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Solo journey to motherhood a choice, challenge

Published May 13, 2007 5:21 am

Seizing privilege of parenting, more women start families without partner
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Marji Hanson does what all supermoms do.

From the moment she wakes until the moment she goes to bed, she is a human blur: breakfast, finding shoes, school, work, dinner, dishes, soccer games, lost homework, putting away shoes, skinned knees, toothbrushes, bedtime kisses.



The job is almost overwhelming, but it probably wouldn't be noteworthy if not for one thing: She does it all by herself, and that's the way she planned it.

Hanson is a single mother. Not because she's divorced. Not because she's a widow. Not because she accidentally became pregnant.

She's a single mom by choice.

"I always wanted the privilege of being a parent, and it never occurred to me that I might have to give it up," the Salt Lake City woman said. That began to change when she hit her mid-30s and saw no marriage proposal on the horizon.

"I finally figured Prince Charming lost my address, and I decided I'd waited long enough."

So at age 35, she began building her family. Twelve years and four trips to China later, she is the proud mother of four adopted daughters.

"I'm a parent because it was my choice to make," she said. "I had room in my heart and the confidence that I could provide them a loving home."

No one tracks how many women are deliberately starting families without a spouse or partner, but data suggest the numbers are climbing.

Nearly four in 10 babies born in the U.S. in 2005 were born to single mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Teen pregnancies have dropped to their lowest levels in 65 years, accounting for only 25 percent of births to single women. But births to unmarried women ages 30 to 44 are up, climbing 17 percent since 1991; for women age 25 to 29, the numbers are up 30 percent.

In Utah, women between the ages of 25 and 44 accounted for nearly 37 percent of all births to single mothers in 2005, according to the state's Center for Health Data. More than 200 single Utahns adopted in the past three years. The numbers for adoptive parents aren't broken down by gender, but Health Department officials say the majority are women.

"Women are running two races at one time: one for a partner and one for a baby. They feel like they have to choose," said Rosanna Hertz, a professor of sociology at Wellesley College and author of Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice. They have discovered they can reverse the "traditional life sequence," so that baby comes before marriage.

Hertz said the women's movement helped make choosing single motherhood possible by encouraging women to get more education, which enabled them to get higher-paying jobs. But it was the rise of divorce that removed the stigma from being a single parent, she believes.

Carrie Harvey worried about that stigma before she became pregnant with her first daughter.

"I really thought that I was going against the norm, especially in Salt Lake City. I worried that we would be shunned," she said. Still, she wasn't discouraged.

"I knew in my heart that I had to have children. I had to make it happen," said Harvey, a strategic partnership manager for American Express and now the mother of two.

For some, the real choice is about how to start a family. Older women often choose adoption, said Hertz, while younger ones may try artificial insemination or a "Big Chill" solution with the aid of a friend. Finances are also a consideration, with foreign adoption costs running in the tens of thousands, and artificial insemination affordable to almost anyone.

"It's very cheap to order sperm on the Internet," said Hertz. "A California cryogenic bank can ship it to your front door. You can inseminate in your own home if you want to."

Kathy Stringham figured she had one shot at a biological child. At age 44, she knew that her body was losing its ability to easily conceive a healthy child.

Working with a midwife and sperm donation, she quickly became pregnant and delivered about a year after beginning the journey. The whole process cost about $2,500, an affordable option for the Salt Lake City public schoolteacher.

"I was very fortunate," she said.

The voyage was bizarre at times, she said, especially when choosing a potential father.

"Here's your fresh list and here's your frozen," said one doctor, handing her two lists of sperm donors, featuring information on health, age, height, occupation, hobbies and ethnic background.

"My only criteria was that he be at least as tall as me," said the 5-foot-8 Stringham. "I hate to discriminate based on height, but hey, you have to choose." She finally settled on someone who partially shared her Scottish/English heritage.

Stringham is candid with those who ask about her family's genesis: "The wonders of science and an anonymous donor. That's my tongue-in-cheek answer." It's one of the ways she deals with the challenges, some of which are universal to being a parent, and others unique to being a deliberately single mother.

Most of the women interviewed said it is just plain hard caring for children on their own. "Everyone needs to leave the house for an evening sometimes," said Stringham, "but I don't have a spouse to hand my son to."

Money is also a consideration. In Hanson's case, it's a serious one. Three of her four daughters were born within a year or two of each other. That means four sets of boots all the same size. Four winter coats, four back packs, four bikes and a roomy minivan.

As a lawyer with a solo practice, Hanson is able to provide and also maintain a flexible schedule. But money is still a concern.

"Every time we drive past the University [of Utah], I say, 'Look, there's your school!" Hanson would love for them to have the experience of going away to college, but doesn't know if it will be possible. Most women said they have had a mostly warm reception from their families, co-workers and communities, even Harvey, who once feared being shunned. But they know some people don't approve.

"[Dr.] Laura Schlessinger thinks the only reason single women adopt children is because they want pets," said Hanson. "People can see it as a selfish choice."

Some people also accuse these single moms of being hostile toward men. Nothing could be further from the truth, they say. And in fact, most of the women do whatever they can to include male role models in their children's lives.

"I asked for male teachers when I could. Male coaches. I had great male friends," said Maggie Laun, a Salt Lake City social worker who raised her 16-year-old son alone for the first 14 years of his life. Two years ago, she married for the first time.

"I really like having a man in the house. Now that he's here, I do realize that [her son] has lost something from not having a close guy in his life. But he's doing well," she said.

It would be worse to be in a bad marriage or to go through a bitter divorce, she said.

Douglas Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center in Salt Lake City, agrees.

"What's really critical is that a parent be attuned to a child's needs. That they be psychologically available, physically available and able to provide the nurturing care that children need to form healthy attachments. That's more important to me than whether it's a married couple or a single person," he said.

If a single parent can provide those things, and they are motivated by a desire to parent, not lessen their own loneliness, "we're going to be OK."

Regardless of the challenges - cultural, physical, emotional and financial - all the women said they made the right choice.

"This is my life, and I get one shot at it, and I'm going to make it what I want it to be," Stringham said.

"I would encourage anyone who has that kind of internal message to listen to it. There will be challenges. There are going to be people who say things. But it's the best thing I've ever done with my life."

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* JENNIFER BARRETT can be reached at jbarrett@sltrib.com or 801-257-8611.

I'm a parent because it was my choice to make. . . . I had room in my heart and the confidence that I could provide them a loving home.

-Marji Hanson, who adopted four daughters from China

 

 

 

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