Contemplating non-traditional routes to motherhood

Guest post by Katie Billotte

zebra baby shoes
In recent months, ever since I hit the big 2-5, my biological clock has started to tick a little bit louder. It is strange and frankly it makes me feel a bit icky from time to time. I have always seen myself as a very liberated woman. My feminism defines me professionally, politically, and personally. I know better than to see my worth as dependent on motherhood. And yet…I really, really, super duper want a baby.

As my dissertation comes closer to an ending, my relationship prospects look continually bleaker, and my desire to be a mother ramps up, I have started to think about how I might live alternatives to the traditional narrative of motherhood. I have contemplated several scenarios. The main two being these: (A) Co-parenting with a single gay man or a gay couple or (B) purchasing an anonymously “donated” vile of genetic material and being knocked-up by a stranger.

While both of these plans have their pluses and minuses, the fact is that both family creation strategies would forever and always mark me as outside the mainstream paradigm of family life. Now, as a lifelong rebel and the daughter of a hippy mama, I know that shouldn’t bother me in the least; however, just like my desire to have a baby in the first place, I am finding out that nothing is as simple as it first appears. As I contemplate non-traditional motherhood, I am starting the fear losing my ability to be “normal.”

As a white, middle-class, heterosexual, woman with a university education and a U.S. passport, I have experienced a lot of privilege in my life. Unlike queer people, people of colour, and others, I have always had the option of being mainstream. My counterculture identity is something I have chosen, not something that has been thrust upon me. As much as I have embraced being “offbeat,” I have also always known I could cast off the mantel of offbeat-ness at will. I have always had the option open to me to retreat back to a life that I would never have to defend. Now, I am contemplating a decision that would forever block up my escape route, and it scares the shit out of me.

I have long identified as “culturally queer.” My father and I had a strained relationship from as far back as I can remember until about last week. My uncle Joe, in all his queen-y glory, stepped in and was the father my dad couldn’t always be. My best friends have always been drawn primarily from the many shades of the queer rainbow. I have been to Pride every year of my life! And through it all, I still guarded my heterosexual privilege like a rare jewel. Even as I chided girls who talked about their “gay friends” (my friends are just my friends and putting a person’s sexual identity at the heart of your description of him or her is gentile bigotry), maybe at some level I was still the nice, liberal lady willing to fight for “the gays.” I never contemplated that my life could become awful queer in its own right.

So here I stand, with a half (well, maybe not half) way written dissertation, a Saturday night booked up with watching Eurovision Finals, and an empty womb. As I think more and more about the options open to me, I am increasingly convinced that the person you are romantically attached to at any given moment may not necessarily be the one with whom you should procreate. Maybe falling in love and making babies are two entirely separate enterprises, regardless of what movies and politicians want to tell us. No matter how I ultimately get there, if I end up in MamaLand it will not be as a June Cleaver lookalike. The question for now is this: Would I be able to handle it if there is no resemblance at all?

Comments on Contemplating non-traditional routes to motherhood

  1. This was really thought-provoking for me. I hope you find what works to get you the future family you want, no matter what it turns out to be. Don’t think of wanting a baby as a female stereotype; it is human, not just female-human.

    As for how families are made: The husband of one of my sisters just up and left after 16 years of marriage, leaving his 14 and 12 year old kids. She has been telling me how blown away she is, and how she had imagined her family in all the stages of life yet to come to them. It really demonstrated to me that family is what you make it, not what you want it to be. I believe my sister is meant to have the two incredible girls she made with that man but hope that the complete family she is supposed to have is yet to be made.

  2. It sounds to me like you want the traditional thing – to be pregnant and give birth to a child – but without the traditional family system around you, that is, without a husband. That’s sort of different than wanting to become a mother via a non-traditional route. I think it is very worthwhile to contemplate and even to build – alternative family building is important. The difference is that no one will ever ask you if your child is “yours” or if you ever wanted to have “one of your own.” They will ask you what your husband does for a living.

    In some ways I think the route you are contemplating is harder than some less traditional ways of becoming a mother, like adoption, because society understands it even less. In other ways you would be able to “fit” in a number of circumstances that non-traditional mothers, say in trans-racial adoptions, cannot.

    An interesting post. I wish you all the best – these are fun things to think about. πŸ™‚

  3. I felt this way when I turned 30. I was shocked by how my hormones hit me, and then figured my prospects were bleak when my partner of 4 years dumped me. I was planning on saving $10,000, and then I thought I might have enough money to be able to think about being a single mom (since I work at a non-profit, money really matters).

    I never imagined at the time that later that year I would meet my husband, and that we would have a 9-month old daughter together, and be talking about another baby (I’m now 35).

    I wish you the best of luck in your life and your choices.

