Saturday, July 31, 2010

How We Came To Be

Four years ago this month I conceived my first child by a non-medicated, interuterine insemination. I hadn’t been a Thinker for long. Or perhaps, I had been a Thinker my whole life. The certainty that I would never marry and have children was something that haunted my thoughts since I was in my early twenties. Until I separated the two life events, becoming a mother seemed all but hopeless. I thought about it only in terms of what would never be.

For over a decade, I mourned the loss of what came so easily to most women: a family.
Once I gave myself permission to research the possibilities of single motherhood, things happened very quickly. Within a month I had read everything I could find on the topic. I began contacting adoption agencies. The official responses were consistently negative. A social worker at a domestic agency said to me, “No birthmother will ever choose you.” She referred me to an international agency. That agency agreed to take me on but later contacted me to say that their published fees would double since I was single.

I began to worry that if I spent all my time and savings on an unsuccessful adoption attempt, I wouldn’t be able to pursue other options.
I quickly changed gears and contacted several fertility centers. I wanted to find a clinic that not only accepted single women as patients (some do not), but welcomed them. I found a wonderful doctor with a warm and caring staff. The positive reception and communication was a wonderful change from the pessimistic adoption agencies. These people believed I could and would be a mom.

When I became pregnant that summer, I had a hard time believing it. It was a thrilling secret and a terrifying concept. I had wanted my life to change and now, well, was it ever! More than once, I compared my situation to having to run in order to catch a departing train, hopping aboard seconds before it left the station. Once safely seated, I wondered if I was headed in the right direction. What was this train’s destination? Where would we end up? By the start of my second trimester, I was certain I had taken the correct route to motherhood. I’ve never looked back since. I did do a little more Thinking, though. Two years later, I returned to the station for another passenger.
Lara at

Monday, July 26, 2010

Working my Way Toward Becoming an SMC

So, here I am, working my way toward becoming a single mother by choice – reading books and articles, taking advantage of a great local SMC group, haunting the national SMC listserv for insights and information, surfing cryobank donor lists. I’m dotting all the “i"s and crossing all the “t”s, taking a pre-natal vitamins, trying to eat better and get more sleep. I’m making lists and generally trying to stay in control of everything I can.

And I’m laughing.
Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from my friends who are parents, my own parents and the kids in my family, it’s that being a good (and not insane) parent has a lot less to do with how in control you are and a lot more to do with how well you deal with all the things you can’t control. And, wow, is this process a test of those skills. I can control which donor I choose; but not his honesty in his profile, or diseases that haven’t manifested yet in his family (come on, his parents are barely older than I am!), or how he’ll feel in 18 years about being an “open” donor. I can’t control what the mix of genetics will be, or what that means for my child. But I can remember that my own mother often jokingly “apologizes” for the traits I’ve inherited, like “sorry you got the fussy-about-how-the-dishwasher-is-loaded gene” or “you come by that low-threshold-for-idiots thing honestly”. Even with two parents, or a known donor, you can't control which things, good or bad, shine through.

I can do my best to not worry about all those things I can’t control. I can listen to music that centers me and makes me feel strong. I can seek out the people in my life who support and encourage me and avoid the ones who don’t. And on the days all that doesn’t work, I can have a glass of wine and try again tomorrow. I’m working on keeping my sense of humor; on embracing the crazy, wonderful absurdity of this journey; on not letting my usual mantra of “but what if…” get in the way of the joy. And I’m still laughing.

Robyn, 39, getting ready to TTC

Thursday, July 22, 2010

From an SMC in Eastern Europe

My mother was a single mother. My father died, and I don’t remember him. I don’t know if that is the reason why becoming a single mother by choice was never Plan B for me, but it might have played a role. I did do the whole relationship thing for a while, but when my relationship ended, and after spending years working all over the world, and loving my freedom, I went back to my personal Plan A – becoming a choice mom.

I never did picture mom, dad, and kids as the perfect family when I was a kid. Having a great mom was quite enough. I grew up in a liberal environment, where family structures were hardly ever questioned. I used a known donor to conceive both my kids, and now have a wonderful daughter and a great son. We live in Eastern Europe, where I work as a write-at-home mom.

