He ran three marathons, played tennis in college, was 5-foot-10 and Russian with blue eyes. And then there was the 6-foot South Asian physicist who spoke four languages and loved cats and jazz. Either, I thought, could form the basis of a wonderful life-long relationship.
But this was not dating. This was sperm bank shopping.
On my 39th birthday — single and a few years out from a divorce — I contemplated becoming a mother on my own. It was a heady, empowering moment, considering this thing I had wanted for so long, to be a mother and have a family, was not contingent on finding and marrying a man. The thought alone was hugely liberating.
I bought books and a special thermometer to start tracking my cycles; I joined the forums on Kindara (a fertility app) and spent hours poring through sperm bank catalogues. I bookmarked a tallish blonde and brown-eyed fireman (I know, I know), with a thoughtful personal statement about being of service, and who was willing to be contacted by the child after the age of 18.
Like most shopping I do, I didn’t really look at the price until I started to get attached. Then, I had to wonder if motherhood was something I could even afford. Starting with the sperm: It was £575 per vial (with a 5% discount when you buy six or more) plus a lot of small fees adding up to around £4,000 for a six-pack on ice.
You might need anywhere from three to six vials for a good attempt at pregnancy using the IUI method, which itself would cost a couple of thousand dollars per try. I’d undoubtedly be adding to that the myriad fertility medications and support to help me conceive a baby and carry it to term, but at that point in my life I didn't even know where I'd get the initial £4K, if it wasn't on my credit card.
I also knew that given my age and less-than-stellar ovulation track record, the chances of having to use IVF were decent. Just barely at the tip of the assisted-fertility research iceberg, and my costs were already starting to stack up.
I kept coming back to the possibility of doing this on my own, but I just couldn't fathom how to put together the financial puzzle.
Single parenthood by choice has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention — technological advances have provided new, amazing options for both men and women — but what is less clear is the price of admittance into this privileged club.
While the cost to have a baby entirely depends on each individual’s situation (and insurance coverage), and about a million other factors, the minimum for IVF is somewhere between £9,000 and £18,000 per round, assuming you’ve got your own eggs to use (I didn’t have any frozen). With IVF, I would also have to consider the potential for an exhausting ethical and financial conundrum if it led to multiples — and I really only wanted to have one.
All in, I estimated that getting set up for solo pregnancy could be in the ballpark of £25,000 to £40,000 — babymoon and the actual cost of raising a kid, not remotely included. While I was researching, I also got into and then out of a relationship with someone who was certain he didn’t want kids. I kept coming back to the possibility of doing this on my own, but I just couldn't fathom how to put together the financial puzzle.
What makes this discussion tricky, too, is that for every person who ends the assisted fertility process successfully — that is, with a baby — the cost has been worth it even if prohibitively expensive. Far fewer stories are told about when it didn’t work, but the debts remain; or it works, and then the undercurrent of financial stress just trails invisibly behind the family for years.
While the price to get to motherhood may have a number, the real expense, both emotional and financial, is unbounded.
Author Belle Boggs wrote in New York magazine about her experience with costly fertility treatment. “Even more difficult to talk about than the emotional pain of waiting, I’ve found, is the financial cost. No one wants to put a price on the ability to conceive, or think about how relative wealth or the details in our insurance plans can be the difference between having a child or not.”
There are already promising signs that costs will start coming down. One new company reports it can cut the cost of egg freezing in half from £8,000 to less than £4,000.
While this is great news for the generation of women behind me, as I progressed with my research it was getting more clear that single parenthood would not be the right decision for me— there was my age, my emotional trepidation to embark on parenthood alone, the cold, hard facts of my financial picture.
The money piece of this decision was especially pointed as I was still in the midst of recovering financially following my divorce. The thought of now creating a new debt in the tens of thousands of dollars to get pregnant — plus the cost of raising a child as a single parent — was overwhelming. It also tapped into something deeper: my own childhood.
I grew up primarily with a single working mother, and money was a constant source of stress and drama. One particular early-teenage fight stands out in my memory: I wanted expensive shampoo and needled my mom until she broke down crying. Embarrassed and frustrated, she told me we couldn’t afford it. That scene played out in thousands of small ways over the years. While the price to get to motherhood may have a number, the real expense, both emotional and financial, is unbounded.
Even for my coupled friends who are parents in places like Brooklyn or San Francisco — who have the benefit of two incomes and two caretakers — it’s a struggle to pay £650 a week for a nanny or manage a £12,000-a-year pre-school tuition. That financial burden is quietly tearing at marriages, from what I can see, along with eliminating savings for health care or retirement or, really, anything else.
I’ve spoken to many single moms who seem more happy and relaxed than their coupled counterparts. But many also admitted to me, shyly or inadvertently, that they are financially able to do this in a way that doesn’t bring with it an enormous amount of money stress. There are grandparents in the background, or trust funds, or sources of independent wealth that quietly assist in the task.
While it's hard to admit that sticker shock has played such a significant role in my decision-making, it's even harder admitting that I am also scared to do it on my own because it is hard. Really hard. No one has ever said raising kids is easy — especially no one who’s done it alone. I recently sold my apartment, and opened up some savings I could tap to move forward with single parenthood. But I haven’t. And now I won’t. The urgency has faded with age and has been replaced by a willingness to see motherhood differently and get that connection in other ways, such as the potential to be a step-parent.
Yet if I could tell my 30-year-old self anything about this process, it would be this: Be smart about money. Don’t go into credit card debt or live beyond your means. The truth is, life is expensive, and having money saved will always reward you with options, and then deciding to have a kid or not will be totally, truly up to you.