I spoke to another single woman who’d had a child on her own. “I knew I wanted a child, and I was never good in relationships,” she said. “It’s the best decision I made.”
“But how did you do it?” I asked.
“I had help,” she said. “You need someone to help you, especially financially.”
Help. That was something I was more likely to give than receive. She then started talking about sperm and donors and using these words that made me feel squeamish.
While driving with my parents from Brooklyn to Maryland for a funeral, I decided it was the perfect time to pop the question.
“I want to have a baby, would you help me?” I asked. No foreplay, just straight for the big ask. “I’ll need help if I am going to do this,” I blurted out.
They were liberal, they were open, this was a sure thing. Right?
“No. We’re too old, we already had our children,” my mother said. “Can’t you just meet someone?” she said sharply.
This was not the empathetic response I had pictured so clearly when I practiced it in my head. And now, we had about five hours of pure awkwardness to endure before reaching our hotel.
If my parents were not going to help me, surely someone else would. I was fertile. I was in good shape. I was running for this first time since grade school, and I felt pumped. This was the time to have a baby. Soon enough, I amped up my dating efforts and hoped nature would take its course. I hid that copy of “Single Mothers By Choice” on the back shelf of my closet behind my old tax returns.
For the next few years, I looked for the kind of men who might want to settle down and raise a child. I looked at the short, bald men through different lenses. It didn’t matter these men never had any intention of settling down with me; they liked my carefree lifestyle but only for casually dating. I saw them as donors, and they saw me as their rebound. Each one of them wound up marrying someone else.
Now in my 40s, I rummaged through my closet for the old copy of the book. I needed answers, stat. This is where I became pleasantly surprised. I spent so much energy focused on men that I never realized how important women were in this process.
When you ask women about fertility, they respond — immediately. A friend posted something on her twins website, and the replies multiplied. Women from all over were reaching out to me and supporting me in ways my own family could not. They talked of their struggles, their successes. They did this in between breast-feeding and toddler meltdowns; they did this for the joy of helping someone become a mother.
Soon my network grew. I had the information and support I needed to go further. Eventually, I got past my insecurities and found a sperm donor, a wonderful team to help me. By my 44th birthday, I was convinced that I could beat the odds. After all, my levels of FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, were shockingly high.
“So, you are saying I have the eggs of a 30-year-old, right?” I asked my fertility doctor.
“They are unusually high for your age,” she answered.
We tried intrauterine insemination, but later discovered a tube blockage that would bring me to in vitro fertilization. This meant having blood work and sonograms done, all before 7 a.m., every other day. I self-injected hormones into my butt and thighs, every day, for almost a year.
The nurses and other women giving blood became my friends. One fall afternoon, they called on speakerphone, both nurses in unison screaming “You’re pregnant!” They were as excited as I was. We talked for a while and they told me that my hormone levels were low and to be realistic; if they continued to drop, the pregnancy wouldn’t last.
I went into the office for the usual blood work and Cindy, in her hot pink scrubs, hugged me tightly. I didn’t mind the early wake-up call today. When I called the lab for my results, the same friendly nurse got on the phone. Her voice had dropped: My baby was gone. I sat on the steps of the school where I taught, pretending to be brave. For days I didn’t cry. I didn’t know what to feel.
With five tries behind me, I decided to stop. I’ve heard of women who do this for years, and I applaud their tenacity. But I had nothing left to give. I’d spent thousands of dollars and endless hours only to realize that 44 was too late.
My friends are still having babies, and I want to be happy for them. I blurt out “congratulations” or “wow.” But I think to myself: “Why couldn’t it be me?” To lose at love is something I have come to accept, but to lose at motherhood is a battle I still fight – with every baby bump I see and every “first” posted on Facebook.
Some days the pain is unbearable, and other days I am fine. I still haven’t fully accepted that I may never be a mother. But I do know that whatever I do next, there is a group of women out there who will support me.