I felt it was worth putting a few thoughts down on my choice of having a child without a partner before turning 35. Part II goes more into detail about my infertility struggles. I am writing this for friends and family, for other women and couples who are going through similar journeys, but most importantly to one day tell that story to my little Cookie.
Having children is something I never wanted to miss on, even if I wanted to wait later in life. In your mid-twenties, you don’t even question that it will happen somehow: meeting a decent guy, spending a few years together before settling, etc. It’s when it doesn’t happen that you have to regroup and think about who you are and what you really want in life. In my case, it was a combination of a heartbreak in my early thirties, a wonderful life otherwise (great jobs, living abroad, travelling), and enjoying my single life in the following years more than I expected. It’s hard to explain it any other way than by saying that becoming a single mom felt like a natural choice for me.
Don’t get me wrong, though: it’s a long thought process! The decision to become a single parent is not one takes lightly. Strangely enough, it started forming in my mind and heart at the end of my last long-term relationship, in 2014. It was a complicated, long-distance relationship and having a baby was the last thing on my mind, until I was free again and eventually able to be more in touch with my own feelings and needs regarding motherhood.
In the meantime, I gave myself the opportunity to meet other men, of course. You never know! I had a few disappointments, lots of very entertaining encounters and quite a bit of fun, but the most I got out of dating so far is a couple of really good friends. I didn’t get lucky in love again, plus I have high standards for a good relationship and I’m fiercely independent. But most of all, I couldn’t see myself chasing the perfect baby daddy instead of a true partner.
I stopped the pill in early 2016 and started gathering information on the process and options. I went to information sessions at fertility clinics and read a lot online. I also wanted to feel I was in a good place in my life: psychologically, network-wise (friends and family), as well as financially. This is why it made sense for me to do it now (good feeling, good job, good friends and loving family), at 34 years old (while I’m still hopefully fertile and healthy), in Belgium (where the procedure is well insured by the state’s wonderful healthcare system). It “simply” felt right.
I formally started the process in October 2016 at the Erasme fertility clinic, after sharing the news of my decision with close friends and family. It was important to me to feel I had at least the moral support of my network so I’m not doing this completely by myself. I mostly got heart-warming statements of support, but also many questions and a few truly concerned friends. All the discussions I had were extremely healthy. It made me realise again how extraordinarily lucky I was in life (the love and care of some friends and family literally brought me to joyful tears a few times), it made me think even more about the consequences and implications of my decision on the child-to-be, and above all, it served to confirm what I already knew: how serious I was about this baby project.
The reactions that surprised me the most were the ones that revealed still quite conservative views on what a family is and on the importance of “maternal” and “paternal” figures for children. Men in particular were quite uncomfortable with the concept of a single mom by choice: they’re the ones who challenged me the most. With reason, in their defence: I’m basically saying I don’t need them to have a family, but many still put me through a tough (however healthy) line of questioning. Here are some comments I was faced with, with my thoughts on each.
Why not wait? To which I simply reply: why wait? I’m in a really good place right now. I’m not saying it’s an easy or obvious choice, but it’s the right choice for me. I do hope to find a great man to share my life with one day, but I’m not interested in being in a relationship right now, especially not just for the sake of it. I can see it in the way I push away the too-eager ones, how I terminate relationships quickly if I think they could make my life more complicated. I am aware I might be seriously hindering my chances at meeting someone with this motherhood project, but I don’t feel lonely, I’m not suffering from being single, I’m not trying to fill the void with a baby, very simply because there is no void. I’m happy, and I think that’s the best mindset to be in to become a mother.
On the debate whether the child will be missing a “paternal” figure, I can only say that I discovered that my concept of a “family” is much more open and flexible than for most people. Before I started talking about this, I assumed that I shared this symbolic view of family with many in my direct environment and society in general, but it’s really not the case. A lot of humans in our Western society are still very much stuck with the conservative idea of the nuclear family (mother, father and children), even though it can be quite different in practice (reconstituted families, single parents, community-raising of children, involved grandparents, etc.).
I’m also a great believer in breaking with the traditional gender-assigned roles and expectations, so in line with that philosophy, I do not believe in the traditional “maternal” and “paternal” figures. What does “maternal” and “paternal” mean anyway? How can you define those without falling into the trap of old-fashioned adjectives? Yes, biologically, there is a difference between men and women. Yes, by force of circumstance, the mother will be more closely involved in the first months of a baby’s life, but beyond that, it’s really up to each of us to define what it means to raise a child. Is the father supposed to be the one who “teaches his son what it means to be a man”? Why can’t a mother do that? Is the father the one who will play outside, kick the ball around, play sports? A mother would be more than capable (and probably happy!) to do it as well. Is the mother the tender, caring, loving one? I wish all fathers were tender, caring and loving too.
In my view, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s two men, two women, grandparents, aunts, cousins or uncles who end up raising the child: a family is who the child will turn to and say “this is my family”, i.e. the people in his or her life that truly care for and love him or her, on whom he or she will always be able to rely, who are the stable people in his or her life. What is best for a child? Isn’t it to have stability, care, love, laughs and consistency, no matter the gender of the adults caring for him or her? I know I will have to explain things to my child, talk about my choices and the choices I made for him or her in the process. But I’m not worried because the main reason my kid would suffer from the absence of a father is if I suffered from it myself as a mother. If I felt like I was missing a partner, my child would feel it too. Otherwise, a child’s “normal” is whatever is normal to you as a parent. Maybe one day I will meet someone who will be willing to take up that fatherly position (it will remain open), but if not, that’s also ok.
I was also told that it will be difficult to be a single mom (no shit, I thought it would be a walk in the park!), that my child would be teased in school for not having a father (as if children didn’t find reasons to tease about anything and everything, or that I would be the only single parent around), that a child should be the product of a man and a woman (sorry, all gay couples out there), and again with the “it will be so hard to be a single mom” spiel.
I will tell you what I think about being a single mom. My expectation is that it will be pretty rough, especially the first couple of years. I will have close to no break from the baby, it will drive me insane more than once, I will certainly feel overwhelmed at times. It will have a clear impact on my career, which will be slowed down. My priorities will shift and my dating life will be over (for a while, at least). I will want to cry when the baby doesn’t stop crying, when it needs to go to daycare very early in life, when it gets sick and when it gets lice. Later in my child’s life, I will have to go through the explanation of what happened with that donor business (as I practiced with the psychologist), and in teenage years I will have to deal with the identity crisis and love-hate relationship.
But I will also get to see my child grow, smile for the first time, explore life and the world around him or her. I will be there for him or her when things get tough, and when things are amazing and beautiful. My child will get to spend some precious time with his/her extraordinary aunt, uncle, cousins, grandmother and extended family abroad. There will be failures, and there will be successes. There will be pride, surprises and there will be a lot of love. Every laugh will erase the sleepless nights, every hug will make us forget the screams and tears. Because that’s the beauty of raising a child: appreciating those moments, witnessing with awe that little human becoming a big person, being a part of it all. And above all, feeling a true, overwhelming and unconditional love for someone who will matter more than myself.