‘Everything would change between us,’ he said. I didn’t want to wait to be in a relationship.’: Single mom by choice shares high-risk pregnancy journey

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“My story starts in 2016. I was fresh out of Vassar College with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with no idea how I was going to use it. So, at 22 years old, I began working at Dell as a call center agent. I was making the most money I’d ever made, I had my own apartment, a cat, and nothing but time. I spent it trying to fill a void inside of myself through dating, casual sex, and working to make my home feel like a sanctuary.

A Black woman sits in a chair wearing sunglasses and large earrings
Courtesy of Cierra

My stability was tangible, but mentally, I was yearning for something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Looking back on it now, I was searching for my purpose, and I didn’t know how to find it, so I just experienced everything hoping something would grab me, inspire me, and make me change. What I experienced were mental acrobatics in my relationships with men and a much-needed examination of my self-worth.

At first, I dated to find love or some semblance of it. Then, after experiencing a short-lived stint with a 30-year-old man who left me feeling dickmatized and embarrassed, I changed my perspective. I began to date for power. The need to gain control again to remind myself I’m a catch was immense. I called this time in my life a hoe phase. Relationships I formed with men during this time were intentionally based on the fact I knew it would be short-term, useful for me, and beneficial to them as well. I made connections with people, dated, and ghosted them before doing it all again.

Eventually, it took a toll on my wellbeing; I was spreading my energy thin. I chose celibacy after that. I had been fired from Dell and was working as a manager at a fast-food restaurant. The significant drop in pay as well as the toxic workplace were constant reminders of where I did not want to be. This was when the yearning I had felt before became clear, and at 24 years old, I realized I was seriously considering the idea of single motherhood for my life.

A woman in a white shirt takes a selfie in a chair
Courtesy of Cierra

It wasn’t a far-fetched idea to me. I was raised by a single mother. She was married to my father for a decade before they divorced when I was five. She raised my two older sisters and me by herself and made sure we went to somebody’s college. My oldest sister was also a single mother to her child who I helped raise too. Being an aunt certainly emboldened my desire to be a mother regardless if I was married, in a relationship, or single.

It was during this time I consciously made the effort to research what it would take to be a single mother on my income as well as resources available to me if I couldn’t find a job that paid enough. When the moment came to tell my mother about my thoughts to become a single mom by choice, we were at the same fast food restaurant I was working at as a manager. She sighed deeply after I laid everything out to her. She told me it was going to be hard. I told her she was my role model. She sighed deeply again and said, ‘Okay.’ My mother’s approval was the only one I truly wanted. My plans remained a secret from everyone else except my family.

My method of finding a donor was natural for me. The only option I considered was to ask someone to be my donor. Luckily for me, the donor I chose happened to be a coworker of mine. He was understanding about my desire to become a mother and to raise my child alone. He already had a daughter too. The more I got to know him and his family, the more I felt he was a great candidate. The idea of my child receiving half of his DNA made me smile. More importantly, I perceived he wouldn’t be the kind of person to randomly want to take me to court to fight for custody.

I told my donor the idea of raising a child on my own was appealing to me. I didn’t want to wait to be in a relationship with someone, risk it not working out, and end up as a single mother. I said, ‘Will you help me have a baby I will raise on my own?’ My donor was hesitant at first. He said, ‘Everything would change between us.’ I told him, ‘Of course it would, but this is what I want.’ From there, he agreed, and I reiterated to him there would be no expectations for him to be in the baby’s life, and if he wanted to be involved, it would need to be planned out. With him already having a child, it was understood that child was his priority, and the child I was going to have was mine.

I was looking for better jobs while considering donors, and when I finally left the fast-food restaurant, I was already 2 months pregnant in January 2018. I spent another 2 months job hunting while attending a parenting class by myself. Thankfully, my family was able to support me financially during that time. At 5 months pregnant, I landed my current job of 3 years working for the State of Oklahoma.

