From choosing a donor to the surprise of twins – my complicated, anxious, joyful wander to becoming a mother

The hardest thing about having a baby alone isn’t the expense, the anxiety or the loneliness. It isn’t the process of getting pregnant, with its cycles/seconds of parent and dashed hopes, or the period” seman donor”, with its unsettling undertones. It’s not even the queasy feeling that what you are doing sets you apart from other beings and that the reason you are doing it is not that you are a strong, rational, resourceful dame, but, as a friend of mine set it after considering and rebuffing the idea of having a baby alone, that” I couldn’t get anyone to shag me “.

No. The hardest thing about having a baby alone is fabrication the decision to do it.

” So are you going to do it then ?” says Rosemary. It is late summer 2013 and we are drinking whisky in a inn saloon in Edinburgh.

” Yeah, probably ,” I say.” I entail, I might. Are you ?”

” I don’t know .”

I haven’t seen Rosemary for months and it is only after a lot of whisky, and with a casualness that belies the cold horror underneath, that we reach the main order of business: our ongoing discussion, portion lament, place goading to act, over what to do about having children. That is: if, when, how and with whom, or, since we are both, for the purposes of this conversation, single, “with” ” whom “.

I have always known I required offsprings. From the time I was age-old enough to conceptualise my future, motherhood built appreciation to me. It was always one child in my supposes and never part of a fantasy about marriage, and while all else in my life changed over the years- “the two countries ” I lives in, the kind of work I did, the gender of the people I dated- the remote drawing of a child remained steadfast. On the rare reasons I countenanced myself to inspect it instantly, the idea that it might never happen reached me feel giddy with loss.


I met L two years after moving to New York. On the surface of things, we searched very varied- me, English, lefty, essentially unkempt; she, New Yorker, centre-right, well taken together. On any returned day we could dissent about everything- knowledge or story, subway or car, Republican or Democrat- so that, in the months after we gratified, it was almost like being on safari in each other’s alien worlds.

If falling in love is, partly, a question of finding a docking station for one’s neuroses, I knew I was home when L been suggested that, after her house was evacuated during 9/11, “shes gone” straight to an off-licence and bought hundreds of dollars’ merit of liquor in case civilisation collapsed and the world reverted to a barter economy. Come the zombie holocaust, this is a woman you miss on your side. But there was this, more: the house she grown up in would one day have to be sold, she said, and what she would miss most were the things you can’t take with you, like the resound the stairs manufactured when they expanded at night. Somewhere in my organization, a indicator lamp flared.

She was three years older than me and told me from the outset that, in the near future, she was planning on trying to get pregnant. Logistically, this realise appreciation; it would be madness to prevent while we flapped about for another two years trying to decide what we were do. Emotionally, nonetheless, it stumped me. According to every relation pattern I knew, you have been able either be with someone who’d had children before “youve met”, have kids together and separate down the line, or divided up and have a baby alone. There was no such thing as being with someone who had a baby on her own. It resounded like a terrifying cope: all the stress and nervousnes without the substance of motherhood.

At that stage, the strongest terms in which I could have threw my own long-held but inactive passion for a baby were that I didn’t want not to have one. If there was, behind this impulse, a greater, less tangible hanker, I didn’t want to look into it more deeply lest it unleash a full-blown baby hunger I couldn’t get back in the box. But I started to notice small-time, unsettling changes in myself. When individual asked a question,” Do you have progenies ?”- an issue that, until very recently, I reply to in my head with different versions of,” Are you mental? I’m about 11″- it was beginning to resonated less neutral, more unfriendly. I had always believes that, medical questions aside, most women without offsprings had acted through choice, but my religion in this weakened. I watched as a number of friends missed out on having babes because their lovers broke up with them when they were in the vicinity of 40, before having children with younger women. I watched as maidens six, seven years my elderly ultimately met someone new and went through round after penalizing round of IVF.

