Going Solo: 5 Single Moms Talk Divorce, IVF & Being The Breadwinner

Motherhood is a tough, beautiful, and nerve-wracking ride. Having a partner can help, but is not always an option. For reasons ranging from personal preference to divorce, widowhood, and beyond, many women in the U.S. are now choosing to raise children on their own — and they’re doing just fine. Here, we asked five single moms to share their journeys.

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Photographed by Nancy Bulma Fields. Kat: Prabal Gurung Coat; Eloquii Long Sleeve Turtleneck Top, $49,95, available at Eloquii.com; Stylists own earrings and ring. Nora Grace: Nora Grace's own onesie.
Kat Curtin, 39, senior director of product marketing at Xandr, an AT&T company 
New York, New York
Mom of Nora Grace, 10 weeks
For me, motherhood involved a lot of searching, planning, and thinking. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in college, and that was a sign to me early on that I might eventually struggle with regular ovulation and fertility. I knew some medical odds were already stacked against me. 
I dated a lot, and had some good relationships in my 20s. At 31, I was in a serious relationship with a divorcée who had two teenage children. We got engaged in 2012 and started trying to conceive. But in 2013, I learned he didn’t want any more kids. I knew that — if I had to choose — I could be happy having a child and never finding a husband, but not vice versa. We called off the wedding, and parted ways. I decided to become a mom alone; I didn't know the journey would take me almost eight years.
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In 2014, I joined a group for single mothers by choice, read books, and learned all about conceiving alone. I found a fertility clinic. I had a “choose my baby daddy” party with my closest friends to help me pick a sperm donor. I did three IUIs, which some people refer to as “the turkey baster method.” It's a bit more complex than that. In my case, it was a medicated cycle, meaning I was taking fertility drugs throughout to help me ovulate. I had one chemical pregnancy with my first IUI that they knew wasn’t viable from the beginning. So I decided to try for IVF (in-vitro fertilization), which is more intense. It involves injections, instead of oral medications, and fertilizing an egg with sperm in the lab before implanting it back into the uterus. I did one round, and it seemed very successful. During my egg retrieval, the first part of the IVF process, the doctor got 30 eggs, and 20 embryos. This was absurdly high because I had what’s called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. That means you’re over-responding to the fertility drugs. After they take out the eggs, the side effects can cause your body to fill with fluid. It can be dangerous, and sometimes even deadly. I wanted to do a “transfer fresh,” without freezing the eggs, but they wouldn’t let me because of that. I remember saying: You have to let me. I’ll be fine! You can even hospitalize me, it’ll be fine! 
We froze all the embryos. The next month, we did a transfer and I became pregnant. It turned out the pregnancy wasn’t viable — a heartbeat wasn’t detected at eight weeks. So I had a dilation and curettage — commonly known as a D&C, where they remove the fetus medically. That was a little bit of a blow. I took a year off. I switched jobs. Then I learned about genetic testing of embryos at my Single Mothers by Choice group. I decided to unfreeze the embryos and have them tested so we could find the most viable ones. There were 12 that were viable. Most of them were girls, which is my preference. I was very happy. 
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I did another frozen transfer of two eggs via IVF. The doctors told me I was having twins. The pregnancy was riskier and it was very difficult for me. I was sick every day. The twins were fine — until they weren’t. At six months, right when a baby can be viable if born, I ended up in preterm labor. The doctors didn’t realize it, so I ended up giving birth in triage, which is basically where the nurse preps you when you come in. That’s not where you want to give birth, it’s terrible. The girls lived for one day. They were too small. This November will be the two year anniversary of that.
Right after labor, my doctors realized I had preeclampsia that was undiagnosed, which is dangerous for pregnant women. If I hadn’t gone into labor that day, my life would have been at risk. Sometimes really terrible things can prevent other really terrible things.
When I want something, I don’t give up. I’m a little like a dog with a bone. But the idea of being pregnant with the physical risk and the new emotional baggage didn’t sound good. It took six months, but I found a surrogate in Colorado — one of a handful of states that allow you to be a single mother, use a surrogate, and have your name on the birth certificate. She got pregnant right away, and didn’t have any complications. So I went to Greeley, which is about 50 miles north of Denver, and camped out until she delivered my my daughter, Nora Grace. Nora Grace and I had an instant bond.
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My surrogate and I are still in contact. She even sends me breast milk in the mail that I feed to Nora. At Easter this year when she was pregnant with Nora Grace, she sent me a bunny and a recording of her latest ultrasound. I sent her “bump baskets.” I’d recorded audio of myself reading stories, and gave her headphones to put on her stomach so the baby would know my voice. We even did a photo shoot together after Nora Grace was born. It’s a big bond. It’s different, but in a truly good way. 
