“I’m a hopeless romantic. I always have been. My entire family was shocked when my brother got married before me since I had buried my nose in romance novels since I was a teenager. And, perhaps for that reason, I was extremely picky when I looked to find a partner I could share my life with. Nothing fit into the expectations I’d built up – some would say I was being irrational, others would say I knew what I wanted.
But above all, what I wanted was to be a mother.
While I couldn’t tell you when it happened, exactly, I was probably nineteen when I made a promise to myself that would change my life irrevocably: if I had no prospects by the time I turned thirty, I would have a baby on my own.
I went to college, got a degree, moved away for a bit, and then moved home. It seemed natural for me to buy a house with my mother — after all, I had student loans, I didn’t want to live alone, and we have a closer relationship than most mothers and daughters… anything else only made sense in the terms of societal expectations, which was never really my style, anyway.
All the while, that promise whispered in the back of my mind.
When I turned thirty, I had a partner. Kind of. We had been together for two years, living about an hour apart. There’s a certain cadence you hit when you’re with someone that long, from such a distance: you let yourself get lost in the hopes and the fantasies of what you want. And when you let things go long enough, you start to lose yourself, too.
He was, and is, a very kind person. But he also struggles with anxiety and depression daily. I allowed myself to become his crutch, to set aside my wishes and desires to take care of him, if he’d let me. If he didn’t let me, I felt like I was already alone.
When my deadline came and went, I realized I was stagnant. I wasn’t happy anymore — where I had previously had a personal karaoke session with my showerhead, it felt like music was gone from me. I had to do something about it before I looked in the mirror and hated the person staring back at me.
So, I started looking into what it would take to become a mother, looking at doctors, and tracking my cycle. I also started bringing it up in day-to-day conversation. I was laying the groundwork for normalizing it — not necessarily for others, but for myself. When I told my boyfriend, he was apathetic. He told me it was a good idea, and that was all he wanted to say. He had always shied away from big conversations, so this reaction was unsurprising.
But part of me wanted a fight. I wanted a rock-solid reason to not be together because anything else made it seem as if I were being cruel. But if we had stayed together any longer, we both would be much worse off. In truth, it had ended for me months before, maybe longer. I was moving on to where I wanted to be, both mentally and emotionally.
When I did finally break it off, I could breathe. I was well into testing my hormone levels and taking medication like Clomid to ensure I was appropriately ovulating. It was as if I had finally allowed myself to concentrate on me and what I wanted, without worrying about the effect on someone else. Which is ironic, considering the person I lived with… I wasn’t concerned about. However, I can honestly say I would not have my son today without my mother.
Then came shopping – which was a surreal experience. How do you pick a person? Women approach looking for a donor a number of ways, and many bank on circumstances. Personally, I chose a sperm donor based on comparison to me. My father, when I was young, was interested in genealogy, and found our heritage was mostly Celtic; ever since, I’ve had a fascination with such things. So, knowing that’s where I came from, I started there. Then, interests, which are so hard to look at because you want your child to be well-rounded, not too similar to you, but sharing would be nice. Finally, I went to looks – eyes, hair, height. Finally, I had it narrowed down to two: a Conan O’Brian or Jared Leto look alike. Remembering his Thirty Seconds to Mars days, I went with the Jared Leto doppelganger.
It was a strange cross between online dating and shopping on Amazon. That sounds so very shallow, but when you’re there, in that moment, looking at your possibilities, at whose eyes you’re going to look into, what that gummy little smile is going to look like, it is anything but shallow.
I talked about it in my day to day. I was kept sane by my two close friends and walking companions at work, my sister-in-law was sharing articles and videos at least daily, and my mother was more excited than I. It got to the point that I couldn’t imagine it any differently than it was.
To say all of this was easy or cheap would be two very large lies. I can’t tell you how many times I was told I should just go have a one-night stand with someone and come away pregnant, like my baby was just this cavalier thing that didn’t matter one way or another. But the idea that my child’s existence would be up for debate, or that someone would be able to say goodbye to a child they’d fathered… none of that made sense to me. And that’s not even taking into consideration my demisexual tendencies.
No, my child would know they were loved, that I knew they were out there, and I sought to bring them into the world. They would have more love than most believe possible because every single person in their life wanted to be there.
