A few months ago at my annual check-up, I casually asked my new gynecologist if there was a test I could take to evaluate my fertility.
The first set of results were less than ideal, so she tested me again. When the second set came back even more bleak, she sent me to a reproductive endocrinologist. The new doctor requested yet a third set of tests, and then delivered the results with concern.
“Low ovarian reserve” is the formal diagnosis—at the age of 34, I’m running out of eggs.
I placed all my eggs in one basket, and time has taken all but a few. According to the reproductive endocrinologist. I have just a few weeks to decide if I want to be a single mom and then start the costly process to do so.
[Editor’s note: We are born with all the eggs we’ll ever have—around 1-2 million. By the time we hit puberty, we have around 300,000 eggs.]
Now I’m in the process of exploring single motherhood, though I’m not too terribly certain I want there to be a process.
My journey to motherhood will be expensive, emotionally challenging, and possibly misunderstood. I’ll have to battle my own diminishing egg reserve as well as my previous misconceptions about parenthood.
Am I willing to be a single mom?
Am I certain I want to be a mom at all?
Is being a mother something I want bad enough to fight for?
These are all questions that I thought I had at least a couple more years to answer. Now I have to make some big decisions very quickly. I’m either at the beginning of a process (which includes preparing my body, getting my money in order, getting genetic counseling, finding a donor, and being inseminated via IUI) or I’m about to decide if I want to embrace a child-free life, which is not an option I’d really even considered until now.
…I’m becoming aware that if I don’t have a baby, I’ll be used as a cautionary tale…
I’ve known for at least a decade that I wanted to have children. And I’ve been under the impression that a traditional pregnancy would be a viable option once I was ready.
When I was 22, I got pregnant from a one-night stand. I had an abortion at a clinic in Alabama that’s no longer open, and I’m beyond grateful I could. At no point in the past 11 years would having a child have made my life easier.
I couldn’t have traveled around Europe for three months at 24 with a 1 year old.
Moving to Nashville would have been impossible with a 2 year old.
Diving into a career would have been a struggle with a 4 year old, battling a breakdown in a psychiatric hospital would have been a disservice to a 5 year old, and so on and so on.
I’m certain now and I was certain then that I’d made the right choice not to continue that pregnancy. In Alabama, the state will do everything it can to try to convince you not to have an abortion. (This was true 11 years ago, it’s likely worse now.) This includes:
- forcing multiple appointments for what is one of the safest medical procedures,
- requiring an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound so that you can see something that would maybe look like the outline of a baby in a few weeks,
- and hearing a very annoyed medical professional tell you the lie that abortions cause breast cancer and infertility.
Those scare tactics didn’t take. I don’t think my ovarian reserve is low because I decided not to have a baby that I didn’t want by a man who seemed to be in love with all of my friends and not me.
However, I’m becoming aware that if I don’t have a baby, I’ll be used as a cautionary tale for young women thinking about terminating their pregnancies. I can just picture the niece of a friend of a friend whispering to her pregnant roommate, “My aunt knew this girl that had an abortion and then became barren.”
And here I am, 11 years later having to make this decision again: to have a child or not.
‘I Am Looking for a Dude Ex Machina’
I’ve always been able to fix and measure my life to my liking, except when it comes to men. I was always a late bloomer, not really dating or hooking up until I was in my 20s. I’ve yet to fall in love.
After years of therapy, I’ve made some kind of peace with that. But now, I wish there was someone that could go through this with me. I am looking for a dude ex machina: I want a handsome, kind, intelligent man to show up at my front door, impregnate me immediately, and agree to raise a child with me.
I even asked a friend if he and his husband would be interested in co-parenting with me, going halfsies on a baby if you will. (Alabama is not friendly to atheist gay men looking to adopt, so they’re in a baby conundrum of their own.)
If two parents are “ideal,” then three would be a feat of child-raising. I pictured our life like a reality show in the making: two white gay dads and a Black single mom sharing a house and a child in Alabama. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? But they’ve decided to continue pursuing adoption, though they did offer me some sperm. This has only created more questions.
