I Wear My Single-Mother-By-Choice Badge With Honor

A woman navigates a non-traditional path to motherhood, resulting in the birth of her daughter.

I always wanted to be a mom and, oddly enough, a part of me knew I’d be a single mom. This came from years of seeing parents argue about how to raise their kids: complaining about sharing holidays with in-laws, about their partner not being reliable or supportive or getting divorce and having to share custody. 

While I fell in love a few times and found partners I thought I might spend my life with, a few did not want children. The more I thought about giving up the chance to become a mom, the more I knew I simply could not. I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant and give birth. I wanted the challenges and struggles of parenting—along with the beauty, connection and fun of being a mom. I wanted to pass on my grandparents’ secret bread recipe that only I knew how to make on to my own child. I wanted it all.

I kept thinking I had time to find the right person until I woke up on my 40th birthday—and thought the time is now

Not only was it my age, but also the fact that I wanted my mom to be a part of my child’s life. My mom went  through stage 3 bi-lateral pancreatic cancer and I didn’t want her to miss the opportunity to meet her grandchild.

So, I got started by asking myself: Where do I start in becoming a mom on my own?

Naturally, as a therapist myself, I talked to my therapist first. Could I do it? What would it take? How would people view me? How would my therapy practice change? I knew deep down I was emotionally capable, but I knew I would need to research more to know if  physically I could carry a child. 

Oddly enough, years prior, I had stumbled upon a woman on Instagram sharing her story about being a mom on her own. I still did not know there was a term for it. I reached out and was surprised that someone with millions of followers replied back. She suggested a Facebook group for support and to talk to my doctor ASAP. 

When I met with my primary doctor—a mother of three—she laughed at me and said “Why would you want to be a mom? It’s exhausting!” She had no idea how to help me or where I should go to begin my journey. I felt discouraged and cried in my car on the way home. I drove to the bay in my small New Jersey beach town because watching the water is always a calming place. I called my therapist who reminded me of all the challenges I have overcome in the past and how much I desired to become a mom. 

She asked “Are you going to let one person or one challenge deter you from this dream?” No, I was going to let it fuel me.

I wiped away the tears and journaled in my car. Then I took action steps. I was going to become a mom! I knew it. It had to happen. I found a fertility clinic to go to that was supportive in my journey and a fertility doctor who had gone through IVF herself. I was determined to turn that eleven percent chance of success into reality.

Financing IVF

The financial road bump was the biggest obstacle. I guess I knew subconsciously it would be expensive but just how expensive shocked me. In total, one round of IVF with the medications cost me more than $40k—which does not include yearly embryo storage fees. I missed the opportunity for some grants because of my age. And working for myself meant I could not access fertility insurance or loans. 

I was looking at every avenue to find a way to afford IVF. Some people suggested other clinics that were cheaper—but they did not have the success statistics my clinic had for women my age.  Also, some clinics had a robotic vibe that wasn’t person-centered. Maybe it’s my background as a therapist, but person-centered health care was worth every penny.

I wanted to feel like me, Abbey, not ‘single white female, age 40.’ 

I found a list of grants you could apply for that included a wide range of demographics— except for women wanting to become Single Moms by Choice. I even stumbled upon a clinic in California where you could buy raffle tickets at the chance of winning a round of IVF. A raffle to have a baby! 

After exploring every financial support option available to me, a good friend of mine suggested I set up a GoFundMe. I was so fearful of what the responses would be, but I wanted to become a mom and I was willing to do whatever it took to get there. 

I raised some funds and was surprised by who supported me and who didn’t. It hurt when certain “friends” who praised my potential as a mom didn’t back me. During this time, I learned to let go—an ongoing skill. I held onto people and possessions tightly, even when they didn’t serve me, and began clearing out unnecessary clutter from my life. Now as a mother, I know there’s only so much energy you can give without receiving it back.

How did I save up and make it happen? I credit 20 years of self-employment and prioritizing building savings over health insurance.

During COVID, I worked more than ever. Virtual therapy allowed me to offer more flexible hours, and eliminating my commute gave me greater availability. The pandemic highlighted the crucial need for therapy, with clients realizing their previous paths weren’t fulfilling their dreams. It strengthened my pursuit of my lifelong dream of motherhood.

The dreaded waiting game

Once the financial aspect was figured out—the rest was emotional and physical. And it was all, pretty much, alone. I’ve faced many challenges solo. Did I want a partner to cheer me on, take candid photos, and curl up with after a long day? Yes! But I also knew I had the strength to do it by myself, and I could rely on my mom and therapist for support during tough times.

The IVF process is long—but it becomes routine. I kept schedules on my fridge and phone, detailing blood work, monitoring, injections and pills. Despite not being a morning person, I embraced waking early and driving 75 minutes for daily monitoring, finding energy in the sunrise. It symbolized a new day, a new chapter, a new life I was manifesting. I had a playlist to calm and motivate me.