I remember being somewhat surprised when we first moved here. One of my new neighbors approached me as my kids and I were leaving the building. “Where is your husband? Does he work abroad?” When I answered that I didn’t have a husband, she asked: “So, you are alone then?” Pointing at my kids, I cheerfully answered that no, I was not alone, I have my kids. “So, you are alone then?” My neighbor repeated, “You are all alone with your kids?” For the second time I answered that I was definitely not alone, I was with the kids. A few days later, another neighbor commented, “You are the woman with no husband then? How do you pay the bills?” Excuse me? How do I pay the bills? Even after living in developing countries for years, this question shocked me. I’m a journalist, and pay my bills just fine. I don’t need a husband for that, or for anything else, thank you.

Working from home is wonderful. It gives me the opportunity to see my kids growing up. I raise them with all the freedom of the world, working before they wake up, and after they go to sleep. I realize how lucky I am, and feel blessed every day. I have always been pretty unconventional. I chose to birth at home, use cloth diapers, and alternative medicine, and never thought anything of it.

Whatever is left of my idealism after being tainted by years of being a
foreign correspondent still wishes that my family can show some people in this patriarchal, former communist East European country that women are extremely capable, and can do whatever they want. The cynicism in me prevails, though, and doubts that anything like that will happen. Sometimes I want to shout it from the hilltops of this agricultural country – solo mothers do not need your pity, and my kids are very happy! My daughter does that for me, though. “You look nothing like your mom! Does your daddy have blond hair?” A stranger asked her recently. My four year old replied: “Noooooooooo! I don’t have one of thooooooooose! I have a DONOR!” That quickly made the nosy stranger go on his merry way. Still, I find myself wondering if this is really the country I want my kids to grow up in. Perhaps, in another few years, our journey will take another turn.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sharing Our Thoughts: Not bonding with newly adopted child

I’m struggling with feelings I never thought I would have for my newly adopted 4-year-old son. It took a few months to come to grips with the fact that I do not love him the same as I do my 8-year-old biological son. It had not occurred to me that that was possible. It was somewhat therapeutic just recognizing it for what it is worth. I would like to think this difference will fade with time.

Responses from Our Wise SMC Members:
"I hope you can give yourself a break. A 4-year-old comes with his own history, complicated by the whole issue of transition, further complicated with whatever trauma might exist related to his previous history and post-institutional stuff. The chances are very strong that the boy you are parenting now will be very different once he develops the confidence to know that you are his mom forever and he gets to know you and his brother, just as you get to know him."

"I love my daughter and would do anything for her. But that deep connection of mother/daughter is missing, at least on my part. My daughter has TOTALLY bonded with me. Thinking about it, it could be that I don’t “love” motherhood. This weekend was the first time I said out loud, “I don’t feel like her mother.” I didn’t like how it sounded and burst into tears. All my friends are supportive and it’s nice to know I’m not alone."

"My personal opinions after adopting two children is that sometimes we feel as though we have to be happy and if we don’t…then there is a huge amount of shame. I adopted twice and I can tell you the experiences were very different. It took me about 8 months to feel like my first daughter’s mother. With my second adoption, I felt love much quicker yet I didn’t really like this little girl. She was angry, stubborn, and not very cute. She will soon be home for a year and I can’t tell you the difference. I just love this child. Never could I have pictured how ell we would all be doing since the adoption in China and the first couple of months home were brutal. So be gentle with yourself. This is a huge life change."

"I wonder if parents in general can sometimes love children differently (regardless of whether adopted or biological) simply because each child has a different personality and “chemistry” with his/her parents…and by “loving differently” it doesn’t necessarily imply a better/worse comparison."

"You don’t say long you have had your son, but if he is “newly adopted,” I think it’s likely your love will grow over time. I started to connect with my adopted son on about the third day of his arrival, but it took at least six months for me to love him really deeply. My daughter (2) is about arrive from the same orphanage, and I’m thinking it may take months for me to love her as deeply as I do my son. FWIW: my stepmother, who birthed four children, once remarked that she never loved a just-born baby as much as the children she already had, that it took time to develop the relationship. I think it’s possible what you’re experiencing may not be completely driven by the “biological” versus “adopted” distinction."

"Children have different needs that they need fulfilled by their mothers. Some children need more cuddling; others need more limits; others need more protection. As mothers, we respond to that."

"I brought my son home right from the hospital and basically did all the care after his birth. Around day six, a friend called to see how it was going and I fell apart crying on the phone. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and didn’t really like this creature who sucked all the energy out of me. I was the friend everyone loved to watch their kids and now I couldn’t handle one little baby. My friend who has a bio son told me she used to lay on the floor in the nursery and sob for hours after he was born."

