IVFML Season 2, Episode 8: Single Motherhood By Choice

More women are either freezing their eggs or embarking on motherhood alone to keep themselves from pairing up with someone out of panic.

When comedian and actress Molly Hawkey decided to use a sperm donor to become pregnant on her own, she didn’t approach a fertility clinic or sperm bank.

Instead, she did something oh-so-2018: She launched a podcast and began interviewing all the men in her life to see if their sperm was up to the task.

Throughout the course of the podcast season, Hawkey delves into her own childhood, asks close friends and old lovers why they think she was never able to find “the one,” and instructs guy friends on how to use sperm analysis home kits.

In addition to being hilarious, the episodes are invasive and TMI and self-deprecating and embarrassing. But beyond the immediate task at hand, which was to find sperm for her first insemination, Hawkey’s episodes hint at deeper issues.

Why had she failed at finding a mate? Why did Hawkey feel as a young woman that she was encouraged or “allowed” to be driven about her career aspirations but not her family-making goals?

“Women don’t really feel open about talking about this kind of stuff,” Hawkey said. “We feel like we’re whining, or that we sound like we’re little romantics… and it will scare a man away.”

Listen to Episode 8 of ‘IVFML Becoming Family’ below.

It’s unclear how many women, like Hawkey, set out to become a single mother on purpose. Research to date suggests that these numbers are very low, and because few representative surveys ask women about their plans before birth, scientists can only guess at how common the decision is.

A 2015 analysis of national data from the early 2000s estimates that, at most, less than 3 percent of women become single mothers by choice. Researchers could only guess, but for the purposes of the analysis, they deemed “single mothers by choice” those women who were 35 or over, obtained higher education, and had wanted to get pregnant but were neither living with someone nor married when their first baby was born.

These demographic descriptions fit Hawkey to a T.

Now 40 years old, Hawkey says that if she had known she would be sacrificing her goal to become a parent to achieve her goal to be a working actress in Hollywood, she isn’t so sure she would make the same choices over again.

“I have failed at finding the man of my dreams, and I’ve failed at making that family that I’ve always wanted,” she said.

“I think that probably was hard for me, [and] made it hard for me to start my podcast,” Hawkey continued. “To admit to the world that I was not able to do this thing that I’ve always wanted, and now I have to figure it out by myself.”

As an insurance policy for herself, Hawkey froze her eggs at age 37, reasoning that if she ever did end up finding a partner, he might help her pay for IVF with his sperm if they were too old to conceive naturally.

This put her in the company of more than 20,000 American women who have frozen her eggs.

Experts have often explained a rise in egg freezing and delayed childbearing by pointing to women’s higher educational attainment and ambitious career goals, both of which compete with family-making, as Hawkey said.

But in-depth interviews and surveys with women who freeze their eggs suggest that not finding a partner is an even more salient reason for delayed childbearing. Like Hawkey, these women say that they can’t find romantic partners that they think would be good co-parents.

A 2018 qualitative study of 31 women who had frozen their eggs found that the majority of them hadn’t been able to find a romantic partner, or they hadn’t been able to find a romantic partner willing to become a father, by the time they froze their eggs.

The study, published in the journal Human Fertility, said that two-thirds of the women froze their eggs to avoid what researcher Kylie Baldwin called “panic partnering.” In a piece for the Conversation, Baldwin, of De Montfort University in the U.K., describes “panic partnering” as “entering into a relationship with a partner they would not have otherwise chosen simply to prevent unwanted childlessness in the future.”

Baldwin’s study echoes the findings of a 2013 survey of 478 women who had frozen their eggs. The results, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, found that 88 percent said they didn’t have children yet because they hadn’t found a suitable partner.

Lauren Grimley, a 38-year-old single mother by choice, also joins this episode of IVFML. She said she couldn’t find a romantic partner and that was the primary reason she decided to become a single parent through the use of donor sperm and fertility treatments.

“I’ve definitely met some great guys dating, but I’ve never had a long-term relationship that I thought, ‘Maybe this is the one,’” she said.

When she was 34, she actually did meet someone who was interested in a long-term commitment and parenthood but decided not to pursue the relationship because of a lack of romantic interest on her part.

“It finally occurred to me that this guy was great, I really liked him as a friend, but there was no romantic interest,” she said. “I remember bawling on the bed to my mother on the phone, saying, ‘I don’t want to break up with him, because what if I don’t meet someone else?’”

In the end, Grimley decided that staying with him just to have children would be unfair for their potential family, so she cut ties to embark on motherhood alone.

Four years later, there’s nothing she regrets about her decision.

“You do get to make all the decisions yourself, and while sometimes that can be stressful, a lot of times it’s easier to just have one person doing that,” she said. “I do think I’d love to have a partner, but I know it adds another layer to things, and I don’t have to stress about that.”

“IVFML Becoming Family” is produced and edited by Anna Almendrala, Simon Ganz, Nick Offenberg and Sara Patterson. Send us an email at IVFML@huffpost.com.

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