Hundreds of thousands of people follow these influencers to find out how to have a baby as a single person.
BuzzFeed News Reporter
Dani Morin smiles at the camera, stroking her baby bump. In this TikTok video from June 2020, she tells the viewer she’s about to teach them “how to get pregnant, DIY edition.” No partner or doctor necessary.
She runs through the steps: Get some fertility supplements, make sure your finances can handle new expenses like daycare, and order vials of sperm (they arrive in a cryo tank, so be sure to use a glove when you pull the sample out). Then, it’s time to inseminate yourself. Morin offers tips, like using a fertility-boosting lubricant to help things along.
“Treat that syringe just like a tampon,” she suggests.
More than 10 million views later, it’s clear that Morin’s video has struck a nerve. She now has more than 500,000 followers on TikTok, where she frequently posts about her journey as a single mother by choice, or a woman who chooses to become pregnant via sperm donation, without the involvement of a partner.
As the topic of reproductive rights continues to dominate the cultural conversation, more women are becoming single mothers by choice, or “SMBCs,” a decision that is subject to its own judgments, preconceived notions, and complications. That’s why many are sharing information on their own terms.
In recent years, SMBCs have formed small but rich and tight-knit online communities like the 4,000-member strong Single Mother By Choice subreddit, where they help each other navigate the complexities of this path. Topics include how to find a sperm donor, what to say to your friends and family, whether to do insemination through a fertility clinic or the “DIY” method, and how to prepare your finances for a child. Some, like Morin, share their stories online with the hopes of helping other single women who long for a child but are tired of waiting for the right partner to start a family. They told me they feel telling their stories is necessary because there are few resources available for hopeful SMBCs.
Morin, who is 34 and works full-time in sales and marketing, told me she has coached other women through their self-inseminations after meeting them through her TikTok account. (While medical professionals tend to recommend having an insemination performed in an office setting for efficacy and hygiene purposes, doing it at home is not uncommon.)
“It’s so rewarding when they send me that picture in the hospital with their baby,” she said, adding that she does a lot of vetting before she decides to actually walk someone through the process, to ensure they are ready and have thought about the decision.
Morin has always enjoyed creating videos, but she never seriously thought about becoming an influencer or content creator before her DIY baby video went viral. Now, she aims to use her platform for a greater purpose.
“I have to feel like I’m doing something for the greater good of the community,” she said.
Before deciding to have her son Rhett on her own, Morin was what she called a single mom by circumstance to her first son, Deacon (his father was not involved). In 2016, Deacon, then 18 months old, died at his daycare facility in Fontana, California.
Eventually, Morin reached a point where she felt ready to pursue motherhood again. She had dated around — at one point, she said she was going on a dozen or more dates a week — but realized that she was mainly trying to find someone to have a child with rather than looking for a relationship. So, she figured, why not do it on her own?
“I just was like, I’m gonna settle for one of these guys. And like, [that] is not what I want, you know?” she told me.
At first, she wasn’t quite sure where to start. She reached out to a fertility clinic but was worried about the high cost. Then, she learned about DIY at-home insemination. She taught herself the basics via Facebook groups and YouTube videos that teach people how to “turkey baste,” and gave it a shot.
“Ended up working on the first try,” she said. “I was shocked. I was so grateful.”
Once her video went viral, Morin decided to try her hand at creating more content. In videos, she talks about some of her other passions, like child consumer safety, and being a mom to Rhett, who was born in July 2020. She shares her favorite baby products, tips for breastfeeding, and mom humor, like any parenting content creator. She seeks to show that SMBCs are just like every other mom because she thinks that it’s a path more women are embracing.
Sociologist Rosanna Hertz studied SMBCs in her 2008 book Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice. Hertz estimated at the time that SMBCs in the US numbered about 2.7 million, calling it a “growing segment” of the population. Up-to-date statistics on how many women are choosing to become SMBCs are hard to come by because, as Jane Mattes, the founder and director of the Single Mothers By Choice support group, told me, there is no category in the US Census that counts how many mothers are parenting solo. However, she said, her group has seen steady, consistent growth over the 40 years it has existed.
“Becoming a single mom by choice is becoming more and more common,” Morin says in one video. “Women are a little more successful these days, and a lot of women are waiting until later in life to start a family. And for most women, time is not on their side… I didn’t really feel like waiting any longer to meet the missing ingredient in my kitchen.”
Screenshots from @danimorin13’s TikTok
After a lot of bad dates and several years of being single, Bethany, a 33-year-old living in Tennessee, who declined to provide her last name in order to protect the privacy of her children, finally googled, “Can you have a baby on your own?” She hoped to read about other women who had done so.
“I could not find anybody,” Bethany told me. “I mean, there were, like, maybe two or three books…but there was no one talking about it.”
Bethany had always wanted to be a young mother so that her parents could play a big part in her children’s lives before they grew elderly. In her 20s, she worked hard in the male-dominated nuclear energy industry, and over time grew jaded about the way she heard some of her colleagues discuss their wives and girlfriends. She kept looking for a partner who would treat her with respect but continued to be disappointed.
When she tried online dating, she was horrified at how quickly the messages became sexual. “That’s not at all how I am,” she said. “I’m very conservative with my views on wanting to wait until I got married for anything [sexual], and it was just not at all what I was looking for,” she said.
