I think I should tackle this right up front since it will come up a lot.
The decision to have and raise a child while single is not arrived at lightly. Many [most?] people do not view parenting alone as a first choice, and even in the SMC community, we often speak about grieving the death of Plan A (first marriage, then kids) before accepting that it is time to move on to Plan B.
I was never aware of having a Plan A. Because of the culture in which I was raised, it was assumed that I would go through the usual steps of dating, marrying, and having children—in that order. I was not conscious of these expectations, of course, it was simply what I saw in the relationship models around me. Being raised Catholic certainly reinforced the perception that any other order of events was unacceptable. And there were definitely no Black women in my life who had chosen to have and raise children alone. (Yes, we know the prevailing narrative* about Black mothers. I have no intention of advancing that narrative here.)
Still, while my high school friends were swooning from infatuation to infatuation, I was content to admire attractive faces from a distance and indulge the occasional flirtation, with no genuine desire for more serious entanglement. I had intense crushes, embarrassingly lurid fantasies, and many diaries into which I poured every agonized, adolescent wish.
What I did not have — and what never materialized, even as the tick tock of my biological clock got louder — was a desire to be married.
I had two serious relationships that progressed to engagement, and I was very committed to those relationships. But once I realized that marriage, in those specific situations, would be a mistake, I grieved the end of the relationships, not the loss of marriage prospects. I was happy to return to the single life, which, for me, did not mean hopping on the dating carousel, but simply having time to myself to spend however I chose. In fact, in retrospect, those engagements feel more like near-misses than missed opportunities.
My ambivalence about having children started to shift as nieces and nephews began appearing on the scene. We lived in different countries, so I traveled to see them as often as I could. For some time, I was very content to be “Super Auntie,” who would swoop in with presents, cuddles, and silliness, and depart as abruptly as I had arrived.
It took a serious illness in my family to reveal to me that I might be ready to be a mother. I took time off work to travel abroad to care for a relative’s two-year-old while she was hospitalized. It was only the smallest taste of what parenting could be like, but the strength of my devotion to this child who was not mine and to ensuring his emotional stability during a time of upheaval surprised me.
But make no mistake, this was only the earliest stage of what turned out to be a three-year process of reflection, research, and brutal introspection. I valued my independence deeply. I knew that parenting alone would eliminate any notion of idle time and that, particularly in the early stages, my highly valued free time would cease to exist. I was also very insecure about my ability to be a good parent, despite having excellent role models to follow.
From a more practical standpoint, I knew my financial resources would be taxed, and, being a detail-oriented data fanatic, I crafted several spreadsheets costing out this endeavor. I met with doctors; I joined Single Mothers By Choice and a host of online communities; I spent hours discussing solo parenthood with fellow “thinkers” and seeking insight from the pros, who often had multiple children (including multiples!). I had full medical workups at two different fertility clinics, and still, I hesitated to proceed. I knew that once I started down that path, turning back was not an option.
Or so I thought. It took seven months of non-reactive pregnancy tests, “chemical” pregnancies, and miscarriages before I would finally be transferred from my reproductive endocrinologist to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for monitoring as an expectant mother of advanced maternal age. Also tastefully known as a geriatric pregnancy. So, it seems my aging body had given me several chances to turn back after all.
I am excruciatingly conscious of the fact that I may not have been able to have my daughter in this way without a considerable degree of privilege. I had the privilege of sufficient savings to help me weather the failed attempts and keep trying, considering the meager insurance coverage available. I had the privilege of a supportive family who stood ready to step in to help once the baby arrived. I had the privilege of a flexible employment situation with generous parental and fertility benefits. I had the privilege (illusion?) of job security and access to quality child care. I was also extremely lucky that I was eventually able to get and stay pregnant until my daughter was ready to be born.
It has still been a stunningly eye-opening—not to mention expensive—experience, with far more decision points than any spreadsheet could capture. My adventures as a broke college student have come in handy as I flex and fine-tune my budget to live on as small a fraction of my income as possible. The bigger challenge, frankly, is keeping a clear head as I am pressed, daily, to question long-held beliefs about parenting, finances, gender norms, and political biases, and to scrutinize my words, my mannerisms, my thought processes from every angle. CONSTANTLY. It is an ongoing exercise in discipline and sacrifice, and naturally, comes with moments of weakness.
But I have no regrets.
There is a line in Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton: An American Musical” where he sings, “Look at my son! Pride is not the word I’m looking for. There is so much more inside me now.”
There is so much more inside me now.
As much as it feels like parenting takes out of me, it has given me so much more. Amid the chaotic times in which she is growing up, I am responsible for introducing my daughter to this wildly imperfect world and helping her make sense of the tests she will face. I take that responsibility seriously. Before she was even born, I gathered up my confidence, ready to show my daughter how to move nimbly through a world that could be sexist, racist, and -ist after -ist, after -ist.
But what would life be without curveballs? I thought my biggest challenge would be instilling in my daughter the unshakable certainty that she is worthy of respect despite the messages she would undoubtedly receive from the world about her value being tied to her skin color.
And then, she finally entered the world, and her tiny, pink, wrinkly body grew silky soft, deliciously chubby, and no darker than the sweetened condensed milk I used to spoon straight from the tin as a child. At the age of four, my daughter very clearly presents as White, whereas I am equally unmistakably not. She was barely one month old before I got a taste of the real challenges that would arise.
But we’ll crack open that can of worms in another post. For now, I would like to invite any SMCs or other solo parents to share a story. Comment on this post or email me if you’d like your story published, anonymously if you prefer.
Until next time…
* prevailing narrative: “… the stories that a culture tends to tell itself about itself. These often come in the form of value statements or morals that are, intentionally or not, seen as prescriptive.” Source: Ryan Campbell, The Intersection of Art and Politics: Prevailing and Countervailing Narratives.