Table of Contents
From the Editor
As I write this, the sultry weather in my part of the country betrays no hint that autumn is right around the corner.
But the change in seasons is indeed coming. And for my family, that means a significant transition, from preschool to kindergarten.
My son has attended the same small daycare center for the past three years. Our family makeup was familiar to everyone there. But the change to a new school has prompted me to think about appropriate ways to introduce ourselves to a new set of adults.
Fortunately, almost every situation I’ve experienced as a single mother has happened to someone else, and other members have generously shared on our Forum how they’ve handled similar situations. I’ve included below a letter one of our members wrote explaining her child’s family structure. This will be most relevant to parents of younger children, but it may also be useful for those who are wondering how to be honest about our families without any hint of apology or shame. There are many threads about this on the Forum too, so check them out or start your own.
I hope these thoughts from other mothers are useful to you. Enjoy your Fall!
This mother has an adult daughter now, but on our Forum she shared a copy of the letter she wrote to teachers when her child was in the early grades:
To J’s new teacher:
I just wanted to tell you a couple of things about J and our family right at the start of the school year.
I hope that you will enjoy teaching J. She’s a bright, highly motivated student. (I’m sure all parents say that about their kids.) While J is a self-starter, she definitely benefits from and responds well to a teacher who challenges her.
We are a mom-and-child family; I am a single mother by choice. There is no father involved in J’s life to any degree, nor has there ever been; there was no divorce or death. Though she’s well aware that biologically, she has a father, when asked about her father, she will generally say, “I don’t have a dad,” or “there’s no father in our family.”
I mention this primarily because it is sometimes hard for other children to accept such statements from J. I have found that having an adult—a parent, a teacher, a caregiver—confirm that J is telling the truth is usually all it takes to clarify things for other children or stop any teasing that might be going on.
You need not worry about doing any family-oriented projects or lessons. J participates in discussions about families without any trouble at all. For holidays such as Father’s Day, she makes gifts for her uncle or some other important male in her life, or even for me (as she says, I “do the dad stuff too”), though it helps when the Father’s Day projects don’t come with “Dad” written on them to start with (which happened in Girl Scouts last year, and three of the girls didn’t have anyone to give Dad-labeled gifts to).
I’d be happy to discuss any aspect of J’s schooling with you. You can contact me at home in the evenings at [home phone], during the day at [cell phone], by email at [personal email address], or by sending notes home, as J is very responsible about delivering such things.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Another member also shared a letter that she wrote for her child’s new teacher. It was published on the SMC blog in 2014.
British writer and New York transplant Emma Brockes was in her 30s when her biological clock began ticking — loudly. At age 39 she became a single mother to twin girls, and this year published a book about her journey to parenthood, called An Excellent Choice. Brockes’ aim, in part, was to demystify and destigmatize single motherhood, often portrayed as a poor alternative to traditional, heterosexual pairings. Her book, laced with humor, describes her relationship with her partner L, who also is the single mother to a son; the reactions of her family and friends, and the joy (laced with exhaustion) of pregnancy and parenting.
Brockes kindly answered some questions for Single Mothers by Choice:
One thing that shines through this book is the humor. Was part of your intent to challenge the idea that single motherhood should be accompanied by some sense of loss about not doing things the “regular” way?
YES; this was precisely how I felt— that single motherhood is only ever presented as a contingency plan, because the better version of family life wasn’t available. This drives me insane. I understand it, of course; we are sold from day one on the idea that the nuclear heterosexual family is the standard shape from which all deviation falls short, so that single mothers must at best, explain themselves, at worst, apologize. It is very, very hard to let go of that ideal, and yet it’s just that; a fantasy of what things might have been, when the reality is an unknown variable. There are good and bad marriages, but even a good marriage entails tough challenges, particularly around child-rearing, just as there are rewards unique to single motherhood.
