Some people are born nurturers. I was one of those. As a child, I enjoyed playing with dolls and pretending they were my babies. As soon as I was old enough, I babysat the neighbourhood kids. At 13 and 14 I hired myself out as a summer live-in domestic, a position referred to as a “mother’s helper”. When my friends started having babies, I was the friend who gave them a night off. I have loved babies and little children for as far back as I can remember and always wanted some of my own. But first I wanted an education and a career. True to my nature, I chose work in the helping profession and gave myself over completely to making the world a better place.
When my husband and I decided it was time to bring a child into our lives, I felt ready. When I got pregnant soon after, I was thrilled. I looked forward to the birth of my baby with great anticipation, eating healthy foods, tracking the weekly development of the fetus and making all of the necessary preparations for his arrival. I couldn’t wait to be a mom. But I was also a feminist and I didn’t want motherhood to define me. I was very focused on my career. I imagined that my baby would fit perfectly into my lifestyle. I would carry on as before, except with a child. I made plans to return to work on a part-time basis at four weeks post partum, and full-time at 7 months.
All of that got completely upended on the day my son was born. Following a brief but harrowing labour with a forceps-assisted delivery, I held my perfect baby in my arms for the first time.This single-minded commitment to parenting was only intensified a few weeks later when my husband suddenly announced that he no longer wanted to be married. In the lengthy emotional turmoil that followed, mothering was the steady anchor that kept me grounded. My husband left me and moved in with his next love. I carried on. Now I had to work just to stay afloat. Everything I did was for the sake of my child. The divorce was bitterly painful and dealing with my ex was difficult. Many aspects of the divorce were devastating. I found myself mourning the family we had planned together, both the intact family unit and the unborn children we had also hoped for. In better moments, I comforted myself with the thought that in time I would find a new partner and create a new family.However, this did not happen. Working full-time, caring for an asthmatic baby, trying to finish my Master’s degree and fighting a continuous legal battle with my ex took the best of me. I didn’t have much left for dating. Despite my circumstances, I did meet some nice men, but none with whom I would want to make a family.
I had always wanted more than one child, and I had never wanted my son to be an only child. I had also not wanted to be a single mother, but there are some things we have no control over. As my son got older, and no partner materialized, I began to explore other options. At first I considered a known donor, but my experiences with the family law system made that choice a scary one. I knew that most people were reasonable, but even the potential prospect of having to defend my custody rights for a second child left me terrified. I, therefore, after months of research and deliberation, turned to anonymous donor insemination to help me complete my family. First stop, my family doctor. I was anxious about approaching him. Dr. P was a middle-aged man practicing medicine in a conservative rural town. He was the first gatekeeper I had to pass.
I didn’t know how he would feel about a single woman deliberately conceiving a child without a partner and I needed his referral to the fertility clinic in order to access donor sperm. He gave me a physical exam then asked me several questions, particularly about my emotional and financial resources and social supports for raising another child. I suppose I passed the interview, because he agreed to the referral, saying, “J needs a little brother or sister”. I didn’t think I should have to defend my reasons for wanting another child. Nevertheless, I felt relieved. The next step was to meet the C’s, the couple who ran the fertility clinic. He was an OB/Gyn and she was a psychologist. They met me together and explained the process. I was given a catalogue of donors from a sperm bank located in a city two hours away. It contained limited information, such as blood type, body type, hair colour and type, eye colour, height, ethnicity, educational background and career. I could also read about their hobbies and interests. There were no photos. All donors had been medically cleared, although the testing specifics were not given.
I took the catalogue home and pored over it for the next week or two, before deciding on a donor. I narrowed the pack by selecting physical characteristics which mirrored my own. I reasoned that sharing a strong family resemblance would help my child to feel a sense of belonging and might compensate a little for having no father or extended family on the paternal side. I tried to exercise any limited control I had in giving my child the best circumstances I could. From the remaining prospects, I settled on #048 because of his choice of hobbies, his MBA degree and his career as a computer analyst. Most of the others listed three specific sports as their interests, but #048 listed his as art, literature and sports. “He’s smart, accomplished and well-rounded”, I thought, and, “This is a man I would consider dating”. Now all I needed to do was to order the sperm and pay the fee. It would be sent to the clinic in a special container known as cryostorage, which maintains an appropriate environmental temperature to protect the sperm’s quality and potency.
