Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email [email protected]and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
NEW MOM explores the brilliant, terrible, wonderful, confusing realities of first-time motherhood. It’s for anybody who wants to be a new mom, is a new mom, was a new mom, or wants really good reasons to never be a new mom.
Caroline’s dream was to meet someone, fall in love, and have a baby. She comes from a loving family, wanted the same for her future children, and didn’t think she’d have any problem making it happen. But after a breakup at 39, a particularly candid series of conversations led her to explore what it would mean to have a baby on her own. She discusses baby anxiety, questioning and comparing her life decisions, what it was like to travel to Copenhagen for an IUI, and how the least stressful aspect of her life right now is her daughter.
On imagining motherhood. When I was little, I did have a baby doll, but I preferred a brick — an actual brick, the kind you use to make a house. From the time I was young, motherhood was an assumption, but a distant one. I always thought I would grow up and have a kid.
My parents really loved each other, and I had two sets of grandparents who lived close by. I really won the lottery, when it comes to family. Because of that, I really assumed that was how it happened: You meet someone, you love them, you have a baby with them, and everyone has fun. I had a very naïve assumption of how it all worked. When I grew up, moved to New York, and started dating, it turned out to be much, much harder. Still, I did fancy myself interesting, smart, kind, pretty — so I figured that it had to happen. At some point, I would find love and that would go so well that we’d decide to have a baby. But it really did not work out that way.
On baby anxiety. At about 36, I started to have anxiety about having a baby. In my head, I thought it would have happened to me by 36, 37. Then I broke up with my boyfriend when I was 39, and after that, I had some candid conversations with a few close male friends. They were like, “Go do this on your own. Do it out of order.” And when I heard that from them, it really hit me. I hate saying that it was my worst nightmare, but at the time, it felt like one.
In a way, knowing that I might need to pursue motherhood on my own was a kind of relief. But it was also sad — there was a period of grief. My friends tried to paint the scenario in the most beautiful possible light, and said that when — not if — I met someone, I’d find someone better, someone who would want to be with me because I already had a kid. It would weed out men who didn’t want a family or weren’t serious. While I appreciated that, I was still grieving the loss of a dream. You can’t help but question yourself. How did I not figure this out? How are there all these couples and families walking around — what did they do it differently? Why do I have to give up on this dream that seems so human and basic?
On researching motherhood options. Pretty soon after I broke up with my boyfriend, I started investigate my options for having a family. I did a ton of research, visited two fertility clinics, researched egg freezing, looked into IUIs and IVF. I worked with my doctor to get myself as hormonally balanced and healthy as possible. I went to acupuncture.
It ended up being kind of a stressful, frustrating process. When I was learning about egg freezing, especially, I started to feel really bad that I was alone. It felt like I was being punished. I was going to have to spend all this money and give myself hormones to do this thing that I felt like I should have a partner for. I ended up deciding not to freeze my eggs, because I just didn’t want to delay the process anymore.
Ultimately, I decided I wanted to get pregnant on my own, as soon as possible.
On fertility abroad. In the late fall and early winter of that year, I was complaining to a Swedish friend, someone who I believe to be good at life and whose advice I take seriously. She suggested I check out Denmark. Ten months earlier, her sister had used a sperm donor, had an IUI in Denmark, and now had a son. Her experience sounded easier and possibly cheaper. I was intrigued, researched sperm donors and fertility clinics and discovered Denmark was in fact, the place to go. I planned a birthday trip to Copenhagen, and purchased sperm ten days before I left. But I still wasn’t 100 percent sure I was going to go through with it.
I went for an initial consultation at the Stork Klinik, and they checked to make sure I was ovulating. (Because I was only in Copenhagen for two weeks, we were able to combine what’s usually the first two appointments.) Like most of Denmark, the office was delightful — hygge applies even to a medical space. I don’t think there’s an ugly chair in the entire country. There were no metal stirrups; I was reclining on a beautiful European linen pillow and a nice leather-bed situation. There were tall windows with white shutters, a nice sofa, a shearling rug. After I was there, and spent time with them, I had no doubts.
It did feel risky to tell my friends what I was planning to do — the chances of an IUI working are very slim. I needed to, I think, because I felt so alone. Some people were more surprised than others, but everyone was supportive.
We had a meeting to explain the odds of this pregnancy, which for me was a 10 to 15 percent chance of ending up pregnant. This was higher than I’d heard in the U.S. And then, if you do get pregnant, there’s a 20 percent chance of miscarriage.
The next day, I rode my bike back to the clinic (everyone rides a bike in Copenhagen). It was pretty uneventful: The sperm goes in a syringe, which is attached to a catheter, and then they put it into your uterus. I asked whether I needed to put my legs up or lie there, but I was told no. Tracy Chapman was playing; it was very relaxed. I did decide to lie there a minute and let it all wash over me.