My point is that once you get over the shock of deciding to have kids on your own, you realize that the balance sheet is way more complicated than marriage: good, solo parenting: less good. (Also, on the subject of humor – a lot of this stuff is grimly hilarious; I mean rejecting a sperm donor on the basis that his favorite film is Titanic – I did this and stand by it! – is an absurdity that will never stop making me laugh).
Another point of conversation that often comes up among “thinkers” is how their family and friends will feel about the decision. Was there anything about the reaction of your family and friends that surprised you? Any advice that you would give for thinkers as they navigate explaining this choice to their “village”?
I am still amazed by the extent to which some men in my life took my choice of sperm donor personally. (And actually, it went further than that; some men I know – good liberals all – seemed to feel personally slighted that I was choosing a sperm donor at all. This whole business is clearly a trigger for male anxiety). Anyway, no one gave me a seriously tough time; criticism was couched in friendly terms, although one friend did suggest that I was a eugenicist for the way I had cherry-picked donor attributes. I say this in the book: that the way to push back against these accusations is to point out that a choice can only be called superficial if it is made at the expense of deeper criteria. If there was a metric for measuring a man’s moral worth, or humor, or kindness, I would have factored those things in. (Also: when you start dating a hunchback with a heart of gold come back to me with your accusations of superficiality!)
The other thing I would say is that one of the questions I’ve had from casual inquirers–and it’s a question that annoys me, so may well annoy you–is whether the presence of the donor is discernible in the faces of my children and whether that freaks me out. It’s a question that assumes my own children are strange to me and it is based on a faulty premise. Having a baby who is a composite of you and somebody else is existentially mind-boggling, period; it doesn’t get more weird depending on the provenance of the baby, because the minute you set eyes on your child, all she looks like is herself. It would be like asking the mother of a mixed-race child if it feels alienating to be a different color from her baby, or asking the mother of a child who looks like her husband whether she’d love the baby less in the event of divorce. In my experience, that’s not how motherhood works. You look at your child and you see your child.
In other interviews and in your recent New York Times column (Single at 38? Have That Baby) you’ve spoken of how the DECISION to become a single mother is harder than the actual parenting. In reflection, what was the tipping point for you?
Total age-related panic!! It was as cliched as that; I’m pathetic. I turned 37 and for the first time could see 40 out of the corner of one eye and I desperately didn’t want to be doing all this in my mid-40s, when I knew the cost would sky-rocket and my chances of conceiving plummet. Panic is a very underrated motivational force, in my opinion, particularly around big birthdays. (Although if I ever say I’m going to run a marathon, please step in and stop me).
There are a lot of women who join the Single Mothers by Choice organization who obviously are interested in this path— they’re just really scared. They’re worried about the reaction, about finances, about not being a good parent, anything you can think of. Do you have some thoughts about what women might consider, as they wrestle with those fears?
All I can say is what got me through that hideously long drawn-out period of indecision, which was to consider the alternative. I was trying to regret-proof my future, and I knew as well as I know anything that the only outcome that would kill me down the line was chickening out and doing nothing. I could live with trying and failing to have a baby – although I was very, very frightened of that eventuality – and although I was also terrified of having a baby alone, I sensed it was right for me and I’d cope. What I couldn’t live with was putting off the decision for so long that the decision was effectively made for me; I couldn’t be that passive. In the end, it became a matter of personal pride and some deep-seated conditioning that probably comes from having been raised in the ’80s on repeat viewings of Working Girl – that you have to fight for what you want, and if it doesn’t work out you can walk away with dignity. What you can’t do is just sit there and lament.
ICYMI (In Case You Missed It)
A Periodic Roundup of Articles about Single Motherhood, Families and Parenting:
—Kayla Galloway, an adult daughter of a single mother conceived via donor sperm, speaks of the “rollercoaster of emotions” she has experienced since taking a DNA test and connecting with half-siblings:
“I’ve wondered what I’m supposed to do with all this information and also what it means to be a sister. I know how to be an only child. I’ve been one my entire life. I’m learning what it means to be sister for the first time — at age 24. It’s strange and surreal. It’s also comforting to know there are other people I share something with.”
