Twisting the Tale

An alternative to the old (and outdated) ‘Once upon a time…’

I never had much interest in princesses, preferring jeans and sneakers to ball gowns and glass slippers even as a young girl. But that’s not to say that I didn’t grow up thinking someday I’d experience my own fairytale romance. When I reached 35 and was still single, though, I started to think that fantasy would never morph into my reality.

In the two years since, my ‘Once upon a time’ has taken some drastic turns. Tired of waiting for my prince to arrive and fed up with unsuccessfully scouring the suburban realms for him, I decided to skip the being-swept-off-my-feet stage, at least for now. Instead I chose to jump right to the chapter of the story entitled Motherhood. As any writer does, I made a few edits and a few errors. And life threw in some plot twists of its own to spice things up. The result, after a couple months of researching, half a year of fertility treatments, and a wonderful (but at times trying) pregnancy, is a beautiful baby boy.

I know I’m just beginning my adventures in motherhood, but I can’t help look in my son’s face every morning and feel like I’ve been given my happily ever after—minus Prince Charming.

While I don’t miss my prince (you can’t miss what you never had), it’s not always easy being a single mom by choice. Yes, I’m queen of my own castle, ruler of my own kingdom, and my own knight in shining armor all in one. But I’m also responsible for paying all the bills, changing all the diapers, and assuring my own little prince grows up to be the kind of man who both holds the door and appreciates a princess who can hold her own.

But hey, no one ever said happily ever after wasn’t a lot of work. It is worth it, though. So worth it.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Originally posted July 12, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

After four failed IUIs, two natural, two medicated, I was ready for something different in my attempts to conceive. I wanted more information. Yes, my fertility tests in December and January all came back great, but clearly something wasn’t working. Maybe it was the timing. Maybe it was mid-cycle hormone levels. Maybe I wasn’t producing a mature egg each month. Or maybe I just had bad luck. Whatever it was, I wanted to know—one way or the other. Knowledge is power and all that jazz, right? Surely, I’d feel better knowing.

Surely, I need my head examined.

As I entered my first monitored cycle my anxiety began to rise. I began to worry about cancelled cycles due to overstimulation or crazy hormone levels. As someone whose intuition is frequently spot on, I should have taken this as a sign, but my optimistic side brushed it off. Monitoring was new. New things can be a little scary. Everything would be fine. After all, the mid-cycle blood work and ultrasounds were what I asked for—more knowledge=more power.

So I went into my first monitoring appointment the day after the fourth thinking the previous night’s fireworks were just the start of a summer of celebrations. The appointment, though not particularly pleasant, was rather uneventful. My results later that day left me hopeful. I had one leading follicle that was looking good, a fine lining, and expected estrogen levels—all things I wouldn’t have known without monitoring. Knowing felt good.

Two days later I returned, hoping for a nice mature follicle so I could take my trigger shot and schedule IUI lucky #5 for later that week. Familiar with the routine now, I kept the phone close as I went about the day waiting for the nurse to call with my results, those numbers, that knowledge that would bolster my hope. Or break my heart.

I don’t know how big my leading follicle grew. And I don’t know what my estrogen ended up at. Because when the nurse called to fill me with knowledge, the only words I heard were cyst and cancelled cycle.

The latter was crushing because it meant I wouldn’t even get a chance at motherhood this month and maybe not for a couple months. But the former was far more frightening. I’d been down that road before. The last time I was blindsided by a cyst it left me with a four inch scar and required some pretty significant healing time. And I had been ‘lucky’ then; nothing major had to be removed and there was no lasting internal damage. So, of course, I panicked. Then I did something even more stupid—looking for more of that all-important knowledge, I Googled.

Thankfully, in this case Dr. Google and the girls on my trying to conceive boards actually quelled some of my initial worry. Cysts come in all kinds, shapes, and sizes, and most disappear on their own. Cancelled cycles due to cysts are fairly common, particularly after taking drugs that mess with your hormones as I had done. Very often you can try again the next month. My RE was on vacation, of course, so once the shock wore off, I called back the nurse to beg for a little more information. This time more knowledge was reassuring. She couldn’t tell me too much over the phone but did assure me that although the cyst was on my ovary, it was also much smaller than the one I had in college that required surgery to remove. We scheduled a follow up for later this month with my doctor, and she told me not to worry in the meantime.

