When I was little, my rendition of “house” always included pretending I was a single mother struggling to make ends meet. I’m not sure if my eight-year-old self could foresee the future, or if I was just making do with the fact that I didn’t ever have a boy to play my “husband.” I dabbled in dating as a teenager. By “dabble” I mean my relationships never lasted more than three months and most were more like a few days. I just never had much interest in men (or women, for that matter), sexually speaking.
Now, if I ever have to explain my sexuality, I consider myself asexual. For me, life seems much more simple by myself, and sex isn’t great enough to make it worth the effort. A psychologist would probably delve into explanations of past trauma, but I am perfectly happy feeling the way that I do. I don’t think I have ever lost my eight-year-old vision of single motherhood. As much as I have never seen myself in a long-term relationship, I have never seen myself not having children. I had never seriously thought about how it would happen, I just knew it would.
During those years of dabbling, I also started to develop some symptoms of endometriosis. It started out as pain with periods, but by the time I reached 19, I was having pain all day every day. The pain came in waves of intensity, but at the height of it, I would sometimes even pass out. The pain would reach such a level that my body could not handle it, and I would lose consciousness.
I must have tried 20 different birth control pills. I tried the Depo-Provera shot. I tried laparoscopic surgery to clean out the lesions. I even tried Lupron, a shot that put me into drug-induced menopause (hot flashes, mood swings, the whole bit). If anything helped, it only did so for short periods of time. I took to carrying Percocet in my purse, but I was so afraid of addiction that I almost always waited until the pain was too intense and it was too late anyway.
When I ran out of pain medication while I was volunteering in Ghana, my doctor faxed a prescription over to a pharmacy in Africa. Every time I would visit my gynecologist, I would beg her to do a hysterectomy. She would laugh and we would joke, but there was always an underlying seriousness to it. There came a time when she sat down and said, “Amy, I’m not quite sure what else I can try for you.” She suggested another round of the same drugs that had made me sick and hadn’t made a significant difference in pain. She alluded to the fact that the only real solution actually was a hysterectomy.
Jokes aside, this really scared me and I didn’t want it… but this was no way to live a life. So I asked her about pregnancy. She told me that my pain would go away during my pregnancy, and probably for the whole time I breastfed. My mom had endometriosis when she was younger, and hers disappeared completely after her first pregnancy. I was skeptical that this would be the case, but hopeful.
I sat on it awhile. This was a huge decision. I was 20 years old and a senior in college. Very few people make the conscious choice to get pregnant at this age. I wanted to go to graduate school. I was nervous about money. I moved back in with my mom so I could start stockpiling cash just in case. I even saw a fertility doctor. He was fatherly and expressed his concerns about my age, but it did not discourage me.
It is the strangest thing to look through lists of prospective fathers and try to pick them based on height and hair color and career choice.
I waited almost another year. I finished my undergraduate degree and I started a two-year master’s program. As the episodes of passing out grew closer and the reality of the danger came to the foreground, I made a plan. I would get pregnant in September so that I could have the baby in the beginning of the summer, be able to stay home with her/him until September, when I would start school again for my final year. At that point, I would only go to school and not work any longer. I had quit my part-time job and gotten a full-time social work position while attending school full time as well to save up money. I was as ready as I could be.
I had to pick a sperm donor. It is the strangest thing to look through lists of prospective fathers and try to pick them based on height and hair color and career choice. I cannot put into words how weird it is to know that if you choose one donor over the next, you will have a totally different child than you would have otherwise. And the characteristics you choose are not the same as those you use when choosing a significant other. People don’t think about if a man is too short, has brown eyes instead of blue, or has an uncle with heart disease. When you pick a sperm donor, you do.
As much as you’d like to think you aren’t, you are essentially creating a designer baby. I narrowed my list by these characteristics: Over six feet (as I am short), no weight problems (as I have some and didn’t want a double whammy), a negative blood type (as I am Rh- and it would make things easier not to worry about potential blood types), fairly intelligent, no family history of health problems, and preferably not white. I ended up choosing a 6’1″ 180-pound Indian pediatrician with a B- blood type.
My fertility doctor told me that because I was so young and had no history of fertility problems, he wanted to track my ovulation via ultrasounds every few days, but he wasn’t going to give me any fertility medication. After weeks of tracking, he decided that I don’t ovulate naturally, so he used a low dose of drugs to stimulate my ovaries. And then… there was an egg. When the egg was mature enough, I came in and he used a tube and a syringe to put those little swimmers right up next to my fallopian tube. He assured me that this would be a quick process, and he wouldn’t be surprised if I got pregnant on my first try — but I didn’t.
