Break out the barbeque sauce, flamers: I finally became a single mom by choice via donor gametes at the age of 43 after several years of infertility treatments. This was pregnancy number five in three years. Getting, and staying, pregnant, was difficult for me. My odds of success with in-vitro fertilization were so low that my reproductive endocrinologist wouldn't take my money for such. With polycystic ovary disease and advanced maternal age, my already low odds were, frankly, dismal.
My life choices don't follow the typical, predictable trajectory. I was not interested in college when I was younger. I chose to work. I loved the satisfaction of manufacturing products for government contracts, but not the low wages, sexism, and lack of opportunities. Trade school and an economic downturn coincided, leaving me wondering what else I could do. I decided that I'd try the armed services. I raised my right hand, swore an oath, dressed in camouflage, and was sent off to repair low-tech communications for four years with men who ordered me to clean toilets and floors. Well, tried to, anyway, as I was denied hard earned awards and honors the guys got handed to them.
I was honorably released from active duty with a host of medical problems, possibly caused by exposure to chemicals used in the Persian Gulf. I reconsidered college, and enrolled. I wanted to be a mommy someday, but with the challenges I faced, I thought it would be best to wait. Three college degrees and another economic downturn later, I was not much better off, after all. My dreams seemed even more out of reach. After flipping a house and creating my own small business, I considered finding Mr. Right. However, he was nowhere to be found. Time was wasting away and taking my fertility along with it, although I had no idea how intricate human reproduction actually is.
Several years and many Google searches later, I decided that it was time to try becoming a mommy, and embarked upon the journey myself. Along the way, it seemed that although my choice could be polarizing, most people were merely curious about the choices made, and methods used to achieve my goal. I chose what level of information I'd share depending upon which two-week wait I was in, from none to serving as a self-appointed IF-PCOS-AMA Ambassador.
I tolerated comments encouraging me to get pets or hobbies. I broke off friendships with people who gave me such sage advice as "It'll happen when it is supposed to happen." Or, "Relax," as if infertility was my fault. Through clomid induced hot flashes, I stretched, kicked, hit, and hoofed my way to reducing my increased male androgen levels. If I wasn't kickboxing away my anger and sadness, I was analyzing failure or shoring myself up with ambitious plans on desert hikes, or clearing my head by chanting "Om" in yoga classes. I gave up traveling, and stayed at home to pee in cups, dipping various types and brands of sticks, then timing, marking, and comparing them to find that short window of optimum fertility. Three short beeps awoke me each day to take my temperature with a computerized digital thermometer.
I lived on next to nothing, financing my infertility treatments with my grocery money and credit cards. There wasn't much to live for, I felt, unless I became a mommy. I was unhappy because trying to conceive was intense, difficult, and the dream of a take-home baby was slipping farther and farther away. Why wasn't it happening? Was I being punished for attempting to be responsible by waiting until I had achieved professional and educational goals? Was I doomed to live as an on-looker, jealous of what so many people take for granted? What the heck was wrong with me, anyway? Why was I unable to let this dream go, and revel in my freedom?
I discovered there is a vast difference between childfree, and childless. I could never be the former, having spent so much time being the latter. Adopting a child can be as financially risky and difficult as trying to conceive, and just as draining. Because of my service-related health issues and single status, it was unlikely I'd be eligible for fostering or adopting, not that those are the easy fixes the childfree crowd considers them to be.
My willingness to serve my country meant a lot of personal sacrifice, though I was not throwing my dream of mommyhood, however I might get there, on the funeral pyre. Die fighting is what I was taught to do, and die fighting for my dream was what I was willing to do. As a card carrying patriot, I saw no reason to exclude myself from my right to pursue happiness simply because others judged my marital status and age as unworthy.
The day finally came when I took a blood test to measure my human chorionic gonadotropin levels on the way up! I began to bleed, and grieve, as I awaited the results. I cried, berating myself for being hopeful, for spending so much money, for envying others their complaints of sleepless nights, temper tantrums, and pregnancy weight gain. The number came back shockingly high, and once again I found myself on an atypical path. My anxiety increased along with my betas once I was labeled "high risk." Weekly, then bi-weekly sonograms sometimes made me vomit from fear even as limeade warded off mild morning sickness. My pregnancy risk status meant lots of quiet time to reflect upon how I got there, and the life that lay ahead of me with the life growing inside of me. Each Tuesday at midnight marked one week closer to a second trimester, then viability, then increasingly better odds of a take-home baby. My belly grew as my glow stopped strangers in their tracks.
I was truly beautiful, and I deserved to be.
Then came the day the blood returned. My baby was suddenly born two months prematurely, and I wasn't ready. After so many years of focusing on pregnancy, I simply did not know what to do with a baby who might not ever come home. I feared that her prematurity would cause lifelong health and development issues. Shame once again filled me each time I regaled a neonatal ICU professional with my status and methods. Perhaps my dream had only resulted in devastating consequences that would be paid by others. By my own helpless baby girl, who clung to life before growing strong enough to come home.
For months, I felt as though I was barely able to keep myself together. I had challenges I could never have anticipated. I was more scared than I had ever been. Transitioning to motherhood in such a shocking fashion occasionally exposed my lack of grace, and abundance of inexperience. My vulnerabilities were magnified. My shortcomings, countless, along with our hospital bills. She was my (half of a) million dollar baby. Literally.
Slowly, my daughter and I grew father away from fragility. We developed coping and support skills. We took turns learning and teaching each other. The babies in the neonatal ICU left me in awe that tiny people with no life experience could fight so damned hard. I showed my baby love and gave her security by holding her as often and long as possible, but walking away when she was overly exhausted by the rapid pace of her growth. I celebrated milestones as small as a wet diaper and as large as moving to the step-down nursery.
Most of the doubts I had about my ability to single parent have long been diminished. My toddler smiles at me when we meet back up after naps. We work hard to meet developmental milestones as we spend hours laughing at each other, blowing raspberries, and dumping plates of food on the floor. We have created a harmonious household despite intensive therapies designed to close the gap between her actual and adjusted ages. None of this is to say it has been easy.
Despite my willingness to torture myself into reaching mommyhood, I had no idea what being "mommy" really meant. Phrases such as "It's all about the baby," and "Life will never be the same," are succinct, yet meaningless to the uninitiated. I could have never imagined the peaks of joy, nor the depths of despair I'd experience so quickly after becoming a mommy. While I was trying to conceive and people told me "It will happen when it's supposed to," it felt like nails on a chalkboard.
However, they were right, in some sense.
The years I spent earning my own right to choose, achieving educational and financial goals, and ultimately, mommyhood, are exactly what made me the right mommy for a happy, healthy little girl. So what if I'm midlife and need to color my roots? I've lived long enough to decide not only what's worth fighting for, but also to gather intelligence, recon supplies and services, strategize, rally the troops, fight the battles, and win the war, all on my own. Spend your freedom of speech denigrating my choices by flaming if you so choose. But if that is what you choose, kindly exercise your other freedoms by opting for sterilization: simply put, the sacrifices required to raise children probably are too much for you. Your energies could be spent achieving something you consider just as wonderful as I consider motherhood to be, including service to others.