Saturday, February 26, 2011

Modern Family

Years ago, when I made the decision to become a SMC (Single Mother by Choice) and began perusing the profiles of dozens of potential sperm donors, I was clear about one thing: I planned to use an open donor. Like most people, I’d heard plenty of stories about adopted kids who yearned for details about their biological parents, and I wanted to make sure that if my child ever felt like one of those kids, she’d have the information she needed. An open donor is a sperm donor who is open to meeting the children whom his sperm produced, and when my daughter, Jayda, turns 18, she can contact the bank I used, and they will release contact information about her donor to her.

After I gave birth to Jayda, there was an onslaught of media attention directed towards the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR). As the DSR website states, “the focus of the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) is to assist individuals conceived as a result of sperm, egg, or embryo donation who are seeking to make mutually desired contact with others with whom they share genetic ties.” For most of the members, this means connecting half-siblings (children of the same donor), and some SMCs swear by this site. As a result of this website, Yahoo groups have been created for parents of half-siblings, people travel cross-country for yearly reunions, intense relationships are fostered between half-sibs, and some say their half-siblings share a strong bond and interact with each other much like cousins do. I, for one, have never had any interest in joining the DSR. While my family is quite small, I believe it’s enough for me and Jayda, and our lives are so rich with wonderful friendships that I don’t think Jayda will ever feel like she’s lacking love or companionship. Why would she ever need to know her half-siblings? Of course, if at some point when Jayda is older, she disagrees with me, and wants to find her biological half-sisters and brothers, I’ll be happy to share the DSR’s URL with her; but for now, I see no point in becoming a member and posting on this site.

Last weekend, I was at the home of a SMC friend who is a member of the DSR, and she told me she’d be happy to share her password with me if I ever wanted to peruse the site; I took it. And the other day, I hesitantly logged on and searched for the bank I used, as well as my donor’s number. I then discovered postings from parents of seventeen kids whom Jayda’s donor had sired…most of who were within a year of Jayda’s age! I later found out that my donor is retired (his sperm is no longer available because he’s reached his maximum number of allowed births), but that didn’t make me feel much better. I’m overwhelmed; the postings I found mean that Jayda has more than 17 half-siblings, since not everyone (me for example!) joins the DSR.

But what disturbs me is not the fact that all of these children exist…but that all of these children will have the option of contacting the donor when they turn 18. And what if they do? What if dozens of these kids get to the guy before Jayda makes her potential call? Will he still have time for her? Or any interest in meeting her? Will he be able to give her what she needs (assuming she even needs his attention)? I know I did the best I could do, and if I could do things differently, I wouldn’t; I selected what seemed like an amazing donor (and Jayda is, indeed, an amazing kid)—and I made sure that Jayda would be able to meet him if she ever desired—but clearly, sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. And while I know I can’t worry about things that may or may not happen 14 years from now…I do still lament this news. How could I not?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Surprisingly Thinking my Family is Complete

While I've talked about having three children for as long as I can remember, and taken action to prepare for my 3rd attempt at trying to conceive, I've surprisingly found myself thinking that maybe I'm really done. That thinking doesn't actually sit well with me because it's such a radical shift, and that makes me question it, but I keep coming back to the same place.

Maybe it would be nice to stick with two, two who are close
enough in age that they will be able to go to the same school until my daughter starts middle school, allowing me, when she starts K and he starts pre-K, to live the life I've always dreamed of; working part-time, being the one that gets to pick my children up and take them to their activities, having their friends over after school and really getting to know them, being the primary one to help with their homework, etc. But the cut in work hours needed to do those things wouldn't be possible if I needed to pay for child care for 3, at least not until the littlest one could go to pre-K, when my oldest, best case scenario, would be in 3rd grade.

It just doesn't feel right,
knowing that I have a choice to be more available to my children sooner. That, and the fact that I really want to make a change professionally, and that the direction I'm leaning is one that will require a couple of years of schooling. I will be meeting with a career counselor to make sure that it's really likely to be the best path for me, but I simply can't make the changes I think I need to be happy in my career if I am still paying for full-time care for one kid, in addition to the summer camps, after-school care, and the like, which I will need for my older two.

