I met Sarah Mann in Brooklyn, New York while staying with a friend in a cool loft that once was a sewing factory. The quintessential artist’s crib, the loft was a bit rough around the edges, but over the years the environment had become a beautiful creation from being inhabited by artists.
A jewelry designer by trade, Sarah was always active, riding her bike through the streets of Manhattan in a torrential downpour, or heading out for a long walk. Her life never appeared stressful or overly packed with things to do—everything flowed. She always seemed calm but at the same time always was telling rich thoughtful stories about meaningful relationships and activities. She was the most balanced person I had met.
I remember being surprised when Sarah and I were taking a walk around Prospect Park in Brooklyn and she shared her secret with me. She wanted to have a baby and was starting to prepare to do it by herself. At 35, she realized the window was closing for her and while she still had time for a meaningful relationship, time for having a baby was running out. I was also thinking about having children and I marveled at her thoughtful approach.
Sarah began her journey by joining Single Mothers by Choice, a support group dedicated to helping single women wanting to have children, or who are currently pregnant or who already have children. She spent the next year as a “thinker.” Other members of the group were called triers, adopters or mothers. Sarah’s year allowed her to research thoroughly what would become her next roll. She wanted to make sure she was ready mentally and emotionally to become a mother before she became pregnant.
After a year, she knew she was ready. Her pregnancy came about from a willing friend who Sarah had known for a long time. Sarah was considering having a known sperm donor and she broached the subject with her friend Mot. They envisioned their roles in the baby’s life. They realized this was something they felt confident doing together and created what she calls the Intentions Contract. Each of them wrote out their expectations and questions for discussion including: time spent with and access to the baby, financial obligations, contact with the baby if either one moves out of town, who gets the baby if Sarah dies, any considerations around the baby’s long-term well being, when they get into other relationships how will that change contact with the baby, family contact, who has a say in the big life decisions for the baby, what if the baby wants more or less contact with Mot.
Working through these details together, even when the subjects were difficult, was important to her. “I wanted Stella to know that I thought a lot about having her,” she says, “I also wanted her to know that her father thought about her too.”
Stella was born at home, in the same loft where I met Sarah. Sarah and Stella are a family of two, and Mot visits periodically and has remained a friend of Sarah’s but with minimal role in Stella’s life. As a single mother, Sarah recognizes that her path is far from easy. Not only is she the only person responsible for this child, but also she has observed that society is less accepting of her alterative family. “Being responsible for the well-being of another life is the biggest challenge you can imagine,” she says, “particularly when you layer in the lack of societal acceptance.” She goes on to say, “It is not like I get cheered on the same way a couple would, I have to work harder at seeking out my support and also go within myself to seek out my own cheering section.”
But having Stella is the most rewarding thing she has ever done. She has observed her self-confidence soaring.
“If being a single mom is something you want, you will find the passion, strength and resources to be a great mother,” she says, “Having Stella illuminated a part of my humanity that I was unaware of. As a single Mom, I discovered a strength that was untapped, and a resourcefulness that I had no idea I was capable of. I discovered a level of sensitivity and understanding about caring for another person that was dormant. I have always considered myself an insightful and fulfilled person and as this experience has unfolded, I feel a tremendous sense of pride in myself as a single mom. It been far more rewarding than I ever imagined.”