  4. I wanted to mention a book that I love, that is ultimately about non-traditional mamas (it intended to be about young mamas). It’s called “Breeder” by the editors of Hip Mama Magazine, Bee Lavender and Ariel Gore. It showed me we define family how we want to.

  5. Heh, I’m assuming you meant “vial” of donated genetic material? If you really meant “vile” then I’m guessing that’s not really your preferred route. πŸ˜‰

  6. Very well written and incredibly thought provoking. While my “plan” is to have children with my husband I think that if I were single still I would eventually contemplate having a child alone. You are brave and smart, you can do it πŸ˜€

  7. Interesting piece. I think the other angle to look at it is that people make colossal and often erroneous assumptions about you as a parent however “mainstream” you may or may not look. As someone once said to me, everyone who sees you out with a buggy assumes you are *** (insert uncomfortable assumption) until you disabuse them of the notion.

    In that case you may just as well go with what you feel comfortable with.

  8. The thing that strikes me here is how young you are, because from a scientific/biological standpoint, you are too young to experience this biological urge, which is a signal that one’s egg supply is decreasing. Generally it hits as early as 28 but more likely after 30. Of course, there is a difference between a physical urge and a psychological want/need, and that could be debated forever. You might want to mention this to your physician and possibly even have some basic fertility screening. Sorry if that sounds weird, I am just concerned because while it is not uncommon for a woman of 35 to want a baby N.O.W. despite partner availability/ other preparations, it is unusual for a 25 year old to have that urge when she has still has 20-some years left of her fertility, aka plenty of time to figure out a partner/ co-parent.

    BTW- I personally got the bio tick around age 29 but have ALWAYS wanted to have children since I myself was a kid, and the psychological yearning was very strong all through my 20s while I was getting educated and travelling the world, but I didn’t find my partner until 32 or get married/pregnant until 34. So believe me, at 25 your prospects are not bleak!! Good luck to you πŸ™‚

    • “The thing that strikes me here is how young you are, because from a scientific/biological standpoint, you are too young to experience this biological urge, which is a signal that one’s egg supply is decreasing.”
      I just wanted to point out that first of all everyone’s anatomies and physiologies are unique (an average age of menarche of 12 doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of us with stories of starting our periods at 8 or 9). Secondly, the world of biological clocks, when they start for most women, and why they start is a topic I’m willing to bet has had scant to no research done on it if only because of the serious challenges of studying it, so although egg supply running out sounds like a very reasonable hypothesis, there really isn’t grounds to make a claim that that’s “the reason” for women’s experience of the “biological clock”. Thirdly, the line between psychological and physiological is complex, we are not a separate mind and body, rather the two exist in a dynamic system and are fully capable of having great influence over one another. Finally, biological clock or no, not every woman stays fertile until 45 and women whose fertility decreases significantly, which is most, before that age do not necessarily have something wrong with them. Sorry if this comes off a little strongly, just as someone whose biological clock started “too young” I just feel that using our assumptions about this really fascinating facet of the human experience doesn’t serve us much good, nor does labeling other women’s experiences for them.

  9. I was about 25 when I started to feel like just me and my husband weren’t enough. In other words, I got the baby urge, and it certainly felt like a physical longing and something without logic to it. I was still in grad school at the time, so I waited a couple of years. We had no problems conceiving right away, so I’m not sure it means anything is amiss, fertilitywise.

    I also wanted to second the “you’re so young” sentiment. πŸ™‚ It’s always a good idea to plan ahead and have options, but really, I think you have plenty of time. One of my good friends is 41 and pregnant with #3. πŸ™‚

  10. A friend of mine met her husband after she put an ad on craigslist basically saying, “I want to have kids and soon. If you have similar goals, let’s meet up.” And her husband is a super awesome guy, and they’re totally in love. So… there’s another slightly offbeat way of starting a family. πŸ˜‰

  11. Being from the South and from a mostly conservative family I always thought that the traditional family was best. I don’t even mean a married man and woman but just two people who both love the child and each other. And maybe that isn’t even necessary. A child can be loved by extended family and friends and not miss out on anything that comes with having both parents present. All you need is love.

  12. I’m with the ‘you’ve got time’ crew. Body clocks, etc. are a tricky business, and you know yourself better than a bunch of strangers on the interwebs, but really, you do have time. A heck of a lot can happen in a few years.

    Your eggs should still be in top shape for at least another 3 years. The rapid decline in fertility doesn’t really start until 28, and even then it doesn’t go into free-fall until you’re 35 or so. (It’s not about the amount of eggs you have like Marina says – it’s that they get clapped out the longer they hang around in your ovaries. You’ve got more than enough quantity-wise to get you through to menopause.)

    I think I probably had the same level of baby-crazy as you when I was about 25, but the older I get and the more people I know who have babies, the more I recognise that I was NOT ready then, despite what my hormones were telling me. (My man and I are giving it a red-hot go now, though, 5 years later.)

