Brenda Levine* always wanted to have children. When she reached her late 30s and still hadn’t met her ideal mate, she decided that with the help of a sperm donor and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) she would conceive on her own. As a result she had twins, a boy and a girl, at age 45.
“I did everything that I wanted to do in my life,” says Brenda. “I did the traveling for 20 years. And this was next.”
For more than a decade, single women choosing to parent without a partner have been popping up in plots of well-known television programs. The phenomenon first appeared on Murphy Brown, then on Friends, and more recently on the television series Jake in Progress. On the show’s sneak-preview episode, Jake’s female boss grumbles that no man would date a middle-aged woman who’s six months pregnant. She adds that the father, donor number 326A, was unavailable.
Whether television has influenced reality, or real events have sparked new program ideas, women on and off the air have decided to opt for pregnancy without a partner. Unlike women who are left alone due to divorce or death of their spouse, these women have consciously made their choice to have children on their own.
In 1997, single mothers delivered 32 percent of the 3.9 million live births in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Ten percent of these women were teenagers, and 17 percent of the births belonged to single mothers between the ages of 20 and 29. Today, one-third of all American children are being raised in single-parent homes, headed by the mother, according to the US Census Bureau. Older single women are contributing to the single mother statistic, but for different reasons and with different resources.
“The literature and my experience suggest that women who make a deliberate choice to become moms, whether it’s through conception or adoption, are different from people who accidentally become moms,” says Dr. Mary Casey Jacob, professor of psychiatry and OB-GYN at the University of Connecticut Health Center. “The women who are choosing this tend to be educated, to generally have strong support systems, predictable income—not necessarily rich—but they’re able to afford a home, childcare, and either adoption or medical treatment [assisted reproductive services].”