I’m generally pretty lucky. I usually win at various lotteries, bingo, whatever. So I was pretty sure my fertility results, even though I’d been on birth control for decades and was 38 years old, were going to be top-notch. But I wasn’t a winner, I was a loser, I noted, as I read the words, undetectably low, on internet forums discussing my Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) test results: 0.16. Turns out my AMH level, which predicts one’s ability to produce eggs, is akin to that of a 50-year-old, maybe worse. A few months later, after eliminating birth control, 0.3 was where I ultimately landed—whereas the median level at my age is 1.5—giving me only slightly better odds. And as my endocrinologist told me, you’re supposed to complete your baby-making years by age 40.
I bought the Modern Fertility at-home kit with a promo code I got while listening to a Bachelor recap podcast, figuring I’d simply reinforce the fact that I had already won the fertility lottery. Life seemed to have gone my way until then, except in the romantic relationship category, and I always figured I’d become a later-in-life mom when I felt ready. I normally would have skipped the ad part of the podcast, but because I was bike riding, I let the chipper words of the podcasters sink in: get the results you need to make family planning decisions that fit your schedule…and get $20 off your first order! Somehow I was compelled to get off that bike and scribble down the promo code, beeline home to order the kit, and eventually start a to-do list.
Now the cursor is blinking back at me, looming at the end of the first line of the to-do list, beckoning me to hit delete, delete, delete. “Have a baby”. This line initiates, or annihilates, all the steps to follow. I always thought I wanted to have a baby, but now I might not have the choice to conceive. Scrolling through internet forums, I learn that a high AMH test result also forebodes IVF success rates, which would have allowed me to have a future baby, but that option is removed from consideration. I just turned 39 and Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI), the procedure which places sperm directly into the uterus, is now the only assisted reproductive option not eliminated from the list, but success rates for people in my age cohort are still only around 10%. And the downside is, you are immediately pregnant.
This brings me to the sperm. I bought sperm! I paid $2,000 for a young man of German, English and Cherokee heritage (like me), who is a doctor and on the taller side, to deposit his semen into precious vials that I can use to make half a baby. I work in sales, make decent money, but the financial worries of a one-income, one-parent life plan play a daunting factor in my decisions. Every six months I need to pay $600 to a Manhattan reproductive endocrinology clinic to keep those vials on ice – fancy ice, I snark. I might have put that plan into motion a bit too hastily.
If all the money and my shoddy odds align, how and where will I raise the kid? I live in Brooklyn with a roommate and her three pets where boxes of wine accumulate on the floor. And my mom’s dead, so my kid would have but one grandparent, a grandfather, who already told me he wouldn’t be able to help out, not emotionally, he said. He loves the idea of having his first grandchild, though, and a little one to carry on the family name no less.
I loved my mom like any daughter loves her mother, but we had a fraught relationship. She often told me when I was young, I hope you have a daughter just like you one day. I think now that she meant that motherhood wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be and I had disappointed her by not fitting the ideal mold. Her one life goal in her last decades was to become a grandmother, and she bestowed the responsibility on me, not on my brother, to fulfill that wish. When she got diagnosed with brain cancer a few years ago, one of her first remarks while sitting on the hospital bed was that she would not live to see her dream come true. Somehow the genetic aspect of me carrying on her dream post-mortem feels like a condemnation to repeat an inherited history.
I worry about giving my kid a semblance of family, being that I’m choosing not to give him or her a known father. Should I just plan on moving near my dad and his new wife, wherever they end up settling in the next year or so, and hope they will agree to babysit from time to time? Or, do I keep my chin up and take my baby somewhere nice, maybe in the countryside where childcare is cheap, and instead seek a community of unpartnered parents? Do I even need to plan this all out right now? Yes, I do. Time is ticking. Back to the list.
When to commence this 21st-century turkey-basting? I think I should do it in about a year, maybe less, I don’t know. Too many statistics and apprehensions wake me up in the morning, haunt me while scrolling through dating apps and smack me in the face while pondering the various versions of families that pass me in the streets. Would IUI work into my 40s if I wanted to wait just a little bit longer? Being ready to parent is trumped by mother nature. I really want to snap my fingers, fall in love and have a baby that way…but I haven’t been in a relationship in seven years and the one before that was an additional eight years prior, so, I don’t have a lot of luck in that department. The chance of me getting what I “really want” seems the least likely option of all. It didn’t even wind up on the shortlist.
