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My son looks nothing like me. I guess that’s why strangers cooing over his cuteness sometimes ask if he looks like his dad. “I don’t know,” I reply. “I never met the man.” Only the first part is a lie. The truth is, he looks exactly like the donor I used to conceive him.
Deciding to become a single mom was not my Plan A (shocking, I know). My Plan A was the plan that Disney inculcates into most young girls: meet Mr. Right (who is perfect); fall in love (preferably in Paris); post annoyingly adorable photos of coupledom on Facebook; get married; have kids, live long and prosper. Plan A, I thought, would make me happy. I have yet to hear a young girl look wistfully at her parents and say, “When I grow up, I want to have a baby using a sperm donor.” (And Disney isn't likely to turn that storyline into a fairy tale.)
In fact, conceiving with donor sperm wasn’t even my Plan B. I first tried to adopt. While I waited, my biological clock was ticking louder every day as I edged closer to the fertility cliff of 40. I tried to ignore it. Plan A was very hard to give up, and ultimately my biological imperative trumped. I decided to go through the miserable process of choosing a donor.
As I delved into the mysterious world of sperm donors, I was also still on an online dating site. That was weird. You select a donor the same way you choose a date – by reading their profiles, clicking through their stats and ogling their photos. Some of the characteristics you are willing to accept on one site are red flags on the other: a guy who lives with his mom? Donor – fine. Date – definitely not fine. A 19-year-old? Donor – fine. Date – definitely not fine. Donors are commonly 19 or 20 years old. To get over my “ewww” reaction to the idea of procreating with a freshman, I chose an older donor. He is open-ID, which means that his offspring are able to get his contact information after they turn 18.
I made the purchase (of sperm, not a date) and waited for the paper bag to arrive in the mail. Kidding. It’s sent directly to the fertility clinic for the “big day.” Then I sat with a glass of red wine and cried – because it just wasn’t fair that I had to pay to get myself pregnant when 16-year-olds got pregnant for free every day. Ridiculous? Yes. But we’re all entitled to our pity parties from time to time.
The whole process after that was very clinical, which bothered me every step of the way. There were umpteen blood tests and ultrasounds, clinic visits and voice messages reporting numbers like sports scores (progesterone 19; estrogen 25; follicles in right ovary 6; follicles in left ovary 7). Despite having chosen to venture down this new path, I still found plenty of things to cry and worry about: whether I’d chosen the wrong donor, whether this child would hate me for not giving him/her a dad, whether this was all a huge mistake.
More than anything, I grieved the death of Plan A. The very last time I cried about that was just after the doctor left the treatment room, having just finished the insemination. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. There was supposed to be romantic music, luxurious bedsheets, a wonderful man and at least 15 minutes of fun! Instead, I got a 60-year-old doctor, a catheter, awful lights that illuminated every globule of cellulite, and two minutes of discomfort. My best friend held my hand and consoled me. (Yet another thing that wasn’t in Plan A: my best friend being in attendance when I conceived.)
My son is now 2, and all of that agony seems like ancient history. He is the very best part of my life and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I have a great career, wonderfully supportive friends and family, a comfortable home – but this little man, he is my ultimate joy. So now, when I think back on all that heartache, I ask myself: Why was I so emotionally distraught over the whole thing? Why was it so hard to accept that even though my life wasn’t going to look like the one I had envisaged I would still be happy?
Dan Gilbert is a Harvard professor who wrote a book on how to predict your future happiness. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but he basically says that the only way to determine if something will bring you joy is to ask someone who recently obtained that same something how they are feeling about it. If you think buying that new outfit will make you happy, go ask a bunch of people who just got new outfits if they are happier now. Apparently, strangers who are similarly situated are better predictors of our future happiness than we are.
According to Gilbert, then, I might have spared myself the heartache by speaking with other single-moms-by-choice who would have told me they were happy and it all turned out fine. Would I have accepted their word for it? Probably not – which is why Gilbert thinks we’re doomed to keep deluding ourselves about what will make us happy. But who knows, maybe someone reading this will think: Hey, no need to freak out over the demise of Plan A! The alternatives can turn out fantastically well.
Easily said, I know. I still have to remind myself that any life plans should be set out in pencil, and always with an eraser nearby. Because, like so many of the most wonderful things in life, my son is the best plan I never made.
Noemia Antunes is a pseudonym for an essay writer who lives in Toronto.