When I started this journey, the company I worked for didn’t have any fertility benefits. I knew I was going to be paying out of pocket, no matter what doctor I went to. I picked Weill Cornell Medicine. I already had a “family fund” of $50,000 that I’d saved in my 20s. I thought that would be enough, but it wasn’t. I decided I’d try not to spend more than $100,000. I didn’t want to incur debt, because I didn’t want to start my motherhood journey behind. So I did a lot of Rover dog sitting, baby sitting, and random jobs, on top of my day job, which pays pretty well. I was at my budget when I lost the twins. The total cost of having surrogate was $140,000, which goes to the agency that matches you, legal fees, the surrogate herself, and other expenses. Choosing surrogacy financially was a major hurdle for me, much harder than the idea of someone else carrying my child after what I’d been through. So I reassessed, added yet another side-hustle gig to my roster, and walked so many dogs. It was all worth it. 
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When Nora Grace is old enough to understand, I want her to know that even if her family unit looks different from someone else’s, that doesn’t mean there’s any less love. I was so committed to having her and raising her. I hope it makes her feel wanted. I want her to know how many people prayed and yearned for her for years before she even existed. I also want her to take the story and realize this: If there’s something that you really want —  even if the way you get it is different, even if there are hurdles — you can persevere and get there. 
Photographed by Nancy Bulma Fields.
Christine: By Malene Birger Erna Dress, $418.45, available at ByMaleneBirger.com; Fvermeulen Earrings. Maya: Stella McCartney Light Cotton Sweater, $108, available at StellaMcCartney.com; Prabal Gurung Skirt; Roxanne Assoulin Necklace; AYM Julia Hair Clip, $36.77, available at AYM-Store.com. West: Prabal Gurung Top; Bonpoint Jogging Pants, $150, available at Bonpoint.com
Christine Michel Carter, 33, speaker, writer, creator of Mompreneur And Me
Baltimore, Maryland
Mom of Maya, 8, and West, 4
As a single mom, you just have to realize that the day-to-day is going to be a shitshow, for lack of a better phrase. You have to be flexible, be there for school drop offs, pick ups, and the madness of it all. 
My husband and I were best friends and college sweethearts. But two years ago, we came to terms with the fact that we’re really better friends than lovers. We divorced this June, after separating in November 2017.
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It’s been difficult for my daughter Maya. My son West is a little too young to understand, but he will say things like: “I miss dad.” In some ways, Maya struggles to understand how we have such a cordial relationship. It’s important for me to let her know that we’ll always be a family. I didn’t change my last name, and their father is always welcome in my house. I’m very supportive of him, and I want her to understand: Although we couldn’t make it as lovers, we’re aligned on how we want to raise her. There’s no reason why I need to be nasty to him. I set my daughter up with a therapist. I told her that there’s nothing wrong with talking about our problems. He has them on Friday after school until Sunday evening every other weekend.
When it’s just you and the kids, it can be hard to find a moment alone. If I want to run errands, I have to take the children. When I want to go to the gym, I have to make sure the daycare is open, and we leave the house as a gaggle to go there. I’ve learned that you have to set boundaries. There was a time this summer when my ex wasn’t being as reliable with picking up the children every two weeks, and I had a bout where I couldn’t get away from the kids. My children tend to be dramatic like their mom, and I just needed a break. My daughter would text me on the iPad all day when her aunt was babysitting her. I had to say: I’m not fine with her texting me all day long. That shit is annoying. I need to recharge, reflect, and be productive at work. I told her aunt: You’ve got to take the iPad away. I had to set boundaries. 
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It can be difficult to find moments for self care practice by myself. I have to be very mindful about making me time. It sounds antisocial, but on Saturdays and Sundays when my ex husband has the kids, I make sure I’m alone — I’ll take myself to dinner, for example. But you have to find balance with that, too, because you have to be very cautious about how you spend money as a single parent. I don’t have the luxury of getting my nails and hair done all the time. I have to think strategically. Usually I’ll allow one treat a month, and I’ll try to mix up the activity so it stays exciting. One month, I’ll go to a therapist for emotional care. The next, I might do my nails. The next, the spa. It’s just nice to have something to look forward to on your calendar. 
It’s funny, I prioritize taking care of myself more now that I’m single. According to my ex, I had plenty of opportunities when we were together. He says I could have taken a break, but I never felt that way. I felt that I needed to take care of everyone, and do it all by myself.  
