(See also: It Takes a Village: Strength from support groups for single women going though fertility treatment and Jennifer’s Story.)
I am the mom (I’m a mom!!) of a 10-week-old baby girl. I knew when my last relationship ended a month before my 39th birthday that I was not willing to spend another couple of years with someone trying to figure out if they were the “right” person or not. While through the process, I might risk missing my chance of having children with that person (if I hadn’t missed the chance already). I realized the dream of marriage and children was actually two dreams and they didn’t have to occur in a traditional linear fashion.
Even at my first consultation with the fertility doctor, however, I think I was “calling the universe’s bluff.” I didn’t think I was really going to have a baby on my own. I think I was hoping the doctor would tell me I had nothing to be concerned about. Wait 5 more years and then come back. Science has extended the number of years your biological clock will tick. She said none of that of course, nor did she make me feel like I was up against a ticking time bomb of a clock. She laid out the facts and presented a treatment plan she’d recommend for moving forward with conception as a single mom by choice (SMC). I don’t think I even knew the term SMC and I certainly didn’t think I would be one by the next year.
Over the next 5 months, I went through the baseline tests, telling myself that it was just research. Information gathering. It didn’t commit me to anything in case I met someone or decided I wasn’t ready for this. I tried dating to play both sides of this, but just the thinking stage of the game completely changed my perspective on the men I went out with. They weren’t compelling enough to deter me from this new alternative path I was now considering.
I was incredibly lucky to conceive on my first unmedicated IUI, despite odds indicating a less than 10% chance for success. Pregnancy was amazing. I was one of those really annoying people who loved it. I felt and looked better than ever the whole time, never got a moment of morning sickness, and didn’t experience any of the hormonal rollercoasters of emotion. Every test (and there were a lot because of my age) came back normal. The baby was healthy, and it wasn’t until about 34 weeks that my hands and feet got swollen, and it became uncomfortable to sleep.
On the day before my due date, baby and I failed a routine test at the doctor’s as she had stopped growing in utero since the last time they’d checked, and they were worried my placenta was no longer providing the required nutrients. I was sent straight to the hospital to be induced, and 30 hours later, baby was here.
So – motherhood. Granted I am still very new at this. But so far, it’s been so much more than I expected, even though people tried to prepare me for it in every way.
Yes, labor was kind of traumatic and it hurt. But by the next day, I couldn’t tell you what it felt like if I tried. Pain is not what I think about when I think about that day. I do remember not feeling a love for my baby with the strength and force as if my heart was outside my body those first few days, even though I certainly didn’t feel ambivalent either. I felt an unquestionable love and attachment to her, but I was kind of disappointed not to immediately know what that love everyone talked about felt like. A few weeks later, though, I realized that feeling had just snuck up on me. This girl is my absolute everything. And now when I think back to those first few days, I realize the tremendous love I was waiting to feel was already there. I have known and loved her my whole life.
Sure, the beginning is tremendously tiring. Everyone says those first two weeks are the worst. My baby was born underweight, and as a result of the breast reduction I had 13 years ago, I didn’t make enough milk to exclusively breastfeed, so I was put on a plan that involved nursing, then feeding her a supplement of formula or expressed breastmilk, then pumping… every 2-3 hours around the clock. This was my first limitation as a single mom. It was only achievable with my mother’s help while she stayed with me the first two weeks, because she could feed the supplementation while I pumped so that the full feeding could be accomplished in about an hour, which gave us an hour until we had to do it all over again. I knew when my mom left, there was no world where I could keep up this “triple feed” on my own without risking unhealthy levels of sleep deprivation that put me and my baby at risk of an unsafe environment. I had to let one of those things go to make sure I was providing a safe environment for baby, and it couldn’t be the supplementation as long as I wasn’t producing enough milk. Even though I prepared myself not to be able to breastfeed at all given my reduction and was thrilled to exceed my expectations during those first few weeks, I was surprised to still be so sad and let down when it failed. Nevertheless, when she turned three weeks old, I remember thinking the first few weeks were not nearly as bad as people said it would be! I just functioned on autopilot, doing what I needed to do. It wasn’t until the fog started to lift and I looked back on this crazy time that the clarity and perspective only hindsight can provide helped me to see that I had actually survived a pretty intense couple of weeks.
Already, I can say having this baby is the best thing I’ve ever done, and I can’t imagine having done it any other way. I am kind of amazed at just how much I can do on my own as a mom each day. I have written and deleted a few examples because they are all such small things – but it is the small victories that reiterate to me just how capable I am. Bathing my baby; feeding her and myself and our two dogs at the same time; bringing the garbage to the trash room; picking up packages and getting them to my apartment with her in hand as well. We find creative solutions to logistical challenges.
I am part of a first-time moms group where I am the only single one out of 12 of us, and it has validated for me just how much of this new mom stuff is exactly the same for all of us. While I have different logistics to consider, we are all feeling and working through the same things at the same time. None of that changes because I am doing it on my own, except for in some cases where we all actually agree I may have it easier (no one to complain about not taking 50% of the load that always seems to fall to mom anyway! No in-laws overstepping bounds that I have to find a way to express without starting a family war!)
I haven’t given up on the other dream – that I will find the guy and our family will grow. In fact, somewhat serendipitously and certainly unexpectedly, I started dating a few weeks ago. But all things in time. I couldn’t be happier with the family we have now.