My first official attempt, after two test cycles, was in May of 2019. I pored over statistics, research, and signs and symptoms of pregnancy in those two weeks. But, alas, Aunt Flo arrived, right on time. June was much the same. By July, I was exhausted — I had been poked, prodded, examined, had vaginal ultrasounds, and a hysterosalpingogram, I went through more blood draws than I could count. At the end of my two weeks in July, when I saw blood… I was heartbroken. I sat in that bathroom stall at work and bawled. I could afford only one more cycle, and I was no longer in the success window for IUI. Everything I wanted was slipping away, and I felt completely hopeless.
But the flood never came. Hope bloomed slowly, and I created a mantra that would shift over the next nine months: please let this be a baby. Let it grow strong and healthy so it can live a long, healthy, and happy life. And let me grow to be the mother it needs. I waited 36 hours until I finally pulled out a pregnancy test on Sunday morning, July 28, 2019. There was a line. I had read so many blogs, lurked in so many forums — no matter how faint the line, it was positive. I was pregnant.
My support group knew first thing Monday morning, and I’ve never seen more people cry for joy on someone else’s behalf as I did that day. And I didn’t say I was pregnant: they had seen how distraught I’d been on Friday. All I had to say was, ‘I was wrong.’
And I had never been happier to be wrong.
Pregnancy, though, hit me like a train. I was constantly woozy to the point where being in a car was uncomfortable, I was diagnosed early on with gestational diabetes, and I developed SPD (basically it felt like I was being pulled apart up the middle) late in my second trimester.
But, oddly enough, I have never felt better than when I was pregnant. I felt healthy, like I could do most anything (even if I physically couldn’t), my hair and skin were as amazing as ever, and I was just so happy. Nothing could have stopped me. Except, apparently, standing. We did a game night with my brother and sister-in-law, late into my third trimester. The SPD had been getting worse, where standing after I’d been sitting would just stop me in my tracks. My brother was panicked, terrified, as I just stood there, mid-stride, and laughed because it was so ridiculous — I was walking, walking should be easy!
I did have some dissension. It was rare, but it was present. I was told I was just hiding the truth: I didn’t want the ‘baby daddy’ involved. I had never felt so dirty. Family wanted me to affirm I knew it would be hard. Others still told me to ensure my baby would know the difference between grandma and mommy. And my father said to my brother he wished I’d gone about it differently. It’s incredible how these words slip under your skin to fester, to make you doubt yourself.
The mama bear in me is strong, though, and I was quick to squash them — if my friends didn’t beat me to it. My friends kept telling me I’m a badass. It was a little reminder I am taking this huge step on my own. But all that talk beforehand had done the trick: it felt completely natural, and I never felt alone.
When I took a blood test to find out if my baby was at risk for any anomalies, I also opted to find out the gender. As a hopeless romantic and a girl who has always loved Disney, everyone was thinking it would be a girl. I thought so, too, simply because most of my coworkers and friends had been having boys.
We did a small gender reveal, in which smoke bombs were involved, and I remember seeing the blue and thinking, ‘I should be disappointed.’ But I wasn’t. Not even a little bit. I had been preparing myself to experience gender disappointment, but I didn’t. I had nothing to be disappointed about, and when I got over that external expectation, I was able to fall in love with my little boy.
And I did.
Because of gestational diabetes and because he had been measuring big, the threat of a c-section loomed. I always wanted to have a baby as naturally as possible, just because of those magical, mystical womanly stories I’d heard so many times. As my due date approached, we began talking about that possibility, and it became more and more inevitable. I was chomping at the bit to be induced early to avoid it, but more importantly, to have my people around me. Just a week before I was induced, it was announced that the novel coronavirus had become a pandemic.
When we were finally scheduled, I felt a weight lift. Less than a week, and I was there. Less than a week, and I’d meet my little boy. The world could hold together for that long.
Giving birth during COVID-19 is absolutely terrifying. You have no idea from one day to the next what the hospital policies are going to be. Before being admitted, would I need to be tested? Will I get to hold my baby? Can I have my people with me?
I wanted a specific kind of birth story, and I got it, if not in a roundabout way. I wanted to have a natural birth, as little medication as possible. I wanted a ‘Red Tent’ kind of birth, surrounded by women in a calm, soothing space (hahaha). But birth goes in a million different directions on the best of days – every birth story I’ve read or heard has gone off the rails in some form or another. So, I figured I was ready.
