I hated the idea. It seemed cold and weird and unnatural—even threatening. A stranger's sperm entering my body, and not only that, potentially creating a life. It was anathema to me to make a baby with a serial number instead of a human being. But it was my best Plan B.
A random known donor or an accidentally-on-purpose pregnancy were too risky. And I didn't want to adopt; like many women, I had always wanted to experience biological motherhood—pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, a genetic connection to my child, the works.
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So, instead, I shopped. My first-choice donor was an allegedly cerebral, good-looking performer. I ordered him right up. But he had hit his maximum of 15 families and his semen was no longer available.
My second select was tall, dark, and handsome. Blue eyes, on the ski team in college, liked to dance and cook. "He sounds dreamy!" my mom said. "Can you get his number?" (Inappropriate, Mom!) Still, all that, and he was available! Sounded too good to be true.
And it was. After eight months of intrauterine inseminations (uncomfortable affairs at the doctor's), I learned donor McDreamy was shooting blanks.
Donor Three was a tall, green-eyed actor, again handsome, musical, and athletic. His life goal, he wrote, was "to impact the world by artistic means." I was impressed. Most of all, he seemed like a nice guy.
Turned out, he was The One. I got pregnant on my second try, but was told it was questionable from the start. "Well, you're pregnant, but..." were the nurse's exact words. A few weeks later, I lost the baby.
Signing for the Stork
Labor Day weekend, one year and one month from the time I first started trying to conceive, it was time to inseminate again.
I never dreaded the process, but it did get harder as time went on, and I had to sweep aside doubts like: Was the fact that it was taking this long a sign that I shouldn't do it?
This time, since my doctor's office was closed for the holiday, I had the sperm bank FedEx the semen to my mom's summerhouse in Maine. The two-foot-tall stainless-steel tank full of sub-zero liquid nitrogen (to keep the sperm frozen) arrived on schedule to her charmingly painted front porch, looking for all the world like a bomb.
I come from a nice, conservative, Southern Republican WASP family. Receiving packages containing the frozen sperm of perfect strangers is definitely not What We Do. But, by this point, the process was so old hat for all of us, nobody even blinked.
When the ovulation test-stick announced my egg was on its way, I collected the essentials from the kitchen—mixing bowl and ziplock bag, for thawing the vial of semen, and bright yellow dishwashing gloves to protect me from the frozen gas. Then I climbed the narrow stairs to my sweet attic bedroom overlooking the ocean and did the deed.
Becoming a Family of Two
Nine months—and one last insemination attempt—later, I was listening to a nurse shouting: "One more time, push, push, push!" With a painful tear, my son, Scott, was in the world, and the doctor put him immediately on my chest.
"Hi, baby," I said in a soft, quavering voice, tears running down my cheeks. I held him close, stroking his tiny head over and over. At the end of the long, strange process, lying in bed in the warm summer light, with this beautiful, cuddly little boy, seemed so easy and natural. After 41 years of waiting, I had my baby at last.
It's now a year later, and Scott is walking, waving bye-bye, roaring like a lion, and laughing hysterically when I try to tell him no. Despite the fact that the process of conceiving him was, in every possible respect, the way I didn't want to do it, I can tell you that I don't think about any of it now, and haven't since he was born.
Even my reaction to his anonymous "dad" is very different than what I'd feared: I have a few pictures of his donor at age 7 or 8, and as it turns out, Scott looks just like him. But now this man I know only by a number isn't a stranger anymore. "I know you!" my heart says fondly when I see the photos. "You look like my baby!"
Scott's a gregarious little guy, charming and flirting, batting his blue-gray eyes at everyone. And motherhood's actually been easier than I expected, so far.
Still, with every passing day, he's more of a handful, and when I have to take a 40-pound suitcase, a 23-pound child, and a 12-pound stroller up five flights to my apartment by myself, single parenthood isn't exactly a cinch. (And I've lifted weights for 15 years; I don't know how wimpy moms survive.)
At the same time, with every passing day, Scott becomes more of a companion to me. He brings me joy with the joy he finds in everything. The playground. A leaf. A balloon.
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The first time I came through the door after work, and he headed straight for me as fast as he could, as if his life depended on it, babbling, "Ma ma ma ma ma," I don't think I'd ever heard a more beautiful sound.