Table of Contents
From the Editor
I love the changing seasons and, if I had to pick one, fall would be my favorite. The cooler air, the changing colors, and the flavors of the season all enhance the senses. With fall comes my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. And this year I’m grateful for the SMCs who have shown me how to be a better mother – you’ll find some of them here. If you have an article idea you would like to share or write, please send me an email at email@example.com
No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt In Forever—and Aren’t Complaining
By Paula Szuchman
Editor’s note – In August, Szuchman reached out to the Single Mothers by Choice group 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?
While birth rates for unmarried women age 34 and younger have fallen since 2007, they have actually been rising among women 35 and older.
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 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.
Ask Ms. Essie
Editor’s Note: If you’re a long-time reader of the SMC newsletter, you might remember the “Ask Ms. Essie” column. It’s back by popular demand with a great question from the Forum regarding the thinking stage.
I’m having a hard time trying to think through everything. I don’t know if someone else has posted this, but I wish there was some sort of multiple choice test to tell me if I’m ready for motherhood. I daydream about what my children may look like and will they have my personality, I dream about rocking them to sleep in my arms, helping them homework, etc. On some days I know I act as dumb as a teenager, even though I’ll be 32 in June … At what point do you feel like an adult? And when you get to that mature point, are you then ready to become a mother? Sorry, too many thoughts in my head and not enough action. Thanks for listening to my ramblings.
Sometimes I still feel like a dumb teenager, too. And I’m going to be 52 this month! When I was 32 I was definitely not ready to be someone’s mother. But then right before I turned 40, I was. I don’t know exactly what changed; some of the time I still don’t feel like an adult, but that was a separate issue from whether I was ready to be a mother.
I will tell you, all those things you’re dreaming about have happened for me, and they’re great, way more awesome than I could have ever imagined beforehand.
But there’s a lot of heartache and worry and just plain awful days, too. Being a mom is not for the fainthearted to be sure. I am pretty sure I recognized this, deep down in my guts, and decided to go ahead with the plan anyway. So I guess that’s when I knew I was ready. It was part joyous swan dive into the pool, and part gritting my teeth and bracing for the belly flop.
I think the biggest indicator for me was when I got to the point where I couldn’t stop thinking about adoption. I tried to embrace child freedom, or at least put my plans on hold for a few years (the “biological clock” is less of an issue in adoption), but every time I thought I was good with waiting, I’d read or hear something about adoption and I’d be right back to obsessing over it (researching agencies, checking waiting child photolists, researching the local school system and child care options, etc).
Now that I’m halfway through my home study, I still have times where I look around my apartment and think “Am I really ready for this?” But then I think that most parents are sort of learning as they go in the beginning, and I know I can adjust my lifestyle as needed.
Have you had a chance to meet any SMCs in person? For me that was a turning point because it showed me that SMCs are really just regular women — with special qualities, of course! — but that it doesn’t require anything superhuman.
This is 100% how I feel right now. I’m an obsessive planner, but very indecisive. The last few months I’ve been indecisive about how to get to motherhood, yet still ready to get there.
I can’t remember where I read it or who suggested it, but you should make a list of everything you have wanted to do before having children. It will give you a good idea of if you are ready now or if there are some things you need to do first.
I think it’s a bit of a truism that no one is ever completely ready to be a parent. There are always more things you could do first, more trips you could take, more money you could save, etc. But at some point you take the next step and make it work from there.
I think it’s a bit of a truism that no one is ever completely ready to be a parent.
As for me, I think I would have been ready to be a mom much earlier than I did, but I wasn’t ready to be an SMC. I had to feel like I had legitimately tried for my Plan A, and not have regrets about that. And I don’t – I was ready to do it alone, that was the more concrete decision, than I was overall at being a mom. There are days when it’s still scary, because there are always uncharted waters ahead, and still times where even at age 51, I’m not sure I’m enough of a grown-up to handle it all. But you do, because there isn’t really any choice
I had a friend who was secretly thinking/trying, who indirectly asked me if I wanted a kid, I said yes. Then she asked when I want one. And I immediately blurted out “oh, not now!!!” So that’s how I knew it wasn’t then — even though I always wanted to be a mom, and could have done it earlier.
