A Single Mom's Decision To Go It Alone
I'm in my ob-gyn's office, feet in the stirrups. Dr. Bakas
peeks up over the paper sheet draped across my knees and pulls his gloves
off with a snap. “So? Do you want a cigarette?”
Bev laughs, as does the nurse, but I try not to because I don't want to
jiggle or move or do anything to disrupt those tiny little sperm as they
make the long journey up through my uterus to my little waiting egg.
They've already had to do a lot of traveling. I bought them from
the Scandinavian Cryobank, which shipped them from Denmark. They're
from Olaf (not his real name), who's 22 and blond, blue-eyed, and
his sperm) arrived packed in dry ice a week before I ovulated, so he hung
around with me as we waited. He became my dinner companion. I set him up
in his large round container on the chair across the table from me. I told
him about my day.
A part of
me thought it'd be lovely to not have to drink both glasses of wine and
he could have done more than just agree with me all the time. But then
I took him into the living room to watch TV, and he didn't complain when
I kept changing the channel. We became pals, Olaf and I. We took pictures.
Dr. Bakas hasn't
done this before, though he did see the procedure when he was a resident.
It's nothing, he said to me when I first talked to him about artificial
insemination. We can absolutely do it here.
So now the deed is done. It
has a higher success rate than the vaginal insemination I could have done
myself at home. And I'll take any
advantage I can get.
“If it's going to happen, it's happening right now, so just
lie here for ten minutes. Let the magic begin,” Dr. Bakas says,
nodding as he and the nurse leave. Bev and I look at each other. Yes, I
think, I'm getting pregnant right now.
know where I got off thinking that way. I knew even then that my chance
of getting pregnant through artificial insemination was only 5 to 25 percent
I’m so excited itís
hard to remember how reluctant I was about all this.
For years I had stuck
faithfully to another plan.
Plan: Live life. Get married. Have kids. (I was hoping for two, but could
have been talked into one or five or 20.)
school at 36, I thought, This is good! But where's the rest? The men? The
At 37, graduated, I turned to my friend Rebecca and said, Thatís
it. I'm getting married.
She had found a wonderful husband by combining
hard work, sheer determination, and a little luck. So I did what she
did: Yahoo, Match, Nerve. Never mind that I'm shyer than Rebecca,
and not nearly so slender, and I don't have her brilliant red hair. Still,
I dated up a storm at 37 and 38. I met many nice men. And at 38 I began
to settle in with Juan, a screenwriter who was between jobs.
He wanted kids,
too—though it became
more and more clear that he wanted them later, after he hit it big. I
pulled out a BabyGap ad for strength, put it on the floor beside me and
told him: We need to break up.
one day, watching the high school students in the summer program I run,
I thought back to being 16. And I realized, holy smokes, I’m Thirty-Nine
and One Half years old.
went back inside to their classes, but I stayed in the sun and twisted
a lock of hair around and around my finger. Well, I thought, I haven’t
asked Steve out yet. I could ask if he wants to go for a drink sometime.
I also have a date coming up next week with a friend of a friend of a friend.
It’s not so bad. Don't panic.
But I was
panicking. Because it struck me that even if I did fall in love right then,
say with Steve (or the guy next week, it didn’t matter),
and he fell in love with me, we'd have to wait a year or so to get
engaged and then a year to plan the wedding and then, well, he wouldn’t
be ready to have kids right away...I mean, jeez, I’d be 50 before
we could even try for a baby.
going to be alone, single, and childless for the rest of my life, I thought.
This isn’t the life I imagined when I was 16, sitting around listening
to Love, soft as an easy chair and reading those romance novels, one after
He was supposed
to have rescued me by now. He was supposed to have surrendered to my feminine
wiles long ago: my doe eyes, my blonde tresses.
up, fluffed my tresses, and faced the facts with my doe eyes.
I am absolutely
on my own.
this to be my fate even as I dreamed of the other, more romantic life.
When I was a teenager my parents said, “You’d better lose that
weight or you’re not going to find a boyfriend.” And
embedded in this warning was the fate-worse-than-death scenario that my
mother’s sister was living: 40, single, childless.
their heads with pity. Poor Aunty Hanne.
I felt it
like a curse on my head. Be thin! Or die alone!
deep inside me I knew I’d be there, at the threshold
of 40 and alone. I just knew it. And I swore as I watched Hanne get older
and older that no matter what, I wouldn't miss out on having a child.
Even if I had to go to some random bar and leave with a random guy and
ravish him in some random motel. Then disappear.
be more dramatic to say that I immediately got on the phone, ordered some
sperm, and got on with it. But it took another several months to officially
move from The Plan to Plan B. Most especially there was the deep, hollow
sadness to be worked through in watching The Plan fail.
course, there were things like money to be considered. And Rebecca helped
me with a dirty little secret fear: Up until then it’d been
hard to find a man... but with a kid in tow, would it be impossible?
on, she said. It’s not like the old
days. Look around you: Over 40, single with a baby, is hardly shocking.
