THE ROAD LESS Traveled

By: S. Fenella Das Gupta, PhD

Since 1978, when the first “test tube” baby was born, words like IVF, donor sperm and donor egg have become part of our everyday vocabulary. No longer does the traditional family need to consist of 2.5 children with a mother and father at the head of the helm. We only have to watch Modern Family or 2-1/2 Men to know that families can consist of different constellations of parents and/or parental type figures. Yet in real life, we doubt if we can be a modern family or worse, others around us doubt if we can do it.

Meet Sally:  In her mid thirties, Sally is well educated, financially stable and single. For the last couple of years, she has become increasingly aware of her biological clock. She reports hearing it ticking loudly at weddings, baby showers and other social events.  Sally feels that being single has its own challenges, but being single and raising a child is something that feels daunting. Yet something inside of her yearns to have her own child. With her eyes set on the end result (her own ‘bundle of joy’), she knows that the process of single parenting may be tough but ultimately rewarding.  Sally came in to talk it through:

“Ok, I am single and want a child. I know this sort of defies the conventional idea of what a family should look like, but what can I do? I can’t wait for Mr. Right forever. I know I don’t want casual sex to have a baby and so, I am looking into donor sperm. I’m really worried about that though; I mean, how will others look at me?  Will the child suffer in any way because of my decision?”

Sally is not alone in her fears. Many women contemplating this path spend a couple of years toying with the idea before reaching the doctor’s office. Deciding to have a child, knowing that you will be the only parent can feel daunting. It is a big decision and does involve lots of thinking, but this choice is becoming more viable as more women do opt for it. To help Sally feel less alone in her choice, I suggested that she seek out communities of other women who were thinking about becoming single mothers by choice, or who are actually single mothers by choice (please see references at the end of this article).

As we talked more, Sally realized that in her head she had confused being the only parent with being the sole caretaker. However, when she talked about her life, she realized that for some years now she had developed a network of friends that she relied on for support, often spending Thanksgiving and other holidays with them since her family was so far away.  For Sally, it was this “extended family” that she would turn to on a day-to-day basis to help raise her child.

One question that Sally and I really focused on was the social stigma of what it means to be a single mother, particularly a single mother by choice.  While stigma may exist, will you deny yourself the opportunity to experience motherhood because of it?  How much will you allow others to dictate how you should feel? Traveling this road will inevitably cause you to face tough decisions, but often friends, who don’t have much investment in anything except your happiness, can help you navigate this step.  Again, online forums will offer a myriad of ways to respond to intrusive or negative comments by others. You will not be alone. For Sally, there was some grief involved as she realized that not all her family members would approve, but ultimately she knew that what felt best for her was what she needed to do.

Sally’s worry about the long-term effects of growing up in a single parent household on her child was an area where she fretted that her decision was a selfish one. Fortunately we could rely on some research to help her; studies have shown that there is no significant difference between women who are single mothers by choice, using donor sperm and married mothers using donor sperm with respect to depression and anxiety effects on the child. Overall, data show that single  mothers by choice took great pleasure in their children. Further, the children of single mothers by choice were shown to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their counterparts [1]. In other words, because having a baby this way is a conscious decision, the attachment and bonding between mother and child is strong and healthy. Sally breathed a visible sigh of relief when she heard this.

There was one more thing on Sally’s mind:  What happens if I DO meet Mr Right after the baby is born?  She already knew that she would reveal to her child that she had used donor sperm, but what about her partner? How would he take it? There is evidence to show that once a child is born, the pressure of finding Mr. Right changes and that dating becomes more relaxed and casual. The biological clock isn’t ticking away anymore, and women report that this gives them the luxury of time.  Women have time to develop a good, long lasting relationship that has depth.  Relationships based on this foundation decrease the fear of revealing who you are to someone else.  

I encourage single women who are contemplating becoming mothers to gather their ‘band of merry women’ for support, join an online forum, talk through why they want to do this and get  their questions answered. Hopefully, most of your worries and fears can be resolved, allowing you to start the family that you have always wanted!

Reference:

[1] Murray, C., & Golombok, S. (2005). Solo mothers and their donor insemination infants: follow-up at age 2. Human Reproduction 20: 1655-1660.

[2] Single Mothers by Choice is an online community of single mothers (www.singlemothersbychoice.org) who blog and meet locally for support and a sense of community.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

S. FenellaS. Fenella das Gupta, PhD, marriage and family therapist. dr. das gupta is a licensed marriage and family therapist and infertility Counselor working in the Bay area of northern California. her practice, the inner mirror, includes counseling individuals, couples and running support groups. Her professional memberships include resOlVe, the national infertility association, the american society for reproductive medicine and the California association of marriage and family therapists. Dr. das Gupta also interacts with individuals on her fertility blog at www.fertilityhelpishere.blogspot.com.