Then a few years later I suddenly did feel like yes, I did want it now, I could picture myself doing the endless practical things. When people said things like “but you’ll never have any free time,” my gut feel was “duh, yes I know and so what? I’ve had so much free time already.” I also felt like I was endlessly trying to plan fun activities or going out, or projects like moving or changing jobs or houses, volunteer work. People around me were getting married or having kids and it was hard to find people to do things with, and it felt like I was going into a new phase where it was time to stop thinking of only myself. And it felt right. I still started fairly early, yet wished I had started earlier. At that time I felt like I had all the time in the world.
I do sometimes feel like I imagined people at my age being older and more stately or mature, but I guess we still stay who we are. I think if you can picture acting mature, paying the bills, focusing on the child’s needs even when they are being annoying, then you’ll be fine.
It also helps to picture looking back; will you regret not having a kid, or not starting earlier; will you wish you had spent more time on your job or single activities, etc.
For me I knew the time had come when I turned 30. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, so it was never a question of if, just when. I started researching and looking for a donor when I was 28 and my biological clock was ticking; after turning 30 my clock started alarming, so I began moving forward with my plan! It wasn’t only my biological clock that pushed me on, but everything in my life seemed to be at a great place, i.e. almost finished renovating my house, have a reliable vehicle, good job (eight years and counting), plenty of accrued leave, etc.
As for feeling ready, every parent I’ve spoken to this about consistently tells me that no matter how much planning you do, you’ll probably never feel totally ready. I’ve realized and come to terms with the fact that the “perfect” time will not happen. I see women with children everyday, they make it work and even enjoy it! Ultimately the fear of not parenting vastly outweighed any fears of not being ready.
I work at a high school and am surrounded by teenagers all day. I definitely feel at times I am on their same maturity level. I have fun hanging out and doing activities with my students. But I also watch them and realize I have no desire to dress like them, date like them, backstab my friends like them, or giggle constantly like them.
The fact that you are worried about it shows you are mature.
On the same note I wonder if I’m mature enough for a child. I don’t always pay my cable bill on time (I’m getting rid of it soon, maybe). I sometimes forget to do my laundry. And sometimes I survive on mac and cheese at the end of the month waiting for the next payday.
But I also know that my heart feels like something is missing. I’m tired of having loads of free time with nothing to do. And I’m dying to smother a beautiful bundle of joy with endless kisses. (Okay, not really smother)
I know that when another person is relying on me, the maturity that is needed is there. Field trips to big cities over a few days with teenagers have assured me that I might occasionally have fun like a teenager, but I am not, in fact, a teenager. I’m ready to be a mom and I know I will be able to handle it. If it’s something you have thought about for a long time then you probably have that maturity in you and will be fine. The fact that you are worried about it shows you are mature.
For me, I knew I was as ready as I could be after I had finished two years of intensive therapy in my early 30s. I started therapy because I wanted a child, but felt like maybe I had some things that should get checked out first, a few issues to look into so that I could be the strongest possible parent. My image was of taking the car (aka my brain and spirit) to a mechanic to get a look under the hood before a long road trip. Things seemed pretty great in my life. There was no crisis or drama, just a longing to know that I was really whole so that I could be strong for a baby. That’s when I was 29 or 30.
Two years later my whole life has changed upside down. One small part of that was finding out I am queer, but it really was so much bigger than that. I am so much happier and connected and resilient and flexible now. Those two intensive years of therapy were a very big deal. I can tell from how I interact with others that I am equipped and ready to be a strong parent, and I am taking this step with a lot of confidence. That was not always the case. Not because of paying my bills on time, which I still don’t always do, but because of how I handle the emotional complexities and frustrations of life. So, I do recommend a check-in for anyone who wants to be a parent, but feels like they might have some pieces that are worth looking into.