As she neared 30, Bethany began to seriously consider starting a family on her own. Her parents were supportive. The years of devotion to her career had paid off: She owned her own home and had a healthy savings account. She began to feel more like she could make the kind of life she wanted to happen for herself.
“I knew that I wanted to be a mom and I wanted to bring a child into the world and be a mother to a child,” she said.
Bethany found a sperm donor and a fertility clinic, and in June 2019 welcomed her son, Watson. After becoming a SMBC at a younger age than most she had heard about, she yearned to connect with others but struggled to find them. One Facebook group for SMBCs even declined to let her join because she was under the age of 35.
So Bethany decided to become the resource that she had needed. She started a YouTube channel and Instagram page, both called “The Littlest Blueberry,” where she documents her journey to becoming a mom to Watson and her second child via the same sperm donor, daughter Collette, born in 2021.
“I want to help women if they’re thinking about this, [to] know that it’s a viable option for them,” she said.
Nicole, a 38-year-old teacher who is expecting her first child in December 2022, also craved more information about the process. Nicole, who has remained anonymous online and asked to be identified by her first name for privacy reasons, told me that becoming an SMBC was “the hardest decision I have ever made.”
“I was able to find plenty of general news articles about women who had chosen this path, but I wanted more,” she said. “I wanted to read about the daily life of a SMBC, and all of the steps taken in the journey.”
Nicole decided to start a blog, Once Upon a Bebe, and an accompanying Instagram, with the goal of normalizing “choosing the crib before the ring.” Both Nicole and Bethany said they have been amazed by how many women messaged them and commented on their posts. It seemed to Bethany that there were many SMBCs and people who hoped to take that path, all hungry for more information and to connect with each other.
“It’s not even just American women who are contacting me. I’ve talked to women from Brazil, and women from Canada and England, Australia, all over the world, who are going on these journeys,” she said.
Nicole said the support and commiseration from fellow SMBCs has only made her more confident in her decision.
“Being able to share your life experiences with other women like you allows you to feel seen and understood,” she said. “While my family and friends are supportive of my path to motherhood, I don’t think anyone truly understands what it feels like to not have a partner yet want to be a mother so badly and know that your time is limited. Fellow SMBCs share that feeling and we can connect as a community in a very special way because of it.”
Scrolling the hashtag #singlemombychoice on TikTok shows women from all over the country who proudly declare themselves SMBCs and answer questions about their path to parenthood.
One of the top conversation topics on the SMBC internet is how to deal with judgment, whether silent or overt, from friends, family, or the community at large. Many say they feel empowered rather than ashamed, discussing how confident they felt once they made the decision to have a child on their own, knowing they could support them both financially and emotionally. Others discuss their friends who have had children with men and find themselves burdened with a partner who doesn’t pull their weight when it comes to childcare.
In one video, tagged #lgbtmom and #singlemombychoice, a woman frowns. Text on the screen reads: “When they assume you in a relationship with a man because you pregnant.”
Then the text changes. “Nope still GAY and SINGLE if you were wondering,” it says.
Screenshots from @kandace_koated’s TikTok
The user, Kandace, who is 30 and lives in Houston, told me that she used a known donor, a good friend, to get pregnant with her son, who is due in July. She also has an 8-year-old daughter whose father is in her life but lives out of state. Kandace had already been making videos on TikTok, and when people began to ask about her pregnancy, she started posting about her experience. After facing some scrutiny from her own friends and family for her decision, she felt like it was important to do so.
“I feel like if it speaks to others who can relate, then that helps them to speak out and build a community of support,” she said. “It’s important because social media is the way to getting any kind of information out there to the public eye, and what better way to tell my story than to do it in my own way with my own personality attached to it?”
However, many people openly criticize SMBCs for choosing to go it alone. Morin often fields comments from people telling her that her son is going to end up in jail because he doesn’t have a father, or accusing her of having him for malicious reasons.
For Bethany, the criticism got so bad that she recently made her YouTube and Instagram accounts private. She said people would leave cruel comments, especially on YouTube, saying they hoped she would give her kids up for adoption, or that they were neglected and destined to become criminals because they come from a single-parent household. This kind of stigma against single mothers, much of which is directed at women of color, seems to still exist despite the fact that, according to a 2019 Pew Research study, 23% of children in the US live with a single parent, the highest rate in the world; 80% of these 11 million single-parent families are headed by a single mother, according to 2021 data from the US Census Bureau.
“It was really very, very difficult for me because I want to be the perfect parent, I want to be the best mom I can be. And I also want to help people,” she said.
Bethany has struggled with her competing feelings of being crushed by strangers’ judgments but wanting to be a voice for the community.
“Do I keep up this thing that’s mentally affecting me to help other people?” she has asked herself.
Ultimately, Bethany believes her advocacy is worth it and hopes to return to YouTube. She’s working on a book about her SMBC experience and hopes to dispel these kinds of misconceptions.
“There’s this idea that it’s a community full of jaded women who couldn’t find somebody…or you know, they’re these totally radical independent women. And that’s not it at all. It’s women who have leaned into their desire to become mothers outside of meeting a partner, and I think that’s really incredibly beautiful, actually,” she said.
Morin said she wants everyone to see that families come in all different forms.
“Sometimes there’s two moms, sometimes there’s two dads, sometimes there’s one mom, sometimes there’s a donor dad,” she said. “You never know, just be open to people’s stories.” ●
Stephanie McNeal is a senior culture reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Stephanie McNeal at [email protected].
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