Preparing to Be a Single Mother by Choice Was the Hardest Thing I've Ever Done. Here's How I Got Through It.

Photographs Courtesy of Aisha Jenkins
Photographs Courtesy of Aisha Jenkins

It was a cold February day when I found myself lying on the table, my feet in stirrups, anxiously awaiting the sound of my 8.5-week-old fetus's heartbeat. My eyes searched the monitor, following the pointer, but the nurse turned to me and the doctor, shaking her head. My heart sank as I realized there was no little flicker on the screen, no heartbeat.

This was my first attempt at conceiving my second child, and my first experience with in vitro fertilization ever. IVF was expensive but promised good success rates, so I had started the process with excitement and anticipation after two failed attempts at intrauterine insemination (IUI).

But even though my IVF cycle had produced two grade AA embryos (a sign of good quality embryos that have a great chance of "sticking") and my pregnancy had been confirmed at six-and-a-half weeks, it ended that day in the doctor's office, two weeks later. I was crushed.

That was my first miscarriage. But sadly, I would go on to have four more over three years, before I finally got to welcome my second child. And as a single mom by choice, I went through all of that alone, just as I had with my first child.

My decision to become a single mother by choice was a five-year journey, one that started with the end of my marriage, which I came to realize wasn't aligned with my desires to have children. I knew I wanted to be a mother more than I wanted to be a wife, and I was determined to make it happen. I planned, and researched, and pushed forward — and now I have two amazing kids.

I love my family exactly as it is. But while I'd expected single parenthood to be challenging — as all parenthood is — I was often surprised by the actual hurdles that I faced when it came to preparing to be a parent.

I came to learn that this is common for single parents by choice (often called SPC or SMC). When partnered people have questions about preparing for parenthood, there are books and online communities that speak directly to them. For single people, the very questions that come up — about getting pregnant, having a baby, and ensuring a future for the child — can be different. And the advice that works for partnered people doesn't always apply.

When I was trying to get pregnant with my second child, for instance, I was grappling with the physical symptoms of IVF cycles and the emotional grief of miscarriages while handling the logistics of caring for my eldest child all on my own. While most parents have heard that the transition from one child to two can be daunting, I hadn't heard anyone warning about the particular issues I was facing as an SPC. I'm grateful that I've always had a strong support village around me, and I ended up making it through. But it was one of the few times I've thought that things might be easier with a partner.

Another unexpected challenge came during my first attempt at conceiving, when I was choosing a sperm donor. I was shocked to find that there were few Black sperm donors available. As a Black woman myself, this meant being faced with intentionally creating a multiracial child, a prospect that required significant reflection and processing.

If I had a child with a partner of a different race, we would navigate racial dynamics together. But as a single parent by choice, I would bear the sole responsibility for explaining to my child why I made the decision I did and answering any other questions that arose about their identity and heritage.

Ultimately, this made me be even more thoughtful and deliberate in my choice of donor than I otherwise would have been. But I had to figure out the way forward on my own without much help from established resources or friends who'd been through the same thing.

It was the same when I was faced with figuring out how to tell my child their conception story, and how to have conversations about estate planning (which is crucial as a single parent with no built-in backup plan in the form of a partner). I forged my own way through research and the support of my community, but I had to do a lot of figuring out on my own, and at times I felt very alone.

Ultimately, preparing to be a single parent was the hardest thing I've ever done. But the experience of parenting my children has been incredibly rewarding. Becoming a single mother by choice has allowed me to fulfill my dream of motherhood and gave me a newfound sense of strength and purpose. It may not be the traditional path, but it can be a beautiful one.

Because I often struggled to find resources during my journey, I try to be a source of support to other SPC and SPC-to-be. And in our conversations, I often end up repeating the same advice.

  • Stay focused on your end goal: to become a parent. How you get to that end goal might look different than what you anticipated, so plan to be flexible on your journey, knowing that only your end result is non-negotiable.
  • Be clear about your goals and expectations for parenthood. What kind of parent do you want to be? What values do you want to instill in your child? Life can be unpredictable, especially as the sole parent, and when you find yourself in difficult parenting situations, it's helpful to have a clear set of expectations to fall back on. This will help you avoid getting caught up in the heat of the moment and allow you to focus on what's really important in that parenting moment.
  • Build a support system of friends, family, and fellow single parents by choice. Surround yourself with people who can provide emotional support and practical assistance when needed. Although at times the road to single parenthood can feel lonely, you're not alone on this journey, and there are many people and resources available to help you every step of the way. But one thing I did with my support system that I suggest everyone do is that I informed them I was seeking their support and not their permission. This goes back to being focused on your goal. I made it clear that I was becoming a parent. Removing the idea that I was at all flexible cut down on the number of times I was faced with harmful negativity.
  • Protect your mental health. Throughout the process, I took care to stay connected to my emotions by journaling and talk therapy. No matter how excited you are to create your family, you may confront some feelings of grief along the way. I needed space to process my feelings and mourn the loss of ever having a family in the traditional way. I also had to mourn after each miscarriage. Giving myself the time and space to do this allowed me to be a better parent later on.
  • And most importantly, give yourself grace. The desire to parent is something that cannot be measured or defined by traditional lines. Acknowledge your emotions and seek support when you need it; you're human. These are actually the characteristics you'll find useful in the future as you parent your child.

Aisha Jenkins founded the podcast "Start to Finish Motherhood" for single parents by choice and people thinking about becoming one.