The No BS Truth About Having A Baby On Your Own

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
When I became a single mom to my daughter, Lucy, 18 months ago, I expected some raised eyebrows. I expected a few looks of pity when I said her father was out of the picture. But what I didn’t expect was the question, asked by everyone from the barista at my favorite coffee shop to some of my closest friends: Should I do it, too?

By "it," they mean have a baby, on their own, by choice. While that wasn’t exactly my circumstance — I became accidentally pregnant while traveling abroad, even after I took the morning-after pill — my answer is always the same. Just do it. Stop the analysis, stop the back-and-forth, stop the pro and con list, and seriously take steps down the path to make it happen.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t think finances and work and childcare and all the hundreds of things that make it complicated to add a child to your life. But I am saying that those conversations with yourself should help guide you, not drive your decision. Because, at least in my experience, lists and back-and-forths and should I or shouldn’t I conversations take away from the bottom-line truth: If you want it, you will make it work.

When I found out I was pregnant, I had been traveling abroad for seven months, living out of an oversized backpack. I watched the pregnancy test turn positive in a hostel bathroom in London, only to have to wash my hands, pull out my laptop, and do an interview for a story I was reporting 10 minutes later. I dealt with low-grade first-trimester nausea in the Scottish Highlands, sleeping it off in a rickety top bunk bed. I saw the first swimmy sonogram of my daughter in an Irish doctor’s office and finally came back to the States at 10 weeks pregnant to take my stuff out of storage, find an apartment, get a job, and settle down.

When I went into labor, I took the subway to the hospital by myself — and stopped to get a bagel and coffee on the way, the only part of Lucy’s birth that went according to plan. Three days after a C-section, I spent my first night alone with Lucy in my — our — apartment.

Since then, we’ve always been a cozy team of two. I didn’t leave Lucy with anyone for the first six months of her life. I even brought her with me on a job interview — which I got! It was crazy and intense and absolutely, positively doable.

I’m not going to lie: Those first few weeks of Lucy’s life were full of uncertainty and anxiety, but also familiarity. In so many ways, they reminded me of the first few weeks of freshman year of college, when you were surrounded by new people, in the middle of a new routine, and experiencing a huge identity shift while trying to make your way through the day. Also, I had the nine months of pregnancy to prepare to be a mom, but if we’re honest, I really had my whole life. I had always imagined motherhood as a hazy spectre in my future, but I felt all the skills I had learned as a babysitter and day camp counselor in high school come flooding back as I learned how to parent Lucy.

If you want it, you will make it work.

Advertisement
And here’s what I realized: Sometimes, life just throws stuff at you, and you rise to the challenge because you have to. Yes, a baby is a life change. But you’ve likely already been through some kind of major life shift and survived. And having a baby isn’t any different.

Six years ago, my mom died. While I may have spent my 20s imagining eventually becoming a mom, I certainly never imagined what my life would be like without my own. Losing her to a particularly aggressive form of cancer was a singular, soul-rocking shock, and yet, I was back at work three days later. I remember going out with friends a week after her funeral, amazed at how much I could pass as just a normal twentysomething.

And it was only after I had Lucy and got so many congratulations and tiny baby onesies as gifts and invitations to new mom groups that I realized: There’s no signifier that marks you as someone who has lost your mother. I had to go through that identity shift alone, and it was achingly, exhaustingly hard — and still is. In contrast, I found the transition to becoming a mom relatively seamless, simply because I knew that, even if I am a single mom, I'm not alone.

Obviously, becoming a parent changes your life. I had to delete my TimeHop app because I would get a pang of physical pain in the center of my stomach whenever I saw a glimpse of how carefree my life was a few years ago. I miss leaving work and not knowing where the night would take me. I miss going on dates — I date, but now even a quick glass of wine requires a back-and-forth with a babysitter and a $20-an-hour bill. And, I miss the old me.

But here’s the thing: Even if I hadn’t had a baby, I would have missed the old me. Because missing the old me isn’t so much missing the freedom and dating and endless glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s missing that period in my 20s when I was simultaneously naive and optimistic and searching and adventurous. Of course, those are all still aspects of my identity. But all the events of the past six years — losing my mother, losing my job, traveling around the world, making the decision to be more comfortable in my own skin through therapy and self-examination and, yes, having a baby — has changed me.

And that’s what I’m getting at. I’m not minimizing what a big deal having a child may be. But I am saying that having a child is not the only “big deal” you’ve encountered in your life. So, if it's what you want, go for it — and trust your gut that you’ve got this.

Advertisement