‘I signed up for single motherhood—by choice’

Leigh Dyer knew she wanted to be a mother. But the journey was much harder—and more rewarding—than she’d ever expected.

Like many women reading this, I am the mom of a feisty daughter. Nothing too unusual there. Also not too rare: I’m a single mom.

But what makes me a little bit unusual is the part where I signed up to do this on my own—on purpose.

Back in the mid-2000s, at the end of my seven-year marriage, I was both mourning my divorce and devastated at the thought that my hopes to become a mother had ended, too. I figured the odds were slim I’d be able to date, meet “the one,” and get married before my biological clock stopped ticking.

But one day as I was driving to work, the epiphany hit me: I can be a mom on my own.

I set a deadline and figured I would date and see if traditional marriage came along. But if it didn’t by the time I was 38, I was prepared to go solo. And that’s what happened.

The phenomenon—“choice moms,” “single moms by choice (SMC),” or whatever you want to call it— was just becoming mainstream. Women had been pro-actively choosing solo motherhood via sperm donor, surrogacy, or adoption for quite some time, but in the last decade or so, the concept has become more common, more talked about, more conventional.

In 2010, I wrote an article about my choice in The Charlotte Observer, when my daughter was just a few months old. Looking back, I’m struck by how overconfident I was. I’d been accustomed to research all my life, and no choice I’d made had been more thoroughly researched than this one. I’ve got this, I remember thinking to myself.

As every parent reading this can now guess, eight years later, no, I don’t quite have this on my own. But what I do have, and for which I’m exceptionally grateful, is an extremely strong support network of fellow choice moms. In fact, many of us found one another as a result of that 2010 article, and there are thriving Facebook and Meetup groups for us. (Just search “Charlotte SMCs” to find us.) I’m also grateful for the support of my family and friends who always reach out when they see me in need.

Yes, I do wish every day that my daughter had a second parent, along with all of the advantages that can bring. But studies have continued to indicate that our outcomes for children can be just as positive as those in two-parent families. Here’s a summary from Science Daily this past July: “A study comparing the well-being of children growing up in single-mother-by-choice and heterosexual two-parent families has found no differences in terms of parent-child relationship or child development. However, the study did find that the single-mothers-by-choice did have a greater social support network.”

Getting pregnant was unexpectedly easy—my first attempt at intrauterine insemination, via anonymous donor, was a success. (If she wishes, the policies of the sperm bank allow my daughter to learn the identity of her donor and contact him when she turns 18.)

Pregnancy was a breeze—I also beat the odds there. Labor and delivery were wonderful, thanks to my mother, Marsha Kelly, a retired certified nurse-midwife who agreed to be my doula. Breastfeeding lasted over a year, and my daughter spent three years being an excellent sleeper. I have been blessed by my daughter’s excellent health, a supportive employer, and flexible child-care arrangements, which have enabled me to continue working at a demanding job as the public relations director of the Mint Museum.

But every woman who contemplates this choice should stop to consider how she would cope if any of those statements in that paragraph weren’t true for her. I certainly know many women in the choice-mom network who have struggled with several of those aspects of their journeys.

But despite all of the improbable good luck during those first few years, I still feel as though I am failing at parenting every single day. I have a daughter who stubbornly refuses to follow the scripts in all of those books I read. Now a fiercely intelligent second-grader, she understands she has a donor rather than a father, though she never hesitates to let me know she wishes her family were larger. Giving her a sibling—something several women I know have done on their own—is something I wish I’d been able to do. I also still hope that maybe dating could lead somewhere someday.

My daughter knows many other children in unconventional family structures and is comfortable telling others about her single-mommy family. But she challenges me on a daily basis and leaves me at a loss for how to respond. It’s much harder than I anticipated to deal with the stress of something I can’t research or study my way out of.

Again, I am blessed that I have had many places to turn for support on the darkest days. One of the most important skills for any choice mom—and yet the hardest for most of us, as independent types—is to ask for help when it’s needed.

I have never questioned that I would have regretted not doing this for the rest of my life. I believe I made the right choice. And I’m hopeful that someday, my daughter will read this and agree.

Photos by Justin Driscoll

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