Joy McFadden[1]

I was stuck. By night I dreamt of a grassy yard to romp in with my dogs and blooming trees to lie under. By day I patrolled the gray halls of an aging Boston hospital. Skyrocketing property taxes and a demanding job conspired to keep me pale, cramped, and stuck. And, of course, there was the dull ache that throbbed every time I considered my prospects for marrying and having a family. “Stuck” didn’t even begin to describe that. Try “nailed to the floor.” I finally understood

something I’d heard my father mumble after an especially trying day: “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

In the spring of 1995, I finally mustered the strength to pry myself loose. I bought a house with a yard and trees twenty minutes from the hospital. What more could I ask for? Even before I unpacked, I remember seeing a small crowd of people two doors down the street. They were clustered around tables decorated with colorful streamers and balloons. The smoking barbecues told me it was a block party. I wandered over. Adults introduced themselves while I snacked on chips and salsa. Before long I gave up trying to figure out who lived where and with whom and whether the kids being pointed out were their children or their stepchildren, from the first marriage or the second, and who was straight, gay, or whatever. What I really remember was the surprise I felt as that stuck feeling snuck up again and grabbed me as I walked back to my own house alone.

I began to think about single motherhood seriously in my mid-thirties. My friends would tell me what a terrific parent I would make, and I guess I agreed. But the missing ingredient was a relationship. I didn’t have prospects of getting mar­ried. Dates became more infrequent as my girlfriends ran out of men to introduce me to—that was the way I used to meet men. The last of my friends seemed to be getting married just to have children. It wasn’t clear to me that these relationships were going to be long-lasting ones because the goal didn’t necessarily seem to be to find a soul mate—someone to be happy with for the rest of your life. But instead it was “My biological clock is ticking and I need to have a child” and “I can’t do it without having somebody.” I felt that wasn’t the right decision for me. To look for a man to father a child, as opposed to looking for someone who would be right for me, wasn’t the same decision. A new crop of men appeared on the dat­ing scene: divorced with children. They were looking for companions, but they didn’t want more children. I couldn’t make these kinds of marriage compromises.

I realized that if I didn’t do something soon, I would remain everybody’s favorite aunt. I would always regret never having tried to have children. Whereas if I took the plunge and tried to do it myself, however hard that would turn out to be, I couldn’t imagine regretting becoming a mom. Work had never been enough. But I wondered: could I have a career and a child without a man?

I chose the occasion of a Sunday dinner to reveal my plan to my parents. It was important to me to have my parents’ approval. My mom is a good sounding board, and she always makes me feel okay about my decisions. She’d stopped asking me about my social life years ago. Every once in a while I told her that I wondered if I would ever meet a man to marry, and even though she didn’t have to say it to me, I blew she was concerned that I would never be a mom. As the quintessential homemaker, her kids were her whole life.

That particular evening I approached my mom with a career situation because it seemed easier than blurting out what was really on my mind. I wasn’t sure how my mom would react to my secret. We started our usual kitchen talk with the job offer I’d received that week. We were talking about “Should I do it?

Shouldn’t I?” and I said, “Well, the money is a little better, the hours aren’t quite as good, I’d be more in demand,” and then I added, “You know, I guess one piece of the decision has to do with whether I have decided for sure that I will never have kids.”

She put up her hand and said, “Well, I hope you haven’t decided that.”

I blanched. I had to sit down and set aside the vegetable peeler. I calmed down and said, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking about having a baby. I can’t wait for a man anymore.”

Surprisingly to me, because my mother is really rather conservative, espec­ially in terms of social issues, she was very supportive of the idea. At first my mom looked startled by her own words of support, but then she smiled. She said, “I really think you’ll be a terrific mother. And I want you to have a child. I don’t want you to miss out on the best part of life and the most important part of being a woman.” I bit my lip at the last part. This was not the time to debate genera­tional differences. Moreover, I felt terrific that she took what I was saying so well. While I stood there a bit dumbfounded, she refilled our wineglasses. We toasted my future.

My mom told the news to my dad that evening after I had gone home. Even though I’d always talked to him about work, this was not something I felt I could tell him directly. She called me later and reported, “Your father was really shocked.”

“Well,” I said, “frankly, I’m less surprised about that than I am that you weren’t.”

And then my mom said, “He walked out of the room, and then walked back two minutes later and said, ‘I could be a grandfather again.’” That was that. He was fully behind the idea after that point. And I began to feel more settled with the idea of becoming a mom on my own. I passed up the job offer.

I’d decided early on that I wanted the pleasure of actually going through a pregnancy. But I knew I needed to think carefully about whether I should try to know who was going to be the father. I asked a couple of male friends to be sperm donors, and when two agreed, I was inclined to have a known donor. My cousin, however, pointed out the possible legal risks a known donor could present, and I have to admit that chilled me. But I was not willing to totally reject the idea. I came up with an interesting alternative: a quasi-known donor. Since two male friends had volunteered, I would mix their sperm together—not unlike what I’d heard infertile couples sometimes do when the husband has a fertility problem. As a medical professional, I knew that a DNA test could ultimately tell who the genetic father was, but at least for a while I would have the benefit of knowing who the men were without involving them beyond their obvious contributions.

Still, my cousin’s legal caution haunted me. And in the end, I could not imagine having a known donor who was not also a dad to my child. So I decided upon an anonymous donor. The only place for me to find an anonymous donor and be inseminated at the same time was an infertility clinic. I felt slightly out of

place among the infertile couples, because while I did not have a man to become pregnant by, there was no indication that I had fertility problems. After three tries, a miscarriage, and then another try, I became pregnant.

Six weeks after the birth of my daughter I had the first thoughts of having a second child. I was taking a walk, it was a lovely summer day, I was pushing her along in her stroller. And I was thinking to myself, looking down at this absolutely gorgeous baby: “This was supposed to be the be-all and end-all event. This was supposed to complete my life. Whatever else happened, it was going to be perfect to have been blessed to have had this one child.” And I looked down and I said, “You know, I adore you, but if the world were a different place, I would have many more of you.” It was clear to me that I would obviously never do this again, unless this time I happened to meet somebody and marry before the time frame ran out when I could do it physically.

I actually had never particularly put aside the idea of finding somebody, my thought being that without a time pressure there was more likelihood. And of course, anyone that I would meet would have to love kids anyway, so what differ­ence would it make that there was already a child? So I said, “Well, of course, I can’t do this again by myself.” And that’s the end of that.

Just before my fortieth birthday I returned to the infertility clinic. Finding a man to marry had still not happened. I knew I had the energy for a second child. So why not? I wanted my daughter to have a brother or a sister to give her more family.

The infertility clinic told me that they usually advise couples to put away additional sperm from the original donor for a second child. But because I was a single woman no one had thought to recommend this. The original donor was unavailable and for a few fleeting moments I thought, “Gee, they will only be half siblings,” but then I said to myself, “It doesn’t make any difference. I will only try for six months. Not very likely.” Well, this time I became pregnant on the first try.

When I brought the baby home from the hospital my daughter, then almost four years old, came over and said, “Can I give you a hug?” And I said sure. And she said, “How about a family hug?” So she hugged both of us and she said, “You know, Mom, now we’re a family.” So for her, it was somehow the addition of a second child that really made a big difference. I, too, felt my family was now complete.