"I had very similar feelings after I brought my daughter home. It felt like to wasn’t real, like any minute the movie would be over and the “real parents” would come home from their night out. My daughter, however, bonded to me almost instantly. It has now been a year and 5 months since we arrived home, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I am her mom, but there are still times when I wonder if I would be feeling a stronger connection had she come from me. But that’s not terribly significant to me on a day-to-day basis since she is so clearly the joy of my life."

"I have many of the same feelings. Rather than feeling like a mom, I feel more like mother bear—very protective. I would do anything to keep her safe and I can’t imagine life without her. But I don’t always feel like a mom. I think that’s perfectly normal, even for biological moms. Shortly after I returned home with my daughter, my sister told me she didn’t feel like a mom right away with her biological son."
"I’ve definitely felt that way. I still do, sometimes, when I have the guilts about not spending enough time, not showing enough patience, worrying about work when I should be focused on her (a “real” mommy wouldn’t feel/act that way, right?). I actually talked to a therapist about it, and it’s not abnormal. The bottom line is, even though I feel that way sometimes, it doesn’t negate the fact that I absolutely adore her and can’t imagine my life without her. Babysitter or mommy, she is the best part of my life."
"I did have that “more like a caregiver” feeling with my adopted daughter. She came home when she was 23 months old after living with a foster family in Romania. Shortly after we brought her home, I started emailing the foster family with updates—they loved her and missed her so much. But I felt she was more their daughter than mine. I loved her from the beginning, just didn’t feel like I was the mom. I do now. She has now been home with us two years. With my biological son, I felt like his mom from the minute he was born, if not before. But I’ve read the posts where women say they didn’t feel like that with their biological children. I love them both very much, but it took me a while to feel like my daughter’s mom."

"A friend of mine with two bio kids tells me that she periodically loses that mothering feeling (her oldest is now 10!), in part because each new stage of her kids’ lives in some ways means that she is learning a new way to be a mom. So she feels like she doesn’t know what she’s doing, which makes her feel less like a “mom” and more like a caregiver. My daughter is now 2 and a few months... and I’ve been with her since she was 4 months old. I still go in and out of that feeling, and think that may always be the case. Like the others, though, I adore her, can’t imagine life without her, and am amazed by the power of my fierce mother bear instincts. Anyone messes with my baby, they’d better watch out!!! That is pretty powerful mom stuff."

"It took me a LONG time to feel like I loved my son. I would read all these postings about how parents were so thrilled to be home with their babies and loved them instantly. I felt like a monster. I felt terribly guilty. Shortly after we returned from Kaz, I told my therapist how I was feeling—not love, but actually put upon by this little creature I had brought into my life. I called it “the dirty little secret of motherhood.” I hated motherhood for a long time, felt I had made a big mistake. After we had been home four months, another mom in my neighborhood told me that about three weeks after she gave birth to her son, she told her husband, “We’ve made a terrible mistake.” By the time I she told me this, she felt differently, but I can’t tell you how comforting it was to hear another mom openly express the feelings I was having."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's Just a Date

How pursuing my dream of having a child made dating more fun.

I had often assumed that some women, unlike me, were able to date lightheartedly. Unconcerned with a hoped-for long-term outcome, these women could treat a date as just a date. They found a way to relax and have a good time. These women, I further suspected, were free to be themselves with their dates and so were the ones finding the right partner.

As these musings might indicate, my single dating life was often riddled with worry. When dating a man, I was rarely fully present. My mind ran the back story. I’d size him up, then rocket mentally into an imagined future. Is he the right fit for me, and I for him? Is he commitment-phobic? Am I? Are we wasting our time?

Of course, sometimes, there was true hope and love. But the stifling “what-ifs” commanded my attention.
Revelations. Then about a year ago, a crossroads moment appeared. My father was in the hospital, in what would turn out to be the last month of his life. I was about six months past the most painful breakup of my life, and about six months away from 40. While chatting with a friend during a business trip to New York, I blurted out to her, apropos of nothing, “I think I’m going to become a mom on my own. Do you know anyone in our field who’s done this and how on earth they did it??” She grinned at me. The biggest, most joyful grin I have ever seen. I knew in that moment—we were in a bar, but I’ll take revelation where I can get it—that motherhood was where I was headed. That I was going to do this.