Just move on with your life. Do what you want. You have the rest of your
life to find a man. This you have to do right now.
I understood. I am absolutely on my own... for now.
At the doctor’s
office, after I keep still for ten minutes, Dr. Bakas lets us go. At home
I lie on the couch beneath my front room window. The couch where Olaf’s
sperm lounged for most of the seven days they were with me. I prop my butt
up a little and focus on getting pregnant, just in case Dr. Bakas isn’t
right about the instantaneousness of insemination.
later, while I’m visiting a friend, waves of dizziness almost knock
me over. There’s a strange pinging deep in my pelvis and — most
strangely — an awful metallic taste in my mouth. I know I’m pregnant.
I just know I am. It may not stick, but at this moment, I know I am.
stick, and my daughter Kaj arrives nine months later, one day after her.
My miracle first-try baby. Meant to be, my mother says.
Kaj is long
and thin — 8 pounds, 9 ounces. She’s
yanked out of me after 35 hours of and a near cesarean (which was most
definitely not part of The Plan or even Plan B). But I can tell you this
for sure: Epidurals are the miracle of the 20th century, and I have the
best obstetrician in the entire world.
is a very roly-poly girl.
Juicy, wide cheeks.
Deep creases in her thighs. I love every blessed inch of Kaj Grace, yet
at night I find myself lying awake, thinking about the glances we get when
we're out together.
I know what people are thinking: Fat mother. Fat baby.
I drive in silence over rural Quebec roads. Itís the day
of his sisterís wedding, and I’ve lured him into my car with
the excuse that we must go pick up chairs.
look at him. “Do
you remember a couple of years ago, us talking on the new deck at the cottage?”
“I do,” Ken
says. He smiles slightly; I can see it out of the corner of my eye.
ready now,” I say. I still can’t
look at him. There’s more I should say: I want to be pregnant. I
will ovulate in three weeks. I don’t want to wait.
talk about, you know, specifics,” I say.
do you mean?”
I blush, thinking
he’s thinking about the specifics of insemination. “Like
how much of a role you would play in the baby’s life. That sort
easy about that,” I say. “Whatever
you feel comfortable with.”
looking at me, but I focus on my driving. “This
is a big decision,” he says.
want you to take as much time as you need,” I say
quickly, though it’s a lie. I want what I want. I want his sperm,
and I want it now. I want his sperm because I love his big family, a family
I grew up with. I want his sperm because his sister is my best friend.
I want his sperm because I want my baby to have two families. I want not
just him, but his entire family, to be the father of my child. For my child
to be one of the beautiful Hashimoto offspring: astoundingly gorgeous half-Japanese,
As we get
out of the car at the church I stop him before he walks in to start loading
chairs. I say, “Listen, just think
about it. And we’ll
talk in a couple of weeks, is that okay?”
He nods, and we look at
each other for a long moment before we go inside.
On the ten-hour drive back to New York from the wedding, I work it over
in my head. I could wait for him. But everyone says it takes at least three
tries to get pregnant. I want to get the two practice shots over with.
I go Googling for sperm, at work. I tell myself I'm just doing research.
I’ve made up my mind
to have a baby, but I have no clear idea how to go about it. I’ve
heard about turkey basters and do-it-yourself kits. I know there are sperm
banks: genius sperm banks and lesbian-friendly sperm banks and an astonishing
number of sperm banks in California.
in White Plains, just 25 minutes away. I click through the website until
I get to descriptions of the donors. I look at the profiles, at white men,
Hispanic men, and African-American men.
I lean back
in my office chair and stare out the miniature window over my desk. A coworker
stops by my office, a sheaf of papers in her hand. “What
are you doing?” she asks, glancing at my computer screen.
the web browser. “Research,” I say.
She sits in the visitor's chair. “Right,” she says. “For
work.“ We smile. “You're really going to do this,” she
I bring up the
Google results again and begin to scroll down. “There
are a lot more sperm banks than I ever imagined,” I say, scrolling
down the list. Then I notice: Scandinavian Donors. Worldwide delivery.
you Danish?” asks my coworker as I click on
is. My dad’s Norwegian.”
remarks, looking at a picture of a mother and baby on the homepage.
blonde,” I say.
at the image, I’m aware of a primal desire for one of those white,
blonde babies. I see in my mind a photograph of my mother and me when I’m
a year old. I’m pulling off her glasses and she has her head thrown back,
laughing. I have blonde, curly hair like the baby in the photo and my mother
is happy, like the mother in the photo.
All thoughts of Ken, waiting for him, leave me for the moment.
uncomfortable with what feels like an egocentric and narcissistic longing.