This is the secret no one tells you when you’re a kid — there’s no magic age when you suddenly become an “adult,” at least not in the ways you think it will happen when you’re a teenager. The reality of being 30 or 40 is just not anything like what the 13 or 16 year old me thought it would be. I still feel like a stupid teenager sometimes, but not nearly as often as I did even 10 years ago. And I have teenage nieces, which a) has not deterred me from wanting to be a mom and b) makes me realize I have grown-up and learned a lot since then.
Maybe a quiz is to imagine your life — right now — with a child in it. Not just the cuddling and rocking and eventual homework, but the logistics of a crying infant at 3 am or a sick baby on a work day. Can you envision dealing with that? How much support from family and/or friends do you look for in your life as it is? How might that change with a child and is your network up to the task? What activities or hobbies do you most look forward to now? Would you still be able to do them with a baby? How would you feel if you couldn’t do those things anymore? What would you like to do in the next few years if you don’t have a child? Would you be bummed not to do those things? Why do you want a child now?
For me, I’ve been able to picture those changes for decades, but always with a husband. I wasn’t ready to picture doing it on my own until my late 30s and I’m now newly 42 and still trying to get pregnant. I can wish I’d been ready sooner, but I can’t go back and tell my 35 year old self not to wait — I just have to go with where I am. Interestingly, I’m much better able to do that in my 40s than I was in my 30s, so in some ways I’m much more able to deal with the difficulties and set-backs now than I would have been five or six years ago. Life is funny that way.
Unless there’s some medical issue that means you need to move fast (assuming you want to get pregnant), you do have some time to keep thinking. I think when the answers to your questions are all (or mostly) coming out with more pros than cons on the side of becoming a mom, then you’ll know you’re as ready as you can be. I hear it’s a wild ride!
The Language of a SMC Child
By Cheri Tabel
One of the last hurdles during my thinking stage was how I would answer my child-to-be’s question if he or she asked “why don’t I have a dad?” And at some point I landed on, “because I very much wanted to be a mother,” along with some telling of my journey, pre-child, as a good response.
You know what? My son never asked. I kept waiting for the moment. Between reading Jane’s book and participating on the Forum, I knew one day the question would come. But it didn’t. He never asked. And I couldn’t take it. So one year, the night before Father’s Day, when he was almost five years old, I said, “Do you ever wonder why you don’t have a father?”
He rolled his eyes – exasperated with me already at such a young age! He shook his head “no” back and forth. But I wasn’t going to let all my years of planning, thinking and practicing my response go to waste – we must have this talk!
He patiently listened while I explained my desire to become a mother. And while it seemed strange to me that he had never asked before, I realized he knew no other reality. Our family was mommy and son. What was there to ask?
My Dad Died in a Fire
One day, a few months after this talk, the subject of having a father came up in his pre-K class. I asked him how he responded to the question, “why don’t you have a dad?”
“Oh, I told him he died in a fire.” So dramatic, my kid. At first I was shocked, but I also realized this was his choice. These were his words.
We went through the talk my son has heard for many years – the one of his conception, of a donor, of me going to a doctor who helped me become pregnant.
But that doesn’t answer why he doesn’t have a father. Not when you’re five.
We’ll Talk About it Later
Fast forward to this year. My son is nine years old. A few weeks ago my son was “star of the week,” which included bringing in a poster that is all about him: his family, his favorite school subjects, what he likes to do in his free time. When he presented this to the class, one boy asked him why there wasn’t a father in the family picture.
“I don’t have a dad,” my son said.
“Everyone has a dad to be born,” the child responded.
“We’ll talk about that later,” was my son’s response. He said everyone in the class laughed.
Over the past year or so, we’ve been reading age appropriate books about the male and female bodies, conception, etc. What I made clear, though, is that while I want him to have this knowledge, not all families are the same. And each family gets to decide when their children learn about sex and conception. He was not to discuss it at school.
“We’ll talk about that later,” was his way to diffuse the situation and do so with humor, which put everyone at ease. I was proud of him. And more so after speaking with his teacher about how it went.
