Going It Alone

Unplanned Single Motherhood in Canada

Janet Ajzenstat,

Elizabeth Cassidy,

Elize Carter,

Gerald Bierling

Human Life Research Institute, 1994

131 pages, $15.00

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(416) 693-7030

Many of the women in Going It Alone say they went on with the pregnancy because they knew they could be good mothers.  The researchers observe that, “Their high regard for themselves is striking.  It is sad that society gives these women so little credit for their determination and achievements.”

Eighty-one mothers and ninety-six agencies in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba answered lengthy questionnaires from Human Life Research Institute.  Twenty per cent of the mothers had had an earlier abortion.  Their responses put a fresh face on unplanned single motherhood in Canada.

Most of the mothers responded to an ad which appeared in 26 newspapers in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.  Questionnaires were mailed to 300 agencies which included all the Children’s Aid Societies, Public Health, Crisis Pregnancy Centres, Maternity Homes, Single Mothers Programs, Planned Parenthood and Adoption agencies in the three provinces.  Ninety-six agencies responded.

Many of the findings are quite surprising:

Carrying the child to term and parenting is the most satisfying choice in crisis pregnancy; abortion is the least satisfying choice.

  • 97% of the mothers are satisfied with their decision to parent.
  • 93% of the mothers say their life is better because of their decision to parent.
  • 66% of the women who have had abortions say their life is worse.

Women who carry their child to term and parent feel in control of the decision and their life; women who choose abortion do not feel in control.

  • The majority of the mothers (70%) say that they were in control of the decision and of their life when they chose to parent.
  • The majority (73%) of women who had an abortion in an American study by David Reardon, say they were not in control.  They were forced by other people, or by circumstances, to make a decision for which they do not accept responsibility.

Presence of a supportive network of family and friends make the decision to abort much less likely.

  • The mothers said that the presence of emotional support and the desire to be a mother, were the most likely factors to influence a woman to reject abortion, carry the child to term and parent.
  • The agencies regard the woman’s family as the most salient factor in her decision to parent, and the woman’s age ass the most salient factor in the decision to abort.
  • The baby’s father was the most likely person to attempt to discourage the woman from carrying the child to term.

Religion is seldom an important influence in the mother’s decision to carry the child to term.

  • Although almost 60% of the mothers said that their personal views on abortion were an important factor in the decision to parent, few suggest that religious beliefs were salient, 40% of the women in the sample were not affiliated with a religious denomination.

The kindness, approval and material support of the people in her network are crucial to the mother’s well-being after the baby was born.

  • The baby’s father was seldom supportive.  Fewer than one in five provided ongoing financial support for the child.
  • One in four of the women who reported that the father continued to be involved in the baby’s life, described that influence as negative.

As a group the mothers are not primarily dependent on government programs for financial support.

  • The most helpful source of financial support is the woman’s parental family (50%).  Few mothers say that what they most need is more funding from government-sponsored programs.  Some say they need more information about existing programs.  Few suggest that daycare and housing are among their important needs.  Achieving financial independence is an important goal for these women.
  • Two-thirds of the mothers are employed, or going to school, college or university.  Many of the mothers continue their education after the child’s birth.  They are today a well-educated group of women, equipped to compete in the job market.  At the same time 50% say that lack of money is often or always a problem.
  • One in four mothers reports that prejudice against single mothers is a problem.  26% report they lost a job, or were not hired because they were pregnant, or because they were a single mother.  A number of mothers argue that governments could provide advocacy programs promoting a friendlier environment for single mothers and children.


  1. Governments should recognize the crucial role that the single mother’s parents play in providing financial and emotional support.  Social and financial measures that bolster the intergenerational family will ultimately benefit the single mother.
  2. A program of public advocacy to encourage a positive attitude toward single mothers among employers, and among the public at large would do much to help the mother-led family.
  3. Family life courses must include the idea that the responsible male cares for the children he engenders.
  4. Parents should affirm, accept and support their daughters.  Reardon reports that 87% of the women who had an abortion in his U.S. sample would have kept the baby “under better circumstances.”  Mothers need emotional support from family and friends and financial stability.  Canada provides a far higher degree of financial stability for mother-led families than the United States.

Going It Alone had many strengths:

    • The literature in the past has dealt primarily with teen mothers.  Going It Alone looks at the larger picture, women of all ages who were single when their child was born.  This study confirms what Robert Glossop of the Vanier Institute has said, “It is entirely wrong to suppose that Canada is in the midst of an ‘epidemic of children having children’”  In 1990 only 20% of the babies born to unmarried mothers were born to women in their teens.  Only 6% of the agencies in Going It Alone report a clientele of 12 and 15 year olds.  Only 5% in the mothers sample were 12 and 15 when the baby was born.  60% were over 21.
    • It is both statistical an anecdotal.  The mothers are able to tell their own stories which puts a more human face on the statistics.
    • It is vital to have a Canadian profile.  We cannot simply take American studies and divide them by ten.  Our demographics and social support networks are too different.  The agencies that associate the highest satisfaction with the decision to abort are all in southern Ontario.  Agencies dealing with aboriginal communities report that the norm on reserves is to keep all children regardless of origin.  In aboriginal culture all life is sacred.
    • The age range of the children is broad, from infants to young adults.  Many of the mothers speak from years of parenting experience.
    • While 44 other research reports are referenced, the most interesting comparisons are made with David Reardon’s Aborted Women: Silent No More (1987), Loyola University Press, Chicago.  Both groups of women are self-selected.  In both cases the women chose to participate in the studies because they wished to tell their stories.

The book has two weaknesses.  The figures on some of the charts are superimposed on so dark a background they are difficult to read.  More importantly, the findings would be more convincing if they were drawn from a larger sample of mothers.  One would hope in the future that all the provinces could be included.  Failing that, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta should be researched but this requires funding which is always in short supply.

Human Life Research Institute was founded in 1982 to provide scholarly research on ethical issues in health care.  They are right to conclude that, “This report will be of great interest to anyone personally or professionally connected to single mothers.