Thursday, July 20, 2006

What is a single mother by choice?

This question has been bugging me a lot lately. The "standard" definition of an SMC is that she is a woman who chooses motherhood intentionally, while single. That's all fine and dandy. But most SMC support groups or web boards are at pains to include single women who get pregnant accidentally but decide to keep the baby, or who get pregnant while in a relationship and then the dad clears off before birth. I'm sure that while in the 60's and 70's, the act of choosing to deliver the baby and parent on your own was a formidable choice, and not one that was entered into lightly, it seems to me that these days it is pretty much a norm in many parts of our society. It is no longer a scandalous option in many areas. Ending up pregnant as a single woman when you did not choose to be pregnant or when your partner does not support you, is a scary and difficult prospect whatever the woman decides to do. Any of the choices available, including parenting alone, abortion and giving the child up for adoption, require heart-wrenching decisions to be made, and every single woman who makes a decision and goes forward with it is making a brave choice. But these days, unless you live in a very conservative community, no-one really bats an eye at the choice to parent alone. That doesn't mean it's not really difficult to do, but do women who get pregnant accidentally get more sympathy from society and their families? Are they told they brought this upon themselves so they shouldn't complain if the going gets tough? Maybe, I don't know.

I suppose what has really been bugging me lately is that these women are not like me at this moment in my life. I think there is a huge gaping chasm between finding yourself pregnant, and deliberately choosing to become pregnant or adopting on your own as a single woman. That gap is thrown into sharper and sharper relief for me with each failed month that goes by. With each increment of a thousand dollars that I spend on trying to get knocked up. With everything I can't afford to do because I spent that money on drugs or IVF or frozen sperm. Every single time, I have to ask myself if I am prepared to continue. If I am willing to keep going forward on the fertility rollercoaster alone and unsupported. I feel the need to justify my choice to myself. To tell myself I'm not crazy, that I can do this on my own, that I can give a child or children a good home. To tell myself that I'm not entirely giving up on finding a mate of my own, but that my focus has to be elsewhere at the moment.

And IVF (and adoption) ups the ante considerably. There is so much money and emotional energy invested into this. So many hopes and dreams ride on these moments in our lives. Women who got pregnant accidentally just don't experience and probably don't appreciate this deliberate act of conception, particularly when it gets difficult. This phenomenally expensive, all consuming, very deliberate act to radically change our lives.

Am I saying that I think SMC support groups should exclude women who became pregnant accidentally? No, not really, because I think anyone who self-identifies as an SMC should have the right to a support group. There also aren't enough of us around at the moment to splinter into many different factions – I'd hate to have separate "communities" of single adoptive moms, donor egg moms, IVF moms, IUI moms, known donor moms, relationship moms, etc. But then again, they didn't make that deliberate choice to conceive or adopt, nor did they struggle or are struggling to get there. I know, if/when I get to having a 10 year old child, I'll look back and say that parenting isn't about how you got there, and as an SMC it's about being totally there for your child, being the one that has sole responsibility for everything, and about understanding that choice from the get-go. I really hope I can get to that point, but for now, there's this bitter seed inside of me that's growing. That says these women aren't really SMC's. They don't know the angst and the pain of planning for this, and having even one failed cycle. I guess I just feel a bit weird about this because the whole SMC label is defined by the word "choice". I keep thinking it might be better to be defined by the word "planned" or something similar. But then that's not very inclusive and politically correct I suppose, so I should just shut up about it.

In other news, no sign of Aunt Flo yet. I hope she hurries up and arrives so that I can get on with this cycle. I feel like I've been waiting for it forever, so I'm already sick of it, and I want to be on the other side quickly so I can get on with my life. Whatever direction that life takes.


Calliope said...

very interesting.
I think you are right that the woman that finds herself pregnant is quite different than the woman that sets out to become pregnant. Although maybe once pg they care on the same road- I do agree that they are on very different journeys that led up to that road.
I think, & this is a big generalization, that SMC's are not as understood as the other group. There is a lack of empathy.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a better definition would be SMD's - single mothers by design. I empathize with your frustrations.

- Rae

Cindy said...

I know this is bold to say but I have thought the exact same thing for a long time. I think saying you are a SMC automatically eliminates anyone who had an "oops" pregnancy. I also think it eliminates women trying with a partner....a partner defined as someone who they are having an intimate or "couple" relationship with.

I know that women who accidentally find themselves pregnant might surely end up single moms and have to deal with all the same issues as SMC moms do. However, the difference is how they got to be a single mom in the first place. They did not go through the agony of planning the timing of even ONE cycle. Even that first ttc cycle is stressful. They cannot imagine that or having to try and try again only to be unsuccessful. They also didn't spend the $1,000 to $3,000 that one frozen sperm medicated cycle can cost. Even if it's an unmedicated cycle, they didn't have to coordinate with a KD, get sperm shipped from one place to the other. They just "fell" pregnant. It was so easy for them to get there....

Ok, stepping off my soapbox now to say....I hear ya. :)

WendyChymes said...