It is his language. His story.
I first verbalized being a single mother by choice when I was 17 years old. I had years to process and choose my words. And how I voice my story has changed over time. All I can do is give him the facts, the pieces of the story I know, it is his to tell.
What’s the Buzz?
Independently Raising a Man – Thoughts from a Single Mother’s Perspective –
A Book Review
Independently Raising a Man, by Shondreka Palmer, is a quick read chock full of practical advice for single mothers. Based on her own experience being a single mother, and frequently being asked by others how she does it, Palmer wrote the book to help others “become the absolute best they could be.”
With chapters covering everything from making the decision to go it alone, to living on one income and keeping a positive mental state, Palmer shares her words of wisdom for single parenting.
Reading Independently Raising a Man feels like sharing a cup of coffee with a friend and is good to keep for those days you aren’t feeling your best as a mom. Not feeling like you have the support you need? Palmer says, “We live in such an opinionated world and no one is afraid of voicing their opinion. At the end of the day, who cares? Regardless of what you do or say, people are going to talk – so let them. You should have a couple of true genuine friends to confide in and who are truly ‘Team U’ during the good and bad times.”
The title, though, is a bit deceptive as the advice isn’t specific to a single mother raising a son. Independently Raising a Son, though, might be for you, if you’re looking for an upbeat take on single parenting and advice on practical matters.
End of Year SMC Donation
Time is running out for 2013, so if you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to SMC for this year, this is your last chance. We are a non-profit 501.3c organization. You can donate anywhere on the SMC website by clicking on the “Donate” button or send us a check (SMC, PO Box 1642, NY NY 10028). We appreciate all donations, large or small and we will send you a letter of acknowledgement for your taxes promptly after we receive your donation.
Want to be a Contact Person for SMC in your area?
The primary purpose of the CP is to welcome new members of SMC and to let them know what is happening on the local level. The CP may also assist in setting up organizational meetings for new members and organize local chapter meetings. The roles and responsibilities of a local chapter are usually distributed amongst those who are interested in having an active chapter. If you’re interested, contact the SMC office at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you to all who have volunteered!
Houston/Galveston, Texas: Julia Lynn Nye, email@example.com
Miami, Florida: Leslie Schreiber, firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco, California: Laura Domash, email@example.com and Bina Patel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Safety Harbor, Florida: Leslie Taylor, email@example.com
Atlanta, Georgia: Meg Young, MEGYOUNGMSW@YAHOO.COM
Spokane, Washington: Holland Patterson, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Memory: Janice Garfunkel
Recently Anne Lamott shared the belief that “ultimately all we have are our stories and our compassion.”
I had never met Rabbi Janice in person, but her stories and her compassion are part of my story as a single mother by choice.
And earlier this year, when I was having health trouble and it came to the point where the doctor said it is A – this or B – cancer, I pushed to rule out cancer – in part because of Janice. Knowing her story meant I knew I needed to be not only an advocate for myself, but for my single parent child. There was no time to waste.
Janice’s greatest, saddest gift is the one she shared with so many of us of how to prepare our children for life when we are no longer here. At 11 and 14, her girls deserved more time with her. But the time she had, she made count. To read Janice’s obituary, click here. (embed as hyperlink: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/cincinnati/obituary.aspx?n=janice-garfunkel&pid=167700021&fhid=27761 )
If you would like to share your thoughts on her passing, please visit the conversation on the Forum: http://forums.singlemothersbychoice.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=13930.
I am a single parent by choice and my twins, Leo and Oscar, were born on April 1, 2013. It has been very busy since their arrival, with back surgery when they were almost two months old! I am now very peaceful knowing that I am meant to be their mama.
Susanna Vapnek would love to announce the birth of her daughter: Natana Willa Vapnek,
Nov. 12, 2012, in Santa Barbara, California. Her name means gift from God in Hebrew, and that’s exactly what she is.
Remember to notify us when you become a mother!
If you have someone new in the house please send the information to email@example.com.