Angie Lieber sat in front of the Gorilla Caf’ in Park Slope, Brooklyn, talking to a new friend whom she had met through her parents’ synagogue. Both single moms by choice, they conversed easily, swapping breastfeeding stories and comparing pediatrician notes. Soon they moved to heavier stuff: the decision to become pregnant without a partner, and the complications of getting impregnated by an anonymous donor. As the afternoon slipped by, the women shared a truly post-modern epiphany: their daughters were half-sisters. Incredibly, they had both had selected sperm from the same man.
The coincidence is freakish, but the underlying story speaks to the growing number of women who are choosing to have children outside of marriage. In 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 36% of babies in the United States were born to unwed mothers. In cities like New York, the number is close to 50%. A significant percentage of these single moms were not stereotypical disadvantaged teenagers (for whom child-raising would be a deep financial burden) or high-powered executives (who could easily absorb child-care and other costs), but rather typical middle-class working women. This new breed of single moms make their decision to have children neither as a grand political statement nor as a last resort, but because they don’t want to miss out on the emotional experience of giving birth and raising children.
For Angie, the single mom from Brooklyn, motherhood has always been a priority. As she explains, “My yearning for a child ran so deep I didn’t wait to get married.” And while there were men she could have said yes to, she didn’t feel like any of them were good marriage – or father – material. One month after her thirty-seventh birthday she visited a sperm bank – as she puts it, “the ultimate shopping experience.” She chose one of the few Jewish donors she could find, and was inseminated. Her daughter is now twenty months old.
When asked about the hardships of raising her daughter by herself, Angie starts by saying: “Most single women are people who are comfortable with pushing through things. They don’t fall to pieces. I’m comfortable being and doing things alone.” That said, the challenge is not so much the lack of a partner – although she’d like to fall in love and get married. Rather it’s the bills. Between daycare, rent, clothes and daily living expenses, there is very little money left over at the end of the month. As she puts it, “I knew it would be a financial hardship, but I chose to have a child over an expendable income.” Her “ultimate shopping trip” would, as it turns out, be one of her last for the foreseeable future.
As for needing a husband, observing the marriages around her, many with women doing the bulk of childrearing, Angie wonders how helpful it would ultimately be. “There are very few times that I think to myself: ‘I need a man.’ Mostly it’s when I’m faced with the cost of nursery school.” However, she still sometimes wants a partner. “The reality is that I have emotional needs, and I’d like to be in love, to have security, someone to grow old with.”