Then I left on my bike and took myself out for a fancy lunch. And then I waited.
On pregnancy. A little over two weeks later, I took a home pregnancy test, and it was positive.
I didn’t feel pregnant. So I don’t know why, but I had just believed strongly that I would be pregnant. I know that probably makes a lot of people want to punch me in the face. It’s not lost on me that things like love and fertility are not meritocracies. It feels more like luck than anything.
It was 13 weeks before I could get in to see a doctor, which felt like kind of a long time. Plus, I was nervous there might be twins. But once I could see the ultrasound (and found out it was a singleton pregnancy), it felt quite real. Only a few close friends and family knew.
The first month I felt nothing. The second and third months, I felt terrible. All the things I like to eat — coffee and chocolate and greens — made me so nauseous. I couldn’t even walk by a coffee shop without wanting to gag. But on the morning of my fifth month, I felt awesome, and I continued to feel awesome almost the whole way through the pregnancy. She came at 37 weeks, three weeks early but full-term.
On giving birth. Going into it, I felt over plans. My birth plan was just that I was working with midwives I loved, and I had a doula, and I knew which hospital I was going to give birth at. I wanted to try to have a natural birth, but I wasn’t totally opposed to an epidural. Some friends were on call to help me get to the hospital, once the time came.
One morning, I was in bed. At first I thought I’d peed myself, but something felt different. A little bit later, it happened again — and this time, it felt like a wave coming out of me. I saw the mucus plug in the toilet. Then I called the doula, the midwives, who all told me my water had broken but I wasn’t in labor yet. They wanted me to walk around and do stairs and try to get it started.
I’d been working a lot my entire pregnancy and hadn’t had time to prepare much so I needed some things — I went and bought a crib with my mom. By that evening, the midwives had me come in, since they didn’t want me to go more than 24 hours after my water broke. They tried to get my labor started with a breast pump, but I ended up still needing Pitocin. That was pretty much my worst fear. I’d heard horrible things about Pitocin, including when my mom had me — my own notorious 24-hour birth story.
I did start having horrible contractions, though they were isolated — I felt them just in my vagina. And they weren’t like a wave, with breaks. It felt like one solid contraction. That went on for 12 hours and I still wasn’t dilating. And then my daughter’s heart rate started to drop, so we decided to do a C-section. The midwives were very sweet; they came in to talk about it, because they thought I’d be disappointed. But I just wanted my daughter to be safe.
The one thing I was bummed about was missing out on bacteria from the vaginal canal. But the midwives said they would do a “vaginal wipe” — they rolled up gauze, put it in me during the C-section, took it out, then wiped it all over my daughter after she was born. The midwives weren’t sure how the OBGYN would feel about it, but it turned out she was really into the idea.
On early parenthood. Then she came out, and it was wonderful. The early moments felt a lot like Animal Planet. Newborn babies are these little creatures, just trying to figure out how to be alive. It was disorienting, but in the best way ever.
My mom, my brother, and my sister-in-law were all around to help. I was really only alone with her one night, in that first month. Then I was alone with her for a few weeks, after which I went away for about six weeks — I did that mostly because I also have two dogs, and it was a long, crazy winter. Bundling up an infant every time they needed to pee was really hard. So really, I left to get help with the dogs.
Things in my life are stressful, but it’s not my daughter. I don’t mind when she cries; she’s not a fussy baby. But what’s hard is figuring out my life, now that I’m a mom and a single mom. This means that my career has to change, that my living situation has to change.
When I came to the conclusion that I needed to leave Brooklyn, I went through another stage of grief. I thought that I could sell my condo and move to a two-bedroom somewhere else in Brooklyn, but I discovered I’d need another million dollars to be able to do that. I ended up buying a house in Wisconsin and selling my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. There, my mom is dying to watch my daughter for free. My dogs will have a yard. I’ll hopefully be able to rejigger my career so that it works for being a mom.
I don’t know how to word this, but I don’t know how I feel about “single mother by choice.” It didn’t always feel like a choice. Or when people say, “You went after your dream.” This was definitely not my dream. My dream was to fall in love, make a beautiful human, raise my kid in Brooklyn, live happily ever after. But I don’t want to diminish anything either — in so many ways, my daughter is my dream and more amazing than anything I could have imagined. But I do struggle with how to talk about it, because I am grieving the loss of a certain dream.
Right now, if I’m not working, I’m with my daughter. When she goes to bed at 6 or 7, I feed myself and work. Sometimes a friend comes over for dinner. But between buying a house and selling mine, I just haven’t had time or real desire to date. I would like to date, though, at some point. That’s definitely one benefit of moving — my mom will be able to babysit at night. Divorced dads seem really attractive to me. I’d love for my daughter to have more relatives — aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, everyone I had, growing up. Exactly how I’ll do that, I’m not sure.