I didn’t want to be alone at 45, or 50, and on Tinder, dating beings with children when I had none of my own. I didn’t want to be 70, the age my mother was when she died, lying on my deathbed without the image of my child’s face in my heading. Above all, I didn’t want to look back on this period and please I’d had the fortitude to act.

I likewise didn’t want to “help” another woman cause her newborn. Unless I was Mother Teresa( I’m not ), the only way it would make sense for me to stick around in the event of L having a child was if our relations became a more conventional confederation, or if I had my own baby independently, too.

It’s not that L’s pregnancy induce me more broody( I refuse any woman to see another woman’s early maternity up close and think,” Hey, that watches fun !”) and I wasn’t fix by her decisions. We didn’t live together. In information, an infantile strand of my personality purposely wanted to make different decisions. If “were going to” suffer the destitutions of single parenthood, we might as well realise all the advantages, more- in my instance, starting from scratch and doing exactly what suited me and my notional baby.

All I had to do was figure out what that was. Would I use a friend as a sperm donor, or a stranger? If the former, who? If the latter, how would I clear that selection? Would I move back to London for free treatment on the NHS( which, to the horror of the rightwing press , now offers fertility service is single women and lesbians) or stay in America and spend thousands on something that is likely to not even cultivate?

In the phenomenon, I prefer the path of least resistance: America will never truly feel like home, but it is where I live, where L has her baby and where, eight months later, I am sufficiently panicked to lastly get moving with my own.

One of the things you have to get used to when you are a British person embarking on fertility therapy in the US is the pace. In great britain, the laws and regulations of furnish and demand is such that there are more females craving seman than there are donors, so even private clinics have waiting lists. In America, where no one with adequate resources waits for anything, you have a chat with your doctor, planned a year, call the donor bank, which bikes the seman round to the clinic, and off “theres going”. You might have spent six months or six years deciding to do this; but you could, potentially, get pregnant within a few months of first seeing your doctor.

That is, if “youve had” represented what feels at the time like the hardest decision: how to pick a donor. This question probably expense me six months after center flapping, during which I asked a male friend if he’d do it, because it seemed more “normal” than the alternatives, and was achingly allayed where reference is said no, before eventually deciding to find an anonymous donor.

This is a tricky part of the story for me. There may come a epoch when it is as regular as milk to share details of one’s sperm donor- when there is a language less alienating to describe it than this, and that feels less settlement of one’s child’s privacy. But we can not simply there hitherto, and I’ve no idea how to calibrate this option. Is it the biggest of my life, or essentially useless? Underplay the donor and you risk turning the guy into the elephant in the chamber; go on about him too much and you risk pathologising your child’s background.

Scrolling through charts, I “ve been looking for” characteristics that align with my own. I want someone clever, which here entails educated. I miss person with dark “hairs-breadth”. I crave someone whose favourite film isn’t Once Upon A Time In America or Titanic. Given the absence of a metric for approximate a man’s humour or internal knockout or moral value, I miss someone towering and mostly symmetrical. A select is superficial only if it is made at the expense of deeper considerations and so, although I accept sperm donors on criteria that would scandalize me if applied in real life by humankinds to women, I tell myself I’m not doing anything wrong.

‘ The idea that motherhood might never happen seen me feel giddy with loss .’ Photograph: Sophia Spring for the Guardian

It’s a mistake to see this exercise as equivalent to friendship or dating. I remain reading articles about sperm donor or egg-freezing ” defendants”, as if having a child this channel were not a series of sober decisions but some mad hen night. Interested donors banks are just as bad, all called things like Infertility Mixture, obliging them announce as if they have a sideline in targeted killings. But when you call the websites, most are set up to look like quasi date assistances, reinforcing the lie that you are choosing a husband, co-parent and the progenitor of precisely 50% of your child’s face and temperament. They go to great lengths to avoid the word ” catalogue ” but that’s what it is, pages of donor charts with vital statistics and photos. Some websites even have a little shopping basket icon in the right-hand corner and an option to ” check out”- only for show, given that you can’t do any of this without making at least one phone call.