I'm not closing the door to another, but right now I'm thinking that my family works the way it is (ironically, at a time when my daughter is telling me nightly that we need another baby) but I wonder, for those who also found themselves
surprisingly thinking their family was complete, who had previously thought they would like to expand it, what was it that brought about that shift and did you stay

Karen, 39y5m, Annie, 4y2m, and Mitchell, 2y4m

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alone -- But Not Alone

When you become a Single Mother by Choice, you expect to do a lot of things alone. In fact, a lot of the thinking and trying stage seems ALL about being alone. Deciding alone to go for it. Attending fertility appointments alone. Being alone with your doubts and disappointments. Being pregnant alone. Most of us have supportive friends and family, but when we hang up the phone, log off the chat, close the door, climb between the sheets, lay in the dark, we are alone again.

Thank God I'm one of those people who think that's a good thing. Being alone through my journey has meant I've been able to take it at my own pace. I've been happy when I wanted to be happy, grouchy when it felt right, pregnant and lazy and elated and calm. Whenever I wanted, I felt what I needed to feel, did what I needed to do, with no one to second-guess my decisions, resent my emotions or influence my thoughts.

Which is all well and good until I needed to put a leaf in my dining room table for my daughter's 3rd birthday party. I do a lot of things alone. I made the cake alone – double layer chocolate, in a strawberry shape, with pink and green icing. Masterful. I hung the streamers from corner to corner to corner to corner alone. Blew up 23 balloons alone, bravely continuing even after balloon number eight burst in my face after one breath too many. I wasn't quite alone when I did the fruit and cheese trays, but the presence on my hip of daughter #2, seven months old, is less helpful than you'd hope. I cleaned the house alone and wrapped birthday presents alone – no problemo. But the dining room table stymied me. To open it to insert the leaf, you have to pull from both sides of the table. Pull it from only one side and the whole table simply slides toward you. The last time I'd opened it had been for a family dinner, and said family had been there to help. This time, well, not so easy. The table is solid and stiff, with one broken leg that falls off when the table is moved so much as an inch. I tried to pry the table open with a screwdriver, but risked damaging the wood. Finally, the kids long since in bed on the night before the party, I lay on the floor under the table and put my toes in the crack in the middle of the table, with my back against the floor. I braced my hands on two of the table's legs and pushed with my feet, slowly prying the table open like a weightlifter doing a leg press at the gym. Voila! Genius.

The party was a roaring success. Seven preschoolers decorated sugar cookies (that I'd baked ahead of time, alone) and played without conflict and sang happy birthday, and my girl was thrilled by it all – the cake and the candles, the balloons and streamers, the presents and the song. She said please and thank you and expressed only delight even when she got two books and a play-doh set that we already have. (Having requested previously loved and regifted presents only, getting doubles is guilt-free for me, too). The other parents helped hold the baby and serve the cake and clean up afterward, and it was a lovely two hours.

But the damn dining room table faced me again when everyone went home. I ignored it all day, but it was too big and the leaf needed to come out. This time it was even harder. It needed to be yanked from both sides to release the leaf, and then pushed back together, from both sides, to restore its smaller size. I waited until after the baby was in bed and the 3-year-old was safely in front of Dora before I tackled the table that night. I pried it carefully open from beneath the table (where scratches would not show) with a screwdriver and my fingernails to release the leaf, and lifted the heavy slab out. To push it back together, I moved the whole table against a wall so I'd have a brace, and muscled it slowly, smoothly, inchingly, back to its former size. Moving the broken leg inch by inch during the whole operation only added to the fun.

The funny thing is, I didn't end up doing it alone. As I wrestled with the table, my big little girl drew away from Dora and Swiper, watchful and intrigued by mommy's activity in the dining room. She played with balloons and talked to her dinosaurs and did the things that 3 year olds do, just at the periphery of my table project. She's been underfoot for three years, and there is often a baby near by, and I am so used to NOT being alone anymore that I didn't really register her presence until I pushed the table across the room and back together with a soft clunk. And before I could even stand back to bask in my small accomplishment, before I could quite register my triumph, my newly three year old, my watchful, funny, chatty little girl piped up and said "You did it, mommy!"

