We all grew up believing the fairy tale: You meet Mr. Right, and soon after, start having kids. But what if he never comes along? What if things don't go as planned and time starts running out? Meet the new breed of single mom.

I GOT PREGNANT BY MY TRAINER

By Kimberly Forrest

You know that old saw about jumping on a plane at a moment's notice? That was me. Positano. Kyoto. Istanbul. Paris. It might sound like an oxymoron, but a sense of freedom has been my life's organizing principle. I've developed a solid reputation as a freelance fashion writer, making a good living and working out of my rent-stabilized apartment in New York City's West Village. I'd often find myself thinking, What more could I want?

In the fall of 2006, I'd just gotten out of a serious relationship and turned 40, and I thought that casual might be just the thing. (Read: I was scared to feel anything poignant and lovely and painful again.) Enter Luis, my kickboxing instructor. He was young and exciting, and after dancing in the ring for months, we started dating. Our fling was lighthearted and fun — he joined me at a spa for New Year's, and in March we went to a wedding in Brazil. The trip was gorgeous, but by that time our relationship was on the wane.

Fast-forward a month-and-a-half, and my period is late. We'd used protection, but clearly not carefully enough. I take back-to-back pregnancy tests at the home of my friend Jean — they're both positive. She yelps with joy while I, stricken, squeeze limes for a watermelon margarita.

Until now, my idea of a time line for having kids had been, "Maybe in 10 years." But I'm 41 and filled with fibroids. I have endometriosis and survived a bout of thyroid cancer in my 20s. What are the chances of ever conceiving again? I take a teeny sip of the margarita and, without thinking twice, know that I am going to have the baby, with or without Luis.

The next day, Luis stops by my apartment, and I tell him I'm pregnant before he closes the door. He sinks into the sofa. "I don't want to get married," he says.

"Neither do I," I reply, knowing that no matter what happens between us, I am keeping this child. I tell Luis that he can do whatever he wants — be a father to our child or not — and that I won't resent his decision. (Naive? Perhaps, but that's how I felt.)

"You know that I never wanted to have kids," he says. "And certainly not right now. But if you want to have the baby, I'll do whatever I can to support your decision." Translation: "You're mostly going to do this on your own, and I'm not a bad guy."

We talk about our ideas of what a serious relationship would be. He wants to fall in passionate love. I tell him I don't believe that's sustainable — to me, love is a partnership, negotiated and planned. "I find that heartbreaking," he says.

We go to the biggest movie theater we can find, stadium seating and all, and watch some innocuous George Clooney vehicle. When we get back to my apartment, we curl up in bed and cuddle. I rise in the morning and cry. He leaves.

I'm miserable by month two. Swollen legs. Gas. Unable to digest anything. I wake after 12 hours of sleep in a pool of saliva on my John Robshaw, sari-print pillowcases. All of this is peppered with bouts of profound despair. Friends drop by to check on me, but all I can muster is a wan smile before going back to staring out the window. The months drag by, and I reach a state of sadness and ennui I've never felt before. I wonder how I'm ever going to manage this.

Then a funny thing happens at the amnio. The doctor announces that I'm carrying a girl, and with my friend Christine holding my hand, I observe this little being who has made her home inside me. I'm awed by the architecture of her spine. The beat of her tiny heart. The way the doctor pokes at her and she responds with a jab of her own. A week later I feel her move for the first time — our own covert communication.

As I write this, I'm nine months pregnant. Luis joins me for birthing classes, but not a hint of our former romance remains. It might not sound like a storybook ending, but it's the right one for me. Although I've been wildly independent since I was a child, and it was fun to hop a jet for a long weekend in Miami, I've always craved the warmth of family — the sounds of the dishwasher running in the kitchen, a Sunday morning spent listening to public radio and making pancakes. Now I know I can have all of those things.

Click forward to Page 2 to read "I WANTED A BABY MORE THAN A HUSBAND"

I WANTED A BABY MORE THAN A HUSBAND

By Barbara Jones

"Poke a hole in your diaphragm," my friend Jackie advised.
"Once you have the baby, he'll love it."

