When I turned 36, my best friend, Galia, who was married with three kids, said I should have a child on my own. I’d been complaining about the unavailability of men, and time running out. She reminded me of the one woman we knew in our town who had a baby on her own.
“That’s not for me,” I said.
When I was in high school, I never had a doubt I would have the perfect husband and two children who looked like us. I was definitely not that girl who has a baby alone.
But, as I got older and either I didn’t like the guy or the guy didn’t like me, I began to wonder if I’d end up alone and childless. At 34, I considered Match.com, but it was 2002 and online dating still felt pathetic, even dangerous. I went on a handful of dates but didn’t meet anyone I wanted to see again.
Galia suggested I go to Starbucks every morning at the same time. I’m a coffee on the couch girl, in PJs, with two graham crackers and nobody around. But, I tried it. After three weeks and $60 less in my wallet, I gave up.
Galia suggested I train for a triathlon to meet athletic men. For months, I got up at 5 a.m. to swim, bike and run. I met nobody.
Then one day, I was on the driving range, and there was a guy wearing a Greensboro Fire Department T-shirt and surf shorts. He was tall with ripped, rugged good looks. As he approached, I said, “You look like you’re looking for trouble.” He laughed.
There was something about him that seemed familiar that went beyond his wavy blond hair and mischievous green eyes. It turned out we had a friend in common.
We spent the next day on a friend’s boat, wrapped around each other. We didn’t separate until he left town the following day.
For weeks after, we talked on the phone, and I fell insanely hard. After four weeks, I went to Greensboro to visit Frank. The day I arrived, we played tennis. I was sure there had never been so much electricity on a tennis court. The next day, I met his daughter and envisioned driving her to first grade, preparing dinner for the family, kissing her good night. That night, I told him I loved him. I told him I never felt this way before. I told him I never wanted to leave and that I wanted kids … soon.
Two weeks later, he bailed. I’d scared him off.
Galia showed up at my house with a bottle of wine and a phone number. Galia is a matchmaker, so I thought she was trying to help me get over Frank by introducing me to someone else. She wasn’t. She knew how much I wanted to be a mom.
She said, “It’s time to call Dr. Thompson. She’s a fertility specialist.”
“I told you, that’s not for me. I want a husband, a dad for my kids,” I said.
Galia said, “You’re 36.”
“Even if you fall in love tomorrow,” she said. “It’ll take time for the relationship to develop, to get married, and have a child. And if the relationship doesn’t work out, you’ll be older and less fertile.”
“Whatever,” I said, shrugging her off.
“You want to have this same conversation at 40? Don’t be so judgy. Why do you care what people think?” she asked.
I laughed, feeling the effects of the wine, knowing she knew me better than anyone. Why do I care so much?
“Do you really want to miss having a child because you’re too afraid people will think that cute girl from high school is a loser?”
The more we drank and talked, the more I realized I wasn’t willing to gamble. I needed to do this now. By the time the wine was gone, I agreed to meet Dr. Thompson.
Three days later, I walked out of Dr. Thompson’s office with a link to the California Cryobank and a protocol for my first insemination.
The California Cryobank has a website that filters the donor search. I checked the boxes as if I were choosing Frank: 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, blond, fair skin, green eyes.
The donor selection process got me even more excited about having a baby. I envisioned the men as I read their profiles. I started to care less and less about what people would say. I began to admire women who take control of their lives and who ignore judgmental snobs, like me.
I read 27 profiles looking for the one. Nobody stood out. Nobody was Frank. At one point I called the Cryobank to find out whether they had any tennis players. The receptionist said, “We don’t filter for tennis.” Click.
Then I found him. He was from California, 6-foot-3, 185, fair-skinned, green eyes. He didn’t play tennis, but he loved surfing and swimming. His favorite subject was English. Under staff comments, it said, “The entire staff looks forward to seeing him.” They said he made them laugh, was humble, kind and easy to be around.
I bought 10 vials for $350 each.
A month later, I was inseminated.
The first insemination didn’t take. Dr. Thompson said, “It’s only a 25 percent chance, just like sex.” The second insemination resulted in an ectopic pregnancy, which felt like a sword fight in my belly. I was rushed into surgery. When I woke up, the embryo was gone.
After the ectopic, I cried a lot and felt sorry for myself. I can’t find a husband, now this?
I was angry at the world, mad at my friends with husbands and babies, and irate I had to wait three months before I could try again.
Dr. Thompson suggested in vitro fertilization, (IVF). IVF bypasses the fallopian tubes, which in my case, were clogged. IVF costs $12,000. Twelve times more expensive than insemination, but I was determined to have a baby.
Six weeks and many invasive procedures later, Galia and I sat in the office waiting room afraid to be too confident, but sure I’d been through enough. Today was my day. I tapped my foot on the floor, twirled my hair and pretended to read a parenting magazine.
As we walked to Dr. Thompson’s office, I took deep breaths. I glanced at the walls: pictures of babies. My baby will be up there soon. Dr. Thompson stood when I walked in, her face lit up.
Over the years, Dr. Thompson would say that two more times.
Now my kids are 8, 11 and 13. I used every last vial of sperm. They are playing in the backyard outside my office window. The slip-n-slides are out, two hoses going strong. They are loud, and I’ve heard them drop the f-word about 30 times. I am tempted to shut down their language, but they are laughing and sliding and getting along. Nobody has picked up a decaying mango and pegged a sibling. Yet.
My daughter’s wearing her new blue and pink bathing suit. She has blue eyes, blond hair, is tall, lean and athletic. Having two brothers has made her resilient. My older son looks just like her: same body, same hair, same eyes. People say they look like me. He loves golf. Neither loves tennis.
My little guy has reddish blond hair, green eyes and is covered in freckles. The only sport he likes is walking, with his mom, so he can be alone with me. He also likes art and gets in trouble for his bad temper, just as I did. He often asks my male friends to be his dad. I cringe knowing I am able to give him everything else but that.
As the kids towel off, they argue about who has to clean up. They’re hungry, want dinner, and are already fighting about who gets to sit next to me on the couch. It’s only me, still only me.
I’m 50. I imagined there would be a man in my life by now. There have been visitors, but nobody permanent to co-parent with. When I reveal my situation to other moms, they say, “Good for you” or “I wish I’d done that.” I smile, feeling admired, not condemned.
Later, I get a call, “Will you talk to my sister? She’s 39 and single and wants a baby.” I get this call all the time.
Galia is divorced now and dating online. We often wonder why we can’t find love — if we’re too difficult, too old, too picky or if there are any available great men. I think about how different my life would be without my three kids, and I’m grateful I did more than wonder.
Allison Langer is a Miami native, photographer and a single mom to her three children. Her stories and her voice can be heard on Writing Class Radio, a podcast she co-produces.