BEB: So, I want to be a mother.
Me: Hmmm … are you involved with someone you’re not telling me about?
BEB: Nope. I’ve been looking for a sperm donor.
Me: You’ve been looking … What?! Sperm donor? Are you serious?
BEB: Yes. I want to be a mother, and now’s the time.
Me: Uhhhm … really? You want to be a single mom?
BEB: Yeah, there are all kinds of sperm donation catalogues. It didn’t work the last time, so I’m going to try again.
Me: Last time? You’ve done it before?
BEB: Yeah, but it didn’t take, so I’m going to try again.
BEB continues talking about what kind of donor she is looking for, and how she’s preparing (physically, financially, how she’s going to renovate her house, etc etc. And it’s all I can do to stop myself from blurting out really insensitive, dumb comments; and utter the neutral, non-judgmental and supportive things I hope she would say to me if I were doing something really important to me, which I knew she disapproved of.
Fast forward one year. Haven’t seen BEB since our last conversation. This isn’t surprising, since we live in different cities, are both very busy, and generally only get together a couple times a year. I receive an email birth announcement with pictures of a beautiful baby.
Fast forward another year. I still haven’t seen BEB since our last conversation. However, she’s invited me to Baby’s first birthday. And, despite knowing that I’ll be a stranger among a sea of her other friends, I want to, and do, go.
I was reminded of an episode of This American Life, 183: The Missing Parents Bureau, which focused on absent parents. In Case 1: Better Left to the Imagination , the focus is on single women who use sperm bank specimens to get pregnant. Generally, these are professional women, who don’t have or anticipate a mate in their lives, but are ready to be mothers. It’s always been hard for me to understand why women would do this. Parenthood seems hard enough when there are two parents, without throwing single (and single income) parenthood into the mix. If there’s an accident, divorce, death or desertion, of course it’s necessary to be a single parent. But I just couldn’t understand why anyone would go to such lengths to be a single parent. After listening to the program, I was decidedly more sympathetic towards those who have such a strong desire to be mothers.
What I see at the birthday party disarms me. Of course, BEB’s living in the same house that she bought before she ever had Baby. It’s still the same inviting and comfy place in a quiet suburban neighborhood. And when I go into the back yard, the place is decked to the nines with pirate garb, a children’s activity table, and nice people enjoying a casual meal. BEB looks the same. And yet, different. She has a settled and satisfied air, as if she’s contented now that she has found a purpose and person in which to deposit her large store of love, kindness and creativity. Baby is healthy, happy, curious and charming. All of BEB’s family is in from out of town … a family reunion celebrating several big events in the next few months. It made me happy to see them doing so well. I’m sure it won’t be all smooth trails in the life ahead, but I think their lives will have an abundance of joy.
Nowadays, the concept of bearing children seems very far away. As I explained to my gynecologist (who couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around a celibate, thirty-something, single heterosexual woman in LA), I’m not involved with anyone I would want to have children with. And while it occasionally makes me feel sad, it’s not something that I find fruitful to dwell on. And really, I’ve never experienced acute baby hunger. I’m not an aggressive baby fanatic … I don’t like to hold unconsolable children, and I don’t go out of my way to be with children who don’t want to be with me. But I like children. I work with them professionally. I like babysitting my nephews, and playing with my friends’ children. And I always thought that I’d have a couple of my own someday.
Indeed, this idea that I should and would have children, is something that I’ve been raised with my whole life. As LDS women, we’re told that motherhood is natural, and the culminating point of our existence here on earth. And I’m parroted at by orthodox members that women don’t need the priesthood because we’re destined to be mothers. And that even if it doesn’t happen in this mortal existence, it will happen in the after-life. And, in order to make them go away as soon as possible, I take the coward’s choice and just smile and nod.
But every once in a while, I do long to be a mother. It’s not very often. But there are times when I think that it would be deeply satisfying to raise a child, to have someone to lavish love upon, to nurture and teach and tend. Most times I fulfill these desires by trying to be good to those around me, at home and work, and it’s generally enough. But sometimes it’s not. And it’s at those times that I wonder about someday, when I’m more settled, becoming a foster or adoptive mother to a child in need. It’s a new idea to consider.
And so I wonder and I ponder. How do other single LDS women deal with singleness and childlessness, and the prospect that what we were taught in YW’s just may not be in the cards for every LDS woman? How do women in infertile marriages deal with not being to have and raise your own children? What about those who are working with a fertility specialist in order to get pregnant? How does it feel to grapple with something that seems so easy in the general, but so challenging on the personal level? For those remarkable people who do foster care or adopt, what have your experiences been? For those who have given up their child to another couple, how do you deal with not being with your child? Would you make the decision, given the benefit of retrospection.