‘I want to be a single mom by choice.’ I hadn’t planned to tell anyone. ‘Will you wait until we can be together?’: After 10-year infertility battle, woman becomes mom, finds love

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Disclaimer: This story includes mentions of infertility and pregnancy loss that may be triggering to some.

“The dreaded two-week wait as some refer to it in the fertility community. This is the time between ovulation and implantation. Because I was trying to conceive for about 5 years total, spread out over a 10-year period of time, it was something I was super familiar with.

Over a period of time, I came to realize I was having implantation reactions, where my body was rejecting implantation. But, since our standard notion of ‘being pregnant’ involves a positive pregnancy test or a confirming ultrasound, no one really talks about or recognizes this time in between. However, I always knew when one month was different from the others. I always had an increased sense of smell and nausea. And then sometimes, right when implantation should occur, I would get panic attacks and night sweats. It was like an allergic reaction to implantation.

So, when Mattias and I first started trying to conceive, and I felt all the normal symptoms, I withdrew into myself. I was afraid to tell Mattias what I was feeling or that my intuition was this could be a possible pregnancy because of experiences with my previous partner and former fertility clinic doctors. I had learned to protect my intuition by not talking about my feelings. So, when I was a little more distant than I had been, Mattias said,

‘It seems like something is bothering you. What’s wrong?’

I was still hesitant. ‘I have all the feelings of pregnancy, and I’m hopeful I could be pregnant, but I’m also scared it won’t work out. I can’t handle one more person telling me my intuition is wrong.’ Still worried I would have my feelings called into question, I burst into tears.

In a contrast to previous situations, Mattias was reassuring, ‘I believe you. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, but we are in this together. I’m here by your side, no matter what. You can talk to me.’

A woman and her husband wearing dressy clothes
Courtesy of Sarah Irby of Irby Photos

It was like I was holding my breath, waiting for the next person to tell me I’m crazy, and when he didn’t say that, I was a bit stunned. But, I also realized this was a person I wanted to be closer to. It reminded me of the warm and welcoming feeling I had when we first met 4 years earlier.

It was the summer of 2010, and at the age of 37, I was living near Seattle—on Bainbridge Island—and had just gotten my divorce finalized. After 4+ years of infertility and miscarriages accompanying that marriage, I was struggling to get my balance back. I knew some way or somehow, I had to have at least one child who I raised from a young age. I didn’t care if it was through adoption or pregnancy, I just had this deep desire to be a mom.

I was already a mom figure to many, having been a music teacher for many years and having 3 nieces who I helped to mentor. But, I knew I would always feel incomplete if I didn’t have a child of my own. This created a lot of difficulties for me in dating, as there were many guys who already had kids and didn’t want any more, were happy without kids, or were not really in my close age range which was awkward also.

A woman with long hair wearing a blue shirt
Courtesy of Lindholm Photography Terri Lindholm

One thing I had learned during the years of infertility was dancing makes my soul soar. And, though I learned many different styles, Lindy hop is my favorite dance. And, so when my family were all headed for a short trip to Stockholm in November, I knew I had to go dancing at the weekly swing dance evening. I had been dancing for 3 years at that point, and I didn’t know it yet, but Mattias also started dancing the same year I did. I saw Mattias dancing with someone else, and I sat down to watch because they were dancing balboa, a style I just started taking classes in. When they were done, I asked for a dance.

‘So, what brought you to Stockholm?’ Mattias asked me.

As I paused to answer, he gently took my hand to lead me off the dance floor. I could feel the softness of his touch and the fingertip to fingertip of our hands. I can’t remember the last time I felt such a gentle touch.

‘Tonight, I saw my dad presented with a prize for excellence in medical education research. My mom said at the end of the 3-hour ceremony, ‘This is a night I will remember for the rest of my life.’’ As I repeated that to Mattias, I didn’t know what was unfolding between us would make the night also a night to remember for me.

A woman stands with her parents and her niece
Courtesy of Leah Irby

Mattias and I added each other as friends on Facebook, and at first, wrote a few notes back and forth, but our chats were few and far between.

In the summer of 2013, I was fed up with trying to find the right partner and decided I needed to make a drastic change in my life. So, I pursued a long-held dream to live in another culture when I took a job teaching orchestra in India for a year. I hoped somehow I might find someone who would be a good match for me along this journey. But, in the spring of 2014, I decided I was done looking for a partner and it was more important to focus now on becoming a mom. It was time to go back to the US.

