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Single Mothers by Choice

Lee Clower

First comes love, then marriage, then the carriage…YES? Think again. These days, there's nothing taboo about choosing to become a mom on your own. Marriage is not the financial necessity it once was, with men's earnings falling as women's rise. So we build a career, postpone coupling up—and then, at a certain age, want kids. Why not? We have the means, the heart, the will. Single moms ain't who they used to be. These modern mamas prove that all you need for a family is love, commitment, and a sense of humor.

 “After my mom died, I realized how much I wanted my own family.”

During an afternoon run in 2007, Ina Sargen had an epiphany. “It had been two years since my mom died, and I still missed her so much,” she says. “I was heading home and recalled how good it felt to go home to my mom as a child. I realized that I didn't want all the wonderful stories I remembered about her, and my childhood, to end with me.”

Shortly after that revelatory run, Sargen, a commercial real estate broker who lives in Philadelphia, began researching adoption. “I went from wanting to wait to get married to realizing that it would be OK…no, great…if my child and I were a family.” She finally decided to adopt a child from the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. It was easier for single parents to adopt from there, she learned. An overseas adoption is stressful for anyone, but Sargen, without a partner to lean on, had an incredibly rough time with paperwork snafus. Like when Fed Ex put her documents in a recycling basket outside the night before recycling collection.

When she got to Kazakhstan, things didn't get easier. The first night, after two days of travel and meeting with adoption administrators, she was driven to an apartment. It would be her home for at least four weeks. “I have never felt so completely alone. I had a total panic attack,” recalls Sargen. The next day, two potential children of her own would be “presented for approval.” “What if I didn't bond with either one? I started imagining the worst.” Her only lifeline, since there was spotty Internet and cell-phone service, was her contact at the adoption agency. “She called the landline and talked me off the ledge, saying my feelings were normal. She'd be worried if I was blasé.”

Sargen's neighbors were there when she finally brought home 9-month-old Leo (named for her mom, Lee). “I live three doors down from an adoptive single mom,” says Sargen. “And I have two other friends who are single moms by choice. We have our own little circle.”

Sargen made a book: “When Mommy Met Leo in Kazakh-stan.” “We also look at the globe; I want Leo to feel comfortable knowing his story,” says Sargen. And what about the story of Lee? He's heard it many times. “I believe he's channeled her spirit. There's something eerily similar about their sense of humor, their gentle nature—it lumps me up every time I notice it.”

“I tried IVF—and had triplets!”

Cornelia Sullivan has seven sisters. But even she was overwhelmed when she learned that her second IVF attempt led to triplets. She had tried IVF once before, with her eggs and donated sperm, and it didn't work. She'd frozen her embryos, not sure if she'd have the heart to try again. She took time to travel, to date, to think. Seven years later, she owned a house, had a good job, and felt ready.

“All seven of my sisters cheered me on. Each and every one was very supportive of my decision in her own way.”

But three? She was worried. Her doctor was, too. “He said ‘Everyone reduces,’ but I couldn't even consider it. Yet I didn't want to put myself or the babies at risk, either.” After all the medical tests, the eternal two-week wait to find out if she'd conceived—and taking out a home-equity line of credit to pay for it all—this surprise was hard to take without a partner to help hash it out.

But once the shock subsided, she forged ahead. “I took things one minute at a time,” says Sullivan, a speech-language pathologist in San Francisco. At 29 weeks, Ava, Connor, and Emma were born via C-section. The acronym is intentional. “I call them Team ACE. It's in honor of my father, who passed away. He taught all eight of us to play tennis. Ace is the best you can do.” Sullivan's mom flew in from Boston when the babies landed in the NICU, with complications from their premature birth. She'd been Sullivan's rock since the start. “She slept on a cot in my hospital room when I was on bed rest, then visited the NICU with me every day for two months.” The biggest challenge hasn't been juggling three kids but finding affordable childcare. Now she works full-time and has a nanny, but budgeting is a struggle. Still, there's peace in the midst of three-toddler chaos. “Every single morning we wake up and name all the members of our family. We also include friends. And then we say how much we love everyone.”

“I found my baby's daddy on a personals site!”

At 39, Jennifer Lum found herself alone after back-to-back breakups. And she was caught off guard by how suddenly, and how strongly, she felt maternal as she was staring down her 40th birthday. “While I would have loved to share the experience of raising a child with a husband, I didn't want to get married just for that reason.” She went to a sperm bank, but was turned off by the clinical nature of it. “I didn't want to browse through photos of college guys. I figured there had to be a more personal approach.” She realized that placing a personal ad for a “baby daddy” could give her the chance to get to know the father of her child—his personality, his quirks, his background. She had over 100 takers. Lum, who works as a design research consultant, narrowed it down to three: a musician who owned a local studio, a software engineer/professional cellist, and a European mathematician. Won over by his witty charm, she went with the math whiz.

“The biggest surprise was that the vast majority—99 of the 100 guys—really seemed honestly sincere. I still have all the e-mails.”

After spending time with him over the course of a month, Lum got pregnant on the first attempt. Once Levi was born, though, the father's old-school ways—he wouldn't change a single diaper—started to wear on Lum. They disagreed more often than not. Co-parenting, which was Lum's original intent, was not meant to be. But she has zero regrets.

Lum and Levi spend weekends hiking, rowboating, and skateboarding with friends. Levi occasionally brings up wanting a dad. “I acknowledge his feelings,” Lum says. “Then I point out that we know families with two moms, one dad, divorced parents. I talk about the wonderful people in his life and then I bring it back to the most important thing: We have each another.” The one person Lum wishes knew Levi is her grandmother. “I remember one Christmas years ago, she said, ‘You know, Jenny, you don't need a husband to have a baby.’ Funny that she gave me the thumbs-up before I knew that's how things would go.”

Levi is incredibly intelligent but also has ADHD. Her biggest source of support has been from an online parents group. “It's mostly ‘alternative’ moms, letting each other kvetch.” Levi is training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which has taught him focus and persistence. And he's brought home the gold in competitions three times.