Not worrying is about as easy as not stressing, but I’m determined to make the most of this missed month. I won’t know more, can’t know more, until I wait a bit to see what happens to the cyst. While ignorance is not bliss, this month has taught me neither is knowledge. So while I wait, I’ll be doing my best to make my own bliss. After all, there are beaches to be walked, books to be read, and novels to be published (fingers crossed on that one!).

photo credit: Wish via photopin (license)

Who’s Your Daddy? The Daunting Task of Choosing a Donor

Originally posted on February 22, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Let’s face it, by the time I reached the decision to become a single mother by choice, I had become an expert at online dating—or at least an expert on reading and decoding guys’ online profiles. “I’m a bit of a geek” sounds cute but equates to “I have limited social skills outside of my ability to speak Klingon,” while “I’m working towards a degree in . . .” means “I’m still living in my mom’s basement.” So I thought wading through the waters of donor profiles would be a familiar and simple task. You know, just like finding a husband. *Bangs head on computer desk*

Healthy and handsome, and a little height wouldn’t hurt. That’s all I thought I needed to worry about when I started my search. After all, genes are tricky, unreliable buggers; I know this as the five-one daughter of a five-eight mother. So why get too hung up on all the details of baby-to-be’s donor daddy? I could choose a donor with features like mine and those of my family, but there’s no guarantee which traits B2B will get, and, really, will it matter? I’m going to love this child like crazy no matter what he or she looks like or how tall he or she grows to be.

But after twelve years of living alone, I need to get used to the idea that very soon I’m not going to be the only one that matters in my house. If all goes as planned, sometime in the not-so-distant future I will have a child that will some day likely grow curious about his donor. (Funny expressions aside, the word daddy doesn’t apply.) When I realized I would some day have to answer the question, “How’d you choose?” to someone to whom the answer would matter very much, the jokes about getting tipsy and playing Russian roulette with the search feature on the cryobank’s website all seemed a little less funny.

To me, the donor will simply be a very generous guy who helped me achieve a miracle. But to B2B, he will have a much greater significance—not just a medical history, but a whole half of his or her being. From what I’ve read and from my conversation with the social worker who meets with families using donor sperm or eggs, some children place very little importance on their donors. But others do. I can’t promise my child he or she will ever get to meet the donor, but I certainly can promise him or her that I picked him for a better reason than his height and eye color.

So, how did I choose? Well, I suppose my online dating profile expertise did actually play a roll. Just like with those profiles, donor profiles have a number of sections. After reading far too many, I decided which were important (aside from health histories and, yes, a little height). For me, the personal responses, staff impressions, and the expression section meant the most.

From the handful of answers the donors provided and the section where donors could choose to share a little more about themselves or their passions, I could get a little glimpse of their voices and a little insight into what was important to them. I looked for someone who cared about his family, was driven but also somewhat laid-back, and who cherished creativity and learning. In other words, I looked for someone who shared my values.

That said, having spent enough time online to know it’s relatively easy to paint yourself a wee bit rosier than perhaps you really are, I then compared my impressions to those of the staff. Granted, in all the profiles I read, none of the staff ever said, “This guy’s a real jerk.” But by reading between the lines a little, I could tell when they were digging for something nice to say versus when they genuinely seemed to mean it. It seems odd to rely on the opinion of a stranger, but I believe good people leave good impressions, and that’s important to me.

Though the childhood pictures were helpful to narrow down the final few, in the end I went with a judge of character. My child may never know his donor, but he or she will know that I did the best I could to pick a donor who spoke to me as someone who shared those traits I value most in myself and others: intelligence, kindness, and creativity.

Oh, and he is tall. So if B2B is pint-sized, he or she can blame genetics, not me!

