At some point, I don't remember exactly when, I stopped replacing my fraying lacy underwear with new lacy underwear and instead bought packs of three or five single color elastic fit. Along with my sartorial shift, I added a few extra pounds, started spinning, wearing glasses and considered the long term value of a Roth IRA. As for desire, well, that became the domain of my old therapist who wondered aloud where my libidinal urges were hiding. Hiding? I don't think he understood that they had long ago left the building.
This is not another record of being single or of how I came to accept it. I haven't. But I have always wanted to be a mother more than just about anything I have ever wanted. My personal failures or periods of discontent repeatedly eased by my confidence that no matter what, I would be a very good mother.
For years, I inserted myself in families, affixed myself to a regular seat at their dinner tables, loved their children as I would my own and leaned in still further when I heard 'Auntie' Gila. I have seen the sleepless, dazed faces of newborn parents and noted serious hits to otherwise solid marriages. I am not so naïve as to sentimentalize domesticity as a series of charmingly chaotic events, the untangling of which is rewarded at the end of each day with a glass of wine.
I spent a long time living in my own version of an animated cartoon. Just like Bugs Bunny defying the laws of gravity, I flew off the cliff and stayed suspended mid-air. You don't fall down if you don't look down. My drop was quick: a doctor's visit, a conversation about age and fertility and the casual conclusion that using a sperm bank was the most sensible option. Sperm bank, single parent!
In retrospect, this process has been a prolonged stumble through the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I lodged well in denial, finding refuge in an imagined certainty where someone would just appear, just so and just because. I silently colluded with well meaning friends who told me reassuring stories of eleventh hour romances, marriages, babies. All that was required of me was to stop looking, because, 'well, you know that's when it will happen!' A sampling of recent movies surely evidence of that very fact.
I cried a lot of heavy, self -pitying tears. I turned my face from pregnant women and excused myself from baby showers. I was despondent and immobilized. My anger was directed at my family, Los Angeles, the guy I wasn't interested in who ended it first. Even the 'Single Mothers by Choice' network became a target of my contempt: I would never join a club whose very name seemed to announce defeat.
My way into 'acceptance' began with an unsuccessful stop at the prenatal section of the health food store. I consulted the sales associate but left the bottle at the checkout counter and rushed out in tears. Radical Acceptance is a concept with roots in eastern meditative practice. Sometimes problems can't be solved or certain facts can't be changed but we can change our relationship to them. By repeatedly choosing to stand in the present, we can learn to accept and tolerate painful experiences as a part of living. I had been looking for that light switch moment but instead, had to reconcile with this pendulum effect: sometimes it felt as though I was walking backwards but mostly side to side. Several weeks later, I went back and bought the bottle.
I challenged my natural inclination for privacy, started telling people about my plans and found a small community of women who had come to be mothers in unconventional ways. Even the financial implications of having a baby, which at several points seemed insurmountable and caused intense panic, became something to worry about but not hold up as the deciding obstacle.
It's been hard not to approach selecting a donor like scouring an extreme version of a blind dating site, without the thrill of the 'big reveal.' I go to a sperm donor website, click advanced search, fill in hair color, height and skin tone, and an extensive medical history pops up, a salient reminder that we'll never be sharing a meal. I foolishly begin to discard profiles on the basis of what I wouldn't date. We may share a favorite color but would likely bicker over his preferred pet (I'm a dog person), food choices and on and on it goes...
I am stumped as to what determines appropriate selection criteria. I keep in mind some chat room advice and start by looking for a donor with my features (dark hair and eyes) to minimize comments to the young child that his or her blonde hair and blue eyes must surely resemble dad. Do I select an open or anonymous donation? Is one more damaging than the other? Do I consider the donor's eight-line personal essay a guide to his moral character or the 'staff impressions' paragraph, a true representation of his social awkwardness or an indication of Aspergers syndrome? Should I disqualify a profile I like on the basis of a poor math SAT score, since a high one would nicely complement my own mathematical weakness? And because this is Los Angeles, the site offers a celebrity 'look-alike' feature. I may be able to satisfy a hankering for Keanu Reeves but then I have to embrace a paternal grandmother's long history of diabetes.
As of now, I am vaccinated, doctor certified and fitter than I was a year ago. Several days a month I pee into a jar, update lists and charts and have a file tagged 'baby.' Within a few weeks, I will click, click my way online to a father.
Several years ago when I worked with uncommunicative teens, I would hand them a sheet of paper and have them circle the feeling words that best described their current mood. In a single session they could mark, 'playful,' 'lost,' 'irritated 'and 'determined.' Similarly, if some may wonder why I'm going through with this when I use such cheerless words as grief and anger, my response is this: I am a multitude of feelings, many seemingly paradoxical. I imagine, going forward, that I will feel disconsolate and cry when I inseminate, that I will cry with delight when I hear I am pregnant and that as a new mother, I will cry plenty with frustration and wonder.
I often remind my clients that yearn for 'normal' or the 'right' way, that we are each hard wired differently and that there is no one way or right way. I too must be mindful of this. There are many ways to have a family. And here is my 'bargain,' if I am fortunate enough for this to work out and I am able to have a child, I will strive to actively appreciate every day, to not complain as loudly and to keep redefining the limits of who I think I can be.