I'd heard stories of women who manipulated various forms of birth control and everything worked out — the disgruntled husband instantly besotted with the kid. I wanted a family, and my husband didn't. If a baby had "just happened," I'm sure he would have loved it, but I'm not a diaphragm-puncturing kind of person. To me, parenthood should be an all-volunteer army. I couldn't draft a man I loved into a lifetime of service that he didn't want.

My husband and I had been college sweethearts, married at 25. My baby lust started up suddenly when I was 27 or 28. In the city in spring, taunting cherubs show up everywhere — in the cafés and parks, on the sidewalks jammed with strollers. One weekend, we took care of a friend's 9-month-old, face round as a ball, coffee-colored skin, crimson lips and cheeks — like a child in a picture book. How happy we were, carrying her around town in the backpack, singing to her, bathing her. When her parents returned, we were grief-stricken. "Let's get the hell out of here," my husband said, grabbing our suitcase. He knew we had to tear ourselves away before the startling sadness got worse.

Still, he wasn't ready for children of his own. He said, "Not yet," and "Not at this point, honey," and "You, of all people, know I'm not ready." We talked and talked, but "now" stayed a far-off, unnameable date. Meanwhile, friends old and new were sending out birth announcements. I once received three of those 4-by-8 baby-photo postcards in one day. On and on the babies were coming, none of them mine.

Then one night, I dreamed that I was a single mother, and happy. The next day, when I told my therapist about it, she surprised me by saying, "Have you thought of raising a child on your own before?" Before? I'd never thought of it at all. It was only a dream.

Nevertheless, I almost skipped down the sidewalk after that session. Until she'd mentioned single motherhood, I had never considered it. Now the idea was planted in me, germinating. And this idea, too: that whatever I wanted didn't require my husband. So I left him. I wasn't thinking, I'll leave, then have children. I was thinking, At least this way, I'll have a chance.

Four years later, when I was 34 and still single, I read an article in the paper about families adopting baby girls from China. In those days, China allowed single women and men 35 and older to adopt. By the time I finished the mounds of paperwork that were apparently required, I would be 35.

I did not make a lot of money. I did not have a trust fund or any sort of inheritance. I was an adjunct professor, a freelancer. But I had enough. I was enough.

"Shouldn't a baby have a father?" my mother said. "She doesn't have any parents right now," I replied.

I dove into the adoption process. In many ways, it was an advantage to be self-employed and single. I ran adoption-processing errands by day and worked by night; I didn't have to coordinate my efforts with a partner. I sent away for my birth certificate, retrieved statements from my accountant, dropped by my local police precinct to be fingerprinted, had a social worker to my home. Every document had to be notarized. I made a will. Who would take the baby if something happened to me? My friend Steve, I decided. He was someone a baby could count on. He appeared at the door with soup when I had pneumonia, stayed late to take out the garbage after dinner parties, called me every day and made me laugh. Throughout my single days, he was my steadiest friend.

One day Steve arrived for a visit just after a boyfriend had left, and I began, inexplicably, to weep with relief the moment I saw him.

"What's up with the tears?" he wanted to know — and I had a real epiphany, right then.

"I want to be with you."

"You aren't yanking my chain?" he said, raising one eyebrow (a special skill he has).

"No. No chain-yanking," I said. He said, "We'll see."

I didn't care to marry again, and I didn't expect Steve to be a father to my child. I was self-supporting, and I was already expecting my baby; this man was a separate matter. I just wanted to be with him. That was all.

Steve and I know a famous couple who broke up because the wife poked a hole in her diaphragm. Her husband moved out two months before their son was born. Steve said, "She did exactly what you didn't do: She backed him into a corner, insisting he become a father. But you left me free. And as a free man, I realized what I wanted." He wanted to be my daughter's father. A few weeks after I brought her home from China, Steve and I went to city hall to tie the knot — taking our baby with us. Four years later, we had twins.

Click forward to Page 3 to read "MY MOM PICKED THE DONOR SPERM"

MY MOM PICKED THE DONOR SPERM

By Tracy Connor

They say it takes a village to raise a child. In my case, it took a small army just to have one.