I think my lack of relationships stems back to the one I had originally, with my mother and father, as trite as “they did this to me” sounds. I don’t easily accept love from those who love me, and I seek it from those who can’t give it. My endocrinologist even suggested that my low AMH levels could be attributed to a prolonged bulimia that I developed in my teen years, rejecting nourishment like I rejected entering adulthood. My dad was an airline and Air Force pilot and left my mom alone to take care of my older brother and me often. My mom was my entire world and I never thought I could love anyone more than I loved her. Could I love a baby that much?
Sometimes I think I made a deal with the devil in an alternate universe, that I begged him to erase the last ten years of my life that involved being in a relationship that ended in unspeakable suffering. Maybe I said, conjuring Satan, I would rather strike this love story from history and be sentenced to solitude instead. And here I am living the other life, single for so long because I believed this would be less painful than the gut-wrenching demise of true love – or maybe even the loss of a child. This dreamscape doesn’t help me reckon with the walls of my current reality. But since I can’t pinpoint my actual blockages, I cave to the thought of a devilish concoction of loneliness to avoid a different type of heartache.
I want to pursue adoption with gusto, but the more horror stories I’m subjected to on the topic, the more it sounds like the odds of getting a healthy baby in my arms are worse and more financially burdensome (perhaps even more emotionally daunting?) than if I gave artificial insemination a go. Friends have waited years on obscure lists or been told that the baby they were expecting to adopt was no longer “on the table”. I’d eventually look into donor eggs, at least until that didn’t work. I do like the idea of bonding for 9 months; that intense togetherness would truly make me a mom. I place more dollar signs next to this option.
Or could I be happy childless? Let’s go back a page. I think if I hit 45 and there are no children in my life, effectively turning the page on that chapter, I won’t live and work like everyone else, droning on and on at a useless job confined to one place. Wake up, go to sleep, and everything else done during the day that would be done alone. I only see the point of that monotonous existence in “older age” as a means to support a family environment. I made some money working overseas for ten years, so I could turn my savings into a private retirement fund instead, travel frugally, and make the most of my final decades. I could be meeting fascinating people in far-out cities instead of watching Disney shows and eating leftover mac and cheese. I can see myself drinking margaritas in Key West with few bills and no dependents to interrupt my joy. It sounds OK. Sort of.
I think having choices is the marker of a life well-lived. Choices are power. I chose to travel the globe and forgo a life of stability. I loved the newness of each country as it presented fresh possibilities to find something better. But with romantic relationships, I feel like it’s not my choice to be alone. Let me choose to be a modern woman who doesn’t want children, let me have the choice to reject a partnered life, let me decide when my mom dies and when my dad moves on. I want to flip between these alternate universes before I must make up my mind.
With or without a baby, I will continue to pursue real-life romantic relationships. I confidently put a check next to that box. Would a man want to raise the fatherless child that could be my offspring? Would being saddled with a kid repel someone who might have otherwise loved me with a little bit more ease? That pros and cons list is slanted towards the cons, I note regrettably. Is there even an end date to looking for love? I don’t think so, but would it actually be better for my mental health to stop trying to find a long-term, committed partner to share my life, hopes and parenting responsibilities with? Maybe. Something to reevaluate at, say, age 50. TBD.
When I tell friends about my dreams of sperm and baby concoctions, some ask, why don’t you just go out and have a one-night stand? Sounds easier and cheaper. Or, why not find a gay couple to make the baby with? It’s better for a kid to know both parents anyways. As if I hadn’t thought through these options already! A one-night stand surprise baby doesn’t line up with my puny egg reserves, for one, and co-parenting with strangers sounds like Russian roulette. Or, if I could snap my fingers twice, I’d take the rich gay couple that would raise the kid whenever I wanted my freedom, give it back when I felt like being a mother, “babysit” on the drop of a dime for free. Please, fertility gods, grant me this choice. All these options are true and wrong at the same time.
These are the possibilities as facts laid out before me that I choose to believe in right now. Back at the top, the flickering cursor is like a ticking time bomb of fertility, shame and happiness wrapped into one. I feverishly want to strike all the options from the page, except for the one that’s hiding in plain sight: the one that just wants to be loved.