A woman wearing purple and yellow stands by a tree
Courtesy of Leah Irby

I asked one of my friends who was single but had no interest in dating me to be a sperm donor. In September, Mattias happened to write to me and ask why I was visiting Chicago.

I paused. I hadn’t planned to tell anyone other than my parents and a few supportive friends unless my plan actually worked and I had a child. But, I felt I could trust him and so I shared:

‘I want to be a single mom by choice. I haven’t found the right partner, and I don’t feel I can wait any longer to try for a child.’

‘I have always dreamed about having a child someday also. I am 37, how old are you?’

‘I’m 41.’ I was thinking here’s someone who is actually single and wants a child just like I do and is within 5 years of my age. We started to write to each other more regularly and video chat on Skype after that day.

A man wearing traditional Swedish clothing
Courtesy of Leah Irby

In November, my grandpa took a downhill turn really fast. I made a quick Facebook post about traveling to Seattle from San Francisco to be with my grandparents and my whole family in the time of transition. Mattias was one of the first ones to write to me a message and tell me he was thinking about me. He understood how important my grandparents were to me. I could see his concern for me and understanding of who I was. There wasn’t a crazy infatuation feeling with Mattias, but rather this solid, strong friendship that was unfolding into a romance. It was a calm feeling of being supported and understood.

A woman stands with her grandparents
Courtesy of Leah Irby

By December, I told Mattias I wanted to move to a different country again but preferably a more liberal one this time that would be accepting of a single mom. Mattias sent me a short commercial video explaining all the great reasons someone might like to move to Stockholm.

I told my housemate, Natalie, it seemed like this was progressing in a good way, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I had been so disappointed before.

She replied, ‘Leah, it’s OK to get your hopes up! Now’s the time to dream.’

In January, I thought I better ask Mattias about our relationship the next time we talk, but Mattias asked first. ‘So, if you move to Stockholm would you consider dating me?’ And of course, my answer was ‘Yes!’

‘Would you consider waiting on your single-mom plan until we can be together?’

I hesitated a little at this question, but then we came to the agreement we would start out as co-parents. We didn’t feel we knew each other well enough to agree to marriage, but we both felt strongly we could parent together, even if our partnership didn’t work out. I found a job and moved to Sweden in July 2015.

A man wraps his arms around his partner
Courtesy of Leah Irby

Once I arrived, I was overwhelmed with culture shock. I had taken a less-than-ideal job just so I could move countries, and I severely underestimated how hard it would be to surround myself with a new language. Add to that the adjustment of moving in with Mattias, the long-term bachelor. I had been married before and seriously dated many people, but he had been on a few dates with one or two people and never had a serious partner.

I had gone 10 years hoping for a child, so the next few months of trying to conceive felt like forever to me. But for Mattias, it had only been a few months and so he kept me calm when I started to get worried. I hadn’t really thought about the impact of culture shock and a new relationship on my fertility. I just thought—I’m healthy now. This is supposed to work. What on earth is the matter now?

A couple sit together with the man resting his head on the woman's shoulder
Courtesy of Leah Irby

With my previous partner, I found out I had dental work that was compromising my immune system and impacting my overall health as well as my fertility. But by the time I had gotten all that taken care of, I was single. My intuition was I was now feeling healthy and my fertility should be good, but I started to doubt.

We booked an appointment with a fertility clinic doctor and were reading up on embryo adoption, but we figured simple testing was a good first place to start. We also talked about infant adoption and found out (a few weeks before my birthday) if you are over 43, they won’t let you adopt a newborn in Sweden. We could possibly still adopt through a US agency, but that would become much more complicated. It came back to the idea that pregnancy seemed to be the best way to get the child we both wanted.

Soon after my 43rd birthday arrived in December, I was super depressed. Mattias didn’t really understand all I was going through. He hadn’t been through all my previous years and the heartache of infertility. But, what he did provide was a calm listening ear when I was upset, and he was unapologetically optimistic we would get pregnant soon—some way or another.

Christmas break came, and I signed up for an intense week of a swing dance camp, and we had a wonderful time with family. When we finally went to our first fertility clinic appointment in January, I was a few days late with my period. I had been feeling nauseous with an increased sense of smell, but I had been so stressed out by taking home pregnancy tests in the past, Mattias and I agreed not to take any tests before the appointment. I figured if it was negative, they would do some tests and start us toward a new path. But, it would still feel positive to be proactive about things. But, they didn’t do many tests because the pregnancy test came up positive.

