Excerpt from Chapter One of Knock Yourself Up:
        Oops! I Forgot to Have a Baby!
        Deciding to Go It Alone
Have a baby solo? Some women really don’t sweat it. Take Marcy, a Navy officer stationed in Georgia. Her decision to become a single mom was, as befits a military officer, fairly cut and dried: a cost-benefit analysis. She was 33—fertility wise, that’s getting up there. Because of military rules about fraternizing with inferiors, “my available pool of who to date was cut down to one person—and I dated him!” the blond-haired, dimpled mom recalls, laughing. Besides, dating just wasn’t all that much fun anymore.
    “I was tired of guys pretending to be someone they are not, or wanting me to pretend to be something I’m not,” she says. “It just seemed like the single guys my age were single for a reason. Plus, I looked around and everyone I knew was married and had kids. And I realized I wanted to be a mother more than I wanted to be a wife.”
    Decision made, no angst, no hand-wringing. Marcy ordered up some sperm, went to her gynecologist, and got herself pregnant.
    “For me it was all logistics,” says Ellen, a long-haired, light-skinned African American lawyer in Washington, DC, who has two daughters by anonymous donor insemination. When she realized becoming a single mom was an option, her main questions were practical ones: “Can I afford this, do I have the time, do I have the right job for this?
    “It wasn’t until I was pregnant that I heard about the group Single Mothers by Choice,” she said. The 5,000-member organization has an online community of nearly a thousand “thinkers,” who often spend years sweating it out in cyberspace before they take the next step.
    “Oh shit,” Ellen thought, “should I have thought more deeply about this?”
    Same story, more or less, for Debra, a surgeon in Toronto, who applied to her personal life the same logic she’d used to maintain her successful medical career. “There comes a point when you have to sit down and assess what your goals are. Then you have to take concrete steps.” So she did some research, talked to some other single moms, and soon enough had a baby boy. Clear-headed. Logical. Adult.
    This was not me.
    When I think about my willingness to become a single parent, a panel from cartoonist Eric Orner’s The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green comes to mind. It’s in a strip about leaving the beach at the end of a summer weekend, done according to the Five Stages of Grief, from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous book On Death and Dying. In the panel labeled Depression (stage four), it’s Sunday and Ethan, a gay man in his late 20s, is still out in the ocean in Provincetown. Work starts early Monday morning in Boston, a 2-1/2 hour drive away.
    “Ethan,” one of his older drag-queen friends says, maternally, “it’s Sunday noon, cupcake, shouldn’t you be heading back to the city?”
    “No no no no no no no,” says Ethan, curled in fetal position, clinging to his inflatable raft.
    That’s exactly how I felt about single motherhood.
    I was ready for kids at age 28, and I was well aware that women’s fertility really starts to plummet at 35. Even if I hadn’t been aware, my harshly proactive doctor would have put me on notice. When I went in for my physical the year I turned 35, she asked me if I wanted kids. When I said yes, she looked at me sternly and snapped, “Well, you’re not getting any younger!”
    “Thanks for the news flash,” I thought. “What kind of idiot does she think I am?”
    I was a romantic, procrastinating idiot, to be exact. I did not want to give up the dream of having the partner first, and then the baby. That dream was not only what I wanted, but also what I wanted for my child. I knew I’d be a great mom, with a lot to give. But I wanted my kid to have two parents—a luxury I did not have myself, since my dad died when I was very young. In fact, I wanted there to be three parents: Two mommies and a noncustodial dad, my lesbian version of the white-picket-fence dream. So, despite a perfectly clear intellectual understanding of the fertility issues involved, it took me to age 38 before I seriously started thinking about single motherhood, and I had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming by my biological clock.
    Not only did I kick and scream, but I worried—no, agonized—in exhaustive detail, about every single thing you could possibly worry about. Starting with the big one: Was it fair to the child to have only one parent and no dad? Month after hideous month, I spun out elaborate scenarios of my future 15-year-old’s painful psychological struggle with his or her unusual birth circumstances, and I’d cry for him. Or her. Sure, everything I’d ever read about alternative families with donor dads indicated that the kids do just fine, and that most have a surprising lack of angst, or even interest, regarding their unusual roots (for more on that, see chapter 7). But try telling that to the black hole of worry that had taken up residence in my psyche, sucking all possible positive outcomes into oblivion.
    When I wasn’t keening over my future child’s imaginary angst, I worried about myself. Was it fair to me to become a single parent? Could I even do it? Would I die of loneliness? Would I become this crazy over-involved mom with nothing else in my life? Would I never have a romantic life again? What if I can’t afford it? What if the child turns out to be seriously handicapped? What if I don’t sleep for 10 years?
    One of the women I interviewed for this book put it perfectly: “When I first made the decision I’d go to bed and worry about what I’d cook for my 5-year-old.” Well, not that it’s a competition, but I think I win. I worried more than any of the women I’ve ever spoken to, and I procrastinated more than most, though maybe some of them just aren’t ’fessing up. By the time I got my act together I was 41 and could easily have missed my fertility window. I was lucky.
