How and why I voluntarily became a single mother at 22

Guest post by Amy
Photo by Fanny, used under Creative Commons license.

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.

Amy and her daughter.
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.

Comments on How and why I voluntarily became a single mother at 22

  1. What a truly unique story. Thanks to Amy for all the details and to Offbeat Mama for showing once again that families come in all sorts of different forms. I must say Amy is possibly the most mature 20-year-old (at the time) I’ve ever heard of. I’m glad that everything is working out for this family. I can’t imagine how scary it must have been going through the day not knowing if you’d pass out from pain. So happy it sounds like those days are over. Much love!

  2. I love how happy you and your daughter look together! And I’m glad you found a doc who would do the hysterectomy. I have a friend who needs one for similar reasons, but can’t find anyone to do it because she’s only 30, has one child (who is 7 now) and no one will believe that their family is complete.

    • I think it helped that I had the same doctor who saw me through the whole ordeal. She saw me at least 4 times a year. When the same person tries the same things over and over again, eventually they have to see that it just isn’t working. Also, I made a weepy plea for the safety of my child if something were to ever happen to me and the fact that she only has one parent. Pulling at the heart strings works every time πŸ˜‰

  3. O.M.G. I LOVE this story! It’s so different from my life experience, and I feel, I don’t know, richer I guess, for having heard it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lonely. Time seems to stretch on forever. But looking back, it doesn’t seem as bad as it felt at the time. I think, though, that it prepares you for those long days after your baby is born and all of the visitors leave and you are left alone just you and an infant. That’s a very lonely experience too. A wonderful experience that I would never give back, but lonely none the less.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I have a very similar story! I had endo since I was 13. I purposely got pregnant because my chances of having children in the future were next to none. After 5 miscarriages I had my first daughter at 19..then my second at 20 (she was a surprise! lol) Gladly my endo didn’t continue after πŸ™‚

    Congratulations on your beautiful baby girl!

  5. Thanks so much for writing this, Amy! I’m considering going the single-mother-by-choice option in my mid-thirties/early-forties so I really appreciate your sharing your experiences, especially in terms of donor selection and then medical procedures. Best of luck to you and your daughter!

    • I would recommend it a thousand times over. I am loving every minute of it! If I were you, I’d check out the single moms by choice group. It’s a national group with local chapters and it is for “thinkers” too!

      • Thanks for the follow-up, Amy! πŸ™‚ I am familiar with the group online. However, because of the membership fees and timeline, I haven’t joined yet although I’d love to attend meet-ups. (I like how you used the word “thinkers” because that would describe me, planning this already ten+ years in advance…)

        I do have one question, if you have the time: how do you react if people ask about your daughter’s father? I know just-meet-once strangers need no specific answer nor does anyone else really but I can imagine that heading off people’s questions (and gossip) with a straightforward statement might be easiest? (For example, as a teacher myself, it’s helps for me to know students’ home situations so I can respond best working with guardian/s and one-on-one with students, i.e. “Can you share this with your grandma?” etc.) What do you say, if anything?

        • I’ve talked to a few other single mom’s by choice who are much older than I am, and most of them seem to keep it pretty private. They kind of go by the rule that their business is no one else’s business. I think a little part of the reason that I am so open about our situation is to avoid the stigma attached to young single mothers (not that I feel that way at all, but society has a way of looking down on certain situations). Mostly I am open because I don’t think that situations like these should be left in the dark. I want Avalon to feel confident in her background and not be ashamed or feel like she needs to hide that part of her. Its really situational for me. If I’m out shopping and someone stops to tell me that my daughter is beautiful and her daddy is going to have his hands full watching her as a teenager, I just smile and nod. With acquaintances such as people I work with casually, I don’t volunteer the information until the subject is brought up. Any mention of a father, I start explaining about IVF and donor sperm. I don’t go into my reasons why unless I am specifically asked, because I think that is more of a private matter and people are pretty ballsy to be asking to begin with. I still don’t hide it if asked, though. Everyone I count as a friend knows the full story.
          When Avalon starts school, I do think it is important for a teacher to know a student’s home situation. As a school counselor, I tend to ask students who they live with before I say something about that person. However, it makes life easier to already have that information. Therefore, I’ll make sure her teachers know.
          Great question!

          • How detailed and informative — thanks yet again! Oh yes, the “smile and nod.” πŸ™‚ It’s interesting that the older moms choose to say less. (Of course, it’s always a personal situation!) To me, your super open and honest approach seems like the “easiest” in the long-term. (I think of situations where a child learns it was adopted only as a teen where it creates major turmoil, etc.)