Everything is extra: $35 for the guy’s newborn photos; $50 for an audio file. Guidelines vary, but in New York “youre seeing” photos of him exclusively as a child. Some donor banks give a “silhouette” of him as young adults, which “couldve been” hilarious if it weren’t so creepy. What next – his sigh in a container to rule out halitosis?

I don’t listen to the audio documents. I don’t try to find the guy, even though there is so much information, it is very likely take me less than a era. This does not constitute gene selection; it is the selection of the story of how my child came to be, and, through a combination of vital statistics, acquaintance of background, a subtle implication that he is a Democrat and his use of the word ” extraordinary”, which signals to me a certain wryness and passion, I construct my choice. In other words, on nothing substantive. What subjects is it’s my choice and I make it.

I pay extra for ID disclosure, enabling any offspring to detect the donor when they turn 18. I decide how much to buy- enough for three cycles/seconds- then fill in a shape and return it, along with payment for virtually $2,000. When I call to confirm my entreaty, I half expect the receptionist to laugh and ask what on earth am I doing, trying to buy genetic fabric over the phone as if it were lunch? Instead, after I mumble,” Need to guild some seman”, she makes me through to the lab, where a technician will check to see if what I require is available.

I give him the donor number. There is a clacking of keys, followed by a short pause. Then, with the smoothness of a sommelier fielding a wine-coloured guild at dinner, he says, “An excellent choice.”


After weeks of monitoring, at the end of 2013, my eggs are ready. This is it, says Dr B. I can come in tomorrow and, after waiting an hour for the seman to thaw, finally get this indicate on the road. He asks if I’d like L represented here when the insemination takes residence.” Some people find it nice to involve their development partners .”

Fertility treatment can be hard and excluding, he says, and involving the patient’s partner, even to the fullest extent of inviting him or her to operate the syringe full of seman, can give them a feeling of inclusion. I blush. Clearly he’s in favour of L being present, either because it pays him a warm feeling or to neutralise some latent ambivalence he has about helping to create single mothers.

I try to imagine the background: me, stressed out and half-naked on a gurney; L, containing the catheter and wheeling her attentions; the medical staff, trying not to intrude on our beautiful minute. I don’t think I want L there- I don’t want anyone there, it’s embarrassing- and when I imagine questioning her, I realise I don’t want to give her an opportunity to say no, either.

There is a cold, aim flash in me that shapes me reckon trying to involve the partner is ludicrous under any circumstances. Surely there’s a dignity in allowing things to be what they are? This is a medical procedure; professing otherwise dangers drawing the therapy seem sadder, just as choosing a sperm donor will continue to feel sad, or bad, or weird, as long as it’s tied to pacts is connected with to choose their own spouse.

The next day, a week before Christmas, Dr B breezes in full of good cheer. We chit-chat as he loads the syringe with a element that is, gram for gram, more expensive than the world’s finest heroin( though less expensive than marrying someone you’re not into in order to have a baby ).

The cycle neglects, as do the precede three hertzs, one of which results in a short-lived pregnancy and all of which mean that, by the spring of 2014, I just take, for the second month in a row and despite making too many eggs the first time, large amounts of birthrate hormones.

It is different this time.

” How do you feel ?” says Dr B.

” I feel messed with .”

For five days I have been injecting myself with a preloaded pen, which has bruised me awfully. The scalp of my abdomen looks like 1970 s wallpaper, all shining purple buds with a greeny blue-blooded margin. I feel altered, hideously bad-tempered. I tell myself it’s chemical and will pass. But it doesn’t.

A week after finishing the injections, Dr B looking back on my charts and tells me to stop taking the pharmaceuticals. Ten weeks later I go in for insemination number five.

“Whoa,” says the nurse doing the ultrasound.” You’ve a lot going on in there .”

I look at the screen: a lot of shapeless darknes spots connected by strings.

” They look like spider’s eggs ,” I say, and shudder.

I have, once again, overreacted to the hormones. But Dr B says not to worry: not all of them are mature. I could call off the cycle but I say,” Go onward .”