    It’s awesome that you’re thinking about all this – offbeat means of conception can take some organising – but I wouldn’t rush out to the sperm bank just yet.

    Good luck with your thesis!

  13. well written and thought provoking.

    You said “I am increasingly convinced that the person you are romantically attached to at any given moment may not necessarily be the one with whom you should procreate.”

    You’re absolutely right about that – thank GOD we didn’t all make babies with out first partners! In my experience, though, when you find someone you’re “supposed to” procreate with, you’ll totally know. I swear my uterus kicked it into gear the moment I met my husband.

  14. Wow this piece resonates so much with me! I completely understand where you’re coming from. I too am a PhD student in the UK, aged 25 and with what I hope to be a promising and fulfilling career ahead of me. But I still have what I call the ‘weird feeling’ that I would love to have a baby, and actually find it difficult to comprehend clearly why I have this feeling as I have been brought up very much in a traditional way, (with an emphasis on ‘women can achieve anything they want to’), and I chose my more offbeat path. Unlike Katie I have a longterm partner of more than 6 years, which makes my dilemma more defined by the fact that I have the perfect man with whom I know I want to have children one day. A baby is something completely within my grasp assuming I have no problems with fertility, and yet my lifepath and goals are so feminist and focused on my future academic career that I know this is not the right thing right now. The rational ‘me’ is not prepared and knows babies do not fit in with the plan, the irrational ‘me’ says there is never a right time, go for it.

    I suspect that my independent self is being challenged by my traditional Russian Orthodox upbringing which has always meant I ‘tone it down’ for family and church friends out of respect for them (I know many people will disagree with that sentiment, but that’s just how it works for me). I guess I am lucky in that I don’t have to contemplate non-traditional methods of having a baby at this stage, as I am set with my lifepartner. It’s more a case of repeatedly having to tell myself that the time is not now, that it will happen one day and I have the wonderful luxury at this stage of being able to decide, and that is something many women do not have.

  15. I madly wanted babes from about 25 on… so I hear ya there. Turned out I wouldn’t have mine til 31 and 34 respectively, and the jury’s still out on whether more are coming. Only you know if now is the right time for you (I think the right time is so different for everyone). And if it’s now – go for it with everything you’ve got! Great piece (and as the often token “queer friend,” a big shout out of thanks for recognizing “gentile” bigotry! πŸ™‚

  16. This is a very interesting piece. I also feel where this is coming from. I’m also a university educated, rather feminist-leaning gal, but I’ve always wanted kiddies. Luckily, I’m in a relationship with a wonderful man who also always wanted children, after having been with one who was of the “there’s plenty of time” type. I started to get the wanting feeling “very young” as well (societally, not biologically). I was 23 when my son was born, almost a year ago.
    Anyways, the point to this ramble is I think it really happens to different people at different times. Some are good to wait, others get the urge a lot sooner. I really like this article for exploring this idea, and how that plays into the feminist idea. Like was said above, I don’t think procreation has to do with feminist or masculine ideas, its a human notion, a biological one. And I don’t see anything wrong with that πŸ˜€
    Best of luck, Katie, no matter what your family ends up looking like!

  17. This post really resonated with me. I’m in my early 20s and I’m already worrying about what my path to motherhood will be. I have never- NEVER- had a romantic relationship, and though I would love to eventually find someone to love, I’m starting to face the idea that maybe it’s not the path for me. I know it’s probably way too early in life for me to start worrying about babies, but I’ve started to look at my options if the whole traditional path doesn’t work out.

  18. I have to ask, because I’ve never heard the term before and I couldn’t really find anything about it online – what is “gentile” bigotry?

      • Thanks! I thought she might have meant “genital” at first too, but then someone else commented and reiterated the phrase. I only know the word “gentile” as meaning non-Jewish so I would be interested to know if there’s another meaning or usage.

        Oh, and about the post (which was great) – as a 31 year old who has never felt the desire to have a baby, I find reading other folks’ experiences fascinating.

  19. I hate to sound lectur-y, but ADOPT! ADOPT!
    There are way too many children in the world whose lives could be changed by you and in turn who can change your life.
    I have a partner and we may get married and my clock is ticking a bit at 30. Even if we do decide to birth a child, I am still really focused on adoption. I just don’t think it’s right to bring more lives into the world when there are those that are without family and love.
    Maybe it’s naive, but I believe in it!

    • As a 3rd generation adopted person (by this I mean I was adopted, my biological mother was adopted, and her biological mother was as well) I have to give you a HUGE thumbs up on this.

      It seems these days more and more people are going the sperm donation route when there are so many children desperate for love and stability in the world.