            It seems people generally mean well but can be so awkward when they’re not sure about what to say or how to react after they wrongly assume something. I’m thinking for me that, in my small and rather tolerant community, just letting a colleagues know it was through donation would take care of things. (So well-wishers wouldn’t feel bad for asking something like, “I didn’t even know you had a partner!”) And, for me, during school introductory events, perhaps a “Just so you know, I’ve been Susy’s only parent all along but you’re also welcome to discuss everything with her aunt and uncle listed on the emergency contact form if you can’t get in touch with me.” Luckily, our district’s insurance has a cheaper option for “one parent, one child” so the system’s more supportive of such situations than I might have assumed. πŸ™‚ [I don’t mean to hijack your comments section with my questions but my bouncing off aspects of my personal situation for your feedback is really helpful. And hopefully it’s helpful to some others, too!]

            Three more questions, if you’re up for them:

            1. I notice you mention choosing a donor who was was not white. Was there a specific reason for that choice? (I mean this completely neutrally and, admittedly, can’t tell your race from the picture, not that it would matter anyway!)

            2. Who do you have as Avalon’s (great name!) guardian, should anything happen to you? (Hopefully not!) How did you select this person and are there any specific steps you took to set things up?

            3. Any financial “I wish I had known in advance” advice for planning ahead of time?

            On a side note, I’m very glad to see you’ve had such a supportive doctor in all of this. There are certainly some crappy ones out there but it’s nice to see that there are great options, too; it’s just a matter of finding the right match. πŸ™‚

          • Choosing a non-caucasian donor was based a lot on my own experiences. Having spent a lot of time with groups of diverse people, I was always a little envious of their attachment to their cultural identity. Being white, I never felt that. I’m not sure if it was just the area that I grew up in or that I didn’t have a ton of interest in researching my own heredity. I’m not saying I’m ashamed of my roots, but they never seemed strong. Having my daughter have a large part of her background be from a specific place that is known and researchable, I felt like we could look into it together. Maybe we could visit India and volunteer together. We can spend time learning about the place and identifying. Also, having a specific place might help give her some identity where her lack of father is. Although she will never know him, she will know where he was from and it might help to give her that sense of identity that could be lacking.
            I had a will made and my mom is my daughter’s selected guardian. My sister doesn’t live near us, but if something happens to both me and my mom, she would be Avalon’s guardian.
            I think everyone wishes they were able to save more or be more financially secure before they have a child. But if you wait for all of that, you’ll be childless forever. I wish I had been more prepared for things to not go according to my “plan.” In all reality, though, that wasn’t a possibility. Time wasn’t on my side. I think I was more financially secure than a lot of people having their first child. I must be if I am able to not work for close to two years. But really, you can’t plan everything and you would need millions of dollars in the bank before you could be financially secure enough to be prepared for all things that could go wrong. So don’t wait forever!

  6. I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I had/have a plan that if I there is no one to help me I would do it myself by 35. I always picture that even if I had a husband he would be in the background and it would be mostly about me and the kids.

  7. This is amazing. I know the pain you were experiencing was such a huge part of your journey, but even though I don’t have that I’m still really struck at how similar your story is to how I’m feeling about childrearing and how similar it is to my current life situation. I live with my mom, recently graduated with a BA and considering the options of getting a donor and having a child on my own. I’m not asexual but I do prefer to be unattached/solitary/independent and it’s just fantastic to see this story actually happen. Up until now I was thinking of it as such a fantasy instead of something that can be/has been done. Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. Thank you so much for telling your story! I have adenomyosis and was put through a round of treatment very similar to yours – Lupron included (which was a NIGHTMARE). While I can’t have biological children right now (the birth control pills gave me liver tumors aggravated by estrogen), I’m so happy that it worked out for you.

  9. Amy, I have a question for you, but first let me say that I was enthralled in your story. What an amazing and inspiring tale and I am so glad you found your happiness. I am wondering, though, if nursing (if you did so) actually did keep the pain at bay? If so, I was thinking…how many women with endometriosis could consider taking the pill they give to induce lactation (to adoptive moms and the like)? Maybe it wouldn’t be right for everyone, but the would be options to help out other women who can’t nurse with the milk (as the article not so long ago showed) and, when I was lactating, I didn’t mind it at all and it seems a far cry from the pain of this disease. Was it something that was ever mentioned? Just something that I thought of as I was reading it, but I may be way off base. My good friend suffers a LOT from this and other pelvic floor/lower digestive diseases and, I bet she’d be willing to try this as she’s also done the things you mentioned.

    • I’m obviously not Amy but I hope you don’t mind my reply.
      I have Endo issues and while pregnant I heard of someone who nursed for extended periods of time because it helped her. I honestly never got full reprieve from the pain but I do find that it was much easier to handle when I was exclusively breastfeeding those 6ish months. And to be even more honest, I don’t find my pain right now at nearly 11 months postpartum to be anywhere near where it was before I got pregnant. I’m still breastfeeding a good bit though he’s on solids so I attribute it to that.
      I think if its found to be helpful pain-wise to most women as it has been or seems to be for me then it would be a pretty good option to offer for those who are interested in donating the milk and the work that comes with it. I’m all for better options beyond the hard meds.

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