Sarah Feinberg does not want to be the person you think of when your child runs amok in the supermarket. She does not want to be the one you remember when your toddler decides not to nap, and she certainly does not want sympathy.
“If I run into a friend and she says ‘I thought of you today because my kids were playing up,’ then that’s something I don’t want to be associated with,” she says. “Why should I be the person that is constantly told ‘I don’t know how you do it by yourself.’ That’s not me.”
Instead, this strong and in-control 40-year-old feels extremely lucky to be the parent of a perfectly well-behaved, albeit adventurous, 20-month-old. She does not feel that either she, or her daughter Margalit (Gali) miss out, simply because she chose to have her daughter on her own.
By doing this, she joins thousands of “single mothers by choice” across the world. Many of them tick the same boxes that Sarah does — they are getting older, they have not yet met the right man, and they feel financially secure enough to have a child.
In other words, Sarah’s story could be that of any number of women who decide that, in the end, having a baby is more pressing than finding a partner. Well, any who also happen to be the daughter of a rabbi.
“We were having dinner when I dropped the bombshell,” Sarah says. “I told them that I was thinking of becoming a single parent and my mum went uncharacteristically silent.
“It meant letting go of a lot of hopes and dreams she had for me. I was turning that idea of walking down the aisle and then planning a family with my husband right on its head.”
Sarah’s father Charles (Chuck) is a Conservative rabbi in Washington DC. Interestingly, his reaction was more relaxed than that of his wife, Krayna. Sarah says this is due to his job: “I know my mum was worried about my health and how I would parent on my own, but my dad said it made sense to him and that was a huge thing for me,” she explains.
“Him being a rabbi means that he sees all sorts of things, and nothing phases him. It wasn’t so unusual.”
Sarah, who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, is the oldest of three children who all strongly identify as Jewish. She works full-time for the Jewish Federation in Boston and, at the start, was nervous that her decision might affect her job (it didn’t).
Then aged 35, she was determined to go ahead and have a child.
“I just knew I wanted to be a mum,” she says. “And because I had recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I felt that getting pregnant might be challenging. So I decided to start talking to doctors and going down that path.”
She researched and planned, but it took six months or so before she raised the issue with her parents – over Pesach.
Chuck, 67, says that he and Krayna, 68, were concerned, not shocked when Sarah told them her plan. “We know from our personal experiences that bringing up children can be challenging, even with two parents,” he says. “But she is very determined — when she wants something, she pursues it.”
Krayna — who says she and her husband are “totally in love” with their granddaughter — adds that she was nervous because of Sarah’s health issues and because, like her husband, she knows “raising kids isn’t easy.”
She also admits: “I’d say that most middle-class Jewish parents want their children to marry before they have kids. But she told us she was getting older and could either put her energies into finding someone or into having a child. Becoming a mother was so important to her.”
Being a 21st-century woman, once Sarah had made her decision, she next went online to find the father of her child. She had only a few requirements for the donor – that he had a good health record, was tall and not Jewish.
“I specifically didn’t want a Jewish donor for two reasons,” she says. “I have a chronic illness which is genetic and I wanted to shake up the gene pool and, from a halachic point of view, it is better for the donor not to be Jewish.” This is because of consanguinity, or the possibility of in-breeding.
It took Sarah two years to get pregnant for the first time (she created her own mikveh ceremony before her first attempt), but the excitement of that first time disappeared when she suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks.
The next pregnancy, however, was more frightening as it turned out to be ectopic.
“That was rough,” she says now, the memories still apparent. “It was also really painful, physically and emotional. It was a crazy ordeal.”
However, she remained undeterred, moving from IUI insemination to IVF. She was immediately successful and had, in her words, a “super easy” pregnancy, giving birth on April 30 2012, with Krayna beside her.
“It was just the most amazing experience, an absolute miracle of modern medicine, to have made a baby by myself,” she says.
“People say ‘you’re so brave’, but you just do it. If you stopped to think about how challenging it was going to be, you’d be stuck.”
Sarah takes Gali to Saturday minyan each week and blesses her each Shabbat, just as her father always blessed her and her siblings. She says the support she has received has been phenomenal and that she has not heard anything disapproving about her decision. Chuck says the same.
“There was really an overwhelming outpouring of love for Sarah once Gali was born,” he says. “If there was anything negative, it must have been said behind our backs.”
Gali will be two at the end of April and is, her mother says, “a spitfire.”
“She has a big personality,” Sarah says. “She is stubborn, independent and knows what she wants. But she’s also fairly easy-going, polite and certainly not a terror.”
Sarah would love Gali to have a sibling, but she won’t be having another baby by herself, partly for financial reasons, and partly practical. She still hopes to meet somebody.
In the meantime, as Gali gets older, Sarah knows there will be questions but says she will be told “the truth.”
“I will tell her that I really wanted her,” she says. “And, after all I went through to get her, no one can argue that isn’t the truth.”