For many women, the decision to become an SMC comes with intense mourning for “the dream,” that happy imagining most little girls grow up with of a traditional marriage and family—or whatever version fires one’s personal aspirations. Giving up the dream was one of my roadblocks. I tried to focus on letting go only of the order in which the dream would take shape, but it was hard. In my pained and somewhat perfectionist heart, I was letting go of ever finding love, before or after motherhood.

And for a while, I lived this out. In the initial trying months of fertility tests and treatments, dating was the last thing on my mind. Regular appointments with the vaginal ultrasound technician can do that to a girl. My thoughts were directed at my ovaries and the vials in my doctor’s deep freeze.

As difficult as my trying to conceive phase has been so far—including unexpected surgery and other things—the rebirth I first felt when I committed to becoming an SMC has remained. Out from under that pressure to find a mate, I have made space for lots of other types of fulfillment in my life. I’ve learned to better appreciate my friends, and I enjoy them more than ever before. No longer does every sighting of a traditional-appearing family cause envy and anxiety. My focus and confidence at work has improved, even as I mentally rehearse methods of fitting a child and my career together. The last thing I expected at the (previously dreaded) age of 40 was to blossom, but that is exactly what I felt. More than 20 years of dating and not quite getting what I wanted and hoped for were over. I was going to give myself what I wanted. It was a new era. Opening Up.

In addition to all this, my feelings about men have become delightfully uncomplicated—for the first time in my adult life. Obsessing over which class or volunteer cause might have the highest male/female ratio was no longer occupying my thoughts. I’ve even found that I’ve been getting a lot of male attention—without really trying. Again, not what I expected at 40, and certainly not what I expected in the pursuit of SMChood.

Pregnancy and early motherhood won’t easily accommodate dating, and, no doubt the grounding experience of parenthood will temper the near-euphoria I often feel these days. But I am, for now, while in the trying to conceive stage, enjoying an unexpected gift. I no longer look across the dinner table at a man and size him up as a future partner. I simply size him up as a person that evening. He need not meet my dreams of “the one,” although if this happened by chance, great. If he and I stay in touch, I just let those encounters add to my impression of him. Unknowns regarding his (and my) commitment potential can remain unknown unless he and I decide otherwise. This feels more natural and human than any other moment in my dating life. I can be my authentic self, “rules” be damned. Some women friends say I am finally getting to “date the way a man dates.” Whether that’s true or not, I certainly feel like I am more fun to be with. I am finally one of those women who can treat a date as just a date.

Perhaps most important, and ironically, I feel much better equipped now to recognize who is or is not a potential “keeper” (perhaps a divorced dad I meet with my child on a playground, or maybe someone I’m dating now, who knows?) than I was before I was regularly in touch with a sperm bank. I feel truly romantic on the dates that I do have. Go figure.

What seemed at times to be one of the darkest moments of my life, letting go of a life plan I had held close since childhood, may yet yield more hope than I ever would have imagined. There are so many side benefits when you give yourself what you truly want.
Joanne H.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Budgeting for a Child

(Thank you to Lisa Belkin, author of "The Motherlode" blog in the NY Times, for permission to use this post. Although the question posed is about raising a child in NYC, its wisdom is useful for people living anywhere.)

After the government last month released its annual tally of what it costs to raise a child to age 18 ($222,360), I received an e-mail message from a reader, A., who is looking for advice on how to find a more practical number. That lump sum is interesting as a conversation starter, she says, but it isn’t much help in trying to budget for an actual child.

She writes:

I’m a single woman trying to figure out what it will cost for me to bring up a child living in New York City (hopefully in 2011).

Many of the Web sites I’ve looked at seem conservative for Manhattan or just unrealistically low. Since I’m asking for some help from family members, I want to be realistic and fair in my breakdown.

I work in health care and know this will be critical to my planning my financial future along with my child’s future.

I’d very much appreciate your guidance and any reliable resources, so I can put together the projected costs of day care for the early years etc., clothes, diapers, special kids furniture and supplies, elementary-school expenses and so on.

As you can imagine, this will enable me to move toward my dream of starting a family.
Thank you. A.

I sent A.’s question to Jean Chatzky, the financial editor of the Today show, and the author of a number of books on personal finance (her latest, “Not Your Parents’ Money Book,” teaches finance to kids and will be out later this summer.)
Here’s her advice to A.:

My mother has often said to me, “If your father and I had waited until we could afford to have kids, you would never have been born.”

