurdles and huge challenges ahead, so I am glad to have found this site and you and your film. I will stay in touch. All the best, Margo

  2. I have re-read this blog several times. I have decided to become a single mother and am planning to start treatment soon. As the time gets closer, the fear and apprehension gets stronger. Thanks for this article and for the comments that affirm what I am feeling is normal.

  3. YES! Successfully becoming a single mother by choice has been emotionally freeing. And yes, I embrace having an alternative family. We are 3x the alternative. Single mom, older mom (I was 46 when my daughter was born), and donor embryo family. I am proud of my choices and hope my daughter (now 16 mos) will be, too. Almost everyone I talk to about our family is welcoming and accepting, but I know not everyone will be. Recently, when on my way home with my daughter in the stroller, I struck up a conversation with a couple of moms and kids who had been visiting someone in the apt building next to mine. I was chatting with a 4 yr old girl, and in response to something she said about her mom and dad, I said, “We’re a mom and baby family.” The mom quickly ushered her child away, saying with a little grimace that they’d better go before she asked a lot of questions. It made me sad that the mom didn’t seem to think it would be okay to explain that there are different kinds of families. Hopefully, these kinds of experiences will be the exception.

  4. Thank you for helping me to realize what I couldn’t really put into words. As a soon to be 40 year old, I ponder the decision to become a single mother every day to make sure it is something that I believe in is and not just because I am out of time soon. Ever since I can remember, I wanted a big family with a husband whom I fell in love with. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Through the past 5 years, I have come to realize that I want to be a mom with all my heart and that is something that I can’t let pass me by. The one thing I can’t do is settle for a man just because I want a child. This leaves me here today in the thinking stage. As I become comfortable and passionate for this choice, I realize that it will be an alternative family. Can I handle this? I truly believe that this alternative family will be my family. How can that be anything but amazing? Whether it be alternative, or different it is still a family that will be complete emotionally and I thank you for that understanding. Best of luck!

    1. I can relate to your situation. I too feel the need to me be a mom. I think that I have so much more of me to pass on. At the same time, I struggle with the idea of settling with a man just to conceive. I would love to have my husband,… yes, but at this stage I am not sure if the person I am speaking with (long distance) is the one; nor do I think my friend’s offer to have a baby is necessarily a viable or good choice; he is married. However, since I have always wanted a child, I am now considering the option of adoption. This is not about anybody else, but about how I think I can fulfill my purpose. I would love to care for some little person, to have him or her call me mommy and needs me as much I I need them. As I sit here this ” mother’s day” and I start researching and I am realizing that my situation in not necessarily unique. There are women out there and men too who would love to become parents. Thank God , there is a solution, adoption being the one I will choose.

      Thank you Dierdre for that blog post.

  5. This resonated so deeply with me … “But Deirdre, is it really about becoming a single mother? You’re just brave; you’ve always lived out of the box.” But what’s different now is that I no longer hold out for refuge in a “normal life.”

    This is exactly how I feel. And it feels wonderful to let go of worn out illusions of “normal.” Currently pregnant, I feel free for the first time since my bio clock went “ding” 11 years ago.

  6. Something that strikes me too is that, when single motherhood is a choice, so is partnered motherhood. And any choice we consciously make must be empowering. It means we no longer have to stay in relationships that don’t serve us or our families or we can stay in relationships if they work for us. It means we can now be financially and emotionally independent if we choose or to choose interdependence. It means we now take responsibility for our own lives, rather than allowing some other person’s views (whether out-dated or the latest thinking) to govern what we do.

  7. Thanks for writing this!! Your point about how “freeing” this choice is really hit the mark with me. After a little reasearch at age 35, I knew this was the path for me. Prior, I was becoming a dark, unhappy person feeling like I was trapped into a life I didn’t necessarily want becasue I wasn’t willing to settle. I remember thinking that life couldn’t be that black-and-white… settle for the next guy who came along to have a kid or suck it up and be single and childless. But when I decided to become an SMC, it was like the clouds have parted. Even through the long and difficult TTC process, I just had to remember how “right” it felt at my very core, even as I was second guessing myself. Now that I am pregnant (7 months along) I am thrilled. I have been VERY lucky and have had nothing but support from everyone around me. (I was shocked at how many people wanted to give me a baby shower…) But I still have my moments of panic… How will I handle the “daddy question”? Will I handle it well or will I scar my child for life? (I am SURE I will do something else in her lifetime to scar her 🙂 … I just don’t want it to be that.)
    BUt this is a very, long and rambling way to say thank you for writing such a eloquent post. It is nice to hear from the moms of older kids to know the road isn’t as rocky as we worry about.

  8. This post resonated so much with me. The most eye opening was that I had not come to terms with the fact that I did have an alternative family. Now, looking at it from that perspective frees me to embrace my choice, and my althernative family. Thank you.

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