When I was a 13-year-old summer camper, one of our counselors was an ancient (gasp!) 29. We all thought she was especially weird because she used pads instead of tampons, and she was a virgin. While I wasn’t exactly sure at the time what this latter part involved (or didn’t, as the case was), I was confident that I would never be like that single, childless, pad-wearing counselor. I fully intended to be a normal 29-year-old. In fact, if I played my cards right that summer, by 29, I’d be married to a grown-up version of that cute kid Del from the boys’ bunk across the green and spending my days mixing up batches of Tang for our two kids.
I never was a good card player, and 29 arrived much more quickly than I’d anticipated. I was taking a break from drafting a legal memo for work one night in my apartment-built-for-one decorated with three live cats and a closet full of little black dresses, and surfing the news on the net: “Bridget Jones Generation Urged to Freeze Eggs: New Egg Freezing Technique Offers Hope to Hundreds of Women.” I scrolled through the article, my panic growing with each word. “Over.” “The.” “Hill.” I Googled “egg freezing.”
“If you receive a windfall of eggs far beyond your capacity to use within a few weeks, they can be frozen—not in the shell, of course.”
The shell? What does the shell have to do with this?
I read on. Oh, chicken eggs. Ridiculous Internet.
I clicked it closed, drafted several dozen more legal memos, and suddenly I was 38. I’d been smart enough to ditch the law firm job by then, brave enough to launch my own law firm and snatch back some spare time to live and laugh and date. Except most of the men interested in me at this point were sugar-daddy types and 20 years my senior (ew…just…no). The guys my age preferred girls of the more apparently fertile variety.
I started thinking seriously then about what I would do if I didn’t meet Mr. Right Sperm by the time I turned 40. I wasn’t that girl who was born desperate to be a mommy, but I’d always assumed I’d be one. Did I really want kids, and could I balance a family with my law firm (read: could I have it all)? And if I didn’t meet the baby daddy (and soon!), could I ever be one of those women who adopted on her own or, dare I even think it … used a … sperm donor? That only happened in the movies, or to weird people like that virgin camp counselor. Who was I to have to resort to a sperm donor? I’d succeeded at pretty much everything I’d ever set out to do. How could I have failed at this fundamental thing that everyone around me seemed to have mastered with ease: building a family?
I soon ditched the adoption idea when I was told it would break my bank and be nearly impossible as a single woman. As for artificial insemination, I was still reluctant. I’d read somewhere that society is more accepting of homosexual couples having children through artificial insemination than single women doing so. But short of shooting a few tequila shots and heading down to the bars to get lucky with a random cowboy, a sperm donor seemed to be my best option.
The idea of artificial insemination terrified me for a million reasons, from the ridiculous to the warranted. And for the next couple of years, I chewed on each one in various states of terror: Could I afford it? Would it freak me out to have a stranger’s baby growing inside me? Would it be like one of those “Oprah” episodes where the kid grows up to hate me and searches for his 50 long-lost half-siblings only to discover that one of them is his girlfriend? Could I manage raising a child alone without ever, ever, ever (that’s EVER) getting a break from the overwhelming responsibility? I’m a freak about medical procedures — could I handle the intimidating insemination process, and if it worked, could I handle being pregnant, and all by myself without a husband to rub my swollen feet and run out to pick up ice cream in the middle of the night? Not to mention the actual act of birthing a child — egads! Then there was the certainty that having a baby as a single mommy would make me even less eligible as a bachelorette than my all-consuming lawyer gig had. And, of course, the very human part of me couldn’t help but wonder:
What would people think?
During that period, I kept thinking I would magically meet Mr. Right Sperm as it got down to the wire; I imagined he would swoop in at the last minute, maybe in the elevator at the fertility clinic, and rescue me from this difficult decision. This being Real Life and not Hollywood, of course, that didn’t happen, and that darn push ultimately came to shove.
One night I was having dinner out with my sister, a women’s health nurse practitioner, when she told me point blank: “You’re out of time. Do you want a baby? Because if you do, you need to do it now.” I was furious with her for pressuring me. “This is a huge decision. And it’s mine! You can’t rush me!” I was especially furious because I knew she was right. It may already be too late.
I finally knew it was the right decision, the only decision for me, when I asked myself, “If you looked back 10 years from now, would you regret not trying?”
I took a deep breath and scheduled a consultation with Dr. Eblen at Nashville Fertility Center. I was prepared for all kinds of touchy-feely questions and having to explain why I wanted to do this alone. Instead, she was perfectly matter-of-fact. She pointed out the statistics with brutal honesty: My chances were about 5 percent with each try given my age. A tech pulled out this scary large wand contraption and checked things out “down there” (gulp). Despite the clinical nature of the visit, my emotions soared and tanked like a roller-coaster car during that two hours, and I was exhausted and more terrified than ever afterward, I think because I finally knew I wanted to move forward and that it would take loads of courage.
