If you’ve decided that a little bundle of joy is what’s missing from your life, maybe you’re ready to take on the challenges of single parenting by having a baby without a partner. That means determining if you have sufficient resources to get pregnant, and figuring out how you’ll manage pregnancy and single parenting. You understand this will impact not only your education and career, but also your future relationships.
Maybe you’d never imagined you’d find yourself in this position. Maybe you’re wondering whether you can make it all happen. An important decision like this comes with a lot of questions, and gynecologist Amy S. McGaraghan, MD, of Lahey Medical Center, Peabody, has answers.
“I like to focus on issues you may or may not have considered as you contemplate ‘Can I wait?’ or ‘Can I do this on my own?'” she said.
What Are the Chances?
First, Dr. McGaraghan thoroughly evaluates your chances of getting pregnant by asking a few basic but important questions:
- What are your past and current medical problems, and what medications, if any, are you taking? Both could impact fertility or present risks to a pregnant mother or a fetus.
- Have you ever been pregnant before? If so, what is your pregnancy history?
- Have you been diagnosed as infertile, or treated for infertility?
- What is your menstrual history?
- What types of birth control have you used?
- Have you ever had any sexually transmitted diseases or infections, prior surgeries, or conditions, such as endometriosis, that could affect fertility?
- What is your history of tobacco and alcohol use?
- Are there any occupational issues that could affect your fertility?
After she gathers that information, Dr. McGaraghan will talk about what really guides the course of pregnancy.
The Critical Factor
“The most important factor of all is age,” she said. “All women have a finite reproductive span and have a certain number of oocytes, immature eggs in the ovary. These mature and are later released during ovulation.”
Generally, fertility is best for women in their 20s and 30s, Dr. McGaraghan said.
“With each menstrual cycle, the chance of conceiving is roughly 20 percent,” she said. “This decline begins gradually at age 32 and accelerates after age 37.”
Multiple factors come into play as a woman ages, and many of these factors relate to her hormones.
“The number of oocytes naturally declines,” Dr. McGaraghan said. “Other medical problems can impact fertility, and other pregnancy risks increase, such as abnormal chromosomes, miscarriages and birth defects.”
Understandably, that’s not what many women want to hear.
“Despite great advances in reproductive technologies to help women who are older or with decreased fertility achieve pregnancy, none of them can reverse the effects of a woman’s age,” Dr. McGaraghan said. “Doing in vitro fertilization for someone who’s 35 won’t make them as fertile as someone who’s 25, because we can’t turn back the clock and make the eggs younger.”
If you’re ready to move forward and discuss your goals about single parenting, visit a gynecologist to review your overall health and to make sure you’re up to date on your screenings.
If you and your doctor decide you’re ready for the next step, you may be referred to a fertility specialist for further discussion of available treatment options. These include intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, use of a donor egg, and adoption. Women who want to defer childbearing but are worried about future age-related infertility can discuss egg or embryo freezing.
Before you decide to pursue any avenue, be very clear about the benefits of your health plan, Dr. McGaraghan said.
“Find out what your insurance plan offers for fertility evaluation and treatments, or for egg or embryo preservation,” she said.
Having comprehensive information about the many aspects of single parenting helps ensure that you make a confident and informed decision — one of the most important of your life.
It’s OK to Ask. Really.
When you make the decision to have a baby without a partner, you might automatically think, “I’m strong. I can do this alone.” Those who have done it — and there are millions — and many parenting experts say that while going it solo could work, it’s hard. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help with your needs, like transportation to and from appointments, throughout your pregnancy.
Winchester Hospital, a member of Lahey Health, provides several resources for new and expecting parents, including support groups and parenting classes. These classes can help you gain more confidence in yourself as a sole caretaker of a new bundle of joy.
For more support, every state has a 211 hotline that offers help with child care and other services. Check out the website and community Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere for opportunities to connect with other solo moms and for helpful articles and other information.
Finally, try to cut yourself some slack when you don’t do everything perfectly. Believe us: You’re doing a great job.