      Actually, adoption is something that isn’t really spoken about much, whenever it comes up in a conversation with people that I think are normal, fairly open-minded folk their first reaction to hearing I’m adopted is “Oh, I’m sorry…”! Sorry for what?? That someone who couldn’t care for me at that time in their life made the painfull decision to allow a couple to raise, love and spoil me? LOL

      My Mum always told us to tell the kids who teased us for being adopted (we were the only openly adopted kids in our town) that we were special, ‘cos their Mums and Dads got stuck with them, but our Mum and Dad picked us out specially… πŸ˜›

    • Same here! I’m adopted, and while my partner and I are planning on having at least one biological baby, it is VERY important to me that we adopt a ‘child’.

      We both feel passionately about adopting a child who is 16 or 17, actually, and is about to ‘age out’ of the foster care system. These kids often age out, and are left alone with zero family, and zero people to turn to. About 23% of them have a history of suicide attempts, and this population has some of the highest homelessness rates I have ever seen (I’m a nurse that works in adolescent psychiatry, with a huge emphasis on social health). We want to adopt someone who has never had that opportunity, and potentially never had strong role models to guide them. We want to be able to really give a kid a chance that they could only dream of, as adoption of this population is VERY low (everyone wants babies!)

      • My husband and I were just talking about doing this at some point–adopting a teenager, essentially. I think it would be an awesome thing to do for someone, if we can help/provide for them.

  20. This post really resonates with me. All my life I have really disliked children– but hang on! Even when I was a kid, I didn’t really like kids. I dated my last boyfriend for about five years. I had all these fantasies we would get married because, hey, that’s what you do right? But I could never REALLY picture myself having kids with him. I could sort of idylly conjure up the image in my head, but asside from freinds saying “OH MY GOSH GO HAVE HIS BABIES NOW THEY’D BE SO PRETTY” it just wasn’t something I could really see. The man I’m seeing now, we’ve only been dating for eight months or so, but I can FEEL having kids with him. Like I said, I’ve never been a fan of other people’s kids, but the thought of having them with him not only makes my heart flutter but sends me off on a rush of envisioning us reading to the kid, him playing wiht the kid, me taking the kid to school. I feel a physical twinge in the ovaries sometimes.

    Part of it, I know, is that tied up in the knowlege that my mother had me at 21. At my age, she’d been a mom for two years. Part of it too, is that my current man and I have the most wonderful sex life. It’s hard for your body not to react with a few procreative urges when you can’t stop making whoopie. But it’s so unexpected for me, with my history with kids and my age, to be feeling this way.

  21. Ahh yes, I too am in my twenties (albeit late-20’s at the moment) and have not yet come close to finding a life partner with which to have a child. However, I have felt my “baby-urge” since my early twenties and people kept telling me that I was young and “had plenty of time” blah blah blah.

    Of course, I did not NEED to have a child in my early twenties, but as I am approaching my 30’s and all my friends are getting married (a path I most likely will not be taking) and having children, I feel like I am missing the boat. After all, having a baby before 35 does have certain advantages. However, the majority of people catching wind that I simply feel like I want a baby (although I am single) seems to ignite horror in any number of people (because, of course, it is their business!). The amount of people who shoot back “It is REALLY hard to do it alone” is ridiculous. Of course having help is ideal. And in a perfect world with perfect relationships and without tons of “daddy issues” (long story) I would have a loving, supportive significant other. However, the opinion that I keep to myself is that raising a child with two parents is also highly difficult. Although you do usually have a “built-in babysitter” if you need to run out, there are PLENTY of arguments about how to raise the children and there is often a lot of tension that arises due to the child. Sometimes having 2 parents becomes a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario.

    However, my financial situation is not one that would allow me to have a child by any sort of alternative means. So, yes, in that regard a partner would be helpful. I would not bring a child into this world or commit to raising one if I did not have a semi-stable financial situation and, unfortunately, alternative routes to motherhood are quite costly (in addition to the inherent cost of having a child in general).

    So, I guess it is a moot point at the moment, but I wanted to put my experience, thoughts, and feelings into the mix. I am glad I am not alone in this and hope that someone else will find comfort in knowing that others feel the same way.

  22. So, I’m WAY late to this party — but am pretty much in the middle (16 weeks-ish) of doing what you want…ed to do a year ago. If you’re still thinking about it and want to chat, look me up! πŸ™‚ (Granted, I’m 34. Still! Your post resonates with a lot of what I’ve thought about in the last many years.)

  23. I always hate the you have heaps of time, no one knows how much time you have, me and my husband had our daughter when I was 22 (and he was 27), I now can’t have any more kids, and early menopause runs in the family, it may hit me then again it may not but there was no way we were going to take that risk by following everyone else’s advice of “you have heaps of time” especially when we are in a very good position financially and felt ready. So I say go for it follow your gut, (well uterus) you know yourself best and you know if you are ready.
    Good luck with your journey to parenthood πŸ™‚

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