The white-haired baby. It brings to mind a feeling I’ve
harbored since I was a teenager, growing up fat: Well, I may be fat but
at least I’m blonde.
We live in a world that undeniably values Caucasian, blue-eyed babies.
As I sit here wanting one, myself, I wonder where my politics have gone:
my belief in equality and the beauty of a multicultural universe.
just want the baby to look like me,” I tell my coworker."
fine,” she says. “I’m just saying.”
a strange thing, to just think about what ingredients I want to use in
producing a baby. I’ve never been married, but I can’t
imagine that people marry for those ingredients Ð for the kind of children
they will bake up. I imagine they fall in love and have children together
as an expression of their love: a little of me, a little of you left forever
in the world.
does it mean to have a child alone?
coworker leaves, I sit pondering the Scandinavian sperm bank website. It
feels like sheer consumerism.
I am buying
I pay one
hundred dollars to access the detailed donor profiles. The more I look,
the clearer I become about my criteria. Blonde. Blue-green eyes. Advanced
degree. Creative. All like me. I feel excited and sick as I look over the
that the bank has a photo-matching service and I sign up for that too,
though hesitatingly, because my private criteria will now become known
to someone else. I will have to tell someone outright: I want a child exactly
like me. Still, I’m on a roll and determined
now, so I email a rather glamorous photo of myself from earlier in the
summer: me as fit and thin and tanned as I’ve ever been, the wind
blowing long strands of golden hair off my face.
gonna make a match, I think, I’m gonna do it with
the very best version of me.
I call Claus,
the director of the sperm bank, to be sure he got the photo and to explain
that I want someone who looks like me.
pretty subjective, you understand,” he replies.
Whatever you can do,” I say.
realize this service probably isn't meant for this purpose.
It’s probably meant to match the donor to the parenting father,
so the baby can look somewhat like him; or perhaps for lesbian couples,
to ensure that the baby looks a little like the non-gestating mother.
speak with Claus again a few days later. He’s forwarded my photo
to the head office in Denmark. The women who work there recommend Olaf.
girls tell me that he’s very nice,” Claus says. “And
I laugh. “That’s
a bonus.” But
what I am thinking is: Handsome is not a bonus — it’s essential.
realize that in my heart of hearts, I not only want this child to look
like me and be like me — I want this child to be better than me.
Better, because she's going to have everything that I have, plus
she's going to be thin.
be shocked by my own terrible thinking, but I’ve gone beyond
all that now. I am feverish with the idea. My thinking goes like this:
I got fat because my mom abandoned me, because there were some sad terrible
things that happened to me when I was little. And so I ate. So I got fat,
and then I had that to deal with, too. So now, well, now, it's too
late for me — I'll never get over being fat. And I’ll
never be thin.
But my kid
— well, he or she will have all the physical advantages that I squandered
by being fat. She will be thin, because she will have a mother who does
not leave her. He’ll have a mother who
let him be sexually abused. She will have all the mothering I never had,
so she can be thin. I’m going to be a great, god-like mother. And
I’m not even kidding.
I get pregnant
on the first try. I’ll
never know now if Ken would have gone through with it. Or how beautiful
my half-Japanese baby would have been.
Kaj is a
long, thin newborn. Twenty-two inches: almost two feet long. I look down
as she is being born and she’s
like a long, red ribbon, slipping out of me endlessly like a scarf
from a magician's
sleeve. She lands lengthwise across my doctor’s arms.
well and loses only a little weight her first few days home. The pediatrician
is pleased. We go for our check-ups every few months and by our third visit,
Kaj is in the 70th percentile for height and 90th percentile for weight. “Don’t
worry,” Dr. Franklin says, “she’s
When Kaj is ten
months old, we go to one of the other doctors in the practice because her
usual pediatrician has moved to Florida. Dr. Black charts her numbers and
says to me, “Well, 90th percentile
for weight.” He
looks at Kaj and then at me. “Wow, she’s a big baby.”
she is big,” he says again.
I feel myself
grow stiff, my face reddening.
two percent milk, not whole milk.”
still on formula,” I say, though I can
barely open my mouth.
I look at
her on the examination bed, naked and oblivious, her thick thighs and Michelin
man arms. She has a foot in her hand and pulls it to her mouth to suck
on her toes. This is a little hard for her, what with the thighs and all,
but she manages.
is looking at her too, and it’s as though he is looking at my naked thighs
— my wide, rippling celluloid thighs. I step between him and Kaj and feel
his eyes move to the broadness of my back.
I have only
ever felt love and pride for her until now. And maybe a little anger once
But as I
look down at her a fissure opens up inside me.
I am ashamed
lasts only a moment, but the memory of it burns. Cropping up when I’m tired.
I have made this baby in my image. As planned, she does look like
me. For better or worse, she looks so very much like me.