'I feel so lucky': Google's Leigh Gallagher shares her journey in single motherhood

“You’re just sort of thinking, 'who am I going to be with because I want to have a child?'” Gallagher recounted asking herself. “Those things are sort of paired so tightly. And I kind of decoupled them.”
Leigh Gallagher and baby Maren.
Leigh Gallagher and baby Maren.Courtesy of Leigh Gallagher.

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By Julianne Pepitone

Google executive Leigh Gallagher always assumed she would have a child, and she thought a partner would be part of that plan. But as her potential childbearing years grew shorter and a long-term relationship ended, Gallagher decided to become a single mother.

“I never thought I wouldn’t have kids,” Gallagher said in a recent conversation with “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski. “The clock was ticking … I didn’t think I could race around and try to find a life partner ... I wanted to not look back on my life years from now and regret not having a child.”

Gallagher, who was in her mid-40s, found role models in women who had also become single mothers by choice. Being able to “see it” helped her not to be afraid. While the big picture had the potential to be intimidating, she said, taking one step at a time was key to getting through the process leading to pregnancy.

“[I] 100 percent knew you were making the right decision. There’s many ways to get where you want to go,” Brzezinski said. “You didn’t let anything stop you.”

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Gallagher’s unstoppable attitude also carried over to her decision to take a new job when she was six months pregnant. Gallagher had worked at Fortune magazine for 12 years as an editor and the executive director of the magazine’s Most Powerful Women franchise—and she thought the comfort of the longtime position would help her through this major change in her personal life.

But then Google called. The company wanted to hire Gallagher as director of external affairs, and Gallagher “couldn’t say no.” She joined Google toward the final third of her pregnancy and took the full maternity leave the company offers when she gave birth to daughter Maren Grace earlier this year.

Leigh Gallagher chats with Mika Brzezinski, who holds baby Maren Grace Gallagher, during an interview with Know Your Value.Anthony Scutro

Gallagher certainly wouldn’t describe single parenthood as easy, full stop—but “it’s been a little bit easier than I thought it was going to be,” she said. She credited the privilege of her ability to hire a nanny, as well 6-month-old Maren Grace’s excellent sleeping habits.

“So: warnings and advice for single women who are considering this choice?” Brzezinski asked.

“I would say, don’t be intimidated,” Gallagher replied. “It’s really hard not to be intimidated—this is so scary—but you know, it’s possible. I feel so lucky that this is something that’s possible. I feel so lucky that I was able to be pregnant and have my own child.”

People do ask Gallagher what it’s like parenting without a partner, but she noted that she knows no differently: “It’s like when you ask a fish, how’s the water? And they say, what’s water? This is the only way I know.”

Now that Maren is here, Gallagher feels she can “relax,” especially compared to how she felt in her 30s.

“You’re just sort of thinking, 'who am I going to be with because I want to have a child?'” Gallagher recounted asking herself. “Those things are sort of paired so tightly. And I kind of decoupled them.”

Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski with Maren Grace Gallagher, 6 months.Anthony Scutro

Gallagher hasn’t yet fielded many questions from others about where her baby’s “father” is, but she knows her daughter will ask someday. Research in this area makes clear that transparency is important, Gallagher said, and she plans to tell her daughter that she wanted her so badly that she got the other pieces needed to create her.

In the meantime, Gallagher is heartened by the increasing number of women she’s met who made the same choice. She also cited a small but growing amount of men, such as Bravo host Andy Cohen, who are choosing single fatherhood.

“It’s possible,” Gallagher concluded. “My message would be: I feel so lucky to have her in my life and to have been able to do this. I just feel very grateful every day.”