For the last three years, four women in New York and New Jersey opened their lives to me as they struggled to get pregnant, navigated the adoption and foster-care systems and juggled a new life with children — all on their own. They are single mothers by choice, a growing number of women who choose to become a parent without a partner.
The majority of the 11 million single-parent families in the United States are headed by single mothers, according to the census. However, that statistic does not show how many of those women chose to start a family on their own.
These four women are creating a life that they want. They decided to not wait for a partner to make a family. Even though they are “single,” the project doesn’t focus on being alone. For each woman, the road to becoming a mother was challenging and complicated, but the results were transformative and joyful.
I remember a soon-to-be mom injecting herself with hormones and the sound of a baby’s heartbeat. I stood inside the delivery room for two births, ate many pieces of birthday cake and felt the strong bond between a mother and her child.
Far from alone, these women now have children that they can share their life with. Though their families may look “unconventional,” their stories challenge the norm.
The stories below focus on the themes of familial strength, perseverance and, above all, love.
She decided to stop waiting for the right person.
Sarah McKnight, 41, Mountainside, New Jersey
After going on many bad dates, Sarah McKnight, a pilot, realized that there would likely be more in her future. She imagined a life where she would meet someone, they would move in together, get a puppy and eventually get married and have children. But that picture was starting to change.
“You don’t need a partner, who needs them,” she said. “We can do this on our own. You can’t wait for a man to come in and make your dreams come true. You have to make your own dreams come true. That’s what I told myself at some point.”
Her journey included, six intrauterine inseminations, a chemical pregnancy, an in-vitro fertilization, a failed frozen embryo transfer, a second frozen embryo transfer, a miscarriage, and another frozen embryo transfer, and more than $50,000 spent in fertility treatments to have a baby. She got pregnant in 2018. When McKnight finally went into labor in July 2019, she did so armed with a powerful playlist of songs, like Destiny Child’s “Survivor” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.” Then her daughter, Charlotte, was born.
Charlotte now is crawling and has two teeth coming in.
“In a way it’s almost bittersweet, watching her growing up and change,” McKnight said. “It’s wonderful watching her learn and mature day by day, but it also makes me so sad” that she’s growing up so fast.
Recently, McKnight moved her tiny family from a one-bedroom apartment in New York City to a four-bedroom house in Mountainside, New Jersey. The new surroundings give them more space to enjoy quiet walks and playtime in the yard.
McKnight’s mother, Betsy, lives with her and also helps take care of Charlotte. McKnight plans to be open with her daughter about how she was conceived.
“This isn’t something I am going to tell her someday,” she said. “This is something she will grow up knowing. It will be normalized for her.”
She sought closure and an adoptive child of her own.
Erica Moffett, 50, of Manhattan
When Erica Moffett started actively searching online to learn more about where she came from, she knew three things: She was born in 1969 in Seoul, South Korea; her Korean name was Sohn Soon; and she was abandoned on the steps of a police station with a sign that read “Please take care of me.”
Moffett was adopted in 1970 and raised by a white couple, Blair and Patricia Moffett, who lived in Wellsboro, Pa. But she always yearned for closure about her own adoption story. In 2014, she traveled to South Korea to find her birth parents, but was unsuccessful.
Of her mother, she wrote in a blog entry, “I still have all the same questions about who she was, why I came into existence, and what she and my father were like. But now I don’t feel that not knowing will kill me, something which I had felt for most of my life. And I no longer feel that the loss of my birth mother is overwhelming, something also that I had felt for most of my life. This is a good thing. But at the same time, I am also sad about the closure. I still grieve, now in the most abstract sense for her.”
In July 2015, Moffett moved forward to build her own family. She reached out to a lawyer to begin the process of adoption.
For most of her life, Moffett had thought about adoption. As a single mother by choice and in her mid-40s, she knew it would be challenging to adopt. She made brochures, a website and postcards about herself, and even paid for Google ads in the hopes of becoming a mother.