My mother picked the sperm. My best friend witnessed the conception. Another pal held my hand as I gave birth. Where was my husband? Trust me, there were moments when I wondered the same thing.

I'm what they call a single mother by choice, but at the time, it didn't feel like I had any choice at all. There I was at 37, with not even a Mr. Maybe in sight and a biological clock about to pop a spring. A glimpse of any baby left me dizzy with lust; I found myself resenting pregnant women.

One night, I had a heart-to-heart with my mother, who was dying of lung cancer. I told her I wanted a baby. Her eyes lit up, and she told me, "Having kids is the most important thing I ever did." I thought my father, a blue-collar tradesman in Brooklyn, would be a harder sell. But he didn't hesitate: "I can babysit!"

It was nice to have family support, but I was still daunted, afraid it was unfair to bring a child into a one-parent home. Would there be enough money, enough time, enough love? My mother put it in perspective. "What would you do if you were married and had a baby, and one day your husband walked outside and got hit by an anvil?"

Once the decision was made, the next step was to go sperm shopping. I logged on to the Website of a California bank known for rigorous standards and searched for the most important man I'd never meet. There was a database of hundreds of anonymous donors. It was a little like online dating, without the fear of rejection.

The selection process was shockingly arbitrary. I started by pulling Irish-American donors — I just figured the kid would have a better shot at looking like me. Then I culled prospects based on their profiles and essays, which detailed school grades, family health history, hobbies, talents, even favorite color.

Anyone who didn't cop to donating for the money got tossed on the trash heap. So did the guy with serial-killer handwriting. And the comic-book fan who reminded me of an ex I'd rather forget. I wasn't looking for blue-eyed blonds who lettered in three sports and played the violin. I gravitated to donors who said they laughed easily, liked to read, and loved their parents.

I narrowed it down to five and gave them to my mother. I knew she probably wouldn't live long enough to meet my baby, so I wanted her to be part of the process. She held up a Sears portrait of a toddler with apple cheeks and a bowl haircut. (The only photos of the donors available to customers were baby pictures.) "Him," she said. I whipped out my AmEx and charged $800 worth of sperm.

A few weeks later, I was lying on a table in a dimly lit examining room. "Ready?" the doctor asked. "I don't know," I said. "I just met the guy. It feels a little slutty." But I was ready. I had just ovulated, the sperm was defrosted, and I wasn't getting any younger. After three months and a plunge of the syringe, I was suddenly on my way to single momhood.

I kept the pregnancy a secret for months to avoid questions. I shouldn't have; barely anyone asked, although there was an awkward e-mail exchange with an ex-colleague.

"I didn't know that you were married," he wrote.

"I'm not," I replied, annoyed.

"Who's the father?" he pressed.

"I don't know his name," I shot back.

My pregnancy wasn't much different than anyone else's, although I went to a lot of doctor appointments alone and had to fetch my own ice cream and pickles. But friends filled the void left by my imaginary husband. One went to my first ultrasound; another won the coin toss to be in the delivery room.

When my daughter, Charlie, was born in June 2006, I thought to myself, I'm a mother. Not a single mother. Just a mother. The joy I felt was overwhelming, although when I looked at my baby's face, I wished desperately that my own mother, who'd died three months earlier, could have been there to see her.

In the first six months, the only time I gave my status much thought was when I applied for a passport for my daughter. In the box on the form for the father's name, I wrote "none." The clerk at the crowded post office couldn't fathom it. "Every child has a father!" she kept insisting. Finally, I shouted back, "Well, mine has a sperm donor!" The room fell silent.

Occasionally, when someone learns I'm a single mom, a note of pity creeps into their voice. But in some ways, I think I have it easier. There are no arguments about feeding, sleeping, or discipline. Of course, I haven't read a book or seen a movie — much less been on a date — in 18 months. But those frustrations fade every morning when I go to my daughter's crib, and she smiles and says, "Mama!" In those moments, all I can think is, I may be single, but I'm not alone.

What Do You Think?