Single women increasingly pursuing parenthood on their own

June 23, 2018

Maryse Zeidler






Lack of partner one of the primary reasons for women aiming to parent solo

Myriam Steinberg was 40 and fresh off a breakup when she realized that if she wanted a baby, she'd have to do it alone.

"I realized that I couldn't take the risk of having to wait two or three years," Steinberg said from her home in East Vancouver. "It's been a major roller coaster."

Four years later, she is now 12 weeks into her fifth pregnancy; she lost the other four.

Steinberg, an artist and former festival producer with a shock of purple highlights in her hair, has partnered with an illustrator to write a graphic novel about her experiences with fetal loss and trying to conceive.

She is part of a small but growing number of single women across Canada who are pursuing parenthood on their own. Research shows that most of them are doing so because they haven't yet found the right partner.

B.C.'s largest fertility clinic, Olive Fertility Centre, says the number of single women coming in to inquire about their options has more than tripled in the past five years. Other clinics across Canada report similar increases.

It's an issue that Vancouver psychologist Judith Daniluk, whose research focuses on the subject, says is becoming more pervasive.

Women are now able to choose the right partner for emotional and parenting support — not just to conform to social norms of marriage or to survive financially, she said.

That's a good choice for women to have, but it does potentially have unforeseen consequences, Daniluk said.

"If you're waiting for Mr. Right and he doesn't come along, then what do you do?" 

'I just let time slide'

Steinberg was in her early thirties when she decided she wanted to have kids.

But she was also in the throes of an 11-year stint producing the now-defunct In the House Festival, which presented concerts and shows in people's homes.

"I just kind of forgot and I just let time slide," she said, sitting in her living room filled with art and books, a piano and a leopard print lounger. 

Steinberg broke up with her boyfriend when she was 40. She gave up running the festival and booked an appointment at a fertility clinic.

She did consider adopting, but the costs, years-long wait lists and no guarantee of getting a child meant that wasn't an option for her. She also wanted the experience of conceiving and bearing a baby.

Dr. Niamh Tallon, a doctor at Olive Fertility Centre, said she's seen a steady stream of patients like Steinberg that range in age from 32 to 46.

Last year, 468 single women come in seeking services — up from 130 five years ago.

"What inherently makes us women is that we lose our eggs as we get older, and unfortunately it's harder to get pregnant as we get older," Tallon said.

But she said it's also hard to find a suitable partner.

Some women, often still holding out for "The One," will inquire about freezing their eggs to increase their chances of conceiving later.

'There's just so much anger'

Steinberg started with a sperm donor and intrauterine insemination (IUI).

She miscarried. She chose to terminate another pregnancy at 17 weeks when tests came back positive for genetic abnormalities. She then opted for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) — including pre-screening embryos for abnormalities — and, eventually, donor eggs.

She then miscarried twice more. 

"You question yourself a lot. You question your body," she said, holding back tears. "There's just so much anger."

Steinberg estimated the costs of all these procedures, including alternative treatments like acupuncture and vitamins, at about $80,000 to $100,000.

She covered the costs with a combination of savings, renting out rooms in her home through Airbnb, and contributions from her parents.

Changing societal attitudes

Daniluk said women who seek motherhood later in life often face criticism for "choosing" to delay having children.

But the reality is many women delay parenthood until they're financially prepared. Today that takes much longer.

Researchers at the Generation Squeeze project, a campaign that raises awareness about the economic pressure faced by younger Canadians, say young adults are facing more years in post-secondary education, larger student debts, and higher housing prices. Those who do become parents also face exorbitant daycare costs.

Most women also want a relationship with someone equally committed to parenting, Daniluk said.

"We really are talking about trying to change societal attitudes about women who choose to delay childbearing or choose to then have a child on their own because they haven't found the right partner," she said.

"It's really about seeing that as being the more responsible choice as opposed to being selfish."

In fact, because fertility treatments are so expensive, Daniluk said provincial governments should cover the costs so they're available to women from all income levels. Currently, there is only limited funding in some provinces for certain types of fertility treatment.

'Cautiously excited'

For now, Steinberg is 12 weeks into her fifth pregnancy and is "cautiously excited."

Despite the heartbreak and the costs of trying to conceive, she has kept up her efforts because she keeps on thinking about how she'll feel in the future.

"It just kept coming back to I would regret not trying," she said.

For now, her only regret is having waited this long.

"I wish that I had done this 10 years ago," she said.

Inclusion of all gender and sexually diverse people is an important value of Olive Fertility Centre. We are continuously striving to create an environment of compassionate belonging where all of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are supported, valued and respected.

Olive Fertility Centre resides on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Tsleil-waututh Nations (Vancouver and Surrey clinics), of the Lekwungen people (Victoria clinic), of the syilx/Okanagan people (Kelowna clinic) and of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation (Blossom Fertility clinic in Prince George).

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