After three unsuccessful adoptions, Moffett took some time off to reflect on her journey. She then switched to an adoption agency. She continued working at a financial firm and published a book, “Erica from America: Swimming from Europe to Africa,” which tells the story of when she swam the Strait of Gibraltar.
In April 2017, the agency called Moffett to ask if she was interested in adopting a 6-week-old black child in Florida. She said yes but tried not to get her hopes up once again. The next night she got a call that she was chosen.
Moffett and her mother flew to Florida to adopt Chloe Ann, who is now a curious and vibrant 3-year-old. Moffett knows one day she will need to explain her daughter’s adoptive story to her. Like her daughter, Moffett grew up with parents of a different race. Moffett hopes her own personal experience will make it easier for her daughter to understand her own story.
She was emotionally and financially ready.
Alexa W., 36, Manhattan
Five failed at-home intrauterine inseminations, a round of in-vitro fertilization, a miscarriage, a frozen embryo transfer and about $36,000 paid out of pocket. Then, a healthy baby girl.
Alexa, a psychologist who asked that her last name not be used because of her occupation, was determined to conceive. Her journey as a single woman choosing motherhood is not that uncommon.
In 2016, after years of working in New York City, Alexa started to think about having a child of her own. After a few long-term relationships didn’t work out, she began looking into egg retrieval and fertility clinics.
Physically, financially, and emotionally ready, she began her journey using donor sperm from a sperm bank. She started attending monthly meetings of a Single Mothers by Choice group in a theater basement in Manhattan. In the fall of 2017, after recovering from a miscarriage, she got pregnant again. “The amount of anxiety throughout my first trimester was horrible,” Alexa said. “It was a level of anxiety I had never experienced. That, combined with morning sickness and headaches, made it extremely difficult.”
Her daughter, Lucca, was born in 2018, and the two live in a one-bedroom apartment near Alexa’s parents in Manhattan. They watch Lucca on Mondays and Wednesdays. As New York remains under shelter-in-place orders because of the coronavirus pandemic, Alexa and Lucca spend the time reading books and baking. “Being a single parent now is very difficult and unrelenting,” she said, adding that she was grateful for her mother’s help. One of Alexa’s biggest fears is who will watch Lucca if anything happens to her.
“I think it’s just the vulnerability of the pandemic and god forbid something happens to me. It’s just showing me the vulnerability of life and what would happen if I wasn’t here.”
She wanted to give kids a chance for a ‘happy future.’
Trelawney McCoy, 55, Rochester, New York
After a marriage, a child and a divorce, Trelawney McCoy decided she wanted to open her home to more children — on her own. She adopted eight from the foster care system and has cared for more than 20 others who came to live with her.
“I just wanted to help a kid out, to help make them a better person and give them a chance. A start to a new life, all they need is a start,” McCoy said.
About 437,000 children lived in foster care in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau.Of her eight adopted children, McCoy has three sets of biological siblings. “My goal is to raise as many sibling groups to keep kids together during my lifetime.”
Each morning, as the children get ready for school, McCoy will shout, “Time check!” and one of the kids will shout the time to keep everyone on schedule. They all will climb into her black S.U.V. and she will drive the children to school.
Then McCoy will head to Mt. Hope Family Center, a research center affiliated with the University of Rochester, where she works with teen moms. She gets them the supplies they need, like diapers and formula, and helps transport them to appointments, like to the doctor or job interviews. McCoy is also the president of a local Pop Warner association dedicated to keeping inner-city youth participating in sports and off the streets. Rochester ranks third in overall poverty among the nation’s 75 largest metropolitan areas, according to the census.
Today, McCoy lives with five of her adopted children; three of her oldest have jobs and moved out. She also has two siblings in the foster care system currently living with her.
“If you had told me years ago that I would be where I am now, I would have told you, you’re crazy,” McCoy said. She dreams of a bigger house with more children.
“I just want to look out for the kids, give them something to do, opportunities, and a chance for a happy future,” she said.