Then I passed out while I was taking a bath, and I woke up just as the water was rushing down my throat. I decided enough was enough.
I got my period on my 21st birthday. My doctor wasn’t discouraged. He wanted to try again. When I didn’t ovulate easily again, he upped my meds. I produced two eggs this time. I was sure I was pregnant with twins. But I wasn’t pregnant at all. Or the next month. Or the one after that.
Then I passed out while I was taking a bath, and I woke up just as the water was rushing down my throat. I decided enough was enough. I was going to do in-vitro fertilization. Amazingly, my insurance company covered a lot of the cost due to my medical problems. After the grueling process of giving myself daily needles and driving to the fertility doctor practically every day, he did an egg extraction and removed 14 eggs. He placed a single sperm inside each egg and let those suckers stew for five days. I had originally wanted two embryos placed so that I would have a better chance of success, but I decided to try one the first time, and two the next time if I needed to try again. Five of the embryos were good quality, so I had four frozen and one inserted.
When I got the news by telephone that my blood test had come back positive, I jumped up and down so many times that I thought I the baby would fall right out. I have to admit, there was definitely an “Oh shit. What did I do?” moment. But more than anything, I was ecstatic. The friends and family who had thought I was crazy warmed up to the idea once I was pregnant (mostly). Things went fairly normally for a while. At around 20 weeks, I started having high blood pressure at my OB visits. It slowly crept up to the point that my doctor and I had a serious conversation about delivery at 26 weeks. Blood pressure medicines helped enough to avoid that, but not enough for me not to be put on bed rest.
It’s funny how plans work. I had planned to get pregnant in a timely manner so that I could have the baby in the summer. Instead, she was due in the middle of the semester. I had worked out plans with my teachers and the site supervisor at the guidance office that I would be doing my internship at so that I could take a few weeks off after the baby was born. Because of the bed rest, I couldn’t start the semester. And because internships run September-June, I couldn’t start until the following year. That meant two years before I would finish and get a job. But plans never work out and the health of this baby was top priority, of course. So I took up daytime television, bought Rosetta Stone, and spent the next two months in bed.
At 37 weeks, my doctor did an amniocentesis to check lung development. When it came back clear, I was induced. Even after preparing for months (years, really), you’re never quite prepared for someone to say, “Hey, you’re having a baby today!” It took 37 hours for the little critter to make her appearance. My placenta started to rupture towards the end. The pain was so harsh (even with an epidural) that I couldn’t fully push and they had to use forceps. I hemorrhaged and lost half my blood volume. But damn was that little girl beautiful.
There were times when a partner would have been nice — like when the crying wouldn’t stop for hours and I thought I would go insane. When her temperature closed in on 104 and I was terrified. When I wish I could buy nonessential things and still be able to feed us on our savings that now has to last twice as long. But mostly I appreciate the fact that I get to make all of the parenting decisions. Every time I hear someone complain about how their husband wouldn’t do this that or the other, I’m silently thankful that I have no expectations. I assume that all responsibility lies with me.
Doing everything yourself is immeasurably easier when you know that is the case from the start.
I know that I am the one who needs to get up with her every time, without exception. I have no one to be angry and resentful towards because they don’t live up to whatever expectations I have put in place for them. I’ll never worry about a custody battle or if her dad will let her get a tattoo after I say no. Doing everything yourself is immeasurably easier when you know that is the case from the start. Sure, there are great men out there and resentment is not always the case — I just prefer the ease of not worrying about maintaining a relationship along with my other responsibilities. A personal choice, for sure, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
When the pain came back and I passed out while my daughter was napping (thank goodness), I decided I wasn’t playing games anymore. My doctor reluctantly agreed. So six months after my daughter’s birth, I had my uterus, cervix, and one ovary removed. I’m still storing my frozen embryos and paying annually. I might be one of the most liberal, pro-choice people ever, but there is still something weird about destroying the only possibility of full biological siblings. Maybe I’ll use a surrogate one day, maybe not. But I like to keep my options open.
Today I have an amazing 13-month-old daughter who still loves breastfeeding despite her Mama’s lack of female organs. She is honestly the happiest baby I have ever met. She can’t even walk past a stranger without saying “Hi!” I’m sure there will be questions — and a lot of them — in the future. I hope that keeping the lines of communication open will be enough. You never know what the future holds, and plans can change in an instant. For now, I’ll just keep on loving her.