One nice aspect of being single is that I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s needs. In some ways, I got rid of the third child. If I’ve had a hard day at work, if all else fails, we can just go to McDonald’s. I don’t have to pick up the house after him. I remember one of the first months after I got divorced, I was outside and the wind hit me. And I thought: What is this fresh air? The world looked new to me. I didn’t have my head down anymore, frantically running from one activity to the next, cleaning up after a grown man. I didn’t have to do that anymore. 
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It’s not always glamorous. In the morning I feel very productive, very Beyoncé — I run the world. And then the nights can get lonely and emotional. You’re coming down from that high at the end of the day. And you're wondering if you’re going to be alone like this forever. Is anyone gonna love you and cuddle you at night? And then you go to sleep, and in the morning, you’re like: But I made the best decision of my life. Let’s make a new day. It’s just confusing. I go through bouts of that, but it’s completely normal. You’re never going to feel confident in your decision every minute of the day. But truly, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. At the end of the day, my kids are the most well-adjusted, well-rounded children that I've ever met. I’ve got a great support system, a good relationship with my ex. I’m happy. I know that I am loved. 
Photographed by Nancy Bulma Fields.
Margo: Mara Hoffman Sophie Dress, $550, available at MaraHoffman.com; Lizzie Fortunato The Ridge Cuff, $115, available at Shop.LizzieFortunato.com; Lizzie Fortunato The Arc Cuff, $195, available at Shop.LizzieFortunato.com; Daniella Shevel Bella Donna Boots, $495, available at DaniellaShevel.com. Amelie: Gap Baby Softspun Print Dress, $24.95, available at Gap.com; June & January The Knit Tights, $13, available at JuneandJanuary.com
Margo Weiss, 39, manager of contracts and grants
Brooklyn, New York 
Mom of Amelie, 1 
My mom was 36 when I was born. On my 35th birthday, I realized that I’d need to get pregnant soon to have a child at the same age that she had me. At the time, I was in a relationship with someone who didn’t want any more kids. I needed to make some moves. I decided to have a baby on my own using a sperm donor —  while still in a relationship. I told him that we could just see what happened, and maybe he could be a father-like figure to my baby. I thought he was okay with it, as I tried to get pregnant with someone else’s sperm. But I’m not sure I was listening to what he wanted. 
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I bought some sperm, which my insurance didn’t cover. It’s about $800 to $1,000 for a vial if you want the highest motility. I was also looking for a non-anonymous donor, so my daughter would have the option of connecting with him when she turns 18. That jacked up the price to $1,000. 
I was pretty serious about getting pregnant via IUI. I didn’t want to have IVF because it’s such an invasive procedure. But after my eighth failed attempt, my doctor sat me down and said there was about a 2% chance I’d get pregnant that way. Ultimately, I did IVF, and the doctor retrieved 21 eggs. Ten embryos were ultimately viable. After that, I did genetic testing on them, and I had five good ones. During this time, the man I was seeing was there during the egg retrieval when I needed to be sedated. He stayed in the waiting room. I did one official IVF transfer and it happened to work. I know I’m very lucky it did on the first try. I took a pregnancy test one morning, and it was positive. My partner was there, and I showed the test to him. Shortly after that, we parted ways on a mutual basis.
My first two trimesters went well, but the third was emotionally and physically difficult. That’s when it really set in that I was doing this on my own. I have a very strong support system, but many of the people I know who have children weren’t very positive about their own experiences. They said it was the hardest thing they’d ever done. It made me nervous. I wanted people to tell me about all the joys. I started to get concerned about how I would take my dog out. How could I walk the dog at night? I couldn’t just leave the baby home alone!
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Luckily, when the baby came, I figured out solutions to my worries. I’m very close to my neighbor, and when I need to take the dog out, he’ll come over and watch Amelie. He's come to have a major role in raising her — from watching her when I travel for work to teaching her to enjoy nature by taking a moment to examine a tree in the park. It really does take a village to raise her, but it’s made her so open to new people and experiences. Although I don’t have a spouse, I have so many people who are willing to lend a hand. I have a friend who comes to visit from Rhode Island once a month. She brings food and cooks meals for me. When the baby wakes up in the morning, she says: Margo, go back to sleep. I got this. This is only a small glimpse into the strong support system I have in place. In some ways, I feel I have it a lot better than some people in relationships whose partners don’t carry their weight.
It’s a bit difficult to raise a baby in the city on one income. The rent is high, and it can be hard to get around on the subway. When we get to the stairs at the station, I just have to hope someone will help me carry her stroller up. It would be easier, in that aspect, if I had a partner. I’m very into sustainability, but that’s harder too as a single mom. I don’t buy baby food that comes in a pouch, because you can’t recycle those. But I wanted to use cloth diapers originally, and that’s just not possible. If I had a husband who could have freed up some of my time to do laundry, maybe I could have. But I have to pick my battles. 