My pregnancy was great, I would definitely do it again. The times I wished I had someone there were towards the end when I was bigger, and it was harder to do things myself. I loved getting notifications from a baby app telling me each week what size my baby was and what new part of her body or mind had developed. I didn’t have a maternity shoot, but I documented my pregnancy the entire way through journaling and pictures. Eventually, I announced my pregnancy on social media when I had a nice baby bump, and the reception was warm and supportive.

A pregnant woman looks out the blinds of her window
Courtesy of Cierra

My doctor called me an hour following my ultrasound appointment after I found out I was having a daughter. With care, she advised me my pregnancy was high risk due to my child having an abnormality. When I asked her what kind of abnormality, she said, ‘It’s called gastroschisis, and she will be born with her intestines outside of her body.’ My daughter would be required to stay in the NICU until she recovered. She went on to tell me she would no longer be my doctor, and I would need to finish my pregnancy under the recommended care of doctors at OU Medical.

When I found out she would be born with gastroschisis, I cried my eyes out, researched the birth defect, and watched a ton of YouTube videos of other couples who experienced their child having gastroschisis. Sienna’s head doctor at OU educated me on the different ways gastroschisis has been corrected in the past and for my daughter, his plan was to do a sutureless surgery. He felt it was possible for her to heal without receiving anesthesia and getting surgery. Thankfully, he was familiar with the process, having done it before and having witnessed the success of the method.

Sadness, confusion, and guilt swept over me after I received the news. I read so many journal articles on gastroschisis for a better understanding of what my daughter would endure and what caused it. Nothing concrete was given, they chalked it up to the occurrence being more prevalent if you were young, Black, and poor. I prayed her intestines weren’t getting damaged while they were floating in my amniotic fluid during my entire pregnancy. I prayed her NICU stay would be as short as possible. I prayed she would be born alive.

On July 18, 2018, one month before my expected due date, my daughter was delivered through an emergency C-section after a routine prenatal checkup. I was told my amniotic fluid was dangerously low. My baby had been in breach for more than a month, and with her having gastroschisis, the doctors determined she needed to be delivered that day. I sat in the hospital for 8 hours waiting for my turn in the operating room.

My family was at work, but my donor’s mother stayed with me while I waited. To ease my nerves of entering motherhood so abruptly, I mainly slept and thought about how my life was about to change completely. When the doctors had secured her intestines in plastic and wrapped her up, one of them brought her to me to see while I still laid on the operating table. The words I spoke to her were, ‘Hey, baby. This is me, this is your mommy. You’re so beautiful.’ She attempted to open her eyes when I spoke. I felt an enormous wave of love wash over me, and I cried a little. I watched her be carried out of the room and knew the next time I’d see her would be in the NICU. My donor was present for the birth of our baby, although he was late and almost missed it.

A baby wrapped in a blanket sucks on a pacifier
Courtesy of Cierra

I named my daughter Sienna Joy. She has my last name only. Her middle name is my mother’s, and I chose Sienna because of the color it represents as well as it’s similarities to my name, Cierra. I always loved the color of Sienna and thought it to be a beautiful name. She stayed in the NICU for 29 days before being released to go home on August 16, 2018. Her stay in the NICU felt like the toughest part of my journey entering motherhood; however, holding her for the first time was magical. I was in awe of her, inspecting every part of her. I kissed her all the time. She was covered in wires, but holding her brought me so much joy and peace. I held her as often as I could to familiarize her with my heartbeat, smell, and energy.

At one point, the doctors wanted to operate on Sienna to close the hole in her stomach after her intestines were placed back in her body using a silo bag. The idea of my daughter getting put under anesthesia when she was not even a month old scared me, and I was worried. Thankfully, her main doctor decided to keep with the direction of a suture-less surgery to heal her wound. During her stay in NICU, my emotional well-being was scattered. I would be elated and at peace when I was with her and depressive and guilty when I wasn’t. My family once again was my support system during that time. Sometimes, I would randomly break out into tears while we would be out spending time with each other. I missed my child and felt like I wasn’t a real mother because I didn’t have her with me.

The day I learned I would be able to take her home was after spending 16 hours in the hospital including staying overnight. Sienna needed to poop in order for the doctors to believe her intestines were working properly. That morning as I was about to leave, I checked her diaper, and she had left one solid turd. I knew she was coming home that day, if not that week, and I was correct. I screamed in joy on the ride home and called all my family to let me know to get ready!