I took each day as it came. Some with challenges like receiving the wrong medication or it not being refrigerated. The panic that came of “I messed this up. It was my only chance.” In those moments, I’d text my mom and my therapist. I’d take my dog Sadie for a walk in the woods or at the beach. I’d silence my phone and I’d quiet the voices that said it “couldn’t be possible” or “I’m failing.” I tapped into the voices who believed. I forced those to become louder. I daydreamed of my child and our future. 

Right before the day of my egg retrieval, it felt like I had water balloons in my ovaries since there are more follicles than usual. After this procedure, there was a lot of waiting and I had to work that patience muscle. It was necessary during IVF, and then later in motherhood. After retrieval, I kept my phone on at all times, eager for the answers to my many questions: How many viable eggs? Then how many made it through a X amount of day blast? Then, how many made it to be embryos and what was their grading? 

For me, relief finally came when I had embryos to transfer.

Once everything was in place—from finances to medication—transfer day was scheduled. It involved more injections, medications and monitoring. Witnessing the tiny embryo in a large incubator-like machine was surreal. I was alone in the room with my mom on FaceTime. The moment the embryo was transferred, I had a feeling it had worked. I truly felt like I was pregnant. 

But, of course, as every woman who has been through IVF knows, then came more waiting. They advised against home pregnancy tests, but I couldn’t resist. I saw a faint line. Was it real? Over time, it darkened, confirming a positive result. Blood tests later confirmed my pregnancy, but I kept the news private, sharing only with my mom and therapist.

I’m having a baby!

At the beginning of my pregnancy, life felt surreal. Was my dream of becoming a mom really happening? Four weeks after my transfer day and on my 41st birthday, I heard my baby’s heartbeat. The beauty of IVF is that you have extra monitoring and testing so hearing the heartbeat early is a bonus. 

As an introverted, shy person who tends to be a people-pleaser, learning to be assertive has been a journey. I often felt uneasy expressing my needs and desires, fearing it might come across as harsh or bitchy. However, once I became pregnant, my approach shifted dramatically. Despite occasional discomfort, this was my dream pregnancy, and I knew exactly what I wanted. Ensuring my team of doctors aligned with my preferences was crucial. 

I made tough decisions and fired a few OBs and maternal fetal medicine doctors until I found my two midwives. I took charge of my healthcare, advocating and educating myself without hesitation. When challenges arose, whether with finding a birthing center, a doctor, or dealing with insurance, I reminded myself that there was a purpose behind every obstacle—a silver lining. In the end, none of that mattered—because I was going to have a baby!

What did I miss about being pregnant and solo? Surprisingly, not much. My mom joined me for some ultrasounds and appointments, which was helpful early on. I did miss having someone take intimate snapshots like other moms post, but I reflected on what those meant to me. Did I need them? Could I hire a photographer or take some photos myself? I realized I was comfortable and confident in my own pregnancy journey.

Letting go of expectations

We all have images and expectations of how we want our pregnancy and birth to look like. Maybe they all happen or maybe it all goes sideways. Right? There was a point in my life when I pictured a husband in the picture and giving birth with him holding my hand. But now I was able to write a new story. 

Due to IVF, I couldn’t work out for many months. Once cleared, I found that my planned pregnancy workouts, like lifting weights, no longer suited me. Instead, I swam and paddle boarded, both perfect options as I love the water. I had envisioned more birthing options like a home birth or birthing center and expected my doula to be present throughout, but she arrived just in time to take photos of my daughter being born. I also thought I could decorate my hospital room with lights and play music, but there wasn’t time. I had also hoped my daughter would grow up with Sadie for a few years, but unfortunately, ten days before giving birth, I had to let my dog, Sadie, go onto adventures without me. 

Sadie grounded me, taught me about being a mom, and saying goodbye to her was the hardest decision of my life. Grief overwhelmed me, but a compassionate nurse at the doctor’s office advocated for me. The day after Sadie passed, my blood pressure spiked during an appointment, and the doctor wanted to induce labor. The nurse explained my situation, allowing me to go home and rest.

I’ll save the details of my birth story for another time. What’s important is that it felt right. I was cared for and surrounded by amazing women cheering me on. Childbirth is a whirlwind, especially during active labor, but I trusted my body, and my baby arrived. Holding my daughter for the first time, the rest of the world disappeared. It was just us, exactly as it was supposed to be.

Post-birth, we faced some challenges, and I wish I had been clearer-headed to speak up and trust my intuition. A key lesson is to ask questions and be assertive. Ignore the noise from the internet, social media and apps. Trust your gut, heart, and intuition. Ask for help without hesitation, and keep asking if the first person doesn’t assist you. Be honest with your feelings.

