Robin Silbergleid’s kids don’t have a daddy or even a biological father. They have a donor. And that’s exactly how she wanted it.
On the night I checked into the hospital to deliver my daughter, the nurse asked me who the father was. A sperm donor, I said. Aren’t they all, she kidded, what’s his name, I need to put him on this form. He’s a sperm donor, I repeated; anonymous. Oh, like, really? Yes, really.
This was north Texas in 2004.
When I say I am a single mother by choice (SMC), I actually mean it. I used to be a paying member of the national SMC organization, which I still believe to be an important resource for women who have become single mothers by ways other than divorce or widowhood (while many of the day-to-day parenting issues might be the same, there are many critical distinctions, particularly the emotional issues).
But I quickly realized I was a rarity among women who were largely over 35 (and some into their late 40’s) when they conceived or adopted their children. They talked about SMChood as “Plan B”—a backup plan that involved grieving lost dreams and, for some, deeply conflicted feelings that remain unresolved even after becoming a parent. Even the founder, Jane Mattes, whom I have the utmost respect for, didn’t plan on having a child as a single mother; she found herself pregnant and decided to raise her son on her own. With all due respect, that’s not a proactive choice; it’s a graciously accepted chance.
While I certainly didn’t grow up thinking oh, I’m going to be a single mother someday, what I came to realize in my late 20’s, on the cusp of my first tenure-track job, was that all my fantasies about family and future involved not a wedding and marriage, but a baby. And when a friend said to me there are sperm banks, you know it was like a proverbial light bulb went off over my head.
I chose to become a single mother at 27, although it took me another year and change to decide how to do it and to schedule an appointment at the fertility clinic. Then it was 10 treatment cycles, a miscarriage, a diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder, and a consult for IVF before I conceived my daughter, who was born shortly after I turned 31. Those four years seemed like eons at the time. Now, as a pomegranate-charm wearing member of the ALI (adoption, loss, and infertility) community, I now understand I had it easy.
I didn’t become a single mother because I hate men in general or my father in particular. I don’t.
I didn’t do it because I think children are better off without fathers, although in some situations—for starters, let’s say, emotional or physical abuse—that certainly is true.
I didn’t do it, as some strangers have said, as some kind of perverse eugenics project, trying to choose the best possible genes for my child. If anything, as a Jewish American, whose family fled Europe in the first half of the 20th century, I find that suggestion appalling.
I became a single mother because I wanted children. Fertility declines with each passing year, so even in my late 20’s, as my skeptical reproductive endocrinologist certainly knew, I was already on the downslope to eventual infertility—indeed, as I found out when trying to conceive my second child, by 35, my ovaries were already in dire straits.
These days people talk about egg freezing as an option and maybe if that had been legitimate a decade ago I would have contemplated it—but probably not. I was ready to become a mother, not simply ready to take the steps that might eventually let me be a mother by putting the decision, literally, on ice.
My children have a “donor,” not a “daddy,” not even a “biological father.” Daddies go to soccer games and help with homework; daddies pick kids up from daycare and tuck them into bed at night. Fathers, present or not, have a place in a family. An anonymous donor—contrary to films like The Kids Are Alright—generally remains anonymous. His family, if he has subsequently had one, is his. Mine is mine, legally and emotionally. My children are not “missing” a father.
If a peer asks my daughter, “Where’s your dad,” she says, “I don’t have one,” and she’s right. Her birth certificate has a gaping hole where a father would be. My children might very well have questions about the other half of their DNA, beyond those that are answerable on a standard cryobank questionnaire. And, to be fair, they might have moments when they wish they, like most of their peers, had a daddy to come home to at night.
I am certainly not belittling that possibility and what it might mean for my children (although, I will say, even with an almost-10 year old, the question has rarely come up, though she likes the fact that the other half of her DNA is an actual Irish person from Ireland; it gives her a reason to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day).
But that possibility means very little in the day-to-day of our lives, which are full of work and gymnastics practice and baby music class and walks to the park and Friday pizza night. My life as a single mother is full. Even if it is hard—as I have said more than once, yes, it would be great to have another pair of hands—my family was not created out of a sense of loss but a sense of possibility and joy.
Hear me: Nothing is missing.
Robin Silbergleid is the author of the chapbook Pas de Deux: Prose and Other Poems (Basilisk Press 2006); her memoir about becoming a single mother by choice, Texas Girl, is forthcoming from Demeter Press in 2014. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where she writes, teaches, and raises her two children.