The simple answer is, not much different to being any other mother.
We all spam our Facebook feed with pictures of adorable newborns, food-covered weaning babies and exuberant toddlers. We all tell tales of sleepless nights and bodies that are never the same again. We all scan the parks and baby groups for the sight of someone else who is barely existing on three hours sleep and whose baby won’t eat anything but bread and ice cream on a continuous loop.
There is more that unites us than divides us.
There are, of course, other single mothers, and single fathers too. Women and men who lost their partners, who were widowed, abandoned or more commonly, whose relationships simply didn’t go the distance. We are not a small group, us single mothers.
Then there’s me, the single mother by choice.
I have met other women in my situation, but only by looking for them; by joining online and offline groups of people who decided that donor conception was right for them. We seem to be growing in number, but that may just be my perception, skewed by media interest and by my own efforts to find like-minded women.
I don’t tend to bump into other single mothers by choice in the park. We are still few in number, and a matter of curiosity to others. Why did you do it? How did you do it? How did you choose the “father”? Am I allowed to call him the “father”? Good for you! I’d have done the same if I hadn’t met my husband. That’s all very modern, isn’t it?
I can still remember when I first learned of donor conception. I was fifteen years old. It was the mid-nineties, and I was a Year 10 student doing GCSE coursework on Medical Ethics. I found myself drawn to the topic of assisted reproduction as my chosen field of study. It felt at once both completely alien to me and my teenage inexperience, but at the same time highly relevant, a symbol of the increasing choices that women had, the feeling that the world was my oyster, and my destiny was there for the taking. It’s easy to say now that I must have had some premonition of what lay ahead, but the reality was probably more that learning about the many and complex issues surrounding the still-new topic of assisted reproduction sounded difficult in comparison to the age-old topics of contraception and abortion that most of the class had chosen, and that were amply covered in the textbook, and I relished the challenge of learning about something new.
Upon learning that there were women who chose to conceive on their own with donor sperm, I considered it briefly, and quickly pushed the thought aside as a kind of hideous last resort for the old, the unlovable and undesirable. Surely that wasn’t me.
But as I grew older the thought of taking control, of not leaving my desire for motherhood to the cruel hand of fate and chance, became more seductive.
It wasn’t until I was 32 that I even considered it. Still young, for a single mother by choice. For many the decision itself takes years of deliberation, and a level of acceptance needs to be reached that the time is up for finding the right man; the perfect father to our children that we all dreamed of. Following an unplanned but hardly unusual first trimester miscarriage that felt to me like a warning signal from above, a reminder that I needed to get on with it if I didn’t want to be child-free in perpetuity and not by choice, I started to look into my options, and had some fertility tests. The results were not catastrophic, but neither were they reassuring. I needed to get my metaphorical skates on.
I am an impulsive person. Perhaps this has served me well. Perhaps it has not, depending on one’s personal viewpoint. I can make a life-changing decision in the time it takes most people to make a cup of tea. In my case, there was very little deliberation. Once I knew that sperm banks existed, they were almost affordable, give or take a bit of liberty with the credit card; and before my previous miscarriage, I had already confronted the reality of being a single parent and found it not hideous, nothing could change my mind. I was doing this.
I was lucky. I was certainly not young in childbearing terms, but I was far from ancient, and with a decent clinic I conceived on my first cycle of IVF.
And so I became a Single Mother by Choice. And to my eternal surprise, I am not only accepted by those who went down a more conventional path, but I have more in common with them than I do many of my child-free friends. We are on this journey together, this journey of parenthood with all its many highs and lows. Unlike the other single parents I know, I don’t have a co-parenting relationship to navigate with someone with whom my romantic relationship has irretrievably broken down. That is a bonus. My decisions are mine to make, and mine only. I also have the fear; a fear that is usually well hidden but occasionally surfaces. The fear that as a donor-conceived person, my child will feel different; that he will resent me for the decision I have made. And given the newness of our situation, the untried nature of donor conception and the constantly evolving laws that govern its use, it is impossible to say what he, and others like him, will think of their origins. They may not care, and see it as their normal, something that has never affected their lives. Or on the other hand they may be tracking down the donor and demanding a lifetime’s worth of birthday presents.
I do not know what the future holds. But I do know that I love my son and I hope my love will be enough for him. And the rest is in the hands of that cruel mistress Fate again. Families are all different, and so are individuals. I just have to be the best mother I can be, and hope that my best is good enough.
This post also appeared on the Huffington Post as part of their Thriving Families series.