Celebrate Life Moments
What it's like to be a single mom by choice
Modern Money Matters is Refinery29 and Chase's exploration of what the modern American family really looks like—from starting a family to moving—and what it actually costs to make it all happen. Our hope is to let women from all income brackets talk about their intimate financial experiences. The takeaway: Managing money is complicated however much you make, and we're excited to feature a diverse range of stories and voices.
I'm a freelance writer who brings home about $100,000 a year, which is privileged compared to most people in the world, but pitiful compared to many of the New York City families that surround me.
There is no unspoken trust fund or secretly rich grandparent. Just my work as a writer, which I treasure and never take for granted.
So when I told to my friends and family that I wanted to have a baby on my own, to become a single mom by choice at 38, no one doubted if I could handle motherhood, but a few worried about how I'd afford it.
That kind of feedback enraged me. "How heartless to make this incredible journey about something as cold as money!" I thought, dismantling their concern with the general theory that, "Love is all you need."
Love and $10,000.
That's what I was told the process would cost by another single mom by choice—assuming I got pregnant easily. Truthfully, the figure was lower than what I had imagined. I had $30,000 in savings—money saved from big freelance jobs and gifts from my parents over the years—and was prepared to use all of it, if I had to. I mean, wasn't that why I had a savings account? For majorly important adult things? What better way to spend my money?
I called a friend who had undergone fertility treatments, and she connected me with a doctor at New York University (NYU) who was apparently "the best." Everything I did for this pregnancy would be "the best." This was not the time to skimp.
His office did not take my insurance, so an administrator broke down the costs for me. If everything went well, the final bill would be about $7,000. If I couldn't get pregnant via intrauterine insemination (IUI) and had to do in vitro fertilization (IVF, which is more in-depth and involves combining an egg with a sperm outside the body, then transferring it inside the body), it would be substantially more than I could afford. Like all fertility stories, I had to take it day by day.
I also had to watch my spending habits, which meant that luxuries like expensive lattes and going out to dinner were easy to cut. I'm a passionate home cook, so this was a great excuse to focus on eating at home again—a lifestyle tweak I looked forward to rather than dreaded.
Ordering the sperm was the most visceral part of the journey. I used a sperm bank that had also been labeled "the best," and selected the VIP membership ($250) because it included several baby and childhood photos of the donors, in-depth health history, candid donor descriptions from the staff, and, most poignantly, voice-recorded interviews with the donors.
I ordered two vials of sperm to be stored for ovulation time. They always insist on two vials in case something happens to the first one. Both vials plus shipping and storage came to about $2,000.
I was interviewing a celebrity yoga instructor when I got the life-changing call from NYU. On my second time around, the IUI worked. I was pregnant! I wrapped up the interview as quickly as possible and galloped out of the ashram. It was a freezing cold winter day and I stood in the middle of the street, without my coat on, sobbing my eyes out. I did it!
Next, I was transferred to a regular OB-GYN office. The new doctor took my insurance, so in terms of money spent during my pregnancy, that's between me and the burger joint I frequented like crazy.
Even when I was pregnant, some friends continued to question how I'd afford raising a child. I still wasn't worried about it. But it's also important to point out that I had a really good situation—one most single moms aren't lucky enough to have. Around the time I decided to embark on having a baby on my own, I moved into my parent's building—where they owned two apartments. They're not affluent, they were just lucky to buy in Brooklyn before it was gentrified. I paid them a drastically discounted rent, and they also offered child care once the baby came, which saved me thousands of dollars. Rent and child care were covered. Those two things made everything possible.
As for work, it should be known that there is no more ambitious person than a pregnant future single mom. I was never as busy or as successful as I was the year leading up to my daughter's birth. My accountant says it was my best year ever.
My daughter, Hazel Delilah, arrived on October 3, 2015. She is sweet and gorgeous and radiant. I absolutely worship her.
Babies actually aren't that expensive in the beginning—all of her stuff was from her cousins or my baby shower. For six months, I mostly just breastfed, worked, and tried to find time to shower.
After Hazel turned 1, I started to engage in the infamous preschool conversation. Up until then, I didn't really know or care about the nuances of different schools. We loved our free library story hours and $10 music classes in the park.
I assumed I'd send Hazel to the preschool an artsy, pastry chef friend sent her kids to—I liked her parenting style and her kids were groovy yet grounded. When I called the school to get a rate, I nearly dropped the phone when they said $22,000 a year. My heart sank. I knew private schools in New York were outrageously expensive, but I wasn't expecting preschool to be nearly the cost of college tuition.
Suddenly, living in financial oblivion was no longer a sustainable livelihood. I had to get it together. Learn to budget. Learn to invest and grow whatever I had. I had to learn how to open a 529 account.
I started shopping for Hazel's clothes at an online consignment store. Most of her toys and gear came from giveaways on mom-themed Facebook groups. And friends and family were extremely generous with everything else—from strollers to games.
As for preschool, I started looking around for other programs. I found several interesting and affordable options. Because that's the thing—there is a way and a place for every child. You just have to be creative and resourceful and not afraid to stray from the status quo.
Will my daughter ever have a wealthy mom? No, probably not. But her life is rich. Her story is sacred. And our dance parties are priceless.
In 40 percent of US households, women are the primary breadwinner. To find out more about how women are taking control of their financial power, click here.
Illustration: Assa Ariyoshi | Alyssa Shelasky is a Chase News contributor. She is a freelance writer who covers relationships, food, and travel. She is currently developing a television series based on her life.