In the popular media, single mothering by choice is sometimes about these crazy women who go looking for sperm donors like they’re ordering pizza toppings — Tall? Check. Good SAT scores? Check. Mushrooms? Check.
In reality, it’s not about the sperm. It’s not about the donor. It’s not about the turkey baster or the petri dish. It’s about the milky smell of a newborn, the little fingers that clutch mine when we cross the street, the worries about paying for college and whether the plastics and the scented baby shampoo will poison my toddler. It’s about motherhood, not about men. So that’s why I’m leaping to add my voice to this blog. I want people to understand why so many of us are doing this. I’ve always known I was a mother, I just needed a little help to get there. And I thank God — thank God thank God thank God — that I’m here.
My journey started earlier than some. It was about 2004, maybe 2005, and I was watching The West Wing. CJ Craig, the smart, funny, aging press secretary talked about it possibly being “too late” for her, about how her wonderful career was wonderful, but perhaps all she would get. No husband, no kids. I was a Washington-based reporter, having a great career, very happy, 32 years old. And boy, did CJ’s musings hit home. After the episode ended, I called my mom in Canada, knowing that she, too, had watched. And I said “So when do you think I should start trying to have kids?” And she said she thought I could start anytime. It was an acknowledgment of what we both knew: that I was unlikely to get married, that time was ticking, that I was meant to be a mom. I really was. I was that child, that teenager, that woman who monopolized other people’s babies at family get-togethers and public events. I babysat — not just as a teenager, but as an adult. I’d meet new colleagues, find out they had kids, and offer to babysit for them. I doted on my nephew and niece.
As I got older, and rarely dated, I got more and more terrified that I would never get to be a mother. And terror is the word. I could not imagine being 45 and single and childless, STILL doing the same things, decades of movies, dinners out, drinks with the girls, great career, world travel, books, long hikes on the Appalachian Trail on the weekend with my hiking club. And then 55, no kid in college, no grandchildren on the way, and then 65, alone, 75, with my six cats … you get the idea. A wonderful life at 30 is a lonely life at 40, 50, 60, 70.
Of course it was not just a TV character who spurred my decision. When I was younger, in my 20s, I read a biography of a Canadian journalist who’d adopted two girls from China. She was single, and successful, and this was her family. And I stored away that story as a possible option for me. I knew then that I dated much less that others, I’d had no long-term relationships, I didn’t seem to fit that mold. I’d found a few good guys, but never love. When other people were making semi-joking pledges with platonic friends that if neither of them had met their life partner by age 35, they’d marry each other, I was making a pledge to myself that if I hadn’t met my children’s father by 35, I’d do it myself.
My final decision to go ahead was made the Christmas I was 32. I’d gone home to my parents’ house to spend the holidays (the perpetual child, returning home as if from college, because I didn’t have my OWN family yet) and we’d had a big get-together for the extended family, all of the uncles and aunts and cousins. At some point in the evening, as my niece and nephew and all my cousins’ kids tore around the house, I realized I was the only one there over the age of 11 who was NOT a parent. Everyone else, all of my aunts and uncles and cousins, had bred. Everyone in the room had children. My cousins were busy dishing out plates of food for their kids, and my mom and aunt were taking care of my grandmother — generations helping each other in both directions. And I had no one to care for. The maiden aunt at 32. When I got back home after the holiday, I wrote in my journal that this was the year I would start looking for my child.
I made my appointment with my doctor — a reproductive endocrinologist — shortly thereafter. At my first visit, we sat in his office to discuss my path. He said at 32 there was no rush, a year this way or that way did not matter. We settled on a course of treatment to prepare. I went off the Pill. Testing began. I’d had endometriosis and there were various complications with my cycle. During the year that I waited for my cycle to regulate and the tests to be completed, I joined the organization called Single Mothers by Choice (SMC) and started attending a few meetings of like-minded “thinkers” and “tryers” — those on the road to becoming moms, but not yet there. I also lost weight and tried hard, one last time, to meet someone. I did speed-dating. I wore more make-up, dressed more stylishly, batted my eyes, tried not to intimidate men with my career and intelligence. The few matches I tried included men who still lived with their parents, who hated their jobs, were depressed, were infantile, were married and dating on the sly (ugh). I stayed single.
When I was 33, I did my first insemination with sperm from an anonymous donor that my best friend had helped me choose. All of my close girlfriends knew I was going down this path, and my parents knew as well. They were nervous, but supportive.
Once you start down the fertility treatment path, it sucks you in pretty quickly, and with each negative pregnancy test I got more and more worried. I worried it would never happen. I might not get to be a mom. I considered whether I could cope with that — certainly my career would have to get even more important. Perhaps I could be a war correspondent? Something really exciting and time-consuming. A White House correspondent? There’s a job for childless people!
After six failed insemination attempts, my doctor started talking about IVF. It would really boost my chances, he said. And while when I first started down the path I thought I’d never do IVF (too radical, too desperate, too much), by then I was ready to make the leap. Easily. I was committed, and I wanted a child more than ever. IVF it was.
That was several years ago. Today I’m the mom to a little girl named after my mom, who was with me for the labor and birth. I’ve moved back home after nine years abroad, and I am happier than I could ever imagine. My evenings are full of visits to playgrounds and libraries, and on the weekend you’ll find us at the zoo, or the wading pool, or in the backyard with all of our very large plastic toys. I am embarrassingly thrilled to be part of the club of moms. I am one of those who care too much about children and parenting and have too little interest in life outside the world of toddlers. I haven’t seen a movie since my daughter was born. The only hikes I take are ones with my daughter in the backpack, eating her goldfish from a snack cup, no longer than an hour or there will be trouble. And I love it. I was done with movies and dining out and self-absorption (I don’t mean that judgmentally of others, simply that I’d grown bored of a life that was all about me). I still read books, just don’t ask me the titles or authors. My career is still important — because it pays the bills. I do worry a bit that I won’t ever advance up the career ladder like I once might have, but mostly I worry about how I don’t care about it anymore. My dirty secret is motherhood really does make me a less committed employee, at least for now.
While becoming a single mom once seemed like Plan B — after finding a man didn’t work — I now realize this was my path all along. I was meant to be a single mom. I’m type A, I like having all the control. I like making all the decisions. I like getting up when she cries at night. I like being the one to read all the bedtime books and give all the kisses. I drink up her unconditional love and admit I am amazed, touched, stunned, that anyone could love me as much as she loves me (okay, therapy required for that one). My married friends with babies admit to me they don’t love their husbands as much as their babies, it doesn’t even come close. Their early baby days are full of resentments and struggles to balance the marriage and the baby. Mine have not been. They’ve been blissfully about just me and her. All-consuming and fantastic.
And because I’m aware my daughter deserves more than the glare of her mother’s constant love and attention, and because I would like nothing more than a house full of kids, more kisses, more cuddles, more shrieks and giggles and yes, even more tears and more worries and more work, I did IVF again and had baby #2.
I have no regrets. I’m glad I pursued a great career and had lots of fun doing it. I’m glad I traveled and dated in my 20s and early 30s. And I’m glad I live in a time when becoming an SMC is not only possible, but relatively easy. I’ve been blessed by decent fertility, a stable income, and supportive family and friends. I am so grateful to be a single mother by choice.
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