—CBS This Morning produced a story on 10 donor siblings from 7 different families who meet yearly:
—Bustle Magazine interviews several members of the Single Mothers by Choice organization about the “increasing visibility” of choice motherhood. “It was so empowering to realize that I could make my own dreams come true,” says one mother, Amy Benedum.
—A donor-conceived adult offers a humorous take on her experiences dating men who don’t understand her family background. “I have since learned that it is a shocking amount of trouble to tell men on first dates that I was raised by a single mom. They are always well-intentioned, flirtatious, curious, nice — and blindingly ignorant.”
Ask the Doctor
Harvey Stern, MD PhD
Medical Director, Fairfax Cryobank
I have no family history of genetic disease, so do I need carrier testing before having a child?
Usually people do not know they carry a recessive gene change, unless they have a child or another family member who is affected. However, 80% of couples who have a child with a recessive genetic disorder have no family history of the condition. Once the same biological parents have had a child with a recessive disease, there is a 1 out of 4, or a 25%, chance that with each subsequent pregnancy, another child will be born with the same trait or disorder. This means that there is a 3 out of 4, or a 75%, chance that another child will not have the disease.
We all carry a number of recessive gene changes which do not produce symptoms due to the fact that we have a backup working copy of the gene and therefore the correct gene product is made. In a study performed many years ago, it was estimated that all of us carry 5 or more recessive genes that could lead to a child with a serious medical disorder if we reproduce with a carrier of the same gene. More recent studies looking at data from DNA sequencing suggests that in fact we likely carry many more recessive gene changes than the initial study suggested.
By using a donor to have a child, what are the things I need to consider as far as carrier testing?
Preconception carrier screening for inherited genetic disorders is designed to identify couples at risk for passing on inherited genetic diseases to their children. The major societies representing health professionals in reproductive medicine (the American Society for Reproductive Medicine [ASRM], the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics [ACMG], and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG]) have recognized the importance of carrier screening in preconception and prenatal care. This process of genetic carrier screening is also important for the thousands of couples each year that will need to use donor sperm or donor eggs (donor gametes) to build their families. Like all prospective parents, those who rely on donor gametes want to conceive healthy children. The donor selection process gives these parents the opportunity to minimize risk of recessive disease inheritance by avoiding donors who carry genetic changes that are incompatible with the reproducing parent.
The Medical Director of Fairfax Cryobank is Harvey J. Stern, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Stern joined the Genetics & IVF Institute in 1995 (the parent company of Fairfax Cryobank) and became the Medical Director of Fairfax Cryobank in 1999. He is also the Medical Director of the Institute’s Fetal Diagnostic Center and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) program. He is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Medical Genetics with subspecialty certification in clinical, biochemical and molecular genetics. Dr. Stern received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology from Columbia University and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Human Genetics from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He attended medical school at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. After a medical residency in pediatrics at Children’s National Medical Center, he completed fellowship training in medical genetics at UCLA. Dr. Stern personally reviews the application, medical and family histories as well as the laboratory testing for each donor.
What's the Buzz?
We’d like to wish a warm welcome and express our thanks to our newest SMC Contact Persons:
Angela Mann- Jacksonville, FL firstname.lastname@example.org
Robyn Snyder- Boston, MA email@example.com
Lindy Johnson- Boise, ID firstname.lastname@example.org
Susana Sanchez- Kansas City, KS email@example.com
Carma Wallace- Princeville (Kauai), HI firstname.lastname@example.org
Abby Feldman- Sante Fe, NM email@example.com
Does your area need a Contact Person (CP)? Might you want to be one? Do you have any questions about being a CP? Just let us know and we’ll be glad to discuss it with you. Contact Jane at our office: firstname.lastname@example.org
Free Lifetime Membership For Long-term Members
Free Lifetime Memberships
I am happy to announce a new policy for long-term SMC members! We are giving our long-term (5 years or more) members a “Thank You” gift of a Lifetime Membership in SMC as a token of appreciation for your ongoing support over the many years of membership. Lifetime Membership will give you continuing access to the SMC Forum and our quarterly Newsletter.