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After I had my daughter, I liked her. Some moms feel this intense love right away. I can’t say there was some crazy explosion of joy. Labor was tough for me, and my daughter was colicy — she cried for four months straight. But after that, she turned into this wonderful baby bug. She’s so friendly, happy, curious, and loves to eat everything. The more time we spend together, our bond just gets stronger and stronger. It can be overwhelming, but it’s a decision I would do over again. Our love keeps growing as the days go by. 
Photographed by Nancy Bulma Fields.
Rachna: Marina Rinaldi Silk Tunic, $925, available at us.MarinaRinaldi.com; Marina Rinaldi Stretch Wool Trousers, $895, available at us.MarinaRinaldi.com; Stylists own shoes, Rachna’s own jewelry. Risa: Stella McCartney Zebra Cotton Blouse, $93, available at StellaMcCartney.com; June & January The Basic Short, $15 $10, available at JuneandJanuary.com; Roxanne Assoulin Bracelet; Risa’s own shoes. Raina:Oeuf Bubble Top, $90, available at OeufNYC.com; June & January The Basic Short, $15 $10, available at JuneandJanuary.com; Risa’s own shoes
Rachna Shah, 44, partner and managing director of PR and Digital at KCD
New York, New York 
Mom of Risa, 4, and Raina, 1
I've always wanted to have kids, but assumed I'd meet someone first. In my 20s, I didn’t meet the right guy. Same with my 30s. I’d tried online dating, and was doing what I could, but I just wasn’t finding the right partner. I turned 35 and thought: Hold on a second. I don’t want to miss the chance to have kids. I didn’t want to panic, and didn’t want to be the girl who just has to get married. At 38, I went on a trip to Cabo with a bunch of my girlfriends. I came home and thought: I don’t want to do this anymore. This have fun, work, travel, shop, repeat thing. It was fun, but I wanted to focus on someone other than myself. I was tired of me. I wanted to expand my heart. So I looked into having a baby by myself. 
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I talked to some people who’d done it, and they said they had no regrets. It was the best decision they ever made, they said. That helped. Next, I talked to my family. My parents were born in India and moved here before I was born — they thought it was a little untraditional, but were supportive. My dad was open-minded. My mom said: Are you sure you just can’t find someone to marry right now? I told her it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. And I started the process. 
I felt like I was online dating for a sperm donor — they give you a lot of information about them. I mostly cared about medical history, and not so much about whether he went to an Ivy League school. I tried to choose sperm from a man who looked like someone I could date, someone my type. In the spring of 2014, I started doing IUIs to get pregnant. I did three, and then got pregnant right before I turned 39. 
It was amazing and surreal. Pregnancy really prepares you for the fact that things are going to change. Your life is no longer alone. Having Risa was magic. I was happy to have a girl, and luckily didn’t have a difficult postpartum situation. Thank God for maternity leave. 
When Risa was about a year old and I was 40, I started to think about a second baby. I was all settled, and had figured out a system of balancing work and motherhood, thanks to my nanny and family. But I grew up with siblings, and wanted her to have that. And, if anything ever happened to me, I wanted her to still have a person who was all hers. 
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Some people reserve sperm from the donor they use for their first child so they can have more children with the same genetic background. But I didn’t do that. I wanted to focus on my daughter the first time. When I called the sperm bank about a second child, they had no additional sperm left from my original donor. They told me that they’d be willing to reach out to see if he’d donate more since I’d already had a child by him. It’s funny, they know these people. Sure enough, he came back and donated so I could have Raina.
I had eight vials of sperm, and decided that’s how many tries I would do, knowing I was older and it might be harder this time. I did five rounds of IUI. They didn’t work, which was hard on me, partially because I’d told more people than I had when I was trying to get pregnant the first time. So, I decided to do IVF. But before the egg retrieval, they did an ultrasound and only saw two eggs — some people have tons. My doctor told me that it wasn’t likely the IVF would work with only two eggs. So I decided not to go through with it, and did another IUI instead. I took a test on Christmas Eve and found out I was pregnant. I was so happy. I didn’t know what gender I was having, but I hoped for a girl. I started to worry, if I had a boy, who would teach him to knot a tie or to shave? I was more nervous about these things the second time. But I had my beautiful baby girl Raina after a great pregnancy. And then the juggle got real. One of the best hacks of getting motherhood, for me, was getting a Peloton bike. You don’t have to get a sitter to go to the gym, you can just do it in your home and it’s so effective! 