Sarah, Let me start by saying that I have recently started reading your diary on a regular basis, and I have had bated breath waiting for your BFP. All the blogs that I read, have been in the infertility/single mom arena, because I have alot of sympathy for these wonderful people who truly deserve to be parents, in this cruelly ironic world where 16 year olds never seem to have any trouble getting knocked up.

I am a single mother, who became "accidentally pregnant" ( although I believe it more the hand of fate than anything) and I do consider myself a single mother by choice, because I did make a choice. to have my daughter without any emotional or financial support.

but while I think that you are totally allowed to have your own opionion and feelings about this matter, I would like to offer you some insight into a " single mom who became accidentally pregnant. it is a common story. girl meets jerk. girl and jerk have relationship. girl becomes pregnant. never hears from jerk again. and while I do not pretend to know the pain of infertility and failed cycle after failed cycle. you can not possibly fully understand how drastically altered my life has become. how much it has cost me financially.... and the pain of going through a pregnancy entirely alone and in emotional stress from the rejection and politics of doing it all on my own.

People look at you differently, I think. categorize a single mom who becomes pregnant accidentally = irresponsible loose woman. Single woman infertile using IVF = responsible chaste woman.

I did not even have health care, I lost my house, wiped out my stock portfolio, and savings, lost evey single one of my (jealous spinster) friends, and was constantly told over and over that my child needed a father, had i heard from him? was I going to take him to court etc? the amount of unsolicited advice was endless, and all of it critical, my mother was ashamed, and upset with me, and told me not to have the birth announcement in the paper, i did not have a baby shower... had to sell my jewelry on ebay.. etc.

and yet, everyday, I know fully that it was worth it. My daughter is the best thing that has ever happened to me, but that opens me up to whole new world of hurt, like finding a picture of her father, with his fiancee and she is holding his little niece... who is the same age as " our " daughter ( the one he denies) and of course she looks just like him, and he has chosen never to even see her. My daughter is only 2 and she is already so aware that she does not have a father. she tries to call my brother in law "daddy' and then hangs her head and says " uncle x" when i tell her to call him by his name, and in that moment, I realize it is already creating an empty space inside her, and it KILLS me to take on her hurt, it is much more hurtful to know that he was not a "donor" but someone who purposefully rejected us both.

I know that your frustration comes from a sad dark place that infertility has caused.

but those of us, who are not infertile, have our own sad dark places. I would love to have another child, but I can not afford it. and it is not at all possible. that door is closed to me. so I come here, to try and live vicariously in the world of infertility, because I want to see people who really deserve it, get there happy ending too.

I think it is so much more important that we just support each other as mothers and women trying to become mother's. i wanted a child my whole life... and never assumed I would ever be able to have a biological one because I was single and working as a professional nanny. I have my undergrad in literature but the whole reason I became a nanny is because I always wanted to take care of and be around small children and babies.having one of my own, was something that seemed so far out of the realm of possibilities for me. but fate had something else in store. and I have made the utmost sacrifice to have her and keep her, and I am just so grateful. she has never been seperated from me,we are together every minute of every day and I know how lucky I am.

I wish you all the best. from the bottom of my heart. and am looking forward to the day you get your good news!

Cindy said...

I absolutely agree finding your self unexpectedly pregnant and then having to become a single mother can be inordinately stressful especially if a woman is not financially and emotionally ready for it. However, I think the point of question was whether a Single Mother By Choice is someone who intentionally plans to get pregnant to become a single mom or if she is someone who got pregnant accidentally and then choses to become a single mom.

Although the end result is the same (i.e. single motherhood), to me the people who accidentally get pregnant are in a different category. There is frankly just a difference between the two. The time prior to pregnancy the person who found herself unexpectedly pregnant went through no stress to get there while the one who tried to get pregnant did. That is the difference. Also, the one who tried to get pregnant might have spent exhorbantant amounts of money and time away from work to do so. Many women have gone in great financial debt to do so.

So, does that make both women SMC's? I guess technically you could say yes but from what I have seen on the various SMC boards and in the SMC newsletter recently, most of the women who identify themselves as SMC's became single mothers intentionally. However, I do think (not 100% sure) the founder of the national SMC organization became a single mother unexpectedly.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your post. I can relate to everything you said. At least where I live, it seems that people are more sympathetic to mom's who became pregnant unexpectedly. Whenever I tell anyone my plan of having a baby, I get a ton of questions about it.

Anonymous said...

I am a single mother by choice. At 40 years old, after a brief failed marriage and several failed relationships, I decided that I have the rest of my life to meet the love of my life but I do not have the rest of my life to have a baby. So off to the sperm bank I went. My daughter is now 3 1/2 years old and I can wholeheartedly say that it has been the best thing I have ever done in my life. I have a friend who is married and could not have children after trying for thirteen years. So I encouraged her see my fertility doctor. She had to use donor egg and donor sperm but she is now the proud mom of 1 year old twins.

The term Single mother by choice is just that. It is a choice, not an accident. I don't choose to be single but that is the situation. My daughter has inspired me in so many ways. I now have my own business and when she asks where her daddy is, I tell her I am looking for him.