Going forward, if finances permit, this gift will be given to everyone who hits the five-year point in their membership. We will notify you when you are eligible for this Lifetime Membership status.
Some members have asked how they can thank us by making a contribution to SMC. There is no requirement or expectation that you do so, but if you would like to give us a gift, you can make a donation at any time on almost any of the pages on our website, except the home page. Also, you might want to make SMC your designated charity on Amazon Smile, which gives us a percentage of your purchases at no cost to you. To do that, go to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/11-2664913 But donations are completely optional – there’s no need to do anything other than to enjoy your membership!
Lastly, if you are in touch with someone who has left SMC, please let them know that if they were a member for five years or more, and they’d like to return, this offer applies to them too. Spread the word!
Thank you again for your continuing participation, and let me know if you have any questions.
SMC- Fertility IQ
Have you heard about FertilityIQ? I am very excited to share this great resource. FertilityIQ is a platform where verified fertility patients anonymously assess their fertility doctor, nurse, clinic, billing department and more. The data is free and really helps in choosing (or avoiding) a doctor or clinic.
SMC has an opportunity to both contribute to Fertility IQ and to benefit SMC. Thinkers and tryers can look up other women’s experiences with clinics and doctors. Those who are pregnant and already moms can help those just starting out by providing information about their experiences with fertility doctors.
We would appreciate your filling out a survey about your experiences with fertility doctors. FertilityIQ will make a donation to SMC for everyone referred by us who assesses their fertility doctor on their site!
To ensure that SMC gets credit for your survey, just type in “SMC” in answer to the question at the end that asks, “did someone suggest you assess your doctor?” (You can also forward this to anyone who may be interested in doing a survey. As long as they put “SMC” as the answer to that question, we will get a donation.)
Please be as detailed as possible so that others may benefit from your experience.
Thanks to all in advance for filling out the surveys and for spreading the word about this!
P.S. FertilityIQ is giving away a fertility grant to someone who’s reviewed their doctor on FertilityIQ & we’re hoping it helps you or someone you love!
They’re randomly (no judging, no hoopla) selecting 1 person’s review and will grant the author 1 free treatment cycle (up to $10,000) or the ability to gift it to a friend who could use the help. Drawing will include all reviews submitted by Oct. 12.
Crazy Things Our Kids Say!
At a get-together with church friends, one of the dads says to a 3-year old little boy: “O, you’re always sooo cheerful, did someone sprinkle you with happy spray?”
O: “No, that was bug spray.”
Justine: “I have a little bit of poop on me.” [Points to a spot on her leg.]
Me: “That’s not poop, that’s a freckle!”
I was making dinner in the kitchen and Duncan yelled, “hey mom, if you put a microwave inside a microwave and turned the outside one on, which one would explode first?” Thank goodness I only have one microwave!
Anna gave me a random page she had scribbled on and said, “You must take this to your work. You must keep it forever. I will come see it. Promise me or else you get timeout.”
As I dropped Anna off at school one day, the teacher asked her how she and her mommy were doing today. Another kid said, “That’s not a mommy, that’s a sister.” (I was ready to adopt this kid.) Anna took offense, though, because as I was leaving I heard her yelling, “LEAVE MY MOMMY ‘LONE! HER NOT A BABY, HER ARE A GROWN UP!”
Cailyn: Momma, song please?
Me: Ok, what song do you want me to sing?
C: The potty song!
M: Um, I don’t think I know that one. Can you sing a little bit?
C: Tinkle tinkle little star….
Real conversation. No idea how she made that connection.
For more cute quotes like these, check out the thread on our forum HERE!