I was required to visit a psychiatrist before I could proceed, and I resented this. Any 16-year-old kid can get knocked up with free license, but I, a home-owning attorney, had to be cleared by a shrink just because I hadn’t landed a man? Turns out, though, that the shrink was really nice, and the main purpose of the visit was to talk through how I would reveal the news to my offspring-to-be one day. A good idea in hindsight, although I’ve since forgotten everything we discussed at the session because I was so nervous about it.
I also had to get my blood drawn—which—yippee!—revealed I had a plentiful supply of (not chicken) eggs! “I can’t imagine raising a baby at 40,” the lab tech who stabbed the vein inside my elbow with the likes of the Space Needle chattered away while I turned three shades of white.
Then there was the Great Clomid Fail. Clomid, a fertility drug that causes a slim minority of women who take it to want to jump off a bridge. I fell into that group and spent two of the longest days of my life bawling on the phone to my heroic mom and my champ sister, who, by the end, also wanted to jump off a bridge. “I can’t do this by myself! Why have I been forced to make this decision nowwwwwww????? Bawl! Sob! Feeling sorry for myself! Poor me!” I made the first phone call to my sister at 12:03 a.m. after I’d swallowed the Clomid pill only to read on Google that another possible side effect of the drug is blindness. “Now I’m going to go blind, too!” I sobbed my heart out to her. A tearful call to the clinic and a quick switch to the fertility drug Femara, and we were in business.
Except for the tiny matter of choosing the baby daddy. In addition to my grand career ambitions, another issue that had always held me back from landing Mr. Right was my infamous pickiness. I had trouble choosing the perfect prom dress, had only ever accepted two dates on Match.com. How in the world was I supposed to hand-pick the father of my child? Initially I searched for the guys with the highest IQs, the top SAT scores, the snootiest education pedigrees, the handsomest mugs. My sister suggested it might be nice to have a nice kid, a normal kid and not a freak of nature. I also initially picked guys exactly like me: creative, musical, bookish. Again, my sister gently suggested I might want to offset my dorkiness with qualities that complemented mine.
One night, she asked while I was complaining about the lack of choice among the sperm-bank set (all the good ones are gone!), “Did you take a look at the pro golfer?” “No, everyone will choose him because of his profession.” But I took another look. And just like (I suppose) you know when you meet Mr. Right, I knew I had met Mr. Baby Daddy. The guy was not only a pro-golfer, he was Mr. All-Around Athlete, something this outfield-sitting-dandelion-plucker could use in her kid’s DNA. I especially loved his personal essay: “I always try to make others laugh and try to find humor in everything. I know that hard work, being a good friend, being trustworthy, honest, thoughtful, respectful, and trying to do the right thing are all beneficial to having a good life.” Aw … he reminded me of … of … my dad. I could really like a kid like this. He was ordinarily handsome, tall, with a full head of hair at nearly 40 (I couldn’t imagine using a sperm donor half my age—that seemed weird), was married with two kids of his own, had a spotless health history, nice eyelashes (I always had a thing for those), and the right blood type. Also, he’d been an average-size baby. My ever-helpful sis warned me to check for that, as I didn’t want to give birth to an oversized watermelon. True, that.
The insemination procedure itself was actually easy as pie, despite those Internet articles laced with scary words like “catheter” and “cramping.” Easier than a pap smear, even. And for 10 minutes afterward, you get to do nothing but lie there and relax, a rare luxury for me. The first procedure, I brought in my iPod with a homemade song playlist and took those 10 minutes very seriously. By the fifth procedure (the first four failed), I was surfing Match.com during those after-minutes. I’ve always been a skilled multi-tasker.
I did get resentful sometimes at the cold and clinical approach to this miracle-making, allowing the bitter thought to creep in occasionally that it should have happened for me naturally through an act of love rather than on a cold examining table via sperm vial. But this was an act of love, just of a different kind, I reminded myself, and I marched on, dutifully taking my fertility drugs and bearing those large-wand ultrasounds and sticking my belly with needles full of hormones, with each attempt my desire for a squawking little one to call my own increasing.
And if you can believe this, one night in the middle of June 2012, I peed on a stick and two pink lines appeared! I texted a pic of the stick to my ma and my sis. My mother apparently cursed happily in the little café in my hometown: the big granddaddy of naughty words that she’d better not teach my kid one day.
And funny thing is, all those fears over which I’d chewed, the valid ones, the irrational ones, most of them never came to pass. My pregnancy was as smooth as a pregnancy can be, with just enough morning sickness to know baby was thriving in there and glowing health reports for Mommy and Baby throughout. If I was worried beforehand that I would regret not having a man by my side during the experience, during those 9-and-a-half months I was relieved I didn’t have a man to try to impress or to hog the bed or irritate the crap out of me. I never felt like I had an alien inside me, but instead thrilled at each butterfly flutter. It wasn’t all smooth sailing: I did pull over in the scary part of town one morning on the way to work under full-on panic attack and called my mother to bawl: “What the hell was I thinking?”, but when a homeless woman pounded on the window demanding money and I yelled at her, “Can’t you see that I’m crying?” and she yelled right back, levity returned.
