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February 29, 2008

Single Mom Diaries: And Baby Makes Two

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MY MOM PICKED THE DONOR SPERM
By Tracy Connor

They say it takes a village to raise a child. In my case, it took a small army just to have one.

My mother picked the sperm. My best friend witnessed the conception. Another pal held my hand as I gave birth. Where was my husband? Trust me, there were moments when I wondered the same thing.

I'm what they call a single mother by choice, but at the time, it didn't feel like I had any choice at all. There I was at 37, with not even a Mr. Maybe in sight and a biological clock about to pop a spring. A glimpse of any baby left me dizzy with lust; I found myself resenting pregnant women.

One night, I had a heart-to-heart with my mother, who was dying of lung cancer. I told her I wanted a baby. Her eyes lit up, and she told me, "Having kids is the most important thing I ever did." I thought my father, a blue-collar tradesman in Brooklyn, would be a harder sell. But he didn't hesitate: "I can babysit!"

It was nice to have family support, but I was still daunted, afraid it was unfair to bring a child into a one-parent home. Would there be enough money, enough time, enough love? My mother put it in perspective. "What would you do if you were married and had a baby, and one day your husband walked outside and got hit by an anvil?"

Once the decision was made, the next step was to go sperm shopping. I logged on to the Website of a California bank known for rigorous standards and searched for the most important man I'd never meet. There was a database of hundreds of anonymous donors. It was a little like online dating, without the fear of rejection.

The selection process was shockingly arbitrary. I started by pulling Irish-American donors — I just figured the kid would have a better shot at looking like me. Then I culled prospects based on their profiles and essays, which detailed school grades, family health history, hobbies, talents, even favorite color.

Anyone who didn't cop to donating for the money got tossed on the trash heap. So did the guy with serial-killer handwriting. And the comic-book fan who reminded me of an ex I'd rather forget. I wasn't looking for blue-eyed blonds who lettered in three sports and played the violin. I gravitated to donors who said they laughed easily, liked to read, and loved their parents.

I narrowed it down to five and gave them to my mother. I knew she probably wouldn't live long enough to meet my baby, so I wanted her to be part of the process. She held up a Sears portrait of a toddler with apple cheeks and a bowl haircut. (The only photos of the donors available to customers were baby pictures.) "Him," she said. I whipped out my AmEx and charged $800 worth of sperm.

A few weeks later, I was lying on a table in a dimly lit examining room. "Ready?" the doctor asked. "I don't know," I said. "I just met the guy. It feels a little slutty." But I was ready. I had just ovulated, the sperm was defrosted, and I wasn't getting any younger. After three months and a plunge of the syringe, I was suddenly on my way to single momhood.

I kept the pregnancy a secret for months to avoid questions. I shouldn't have; barely anyone asked, although there was an awkward e-mail exchange with an ex-colleague.

"I didn't know that you were married," he wrote.

"I'm not," I replied, annoyed.

"Who's the father?" he pressed.

"I don't know his name," I shot back.

My pregnancy wasn't much different than anyone else's, although I went to a lot of doctor appointments alone and had to fetch my own ice cream and pickles. But friends filled the void left by my imaginary husband. One went to my first ultrasound; another won the coin toss to be in the delivery room.

When my daughter, Charlie, was born in June 2006, I thought to myself, I'm a mother. Not a single mother. Just a mother. The joy I felt was overwhelming, although when I looked at my baby's face, I wished desperately that my own mother, who'd died three months earlier, could have been there to see her.

In the first six months, the only time I gave my status much thought was when I applied for a passport for my daughter. In the box on the form for the father's name, I wrote "none." The clerk at the crowded post office couldn't fathom it. "Every child has a father!" she kept insisting. Finally, I shouted back, "Well, mine has a sperm donor!" The room fell silent.

Occasionally, when someone learns I'm a single mom, a note of pity creeps into their voice. But in some ways, I think I have it easier. There are no arguments about feeding, sleeping, or discipline. Of course, I haven't read a book or seen a movie — much less been on a date — in 18 months. But those frustrations fade every morning when I go to my daughter's crib, and she smiles and says, "Mama!" In those moments, all I can think is, I may be single, but I'm not alone.


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