Photo credit: via photopin (license)

Refusing to Wallow in My Single Status

Originally posted on February 8, 2015  on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

With Valentine’s Day looming, one might think this single woman is sitting around reminiscing about dates of Valentines’ past. And I have had some delightful ones: the dark and sweet Mr. Russell Stover, the rich, Vermont hippies Ben & Jerry. Sure, the memories linger on my lips…or is that hips? Regardless, my days of loathing Valentine’s Day ended back in high school, with only the occasional relapse since, and those were really just an excuse to gorge on chocolate. As I start my journey to become a single mother, I don’t want to waste my energy cursing Cupid—or mourning Mr. Right.

As any good English teacher and writer would, when I got to the stage of acting on my decision to have a child, I turned to books, lots of books. One that was touted as a classic for women in my situation, likely because it was one of the first to be written, was Single Mothers by Choice: A Guidebook for Single Women Who Are Considering or Have Chosen Motherhood by Jane Mattes.

I loved the Single Mothers By Choice website and had already joined the forums and found the information and support there to be super. But the book was published in 1994. A lot has changed since then. The definition of family has expanded a great deal, and non-traditional (divorced, blended, single parent, and gay couple) families actually outnumber traditional families. (A super cool statistic for a liberal chick looking to join these ranks!) It was still a good place to start, though. Knowing what women who paved the way for me encountered is sobering and important. And when it came down to it, most of the book still applies today, even the part that irked me most.

The book spends a considerable amount of time reminding single mothers/single mothers to-be that it’s okay—healthy, in fact—to mourn the loss of the husband they never found, to pay emotional respects to the Prince Charming who never showed up. Okay, I might have dramatized the wording here a bit, but the message was in there—frequently.

The first mention or two I rolled my eyes. I thought perhaps the author wanted to recognize the few readers who wallowed in their single status. The next few mentions, I shook my head. Does the author want me to wallow? By mention six or seven, I was just miffed. I want to have a baby, for god’s sake, not hold a freakin’ funeral! If I was so damn desperate to change my Facebook status from single to anything but, I would have settled by now—and that, my friends, would be something worth mourning!

Yup, I was riding my high horse all around Single-ville singing “All the ladies, independent…” at full volume. It was almost loud enough to drown out the quiet little voice in the back of my head, the one telling me, “but she’s kind of right.”

Because the author is right in some respects. I don’t like the word “mourning,” which I feel is better suited for something I lost. I never had Mr. Right. Certainly I had the dream of finding him, but mourning a dream would be the equivalent of acknowledging it is utterly dead. I’m not there yet. I can still dream of finding a great man, one who’ll accept me and the child I hope to have, and we’ll both be better for it, because I’ll be certain I’m loving him for the right reasons, not because he’s the best thing to show up before my clock runs down.

At some point in being single, though, you do need accept that Cupid hasn’t come. Mr. Right hasn’t shown up and may never show up, and you need to learn to be okay with that. I may not have mourned Mr. Right and his absence, but I threw some fantastically tearful pity parties along the way—after awful first dates that made me wonder if dating was even worth it, after good first dates that never made it to second dates, and especially after fifth or six dates with nice guys who just weren’t my Mr. Right. I won’t even talk about the people who sent wedding invites without a hopeful “plus guest.” (I implore you, don’t do it!)

The tears never lasted too long, though, because I learned to be happy in my own skin. I learned to fill my life with people I love and respect and with fulfilling hobbies that allow me to grow and learn. This was after filling my face with pints of Ben & Jerry’s, of course, but I got there, eventually.

I think, or hope, at least, that this is what Ms. Mattes’ was really getting at. You need to go into this process already loving life and being fulfilled.

She might not have wanted to say it outright, but I can, since I’m here at the starting line: having a baby isn’t a Band-Aid to heal the ‘wound’ of being single. I want to have a child so I can share the joy I find in life already.

Which is the same reason I wanted, and still want, to someday find a husband. Not to complete me (sorry, Jerry Maguire, but I’m already complete), but to love, challenge, respect, and push me to be an even better form of the person I already love.

Until then, though, I will not blame the chubby cherub of love. And I will not mourn anybody or anything. I’m not beginning this journey because I’ve lost something. I’m beginning it to share all I have found: joy, love, hope, and wonder. And Ben & Jerry’s.

photo credit: Showers of Love (CC) via photopin (license)