Charlotte Fielding wants another child. In this, the first in a four-part series, she writes about why she turned to the dating app Tinder in an attempt to complete her family.
What if I had a baby and it didn’t have a dad?
I asked my six-year-old son this question, as if it was rhetorical, even though it wasn’t. A questionable question. I’m not sure that a six-year-old has the capacity to answer it or that he should have the obligation of response. Still, I asked, because he’s the other half of my little family, and he’d been asking me repeatedly for a “baby bruzzer or sister” for about two years already. Sometimes children have a knack for clarity, I thought, so I asked.
When we went to vote in the 2014 election my son bawled his eyes out when we left the polling booth without a husband for me. I had obviously oversimplified my explanation of how we choose someone to vote for. He thought I was choosing someone I liked – not to run the country, but to marry me. Like some odd combination of The Bachelorette and Married at First Sight. Sometimes children get it quite wrong.
“I don’t think that would be very nice for the baby,” was his reply. “You need to find a dad.”
“What if I can’t find a dad and the only way we can get a baby is having one without a dad?”
“Just try your best, ok Mummy? Just try your best to find a dad.”
“OK,” was all I could say.
Sometimes children simultaneously have clarity and don’t quite get it.
He can’t understand what has occurred to lead me to this point of contemplating having a baby on my own – a donor baby – and so for him it is simple: he has a dad and he loves his dad. Therefore he wants this Idea of Baby to have a dad. He doesn’t know the events of my life and the quiet insistence of my heart that bring me to this question: can I have a baby on my own? (And nor should he.)
He can’t know about the dissolution of my marriage at a too-young age, the heartbreaks I’ve had, the helplessness of wanting a relationship and another child and having it be out of my control. But there’s a resilience you develop as a solo mother. When there’s no other adult around to feed the child, you get out of bed and you cook the risotto (or the ramen), no matter how you feel. And when there’s no one else to pay the bills you figure out how to stretch every dollar the government gives you or stretch every thin hour you can work.
When you accept the relentlessness of parenthood and of life; a life that you can’t escape and don’t want to escape (except perhaps in moments when you haven’t had enough sleep because you were up late binge watching Orphan Black, carving out a smidgen of “me time” and you’re so tired you could cry, and you do cry).
When you accept that this is what life is and some have it harder and some have it easier but this is what you have and it is both hard and easy at the exact same time.
When you accept this you learn who you really are.
I cannot work any harder to find someone to love me. It just doesn’t work like that. So there I was, after five years of being more-single-than-coupled, with the most recent heartbreak tucked under my belt, and I decided to take charge of one thing I longed for and was able do on my own: have a baby.
With the help of a stranger from the internet.
The notion of choosing to have a baby on my own was one that challenged many people. It was challenging to those who find single motherhood so difficult they can’t imagine opting in for that. It was challenging for those who view it is immoral or selfish, who think a partnership is the only acceptable way to bring a child into the world. It was challenging just because it’s unusual. The most common view expressed was that only people with plenty of money should be choosing to have children, and I don’t fit into the “wealthy” category.
I bought a little red notebook and began to fill it: not with answers, but with questions. Each inquiry led to another and I gradually interrogated my deepest ideas about what families should be. I wanted to bring a baby into the world and “deprive” it of a father, when two parents – a mother and a father – is arguably the most universally fundamental notion of kinship, due to the biology that requires a sperm and an egg to reproduce. What right do I have? What does alone mean? Can I love the child enough to make up for the loss of a parent? What does family mean? How can I help the child have a strong sense of identity with a lack of knowledge about half of their genes? My research into these questions spawned more, spanned several months, and still fell short of answering them thoroughly.
Having children is rarely a rational choice, even in “ideal” circumstances. Ask any sleep-deprived, vomit-covered, bored parent and they’ll tell you it’s a terrible, terrible, wonderful idea and they’d never regret it but please can you take the baby for a couple of hours?
Imperfect events led me here but it’s worth remembering that there is no family structure or income level that guarantees a child’s happiness or promises their misery. There are as many dysfunctional wealthy, married, hetero-headed households as there are happy and functional single-parent families, or gay families, or poor families. Not enough attention is paid to protective factors in any of these cases. The statistics can be scary but they don’t tell the whole story.
The process of abnormalising can harm children. If something is normal in a culture, there is no reason for a child to feel unhappy about it. But when it is stigmatised, that’s when there may be an effect on a child. So part of my reason for writing about this rather private story is to help shift attitudes about family structures that are outside the nuclear norm.
Which leads me to that time I was 29 years old and I asked strange men on the internet to impregnate me.
I set up a Tinder profile stating I was looking for a sperm donor. Tinder: the simple dating app that has become so mainstream it has almost destroyed the stigma of online dating. It’s still a little hush-hush in the way that anything is when you admit that perhaps you’re lonely or horny, or simply that your life is anything less than Insta-glossy, but in my peer group, it’s so common that it’s no longer subversive or seen as the domain of “losers”. I was using it for a slightly different purpose than most, however.
I anticipated a few matches. Maybe some curious men; a few willing to do anything for sex. I thought that men were scared of pregnancy but it turns out that’s not the case. At all. I got hundreds of matches, and conversations that ranged from absurd, to rude, to thoughtful, with a few promising possibilities.
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Charlotte Fielding is a student, an entrepreneur, and a mother of one. She likes cheese, road trips, podcasts, memes, social justice, and that moment at the end of the day when you get home and put your pyjamas on.
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