In "An Excellent Choice," Emma Brockes Embraces Solo Parenting

Sarah Harrison Smith on June 28, 2018


If you read She Left Me the Gun, Emma Brockes's brilliant, acclaimed memoir about her pursuit of her mother's secret past, you will know that Brockes was raised by a formidably determined woman who was her daughter's "true ally and greatest champion." So it is perhaps not surprising that Brockes decided, in her late 30s, to make the brave -- though maybe not objectively sensible -- choice have children on her own, without the involvement of a conventional romantic partner or the assurance of a steady income. But are sensible choices always the best? Brockes's compelling account of her decision and its happy, complicated aftermath will delight you for its humor and its honesty. Here Brockes told the Amazon Book Review a little bit about the experiences that led her to write An Excellent Choice.

Sarah Harrison Smith: What made you decide to become a single parent?

Emma Brockes: I hit 37 and suddenly the fear of not being able to have kids – or ending up in one of those five-year-long struggles to do so – became greater than the fear of doing it alone. I also had a sneaking suspicion that although in lots of ways single parenthood would be terrifically hard, in others it might actually be easier than going the conventional route.

In your introduction, you attribute your desire to have a baby to “the relationship I had with my mother.” For readers who didn’t read your amazing book about her legacy, She Left Me the Gun, what was your relationship with your mother like?

My mother raised me to believe in the importance of girls getting a good education and doing a job they loved, but she never hid from me the fact that for her, having a child had been the be-all and end-all. I was her only child and she was my true champion and greatest ally. She was strong, and funny, and brave and I found it impossible, after her death, to imagine a life in which having a child – which she had always urged me to make part of my future – didn't feature. The funny thing about this is that I can kid myself I have done something avant-garde by having a baby alone, but the fact is, I basically only did it because my mum told me to.

As a British writer who lives in New York City, what were some surprises you encountered about the process of fertility treatments here in the United States?

Just having a choice of doctors is mind-blowing to a British person. (Paying them money: also deeply surprising.) Brits are, obviously, accustomed to getting their healthcare free from the state, and any departure from this model interferes with our understanding of the world at a very deep level.

In terms of the actual treatment, I found it pretty unnerving that the decision about whether to call off a fertility cycle because I had over-responded to the drugs and produced "too many" eggs was left up to me, not taken by doctors. This seemed, once again, to underline my status not as a patient but as a consumer in a marketplace.

There's almost no question that if I had been having the same treatment in the UK – artificial insemination, not IVF – i wouldn't have wound up with twins. Public health policy in the UK is much more stringently opposed to the conception of multiples via fertility treatment than it is in the US, and I think given my response to the drugs, most British doctors would have called off the cycle. I am, obviously, deeply ambivalent about this; the fertility industry is under-regulated in the US in my view. On the other hand: it gave me my girls. 

How have people reacted to your decision to single parent? 

My immediate friends and family have been terrifically supportive. (Although a few of my male friends got a bit huffy when I was choosing a sperm donor, on the basis that they wouldn't have cleared some of the filters I set – and by the way, had I been an egg donor, I wouldn't have cleared these filters, either.) 

Women with older kids they conceived on their own have been writing wonderful emails telling me how well their children have turned out, and I've had a lot of support from solo mums with babies the same age as mine. I get the feeling some men still feel threatened by the idea of a woman choosing to have a baby alone, as if it were a personal referendum on their character, and this can cause them to post furious tweets and comments to newspapers. I understand their sensitivity – being rejected even notionally is tough. Perhaps they should go for an angry run or something.  

Have your found literary companions for your experience?

The frequency with which I mention Nora Ephron as my role model has become posthumously stalkerish and embarrassing, but the fact is, she was a single mother of two almost from the birth her second child and yet managed to have the biggest, fullest career as a writer.

Muriel Spark could be a bit wacky around motherhood and her parents picked up a lot of the slack, but she was a single mum, too, as, in effect, was Penelope Fitzgerald. I think of the fortitude of these women, living in tougher times than these, and am encouraged.

Thank you very much, Emma Brockes. 

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