I wonder if married couples feel this disbelief at the idea of pursuing parenthood…
I’m looking to start trying in September. (Although I would like to avoid having a Gemini, Cancer, or Leo, I guess beggars can’t be choosers.) I went on vacation in August with the plan of having one last hoorah before abstaining from alcohol for nearly a full year. That’s the level of adulthood I’ve reached: planning to party (responsibly, of course), but also evaluating whether or not I should get pregnant after said partying.
Look: I don’t want to give up trips and outings for a kid, but I also don’t want to give up motherhood for the occasional vacation.
If I take a deep breath and release some of my anxieties, I can picture myself on my yearly winter cabin trip with my friends as a single mom. It’s mostly the same, except when I get into the hot tub, I make sure to bring the baby monitor outside.
I’m extremely fortunate that some of my friends have already had children that they’ve brought along on our trips for years now, so a baby at a cabin or a lake house isn’t completely alien.
I wonder if married couples feel this disbelief at the idea of pursuing parenthood; they are extremely fortunate to have a partner to bounce ideas off of. I remember when I was in the process of buying my first home. After every step—applying for a loan, meeting with a realtor, putting in an offer, closing on the sale—I was certain that some actual adult would pop out of nowhere and put a stop to my pretend “adulting.”
But the truth is that the bigger the decision, the less the opinion of outsiders matters. Having a baby seems like such a beautiful yet daunting experience that will change my life and create an entirely new one. That has to be the biggest decision of all time, and people make it everyday.
Going It Alone…
Of course lots of people don’t make it, they stumble into it. They have a few too many drinks one night and put unfounded faith in the rhythm method. And then they just go with it, they start a brand new life.
I’ve been led to believe single women don’t think about getting pregnant on purpose. I’ve seen women in my family become single mothers, but none of them ever chose it. And you rarely see that path in pop culture either. I can name dozens of TV shows and movies that show a single woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy or child dropped in their laps. And at the end of 30 or 60 or 90 minutes, it all works out. Some perfect man comes along and does “the right thing” and a family is born along with a baby.
I have many role models of motherhood in my life, but I don’t have many intentionally going it alone.
When I terminated my pregnancy, I did so in the hopes of being a better, more informed mother one day. And being the kind of mother I wanted to be meant having a relationship with the father—a partnership if not a marriage.
The gestation, birth, and rearing of a child is hard work. I’ve seen women struggle through motherhood, and I’ve seen some thrive. Most times it comes down to the partner, not necessarily a partner though.
The moms I’ve seen struggle the most are ones with disengaged men for partners. Men that make it known implicitly and explicitly that taking care of their children is a burden, whether that means dodging child support payments or saying that they’re “babysitting” if they watch the kids while their wife is at the grocery store.
I’ve never wanted that man, but I did want a man. But maybe doing it on my own offers new possibilities. I have many role models of motherhood in my life, but I don’t have many intentionally going it alone.
…And With a Village
Even so, I already have the village every mother deserves. My support system is strong. I have the most amazing mother in the world whose greatest joy is being my mother. She makes loving me unconditionally seem like an honor. And I desperately want to love someone like that one day.
My mother was lucky and wise enough to end up with my father, a man that has created an almost impossible standard for me. He never shied away from housework or child care, and his love language is acts of service. My mother hasn’t had to pump her own gas in 40 years. I never mowed the lawn at my house because he would drive 1.5 hours every week to mow the half acre for me. Last year, during the pandemic they were kind enough to open their home to me so I could rest and heal from the year-long trauma that was 2020 and be surrounded in love.
I don’t want to deny them the joy of a grandchild, nor would I want to deny a grandchild their impossibly beautiful love.
There are so many questions when it comes to deciding to have a baby that I won’t have answers to until I’m in it: How much money do I need? How will my body change? How will my mind change? Can I ensure that they’re safe?
While no one can answer those questions for me, I do know that any child of mine would be loved, immensely.
The timeline my doctor gave me is getting shorter by the day. Inaction is a decision. Every day I weigh my options, but the scales never fully tip towards one side.
For now, I’m doing what I can; I ordered ovulation testing strips yesterday. We’ll see where I’m at soon enough.