When a woman decides to have a baby on her own, it’s not usually an easy or casual decision. Although it’s a choice, it’s rarely Plan A. I know of widows who remain faithful to their dead husbands, but want children. Those who, like me, want to give their existing child a sibling despite not having a partner. Some have created a life focused on their career and now feel their biological clock tick-tocking.
Some have family support, some have none. Some have plenty of money, some do not. But there is something quite different in the mindset of choosing to do it on your own, rather than solo parenthood being the result of circumstance. When you write the absence of the other parent into the equation from the start, it becomes a radically different proposition.
Likewise, women look for different things in a sperm donor. I cared very little about physical characteristics, although I instinctively gravitated towards donors who looked more like me – dark haired, average everything else. I cared about intelligence and general health, and mostly looked for a circumstantial match. I knew I wanted zero involvement from the donor; that seemed fraught with risk. I wanted someone who already had children – partly as evidence of fertility in the absence of clinical testing, and partly because I felt he would have less inclination to be involved with my child if he already had some of his own.
From my understanding of New Zealand law a sperm donor has no parental rights or responsibilities unless the child is conceived via sex, or the donor is in a relationship with the mother. Legal contracts can be contested; my safest bet was to abide by the law and make it as clear as possible with photos and online conversations, as well as a signed and witnessed personal agreement that those two things did not happen. Finding a private, unknown donor is a risky undertaking. There are websites set up to match donors with prospective parents, but I stayed away from them. I felt uncomfortable about the idea of a man seeking to be a donor, although I never really took the time to unpack why that unsettled me.
I also wanted the donor to provide a family tree of sorts. Having a dad who was adopted back in the ‘50s when closed adoptions were the only option, I am aware of what it feels like to have a missing piece of the genetic puzzle. In the absence of a present father for my child, I wanted them to have a document with medical history, and even some key events and characteristics of biological family members for the child to have some identity from the donor.
And last but not least, I wanted a donor who was open to being contacted by the child when the child was 18, and who wouldn’t be an asshole about it.
I ended up choosing as donor one of the first men I ever talked to, although I had for a short time considered and almost gone ahead with another donor. I was blown away that someone would go through with what I was asking, for a complete stranger. My gratitude was so intense it became a sort of love – but it was a love for the action rather than the person.
When you talk for a long time about something happening in the future, it’s unsettling when a planned date arrives. Life just carries on while you’re thinking about it. It doesn’t hold still while you gather a deep breath and stand, frozen, until you’re ready to lift your foot, put it forward, and have the rest of your body follow. There are no pauses, and so it came about that ovulation was suddenly a week away, and I hadn’t written an agreement to send to the donor, hadn’t arranged timings with him, and I was preoccupied by having guests stay from out of town for a few days. I hadn’t even purchased containers and syringes to do the deed.
It wasn’t that I had stopped thinking about it (it consumed me). I was aware that the time for insemination was coming up. But up until that moment the plan was almost entirely in my head and in conversations with friends. I didn’t need to go to a clinic or pay money or make any discernable changes that would give tangible signals that it was impending.
I suddenly didn’t feel ready for something that I’d been planning for months, and wanting for years.
It was a Tuesday evening. My friend Laura and her children had flown in that afternoon to visit. It was an ordinary day, as if the rest of the world had no idea I was ovulating or something. We had dinner, put the children to bed, made cups of fruit tea, and sat on the couch chatting. I posted a picture of the container and syringe, without a caption, to a private Facebook group with some of my closest friends. The questions poured in: when is it happening, how is it happening, was he coming to my place? Excited well wishes, demands for updates. One friend said, “Give her a minute, team, she’s making a baby, not a cup of tea!” I posted an update: “he’s in my bathroom!” A short while later, Laura took a photo of me holding up a syringe as I headed to the bathroom to do my part. My friends were saying it was more interesting than television and Laura and I were giggling uncontrollably as the comments popped up, one after the other, funny and excited and emotional.
I may be the only parent of this baby, but I was certainly not doing it on my own. There were an unusually high number of people who cared about this conception. That sperm had dozens of cheerleaders willing it to get to my egg. I was overwhelmed with the support, hilarity (there were so many puns), and shared excitement. This baby is going to be surrounded by love, I thought.
As for the mechanics of the sperm donation itself; it was the strangest and most disgusting thing I’ve ever done. It was clinical and yet full of emotion and yes, a strange man masturbated in my bathroom. I sat on the edge of the bath and inserted it, hoping that none would drip out. It smelt gross and felt very weird – emotionally and physically. I pulled my undies up, threw it all in the bin, and went back into the living room, anxious, giggly, hopeful.
Thus began the two week wait to find out if it worked.
I was terrified. One day I was illogically dog-tired. My imagination led me to think that was the earliest sign of pregnancy even though I knew it was too early to be feeling anything. Friends say they “just knew” but there is no such thing for me. I am so full of hope that I could easily convince myself, in the future, that I just knew. With the support of a positive pregnancy test I could look back and assert that I knew all along that it had worked. But I have no evidence, just hope. I can manifest symptoms to express what I desire to be true, but that doesn’t make it true. I want to test as early as possible; but I also don’t want a negative test to abolish that hope.
The possibility of a positive exists until there’s disconfirming evidence on a pee stick.
Then I become ravenously hungry. This was my earliest pregnancy sign with my son. I ate three meals three times a day and still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to tell everybody “I’M HUNGRY!” but I realised how silly that would sound, and I didn’t want to be wrong, and for people to know I’m wrong. So I tell just a few friends: I have sneaking suspicions; I have hope.
Ten days after insemination and I had eaten triple my usual grocery budget. I hope I’m pregnant because either way I’m going to get fat and a baby is the nicest reason to need new clothes.
Next week – Charlotte Fielding’s final post will continue where this one left off. Check in Friday to read it.
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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