10/23/2013 05:54 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

What I Really Want for My 40th Birthday


The women in my family have elevated the art of party planning to a virtue. So, I was relatively nonplussed when an older cousin sent out chic invitations to her "Help Me Choose a Sperm Donor" shindig. On the surface, yes, this sounds a mite... odd. But when you are nearing your forties (no need for specifics here) and you're pushing your terrier around in a stroller and dressing him as Elvis for Halloween because you're still motherless, drastic measures call for more drastic, even the most the drastic, of actions. No rest for the unfairly barren. Not in an era in which sperm donor parties are even a consideration. Thus, her party preparations began in earnest.

Cupcakes with pink and blue frosting curlicues imitating sperm (a nod to the party's missing guest) and mini quiches (because it only makes sense to prominently pay homage to "eggs" at a sperm donor fete) rounded out a menu for guests who helped my cousin choose a father, err... a donor... or a profile...? Some thought her path toward motherhood "a trifle too modern," I, however, empathized.

My cousin wasn't the only one whose maternal clock has broken into an operatic chorus. As soon as I turned 39, I lamented not starting a family earlier. I'd spent so much time trying to become a writer to be reckoned with that I put off becoming a Mrs. to someone's else's Mr., and while I've received professional accolades, I've yet to welcome a baby. I can hear the hearts of my ancestral feminists breaking from beyond the grave, but I wonder if I've started my life too late; if there's still time for me to become a blonde, run the Boston Marathon, birth adorable twins and return to my pre-baby weight before their tiny belly buttons heal or my roots begin to show?

Comedic asides aside, there is encouraging news for the many American women who -- like my cousin and I -- have waited to give birth. According to a recent Center for Disease Control report, birth rates for women in their thirties rose in 2012, as did the birth rate for women in their early forties. Moreover, the total number of babies born to single women rose. Granted, most mothers in this country give birth in their twenties, but there are many who, for a number of factors -- from infertility obstacles, poor health, divorce, lack of money and career choices -- choose to delay the chance to join forces with other cooing mothers, migrating en masse to play dates, soccer practice and FAO Schwartz. Halle Berry recently gave birth to her second child at 47, giving women the world over hope that it can and does happen more frequently than we're told. Cultural stereotypes tell us that the ideal mother is young, in perfect health and married. But the reality and complexity of modern day motherhood shouldn't be based solely on deeply-ingrained societal myths.

For my cousin, infertility factors and lack of a partner caused her to wait until middle age to become a mother. I've had to wait because of career choices and poor health. Before I'd turned 30, I'd had two liver transplants and a total colectomy because of a faulty immune system. But too many diagnoses and painful recoveries haven't lessened my ability to love unconditionally, to police homework assignments or unearth Cheerios from the least likely of hiding places. I can give "that" disapproving look, instill proper values and hover protectively without clipping their tiny wings, even if I am the sister and daughter, and my medical issues cause friends and family to tsk. The desire to become a parent, to help a child blow out their first birthday candle, to see them push off on training wheels, their confidence on full display, to see that a child has inherited my sense of style and exacting standards and none of my faults, to stand sentry through each of their flights of fancy and emotional entanglements, has only grown over the years.

Many immune-suppressed women have healthy babies post-transplant. Doctors advise patients to wait at least two years after their surgery. It's been 12 years since my last transplant. I'm no longer a young woman. My lips are disappearing, my skin is as thin as the pages in a Bible, and I have -- to my utter dismay -- inherited my father's jagged hairline. Going on "vacation" is code for undergoing plastic surgery, but -- and it's an important but -- I'm still too young to buy a yellow Corvette and have affairs with the pool boy. It's not too late to start a family. Actually, I'm the strongest physically, emotionally, professionally and personally than I have ever been. I couldn't have had children in my twenties. I am ready now.

So, as I approach my 40th birthday next week, I've finally accepted that the genesis of motherhood isn't the same for everyone. The method of conception, and when it takes place, is wholly irrelevant when the end result for everyone is the same: a miraculous, cuddly, doe-eyed wonder. Being a mother is vastly more important than the journey toward becoming one. And for some--my cousin and I included -- the opportunity to count ten tiny toes and fingers, at any age, and by any means, is joy enough.