Discovering my postpartum self

I am sometimes asked if I miss having a partner on my motherhood journey. The answer is no. I don’t feel that anything or anyone is missing. My life feels complete and fulfilled. I’ve never felt more calm and confident in myself. Though there are stressful, frustrating, and overwhelming times, I know they’re fleeting moments. My identity has shifted, and I feel like I’m finally who I was meant to be. 

I used to juggle a million things, so why should postpartum be any different? Picture me years ago: full-time graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in an executive program, working full-time, taking guitar lessons, interning, managing my household, and rescuing a puppy—all while single, without financial or daily support. 

So why couldn’t I have a baby, launch a new course, and start writing my book during maternity leave? Other women seemed to manage it, with babies napping throughout the day for uninterrupted work time, right? And of course, I could bounce back to my pre-pregnancy body! I saw other women do it, but why couldn’t I? 

What you don’t always see or hear is the reality of support that women have. I envisioned my postpartum experience looking different. Those first forty days were tough. I was also mourning the loss of my four-legged best friend.

After having my daughter, I had stopped listening to my intuition. I was exhausted from waking her every two hours to feed her due to her high bilirubin levels. Even when I could sleep, adrenaline kept me awake. I relied on apps and online searches instead of trusting my heart and instincts. I felt unsure as a mother until I started listening to myself again—the inner voice that had guided me through countless challenges before.

Once I tapped into my whole emotions, my inner voice guided me. Postpartum became more manageable, though never easy. I discovered new approaches, like co-sleeping, which became a lifesaver at three months postpartum. I wish I had known about it sooner as a safe option.

Can I clone myself?

Balancing postpartum challenges includes yearning to be a full-time stay-at-home mom while pursuing a fulfilling career. Some days, I wish I could clone myself or split into two. When I’m working, I hear her cry or laugh and long to be with her. Conversely, when I’m with her, thoughts of work often cross my mind. Despite these dual desires, I’ve found a rhythm and a broader sense of balance in this season of life, even though daily balance can be elusive. I’ve come to accept that it’s okay to feel conflicting emotions simultaneously.

As a self-employed therapist, I had no paid maternity leave and planned to rely on savings. I informed clients I’d be on leave for ten days before my due date and resume limited sessions a few weeks after delivery. However, after my daughter arrived, I postponed virtual sessions for four months and delayed my “Reclaim Your Life” course launch. This left me disheartened but determined to prioritize my readiness.

Being fully present for my clients is crucial in therapy. Emotionally and mentally, I didn’t feel prepared to deliver the level of care they deserved while adjusting to motherhood. Financially, it was a risk, but I managed with careful budgeting despite unexpected newborn expenses.

The challenge of balancing motherhood and professional life became apparent. As much as I love my work—sharing my message and strategies to empower others throughout life’s seasons, I wasn’t yet adept at code switching between roles without compromising either. 

The transition from therapist to mom required a different kind of readiness, one I needed more time to develop. 

My experience created a yearning for discussions that delved into personal growth, parenting, and career development. This longing inspired me to create the Ambitious Mamas Collective: A Space to Thrive. The AMC offers a free virtual meetup for moms who, like me, are driven to excel in both motherhood and their careers. Starting this community was daunting, balancing passion with the fear of low turnout. Whether one mom or a roomfull attend, I commit to showing up with enthusiasm, support, and a dedication to fostering connections.

Doing it on my own

You don’t need to wait for “prince charming” or the perfect partner to start a family or have a baby of your own. You do not need everything to be perfect or wait till the perfect time to go after whatever dream or goal you have. It is about taking one small step towards that dream. 

“I AM A MOM!! I am a MOM!” I often find myself shouting these words in my head.

Twenty one months later and I am still in shock and awe that I am one. I love it more than I even imagined was possible. My heart has expanded more than I thought it could and so have I. 

I do not shy away from saying I’m a Single Mom by Choice. It is a badge of honor.

I am so proud to be my daughter’s mom. The sacrifices, the lifestyle changes, the expense is worth it. Motherhood to me is priceless. It’s everything.

Author

  • Abbey Sangmeister, MS.Ed, LPC

    Abbey's mission is to help people reimagine the seasons of their lives. She believes every season holds beauty despite its challenges when you have the right strategies. As a therapist and coach, Abbey provides tools to build a solid foundation for any life season. Abbey encourages people to find contentment in daily life and to enjoy the present moment, as life has no guaranteed timeline. She inspires her clients to pursue their dreams, no matter how unconventional, and to define "having it all" for themselves, not based on others' expectations. Driven and adventurous, Abbey, though an introvert, often steps into an extroverted role to inspire and share her knowledge. A proud Single Mom by Choice, she and her nature-loving toddler can be found on the beach, in the sea, climbing mountains, or snuggled up reading books.

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