I think there’s something to that. Kids are expensive, generally more expensive than we think they will be. But I also think that the idea that there’s a universal answer to that question – much like how much does it cost to retire or how much does it cost to plan a wedding – even a universal answer city by city is one of the fallacies of modern life. The number, the amount you choose to spend, depends on how you choose to raise your child.

In Manhattan, for instance, will you choose public school or private school? Will you choose day care or a nanny? Will you choose taxis or buses and subways? Will you choose the park for an afternoon activity or a Broadway matinee?

There is no one number. But for general guidelines, I like the calculator at It puts your total number at $340,930, including public college; the cost of Year 1 is $16,097. To get there, I told the calculator that your child would be born in 2011, that you would live in a city or suburb in the Northeast, that you had an annual income of between $38,000 and $64,000, that you were a single parent and that you would choose a public college. If I was wrong, you can fiddle with the inputs, and the number goes up or down.

But what I like is that it seems to assume people will live as they often do – that a new baby doesn’t necessarily mean a move to a new apartment. Plenty of people share one-bedroom places with a child, at least for the first few years. A new baby doesn’t necessarily mean a new or different car – but rather the addition of a safe car seat. A new baby, particularly if you’re nursing, doesn’t even mean a higher grocery bill. You will spend money on diapers, yes, but you’ll have so little time to get to the movies or get a manicure, you’ll be surprised how you make it up. Really you’re talking about child care and a family, rather than, single health plan. In the later years, when the price of activities ratchet up, so does the cost of children. But by then, hopefully so has your salary. And by then, certainly, you’re so invested in your children that you cut back on things you want so that they can have those they need.

Think about what my mother said. Get yourself on a budget that has you living within your means and saving at least 5 to 10 percent of what you’re bringing in, and take the leap. Good luck.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Most Kids OK With Sperm Donor Origins.

A 2004 study shows that most teenagers conceived by open-identity sperm donation programs are typically comfortable with their birth origins and plan to contact their biological fathers out of curiosity. The study contradicts popular belief. Most infertility programs that accept sperm donations maintain anonymity for fears that allowing donor identification would lead to problems for the children or for their biological fathers. The findings, published in the journal Human Reproduction, may help calm fears that stripping anonymity from sperm donations might spawn future problems.

There is increasing interest in open-identity donor programs, in which donors allow their identities to be given to adult offspring. Yet little research is available about the experiences of donor insemination families who have open-identity sperm donors. Also, no study has included adolescents who near the age at which donor-identity release can be done.

For the small study—the first to look at the mindset of kids born from open-identity sperm donation—kids from 29 households answered questions regarding their conception and interest in their sperm donor’s identity. The majority of participants were boys about 15 years old.
“While it appeared that the children were very curious and eager to learn more about their donor, they were also concerned about respecting his privacy and not intruding on his life,” says researcher Joanna Scheib, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, and The Sperm Bank of California. “They are not looking for a father in their donor. If anything, they want something like an ‘older friend’ relationship,” she noted, in a news release.

Children from single-mother households had the most positive response to their birth origin. Most youths (76 percent) reported always knowing about their conception origins and were somewhat to very comfortable with it. Those raised by two parents, whether lesbian or heterosexual, appeared less interested in their sperm donor.
Other study findings included:
• Most children were told about their birth origin by age 10.
• All but one of the participants reported neutral or positive thoughts about their being conceived by sperm donation.

• None of the children wanted money from their biological father.
• “What is he like?” was the top question kids had about their biological father. Approximately 25 percent of the participants asked whether their donor resembled him or her.

• More than 80 percent were at least moderately likely to request his identity and pursue contact. Of those who might contact the donor, most would do so to learn more about him, and many believed that it would help them learn about themselves.

• The number-one thing kids wanted from their donor was his photograph.
• Although most planned to contact their donor when legally allowed, they would not necessarily do so at age 18. Most preferred to contact the donor indirectly, through mail or email.

Open-identity sperm donations are optional in the United States, but a number of countries require or will soon require that all sperm donors release their identity. Sweden now has that requirement, and the United Kingdom. will follow suit in 2005. For that reason, the study’s researchers say, further study is warranted. They plan a larger study focused on the thoughts and feelings of adolescents and donors who meet each other.

SOURCES: Scheib, J. “Adolescents with open-identity sperm donors: reports from 12-17 year olds,” Human Reproduction. News release, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. 2004