It’s a few weeks before my 35th birthday, and I’m staring at a shelf filled with dozens of pale-colored pamphlets with titles like Donor Insemination: A Guide for Patients, Egg Freezing, Using Donor Eggs; Adoption: A Guide for Patients; and Single Mothers by Choice.
“So you’re having trouble having a baby?” asks Dr. Mindy Schiffman, the psychotherapist sitting across the room from me.
“Yes,” I say, turning my gaze away from the pamphlets and back toward her. But then I correct myself. “Well, not exactly. I haven’t even had sex in four months. I just know that I want to have a baby.”
She looks at me quizzically; she’s clearly perplexed. I feel a warm flush of embarrassment rising on my cheeks. I wonder if she thinks I’m unhinged, if I’m the only woman who has ever shown up at her office in such a state.
“I’m still single,” I explain to Dr. Schiffman. I don’t want to have a baby right now, but ever since my last relationship ended, the pressure has been growing to find Mr. Right. It hasn’t happened yet, and I feel it’s time to consider my options. I recently had a dream in which I was sitting at a large banquet table with my entire extended family. Even my dead grandmother was there, sitting next to my father. I was apologizing to all of them for taking so long to pass along the family genes.
I tell Dr. Schiffman about a conversation I had with a friend at a dinner party. At 39 she had just become engaged but was nervous about getting married. Part of her believed her husband might not always be in her life. But she had decided to take the plunge anyway because, she explained, she didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to have a child. “A child is permanent,” she said.
I was taken aback by her comment and surprised that her craving for more stability made her want to get married — not because she believed in the permanence of the institution but because she wanted to commit to having a child with someone.
In an age when the divorce rate is so high, many people feel that love and commitment are either fleeting or incompatible, or both. And children can seem like an answer. In a study of single women in their twenties, Harvard sociologist Kimberly DaCosta found that the romantic desire for a baby has replaced the craving for the intimacy of a relationship. Her study concluded that these women imagine the role of mother as a state of permanence and unconditional love.
I don’t know whether this is the reason I’m more focused on motherhood — and now, in a Manhattan office, talking to a doctor about freezing my eggs — but in the past few years I, too, have begun to feel more of a need for permanence.
What I do know as I stand teetering on the brink of “advanced maternal age” is that I need to think about how I’m going to get to where I want to be.
“You’re feathering the nest,” says Dr. Schiffman, explaining that by asking these questions I’m taking my first step toward preparing to become a mother. “I think all women your age who want to have a child should do this — even if they’re not in a relationship.”
As I talk more with Dr. Schiffman, I become increasingly aware of the many choices I have. I can become a single mother through donor insemination before I lose my fertility and before my right love comes along. Or I can wait for my love to come along, gambling that he will appear soon enough that I will still be able to become pregnant naturally. But if I’m not able, there are several reproductive technologies — including fertility drugs, in vitro fertilization — that may help. And even if I discover I can no longer conceive with my own eggs, I might be able to use a donor egg, or adopt. All these options are costly, both financially and emotionally; reproductive technology is for the privileged and the strong. Although insurance does cover some procedures, a lot of limitations and out-of-pocket expenses exist.
And so here I am. I’m on firm ground in my identity and career, and I’m free to go anywhere I want. But now, just shy of my 35th birthday, this is where I’ve chosen to go: a fertility therapist’s office, where I’m staring at pamphlets about egg-freezing and single motherhood. Here I am, thinking, I might. I might become a mother.
Fast-forward to 2015. That day in the office was 10 years ago. I’m now 45 years old and writing the second edition of my book In Her Own Sweet Time: Egg Freezing and the New Frontiers of Family. Since that first meeting with Dr. Schiffman, a lot has changed on the fertility front: egg freezing is no longer considered experimental by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, and the procedure is now covered by many health insurance plans, including those at major corporations such as Google, Facebook, and Apple.
Single motherhood by choice has become downright mainstream. Women are now more than ever speaking out about their fertility challenges and new options for family planning. The latest Time magazine article to make the Facebook rounds among my cohort of career-minded friends, most over the age of 35 when they had children, was headlined “Older Mothers Tend to Live Longer, Study Finds.”
In In Her Own Sweet Time’s second edition, I’ve updated the story of my own efforts to reconcile modern love with modern life with the latest medical, technological, and social science research. I tell the story of how I came to get my eggs frozen — and, ultimately, my decision to get pregnant on my own as what I call a DIY mom.
I briefly considered trying to have a baby with an ex but ultimately decided it was a better choice to get pregnant with a sperm donor. I decided that I had the rest of my life to find my true love, and my hope would be that this man would understand my choice and also become the father of my child.
In this journey, I’ve seen so many different types of happy endings that it's taught me to have the faith and patience that my version will truly unfold in its own way, on its own timeline.