Where did she come from and who knew she cared? When did I go from being alone all of the time to never being alone at all? How is it I've now got two little companions to keep me company, to cheer me up, to cheer me on? I have no idea how I went from being an autonomous woman, a Single Mother by Choice, to being captain of this little band of people, this dream team, my threesome of girls. But I'm glad I got here. I honestly never minded being alone. And now? Now I never will be.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Question Gets Asked...

If you are an SMC, you know the question to which refer. I've waited anxiously for my son to ask the Daddy Question. Everything I've read says our young children are eager to know more about their unique family structure and origins. As soon as they learn the name for people in their home and for the people in their friends' homes, children are supposed to ask. So I waited. I prepared. I rehearsed. You wouldn't think it would take this much planning just to present the truth. I came up with my script. I wrote out the words. I revised them as I practiced the conversation. I bought picture books that other moms said were good for telling and talking. I read those books to Henry. He much preferred The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon. I waited some more. When would he ask? When would he want those questions answered that I just knew were on his mind?

When he was three years, seven months and one week old. When we were at Target. When it was 5 pm and the store's smoothie machine was broken. When everyone had had a long day and no one had eaten for hours. When his toddler brother was having an ear-shattering, no-holes-barred tantrum in the peanut butter aisle. That's when.

Why do we just have a mommy in our family?

His voice was barely above a whisper. Or maybe his normal volume was muffled by his brother's screams. I heard him clearly though. For a split second, I tried to convince myself that I hadn't. This can't be happening here. This is not how I planned it. Just to be sure, I got down to his eye level and asked him to repeat himself. As much as I hated that it was happening in this setting, I wanted to make sure Henry knew it was okay to ask. It's okay even if people are staring at us while our cart and a bellowing toddler block aisle 8.

Why do we just have a mommy in our family?

I prayed that I would remember my lines. The truth as told in developmentally appropriate language. All I needed to do was to say the words I'd rehearsed for years. All of Henry's caregivers have a copy of the script typed and ready at a moment's notice in case I wasn't around when he asked The Question. Why hadn't I stuck a copy in my purse? Now I was going to have to improvise and hope I didn't ruin the entire scene.

"Well Henry,” I squeaked, still crouched down near his face. "Some families have a mommy and a daddy in their house, some families have just a mommy in their house or just a daddy in their house. And some children have two mommies in their house."

"Or two daddies," he interjected.

"Or two daddies. In our family we have a mommy in our house. That's because your mommy wanted a baby to love. I wanted one very much. But I didn't find a daddy. So I went to the doctor." At this point, Henry actually turns to his screaming sibling and says,

"Yeeeuhm, sshhhh, I can't hear mommy." Talk about pressure; he really wanted to hear this.

I cleared my throat and continued, "The doctor gave me some medicine so I could have a baby. I was very, very happy when I had my baby: YOU! (Big kiss.) Then I went back to the doctor for some more medicine and had another baby."

"Leeeuhm!" "Yes, Liam. And I love him very much." But I really wish he'd be quiet right now.

And that was that. If I had it to do all over again, I would have said some things differently. I would not have said "medicine". Where did that word come from? It wasn't in the script. I would not have used the word "just" repeatedly implying only or lacking. But we were in Target surrounded by shelves of processed foods and weary shoppers. I did my best in the moment.

The moment passed and Henry became distracted by the macaroni and cheese boxes. I have a case of organic white cheddar dinners in our garage but when Henry asked for Kraft Toy Story 3 mac 'n cheese, I couldn't get it in our cart fast enough. Then he asked for a second box for Liam. Yes, of course you can get another one. Anything you want. Please let's just get our little family out of this store and back to our tiny home. Let's eat tv dinners, watch cartoons and act like nothing has changed. Because, when you think about it, nothing has.