A baby girl with curly hair wearing a red outfit
Courtesy of Cierra

The days and weeks after taking Sienna home were eye-opening. I had 2 weeks left of maternity leave, I was only given 6. My donor stopped by to set up Sienna’s crib, bring over gifts, and introduce his daughter to her new sister. He wasn’t around much after that. I was mainly by myself with my newborn in the early days of single motherhood. It would be just me and her in my apartment breastfeeding her around the clock and bonding with her.

A baby girl wearing a puffy pink onesie
Courtesy of Cierra

My patience was mainly challenged during those days. I had all the patience for my daughter, but for myself, I had none. I was very hard on myself back then and blamed myself for anything that went wrong with Sienna. Despite being a new mom, it was hard for me to afford myself any grace when mistakes would be made. I felt since it was just me, my decision-making skills needed to be impeccable, and when they weren’t, I felt like a bad mom.

In order to pull myself out of that anxious and fear-based way of thinking, I reflected on why I felt like I couldn’t make any mistakes as a new parent. I learned I placed tremendous pressure on myself in an already high-pressure situation. Realizing I needed to learn to accept I didn’t know everything about being a parent eased my anxiety and fear surrounding being a mother. I would ask my mother and sister for advice all the time as well as them offering it to me whenever they felt the need.

I continued to read up on parenting styles and came across conscious parenting, a method I learned about from Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Conscious parenting resonated with me because it is a style that centers on the parent’s need to be mindful of how they engage with their child and to focus on themselves as the one who is in need of healing, correction, and teaching instead of focusing primarily on the child. It requires you to look within at your triggers and get to the root of why your child can make you so upset when you lash out at them for being children. Essentially, conscious parenting is a journey of self-reflection and awareness where the outcome has a vital impact on the emotional intelligence and maturity of your kid.

A daughter clings onto her mother's legs in the park
Courtesy of Steven and Staci Nelson
A little girl wearing a polka-dotted outfit sits on a couch
Courtesy of Cierra

The next step in my journey as a single mother by choice with my now two-year-old is to elevate our way of living. I feel I’ve completed a tough leg of the journey, but there is so much more yet to come as my daughter gets older. I have goals such as moving into a house, working at a better-paying job, and eventually becoming self-employed, and cultivating Sienna’s talents through different sports and activities. Gymnastics will be one of the first things we’ll try and go from there.

A little girl squats down holding a flower in her hand
Courtesy of Imani’s Photography LLC
A little girl lies on her side in the grass
Courtesy of Cierra

I hope my story will inspire other people to pursue what they know will bring them joy and purpose. That yearning feeling I felt for so long was my desire to be a mother and to pass down everything I knew to my child. I knew the risks and challenges that would come my way, but I refused to let them deter me. Refusing to let other people’s opinions of my decision dissuade me was also major. I stopped getting frustrated when I was asked about my donor and where he was. Knowing not everyone would be happy for me and some would be rooting for me to fail has fueled me to stay focused. My daughter’s happiness and continuous thriving in all areas of her life are all that matters. When I know I’ve accomplished that, everything else is a blessing.”

A woman wearing yellow sits on a rock in the park
Courtesy of Steven and Staci Nelson
A little girl sticks out her tongue
Courtesy of Imani’s Photography LLC
A mother holds her little girl in the park
Courtesy of Steven and Staci Nelson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cierra of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. You can follow her journey on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘Girl, are you crazy?’ I told the midwife I was having a baby on my own. ‘A child needs a mother AND father in their life.’: Single mom by choice births baby solo, ‘Every time I look at him, I see infinite love looking back’

‘Let’s get pregnant together!’ Two single women, we decided to do this on our own. We couldn’t wait any longer.’: Two friends join forces to become ‘single moms by choice’

‘You don’t need to have a partner to have a baby. Then I got the news no one wants to hear, this pregnancy isn’t viable.’: Woman describes untraditional journey to single parenthood

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