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At 34 years old and single, Stacey Pearl often imagined how the rest of her thirties would play out. She would have to meet the right person in the next two years, at age 35 or 36. They'd be engaged for a year, she imagined, then enjoy another year of wedded bliss before starting a family.
Knowing that the average woman's fertility begins to decline in her mid-30s, for Pearl, starting a family at 40 was too long to wait. "I have a lifetime to have a husband, I don't have a lifetime to have kids," she explains.
Her first step was to research potential sperm donors, which became a community activity. She emailed out the profiles of the people she was seriously considering, and asked her friends and family for feedback.
She had a consultation with a fertility specialist, who steered her toward intrauterine insemination. During her treatment, her phone was "exploding with messages, cheering me on as I was laying there."
Pearl felt ready mentally and financially to bring a new baby into this world. Except she didn't have one baby, she had two. It was not only a shock, she says, it was a problem. She calculated how much daycare she could afford, and on a public educator's salary, it was only enough to cover one baby. With two, she'd be about $1,000 over budget every month, even at the least expensive daycare center. She didn't have a plan, and figured she would move home to Michigan so her mother could help her take care of the kids.
Turns out, her mother, Anita Pearl, ended up moving to Maryland. Before Pearl's maternity leave ended, Anita had decided to retire, move her belongings down from Michigan and become the live-in nanny.
"For me, the hardest thing would have been having the girls and raising them and not sharing the day to day with somebody else," she says. "To be excited or frustrated, or talk about the new words we heard for the day. To share that with my mom has been so great for me. And it's brought us so much closer."
There's no one agency or organization that tracks the number of women choosing to get pregnant without a partner, but Dr. Eric Levens with Shady Grove Fertility in Rockville, says about 5 percent of his patients are women like Stacey Pearl. Dr. Levens says the number of choice moms in the D.C. region has been on a dramatic upswing, one he doesn't see slowing any time soon.
And with more and more women choosing this route, Dr. Levens says, there's less of a stigma, especially in the D.C. region.
Just ask Clair Sassin and her daughter, Danielle, of Shirlington, Va.
Sassin was 42 when she conceived Danny using in vitro fertilization, and has never shied away from discussing it. "I used to call her my little in vitro baby!" she says.
It wasn't until Danny was in preschool that she first asked if she had a father. I said 'No, you don't,' Sassin recalls. "I said, 'families come in all different shapes and sizes. Some have two mommies, some have 2 daddies... in this case you have a mommy who loves you very much.' And that was it."
[Music: "Forever Young (instrumental)" by Alphaville, performed by Hardcore Gamer 10000]
Photos: Choice Moms