    Min, an artist and teacher in New York City, with long auburn hair and a breathy, girlish voice, had similarly cold feet. She started thinking about single motherhood in her mid-30s and attended support groups about once a year for a couple years, but she could not bring herself to act. “The whole thought of conceiving without a partner and without love was not appealing to me,” she says. “Then when I started calling around to cryobanks—that freaked me out. Choosing sperm, picking the father of your child in this way, freaked me out.” Plus, she says, “I really enjoy having sex.” So the antiseptic process of insemination at a doctor’s office was not a big draw. “It was a long process for me to get over each one of these hurdles,” Min says. “That delayed me for a few years.” At last, there was a sudden shift in her attitude. “Something just clicked inside me and there was no hesitation.” Unfortunately for Min, who’s now 42, trying to get pregnant, but facing fertility problems, she’s finding that she may have delayed for so long that achieving pregnancy will turn out to be wildly expensive—or impossible.
    Some women have an equally hard time giving up the dream, but start thinking about it at a more sensible age. Take Shannon, a veterinary technician who lives outside Los Angeles with her dog, five cats and a guinea pig. “I was a thinker for 10 years before I finally bit the bullet,” she says. At 25, she had “maternal longings,” but was still “looking for Mr. Right or Mr. Good Enough.” Around age 30 she realized she better come up with Plan B. “I kept putting it off and hoping that Plan A would work,” she says, “but around my 34th birthday I realized I was reaching the point of now or never.”
    For Shannon, pursuing single motherhood was mostly a clear-headed financial decision. “I knew if I kept waiting I’d be more likely to have fertility problems, and that wouldn’t work out for me financially.” But the choice had its mystical elements, too. Shannon looked for a sign that what she was doing was right. “I had a friend do a Tarot reading for me about a decision I had to make,” she says. “I didn’t tell her what it was.” The cards promised her heartbreak (the Three of Swords) if she did not proceed with her plans, and “the beginning of a joyful enterprise” (the Ace of Cups) if she did. The final card that came up as the “advice of the Tarot” was Death, which represents change and transformation, Shannon says. “The Tarot was telling me to let go of something that was holding me back—in this case, me clinging to the ‘fantasy’ of first finding Mr. Right, then starting a family. The cards pointed me towards becoming an SMC [single mother by choice]. So that kind of gave me the push,” she says, laughing.
    Cheri, who works for an ad agency in Kansas, had had single motherhood as Plan B in mind for a long time. “When I was 17,” she remembers, “I told my high school boyfriend that if I wasn’t married by 30, I’d have a child on my own.” So naturally, when she turned 30 Cheri thought about it. For a minute. “I just wasn’t ready,” she says. But by age 34, she decided she’d better get busy. “I felt like I was in a really good place in my career and I had a good support system,” she says. “I gave one last relationship my best effort, and that didn’t work, for what ever reason. I decided it was time.”
    Still, Cheri “kind of eased into it,” she says. She bought the book Single Mothers By Choice. She talked it over with her parents: “They were good sounding boards.” She thought through insemination versus adoption. She consolidated her debt. Then she hit what was, for her, the hardest question: Did this mean she’d never marry? “That was the last hurdle before becoming a single mother by choice. Somehow in my head, making that choice meant being single forever,” Cheri says.
    “I decided it didn’t mean that,” she says, simply. Indeed it did not. Cheri is now the happy single mom of a 2-year-old son—and she’s dating.
    Jenny, an artist and teacher living in New York City, started thinking about it at age 33, when she complained to her therapist about a friend who seemed to be living an impossibly charmed life. The friend had wanted to get married before she was 30, and presto, she got back in touch with her high school sweetheart and they were married shortly after. Jenny’s friend had her next few years all planned out: World travel, then a baby. What was it, exactly, that was making Jenny so jealous about her friend, the therapist wanted to know.
    “I just hate it that she knows when she’s going to have a kid.”
    Well, what about Jenny? When did she want to have a kid?
    “I don’t know, probably when I’m 36,” Jenny replied.
    “So start getting curious about how it’s going to happen,” the therapist said.
    “I can’t, I’m not even dating anyone right now,” Jenny said. She didn’t see how she’d have time to get into a solid relationship, much less get married and start a family in three years, with some guy she hadn’t even met.
    “If you can’t get serious about when it’s going to happen, it’s not going to happen,” the therapist warned.
    Jenny was still resistant to even thinking about it, but after that conversation she says she did find herself “getting curious” about how she could have a baby on the timetable she wanted. Slowly but surely, she talked to people and examined her own feelings. Now, at 36, Jenny, a tall, easygoing, pretty woman with dark, wavy hair and a warm smile, is in her second trimester of a healthy pregnancy. She isn’t doing it in the order she always dreamed of—true love, marriage, baby—but she decided “I just need to think about it in a different order.” And in the meantime, she is not letting her childbearing dreams pass her by.
    For Charlene, an educational consultant in Chicago, it was her gynecologist who gave her the push. “I had planned to adopt, because I’m African American. I knew there were so many children who needed families.” But working in the public schools with a lot of adopted children, Charlene realized that the older, needy kids she wanted to adopt would require more of her than she felt she could give as a single parent. Then at age 39, during a routine checkup, her doctor reminded her of the simple biological fact: “If you want to have kids, you need to have them.” As in, now. Charlene researched single motherhood and asked herself, “Do I really want to have a baby or do I want to adopt?” And she came to a realization: “Even if I adopted, I always wanted to carry a child. I just couldn’t miss it.”
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Copyright (c) 2007 by Louise Sloan. All rights reserved.