What I Expected—And Didn’t Expect—About Choosing to Become a Single Mom

Nicole Lenzen

At a crossroads in my late 30s, I made the bold choice to become a single mother. I wasn’t in an active romantic partnership at the time and had never been particularly drawn to the idea of marriage. Despite having bucked societal expectations continuously throughout my life, a part of me was still subconsciously absorbing the noise that parenting wasn’t a solo act. 

We all know that what’s long been seen as the ideal model for a family in the U.S. is the cisgender, heterosexual couple with two kids (despite the high divorce rate in this country). 

However, many friends who had recently had a child with a partner expressed frustration at the inequity in their partner- and parent-ship. I did wonder about the other side of the story that I wasn’t hearing. Research continues to indicate that women perform more caretaking and household duties than their husbands.

While processing family options, I would occasionally come across people stuck with archaic views of what children needed—and they weren’t only from older generations or fixed mindsets! A friend of a friend went so far as to berate me in a public setting with his aggressive ranting that kids should grow up with both a female and male parent (despite the toxic relationship he had with his own father). 

I was used to being independent, controlling my own decisions and moving quickly without having to negotiate every step of the way with someone else. I valued flexibility and adventure. 

But I had also learned through working in highly collaborative environments the benefits of a collective effort. Regardless, I decided to go for it on my own, banking on my resourcefulness and proven ability to adapt to countless life challenges.

Of course, I didn’t really have an understanding of what I was in for. 

Embarking on fertility solo

The fertility journey proved to be a huge learning curve. It was embarrassing to realize how little I knew about the reproductive process going in, and how uninformed we are as a society. While I admire those who leave pregnancy to chance, I found that learning about and working with all of the nuanced factors that could potentially be deterring (or supporting) the cause to be incredibly empowering. 

After miscarrying and understanding the risks of declining egg quality that comes with age, being able to make informed decisions based on my real-time test results and scientific knowledge was quite comforting. 

Of course, there was also still plenty of room for nature to have its say. My journey involved three intrauterine inseminations (IUIs), one miscarriage and finally one successful round of IVF. My retrieval yielded 22 eggs, but after fertilization and five days of development, genetic testing revealed only one viable embryo (my lovely daughter). 

This all kicked off the year I turned 40, and took place primarily during the pandemic. 

I paid out of pocket for my fertility treatments, which was no small expense. The only time I had those kinds of benefits was when I was working for a company where women famously postponed considering building a family in favor of their career. 

Traveling abroad had been a consideration, as the cost of working with fertility clinics in most other countries is far more accessible. I even looked into the option of spending a year in Barbados via their tourism campaign to attract remote workers during the pandemic. But, with all the unknowns in the pregnancy timeline, I decided to stay in the U.S. (I later met someone who had successfully conceived going the Barbados route!) 

Of course, I have no regrets and consider that money the best investment I’ve ever made. But hearing about other single women who did have benefits, but whose insurance companies favored hetero couples by only paying for assisted reproductive technology after six months of trying enraged me. 

I was also shocked to discover the discrimination in France against lesbian and single women trying to conceive. (They’ve since updated their legislation to allow these groups access to IVF and provide them for free, the same as married male and female couples.)

Finally pregnant—and on my own terms

For me, pregnancy was amazing, if not a bit surreal. 

While caring for my Type 1 Diabetes was intense, I was fortunate enough to feel more or less like myself throughout those nine months. Floating around in my own world, I was blissfully unaware of others’ observations of my changing body. 

That is, until the head of HR at the company where I was working looked me up and down one day and disdainfully “complimented” me on my dress. Later, when I shared my news with the leadership team, one of the male executives exclaimed, “I was wondering why you would wear something that was so unflattering!” 

The aforementioned head of HR also told me that on a recent company volunteer day, three separate employees had asked her if I was pregnant. I didn’t even think I was showing. So much for people minding their own business. I shook it off, unwilling to allow others’ thoughtlessness to disturb the euphoria of my pregnancy, and the long journey to get there.

My medical team was incredibly supportive, as well as my network of friends. (With my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis a few years earlier, my circle had already naturally shed people who were unwilling or unable to meet me, and life’s crap, with open vulnerability). However, I was shocked at the general lack of caring I experienced—while riding the subway, men regularly stared at my emerging belly, yet wouldn’t give up their seats. 

I found some reprieve in the Single Mothers by Choice group, a network of women any- and everywhere on the journey, from deciding, to trying, to pregnant, to mothering. The community is full of supportive ladies on a solo mission to mother and is refreshingly inclusive of all means of getting there, including sperm, egg, or embryo donorship, adoption, and surrogacy. The group discusses a wide range of topics such as fertility medication regimens, OB/GYNS, and daycare, and passes along essentials like maternity wear and baby furniture.

In my third trimester, I enrolled in several courses on birth education, lactation, postpartum planning, etc. Being the only single parent-to-be in most of these classes didn’t bother me, and the added benefit was that I got to be the demo person for instructor-led partner massages! 

Becoming the mother I always wanted to be

Since having my daughter, I’ve never felt so much love and happiness. Her birth changed my state of being in the most positive way. Of course, as all new parents experience, the lack of sleep and expertise in this role was more than exhausting, but I never questioned my choice, and felt a new presence take over my being.

My parents contributed in the most helpful ways—taking on feeding night shifts, cooking, cleaning, and shuttling us to pediatrician and post-C-section appointments. 

A fourth-trimester support group was especially valuable in those months when everything was new and all of us new moms were struggling with a plethora of challenges—trouble latching, breastfeeding strikes, scary vomiting episodes, managing our own chronic illnesses, mental health depletion, etc. 

My plan was to return to work after 3-4 months of leave and put my daughter in daycare. What I didn’t expect was how bad of a fit daycare was for her at that age—she hated it! I also didn’t expect to lose my position at work soon after my return (I had planned on staying in that role for quite some time). All of that combined left me super unprepared for the next phase. A past version of myself would have let off the steam and hustled to the next gig, not worrying about how long it would take or what that looked like. 

But now someone else’s well-being depended entirely on me! And we were still far from the point of sleeping through the night and approaching a set of significant life decisions with well-rested logical thinking. 

My parents, who were retired, and not to mention smitten with my daughter, offered to step in and help out with childcare. While this option hadn’t even previously been something I had considered, I was extremely grateful. This setup is allowing me the space to get a new business off the ground, travel (usually bringing Sofia along for the ride), and seriously consider what I want for us as a family. 

Having a partner might have opened up other avenues, but not once has it crossed my mind that it would have been the preferred route. I don’t feel that I have sacrificed anything important, and my sense of integrity and independence has never felt stronger.

I recognize how privileged I am to be able to have this kind of choice, the means to pursue it, and the support network around me. I understand that every single parent’s journey is different, many being due to unfortunate circumstances and not by choice. Regardless, I believe that family is what you make it, and that a child can thrive with any configuration of loving parents or caretakers. 

While I anticipate life as a single mother continuing to unfold with surprises at every turn, I’ll continue to give my daughter the best life I can, and in the spirit of the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song, I know that home is wherever I’m with her.  

Find more reflections on motherhood on The Mother Chapter


  • Nicole Lenzen

    Nicole Lenzen is a coach, consultant, facilitator, and mother, specializing in guiding women through transformative journeys into parenthood, leadership, and entrepreneurship. She advises companies on organizational and parental leave strategies and leads collaborative learning and development workshops. She is a single mom by design, raising a curious young adventurer. Nicole finds joy in city exploration, remote camping, and sharing yummy meals with loved ones. Follow Nicole on Instagram. and visit her website.

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