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I’m pretty organized, which was helpful after each of the girls were born. I knew going in that I was going to need help. Luckily, I’ve worked at my company for over 20 years, and had a stable job and financial situation. I decided to get a nanny. You have to find someone you trust, because you’re trusting them to help you parent. 
I don’t think motherhood is stressful. Of course, there’s worry that comes with work and not having enough time. But, my girls, they don’t stress me out. This is what I'm here to do. I love teaching them about how the world works, walking Risa to school, and just having peaceful moments with them. These are my people, and I love taking care of them. 
Photographed by Nancy Bulma Fields.
Amber: Tory Burch Gathered Taffeta-Sleeve Dress. $898, available at ToryBurch.com; Jennifer Fisher Mini Samira Hoops, $295, available at JenniferFisherJewelry.com; Joanna Laura Constantine Wave Statement Bangle, $429, available at JoannaLauraConstantine.com; Lady Grey Thin Organic Ring in Gold, $144, available at LadyGreyJewelry.com; Lady Grey Organic Ring in Gold, $180, available at LadyGreyJewelry.com. Teagan: Oeuf English Sweater, $110, available at OeufNYC.com; June & January Dress
Amber Leahy, 32, Vice President, Senior Corporate Communications Manager At TD Bank 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
Mom of 19-month-old Teagan
Teagan was three months old when I decided it was time to get out of a relationship that was unhealthy for both of us. The decision to leave my marriage last July was the hardest one I ever made, but I wanted to set the example for my daughter that she shouldn’t put up with behavior that she believes is unacceptable.
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My support system was crucial. I was a new mom, first-time homeowner, I’d just gotten a big promotion, and I was going through a divorce. It was a bit overwhelming. I made a list of people I thought could help me. I told my parents I was going to need assistance with pickups and dropoffs after my maternity leave. I leaned on my siblings and girlfriends for emotional support. I’m super type A and an overachiever who wants to do it all herself, and I felt a little bad asking for help. But I didn't want to sink — and it was sink or swim at that time. 
I went back to work after four and a half months of maternity leave in August 2018. After that, I was really trying to balance being a mom and a career woman. The first time a colleague casually asked me, “what does your husband do for a living,” it was tough. It hit a nerve. There was a lump in my throat. I answered and breezed over it, not really lying, but also not telling the full truth. But as I became more comfortable with my reality and confident in my decision to leave my marriage, I told my colleagues what I was going through and they were so supportive.
The ability to really master time management was key — so was ordering groceries from a delivery service. And getting a diaper subscription, so they come straight to my door every week and I don’t have to think about buying them. It takes a lot of organization, and being able to look at your calendar and say: Where could things go wrong. Which meeting could go late, and who should I ask to cover daycare pickup for me that day?
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When you’re the sole provider for your child, you have to think about the financial future for the two of you. It’s just me paying for everything right now, so it’s not like I can save hundreds of dollars each month. But I pay all of my bills right after payday, and when I do that, I have a recurring, automated charge that puts away some money in a special savings for Teagan. The more money I make, the more I’ll put towards her fund. 
One nice thing about all of this is that I’m the executive decision-maker in my daughter’s life, so I can call all the shots on my own. I’m the one who decides where she goes to preschool, and I'm the one who teaches her how to be kind and to say please and thank you. I think every parent has fears about making the right choices for their child. In some instances, it would be nice to have a partner to bounce things off of. But, generally, I like having the power to make the choices.
I learned from leaving my marriage that change is really freaking hard, but you grow from it. If something is making you unhappy, no matter how scary it is to change your life, you’ll come out on the other side much better. I grew into a new person, and, looking back, leaving was the best decision I’ve ever made. 
I started dating again this spring. First, I took a solid eight months off and really focused on myself. I went to therapy, read books, and tried to be the healthiest version of me. I met my daughter’s father when I was 22, so I hadn’t dated in 10 years and had no clue what I was doing — everyone’s on apps now! Some of the dates have been fun — some less so. I admit I’m skeptical about getting married again. 
My motto in dating — and in life, these days — is this: I’m just gonna take it day by day and see what happens. I never expected my life would possibly go down this road, and I don’t know where it'll take me. But I’m enjoying the ride and am so grateful to have the carseat in the back. 
DESIGN AND ART DIRECTION ANDREINA CARRILLO. ANIMATION BY MISHA TOWNSEND. PHOTOGRAPHED BY NANCY BULMA FIELDS; STYLED BY JAMIE ORTEGA; HAIR + MAKEUP BY ANDI ELLERBY USING MAC COSMETICS FACE AND BODY.
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