My son’s birthday, likewise, was like a fairy tale (don’t hate me because of it). My water broke like in the movies (at least some things happen that way) in the privacy of my home on a Saturday morning. My mother made me drive to the hospital and yelled at me about my driving on the way there (i.e. normalcy prevailed). One Godzilla-sized epidural needle, eight hours of fairly painless labor, and 17 minutes of pushing (during which I actually giggled) later, the beautiful, miraculous joy of my life, Fred Theodore Everhart, arrived in this world. Named for my late beloved daddy, Fred, and Theodore Roosevelt, who ranched in my home state of North Dakota, he would be called Teddy. And he was perfect.
Day two was another story. And the day after that, and the day after that, too. (Can you say “breast feeding”?) He’s had a few more less-than-perfect days since then, too. (Can you say “teething molars”?) But generally speaking, he’s awesome, and I can’t imagine life any other way. Thank God I did that. I often look at his sweet just-for-Mommy smile and gift-from-Grandpa-Fred blue eyes and think: What if I’d decided not to try?
The hardest part of being a single mommy by choice is not the emotional, like I’d imagined before I had any clue what this was all about. I don’t have time for “poor me” these days, and, anyway, I chose this path. No matter how steep and challenging it can sometimes get, I am always happier I chose to go down it. The hardest part of being a single mommy by choice is two-fold: the physical aspect, and logistics.
The physical—well, let me give you an example. One afternoon Teddy experienced a sudden bout of explosion-style diarrhea so quick and far-reaching it required both of us to jump into the bathtub together. Within the same half hour I was barfing onto the carpet while Teddy looked on screaming. That same night while I was sweating and shivering and trying desperately to think of anything other than losing my cookies, Teddy decided that the only place he could possibly be comfortable was in my bed with me, snoozing with his head pressed down on the precise part of my belly where nausea brewed.
You have to be tough as nails to stomach this job, because, while your friends and family may rock, they’re not always available as back-ups. Everyone says it takes a village, but you are the one who gets up when Little Mister demands a midnight snack for the fifth night in a row, the one who rises at the crack of dawn and “rests her eyes” on the living room rug while the toddler rolls his toy truck up and down your legs, the one who lies awake through the night counting his every breath and diagnosing his every cough when he’s sick, with no one with whom to compare notes except Google, the one who rocks him back to health for hours at a time without a food or potty break, the one who balances his protesting little body over one arm while changing his crib sheet with the other after a midnight diaper-leaking episode, the one who drags her sleep-deprived self to stack the dirty bottles in the dishwasher before bed-sweet-bed so life can go on in the morning.
The logistics: Literally how to accomplish things when it’s just you and baby. Our biggest challenge has always been getting ready in the morning. I wash my hair every third day, wearing it in a headband on the second and ponytailing it the next. If I’m lucky I shower while Teddy bawls in protest and tries to climb inside the shower with me. More often, I bathe and he stands beside me and throws my magazines and books and all of his 43 bath toys into the tub with me, or he toddles out of the bathroom while I’m mid-shampoo forcing me to jump out with hair still lathered and sprint nude after him to make sure he isn’t eating the cat food in the kitchen. And for some reason, Teddy has always protested my curling the left side of my hair, so it usually remains straight. On the typical day, I dry and curl (the right side of) my hair while sitting on a stepstool in the kitchen as Teddy eats breakfast in his high chair and I sing the “ABCs” to him. I apply my mascara and lipstick in the car at traffic lights on the way to school. We get things done; it just sometimes takes a little ingenuity and planning.
As for what people think, I can honestly say I have never once cared since the day I got pregnant. I’m too busy/tired/happy/in love to care. I usually forget, in fact, that Teddy and I have a story different than most, until I’m suddenly reminded. On Teddy’s first Father’s Day, his daycare teachers asked what they should do about the Father’s Day craft project—was there a grandfather? No, I told them, but it was okay. I know the day will come when things like this do matter to Teddy and he will feel left out, and I really need to pull out that brochure from my psych session to remember how to prepare him for this. But I can’t imagine a more loved or wanted or spoiled or lucky kid, so I know he will be okay. As long as he doesn’t go on the year-2033 version of “Oprah.” Maybe one day (if I can ever get the left side of my hair curled), I’ll meet a nice daddy for Teddy, perhaps a single dad with kids of his own. But either way, we’re doing great, just the two of us. We’re a family.
What I’ve found is that most folks are incredibly supportive of us and our story. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s a love story, after all, and who doesn’t love a good love story? Best decision I ever made? Hands down.