Sunday night, March 22, I went in for my induction. I was told to eat a big meal beforehand, so I made a feast of homemade egg rolls. I hugged my sister-in-law and brother goodbye. I didn’t want to let go — I realized just how nervous I was and how sad I was he wouldn’t be there. We had fought growing up, but now, as adults, we were much closer, and he was excited to have a nephew.
On the drive, I remember watching the trees go by the window and wondering if, after all this change, would the trees look different when I came back home?
They got me settled in. I was happy to be there, optimistic – after waiting and worrying, I was finally here, and he seemed to be ready for a natural birth, even if I did have to go with Cytotec and Pitocin. I could only have two people with me, and then only one for recovery.
The nurse checked me… and checked me. It took a lot longer than I thought, and after she gave me a smile, and she announced I was four centimeters dilated and 60% effaced. I was having mild, sporadic contractions, which I had grown used to. So, she said we’d wait to see how I progressed.
Two hours later, and no change in how I felt, the nurse came in to check me again. After a long pause, she called for another nurse to come check me as well. They gave me the nickname the ‘Silent Dilator’ – I was six centimeters dilated and 70% effaced! I was in active labor now – though I couldn’t really tell the difference. Up until then, the contractions had been barely there and completely manageable.
They told me to try and get some sleep. They checked me in the morning, seven centimeters and 70% effaced, and Pitocin entered the conversation again. My doctor went ahead and broke my water about nine o’clock in the morning, and the nurse said, “Okay, we’ll let that settle and then we’ll get the Pitocin going.”
My body abruptly said: ‘Nope. This is happening now.’ When I got out of bed, the contractions kicked into gear. Mum and I played a few games of backgammon and put on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. When I felt a contraction coming on, I used the wall to help me through it, pushing my hands into it and rocking. Suddenly, it went from zero to sixty. I closed my eyes, moaning through clenched teeth, and realized I was crying. It hit me like a sledgehammer: this was happening. Birth was imminent.
That pain is something I could never have imagined. I wanted a natural birth; I was getting one. I wasn’t sure I could have done anything to prepare me for what a true contraction really felt like. Positions I could handle shifted like a chameleon; I used the birthing ball, the wall, the bed, the birthing ball on the bed. I finally wound up in the bed, as my feet were starting to ache. I was exhausted, and I didn’t know how I was going to get through it.
At nine centimeters and, ‘We’re going to have you start pushing,’ my mom was crying over seeing me in pain. I didn’t know what to do; I needed it to stop. She allowed me to request an epidural.
I had the best nurse ever. We’d had the conversation earlier and she went right to it, telling me I could do it, it’s not going to help much at this point, and baby is coming. And that’s the thing – I remembered reading things and seeing stories about when the woman is ready to give up, the baby is ready to come.
My doc got set up and offered fentanyl to take the edge off and I, admittedly, jumped at it. I screamed through the pain and my doctor told me, in her calm, cool tone, that I needed to not scream, I was putting my energy in the wrong place. Then she said, ‘That pain you’re feeling right now? You need to not be afraid of it.’ And I was, I had been absolutely terrified of it.
At 11:43 a.m. on March 23, 2020, Little Man entered the world and won my heart.
He has severe bilateral clubfoot, a head full of curly brown hair, and the sweetest little face I’ve ever seen in my life. I had a second-degree tear and the pride of doing it almost completely natural. The recovery was rough, and I was, unfortunately, unable to breastfeed beyond a couple of days as my supply just never came in.
But, my God, I am so in love with my Little Man.
He is now four months old, kicking up a storm with his casted legs — part of standard treatment for clubfoot. He loves to play with grandma and loves to cuddle with me. Grandma retired to take care of him, and I am permanently working from home.
Some people assume I’ve given up on finding love, and that’s not the case at all. I’ve just decided to concentrate on enjoying life, my way. If I hadn’t made that decision, even just a year ago, I don’t know where I’d be — I just know my life would not contain that shining joy that is my son.
If I do fall in love again, I have a feeling it has to be entirely organic. And when I tell someone that I love them, it will be as much of a surprise to me as to them. Until then, I’m more than content.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Alyssa McCown of Lincoln, Nebraska. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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.
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