A man and woman dancing on a path
Courtesy of Jessica Keener Photography

During pregnancy, I was thankful to have a partner who would get excited over every little symptom and experience. My job was stressful, but I rested often when I came home and I had to stop dancing very much, as I would get very dizzy. Around Easter, at a big dance event, Mattias made sure I was at the swing dance evening. During a band break, he took to the microphone and told a bit of the story about how we met in that same place all those years previous. And how now he had a question for me, getting down on one knee he asked,

‘Leah, will you marry me?’

It was a resounding ‘yes’ from me. And then they played a song just for us to dance to.

A man and woman together at their wedding
Courtesy of Leah Irby
A man and woman together at their wedding
Courtesy of Dave Minter

At the 20-week ultrasound, they were measuring the baby and telling me all about my child. Mattias was there, and we were super excited to find out our child was growing well and looked healthy. I started weeping. I knew this was the child we dreamed of. My pregnancy took on a different quality at this point. I felt more confident we would actually hold a baby in our arms soon.

Mattias and I went to birth classes in June, since nothing would be offered over the summer. Mattias was so sweet about attending with me and going through the exercises and breathing together, but we forgot to do any practicing after the class because we figured the birth was still a long time away. So, when I went into labor before we were expecting, I told Mattias to grab the packet from the class. When the pain was driving me crazy, I told Mattias to look to see if he could find some pain-relieving tips. As he was reading he said, ‘It says here to tell your partner they are doing a great job.’ Looking up from the packet he smiled at me and said, ‘You’re doing a great job, honey!’

We both had a good laugh and my pain subsided for a little bit.

He also did some low back massage, which was really helpful, but I think it was the calm, unwavering support that was the most helpful all the way through.

Mattias and our baby were taken away from me shortly after birth as there was concern about breathing difficulty. I would say the most painful part of my birth experience was the time of being stitched up without my baby or my partner.

Once my baby went on to be transferred and the stitches were complete, Mattias was back by my side and helped as we made our way by taxi to the other hospital. Those first few hours went by in a blur. We got to the new hospital and visited E in the NICU then were shown a room to rest on a different floor of the hospital. I was instructed to start using the breast pump to get milk going since I didn’t have a baby to suckle yet.

A woman visits her newborn who lies on her chest
Courtesy of Leah Irby

I remember waking up the next morning and quietly sobbing because I just wanted to be together with our baby. Mattias suddenly woke up, saw me crying, and immediately came to comfort me. He said, ‘You should have woken me up if you were having a rough time. I’m here for you.’

‘I know, It’s just so hard for me to be apart from my baby, and I was trying to give you a chance to get more sleep.’ I sobbed. We made a plan to go see E right after breakfast and then we got the news our child would graduate from the NICU. It was only after we were all together in the same room I started to really feel—this is real. My child is really here. It was awe I felt, that all of this could finally come together and this child could be by our sides. I also felt so much love for Mattias, especially watching as he so patiently fed our baby in the time before E started to breastfeed.

A man with a large beard and his baby
Courtesy of Leah Irby

E was born in 2016 and the next summer we got married, 7-7-17. In 2018, I started my own business coaching clients through fertility challenges, teaching private music lessons, creating music recordings, and children’s books.

It was a real strengthening to our relationship to work together and cherish this time as a new family. I think any challenges in your life can either bring your relationship closer or cause you to be more distant from each other. The challenge in fertility and new parenting is not to never have conflict, but to listen to each other and support each other. Unconditional love and acceptance: it’s what I have with Mattias and what I feel is our light to share with the rest of the world.”

A couple visit relatives with their baby
Courtesy of Jessica Keener Photography
A couple sit with their young child
Courtesy of Leah Irby

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Leah Irby from Stockholm, Sweden. You can follow her journey on YouTube and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories like this here:

‘Is this about YOU having a baby or US having a baby?’ I lost faith.’: LGBTQ couple has daughter after infertility, ‘She’s the bridge to our heart’

‘I think I’m the only person going through this. Why me?’: Woman shares 8-year infertility battle, ‘You are not alone’

‘At your age and with your history, you will miscarry.’ I was an unlikely pregnant 40-year-old, but I knew they were wrong.’: Mom battling infertility welcomes rainbow baby, ‘He is my heart’

‘We don’t know why it isn’t working, but we DO know you can’t get pregnant.’ I understood what she meant was, ‘And you never will be.’: Couple candidly share infertility journey

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