I thought it completely unnecessary, but at the fertility doctor’s insistence, I began taking medication to assist with ovulation. Every morning I drove to a clinic to have blood drawn to measure the amount of hormone in my blood. I also used a thermometer at home every day to take my temperature so I could determine when I was ovulating. As a single parent, these measures were a huge imposition on my already burgeoning schedule. Thankfully, I did not have to adhere to it for long.
At the first sign of ovulation, I called Dr. C at the clinic and informed him that I was ready for the insemination. He told me he needed medical confirmation and would call me when he saw the results from the blood sample. I got that call on a July Saturday afternoon. I arranged childcare for my son, hopped in the car and hurried to the clinic. As I said, it was a Saturday. I was the only patient there. Both Dr. C and his wife were present. They had come straight from the pool in their backyard. A casual atmosphere prevailed. This was punctuated by Dr. C’s attire - a red speedo bathing suit. This seemed unusual, but I was just grateful that they were taking time out of their weekend for me.
The procedure was done quickly and painlessly. I felt immediately that it had been effective and that I would soon be considered pregnant. Within two weeks I was feeling morning sickness and four weeks later, a drug store test confirmed that I was, indeed, pregnant. I had assumed naively that, since the timing was perfect and the quality of the sperm was good, a pregnancy was the only possible outcome. It was only when I called the clinic to report the pregnancy that I was informed that I was the first patient ever to become pregnant on the first insemination attempt. Wow! I felt even more thrilled and grateful.
My beautiful daughter was welcomed with love eight months later at a home birth. I hadn’t dared to hope that my second baby would be a girl, but now that she was born, I could admit to myself that I had longed for it. Upon arrival, she was surrounded by friends and family. Her 6-year-old brother was present at the birth and helped by cutting the umbilical cord.
For the next few days, we all hung out in my big queen bed while friends and a hired post partum doula looked after us. I have never felt so complete.
Over the years we have made many wonderful family memories. We have travelled extensively, played games, read to each other, shared ideas, learned about ourselves, played and watched each other in sports, music recitals and plays. We have laughed together, cried together, and watched a lot of movies. My kids have gone to camp, learned to ski, and made friends. Neither one thinks of the other as a “half” sibling. They are brother and sister. Like any family, we have had our challenges. Those have been made more difficult with the additional burden of my being a single parent. But we have survived the challenges and flourished as a family. We remain very close.
My daughter was an emotional child. She needed lots of loving attention and a steady influence in order to feel grounded. Whether or not this was influenced by her being the product of anonymous donor insemination is hard to know. At three years of age, she asked, “Mama, is my dad dead?” and I had to explain her origins to her as best I could. At eight or nine years old, she resolved the donor issue for herself, saying, “He is not my dad. If he wanted to be my dad, he wouldn’t have been anonymous.” She understands that he is a person whose donation gave her the gift of life and she is grateful. She has registered on a website which matches donors and offspring, and also offspring siblings, hoping that one day she will be able to connect with the other side of her genetic inheritance. She says that mostly she would like genetic information from the donor, not a relationship. But she would love to have relationships with any siblings, and we expect there are several out there. So far none have come forward. She claims that she does not feel at a disadvantage as a result of her unusual family configuration. She says that we are enough. As for me, if I ever get the chance, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the man who made it possible. My daughter has enriched our lives beyond measure and I cannot imagine life without her.
My children are now young adults in their 20’s. My son is in the middle of his Master’s degree in Psychology. My daughter, who turned out to look quite a lot like me, has just finished her third year in an arts degree. Whatever she decides to do, she will do brilliantly. Her high school transcript shows a record of straight A’s. More importantly, she is a beautiful soul with a rare depth of sensitivity and wisdom. My children are my greatest blessing and I have never once regretted the family that I created with them. And while I now have more time and energy to devote to my career, I find myself somewhat dispassionate about it. The purpose and meaning I have derived from motherhood can’t be matched by anything else.
More 1 in 6 stories
Infertility is often described as a journey, and that couldn’t be more accurate way to describe the steps it took to conceive our beautiful daughter, Ellie.
My husband, Matthew, and I have been trying to conceive for six and a half years. We have a double whammy of me having PCOD and him having a low sperm count.
We started trying to get pregnant shortly before we got married, anticipating some difficulty because I had some thyroid and other health issues.