The sun comes out that weekend, and L and I take a move with the child in the buggy. I feel Zen in the face of all possible outcomes. On Monday night I go into my kitchen and crack an egg against the side of a pan for dinner. Two luminous yellow yolks slide down. I have never seen such a thing before and stare down at the eggs, feeling bad for the hen. I am so surprised I say it out loud: “Twins.”


It’s twinneds. Of course it is. How could it not be? I am a amble exemplar of the phrase,” Be careful what you wish for .” Over the next few weeks I wait for the idea of carrying twinneds to normalise, but it doesn’t. For hours at a time I forget I’m pregnant, then I remember with the force of the original outrage. I have lunch with an age-old friend I haven’t seen for a while. I know he’ll be stunned, very, and he is.

” Wow. Congratulations .”


” How’s that going to work ?” he says.

And there it is, the question we’ve been avoiding since L’s pregnancy. If I have these babies, what will the babies be to L and what will she be to them? The rebuttal is only partly to be found in the relationship I have with her child. “They dont have” honorific to describe what I am to him and there is no word for what he is to me. He lies at the heart of us, the miracle over whom we both wonder, but I have no moral, financial or legal responsibility for him. Neither do I perform many of the most basic parental offices.

I have always known this lopsided layout would be tolerable merely until I had a baby of my own. What I hadn’t anticipated was just the way in which its limits would also prove to be persuasiveness. In the year since his birth, my affair with the child has derived to be curiously free-floating from that with L. He is my buddy, a child in whom I have no stake other than love. That it’s a charity I’m not fasten- by constitution or biology- to feel stimulates it all the more precious.

On the other hand, what am I doing potentially raising two further children into a situation it takes so long to explain? I can just about rationalise to myself why a woman without small children might want to maintain a degree of separation from a partner with a child, given the vast difference in life-style. But two women in separate households with babies of a same age who hang out on nights and weekends? If we’re not a blended house, then what on earth are we?

Clearly, at this moment, the proper course of action is necessary to either give up this nonsense of separate the families and separate children, and keep moving together, or else call it a day. There is no middle way. Perhaps it is greedy. It’s selfish to carry on along similarity ways, denying the children a second parent and creating two single-parent households. It’s selfish, practically, morally, financially and ecologically, to maintain our independence while being together, like driving two autoes to a single destination. And while my relation with L’s newborn is full of glee, how has the potential to survive once I have my own children and am unable to travel back and forth to see him?

‘ I wait for the idea of carrying twins to normalise, but it doesn’t .’ Photograph: Sophia Spring for the Guardian

For the first time I gravely question why I want to do this alone. It isn’t just that L and I have conflicting sentiments about parenting- very broadly, I am too aim in her gazes, and she isn’t mean enough in mine – it’s the historical weight each of us introduces on those differences and our hypothesis about where they are to be able to result us. We both have a highly developed sense of self-preservation, which utters itself in different ways, except, perhaps, in this one shared idea: that the style one protects children from harm is by restraining who has access to them. The one thing more frightening to me than not having a baby is having a baby in a hostile environment.

One afternoon L transports me an email with a link to an accommodation index that is almost doubled the rent I offer in Brooklyn. The floor plan looks familiar, as does the thought from the window. It’s in her build, the mirror image of her dwelling, but one storey down.

“?!” I reply.


” But do we want to live that close to each other? Isn’t it funny ?”

” I don’t know .”

I go to see it. The landlord is putting in brand-new flooring and a brand-new lavatory and most of the apartment is under polythene, but because it’s an exact transcript of L’s, rail the fixtures and fittings, I don’t have much trouble reckon it. It appears to me, as I walk around, that he may not even want to rent to a single woman expecting two babies. But in any case, it’s too expensive. Eeven if it’s the kind of building I need, with a mail chamber and an elevator and a upkeep team on site; even if it would be amazing to have L upstairs when I raising the babies dwelling; even if the very happening that the directory came up in the first place, in a co-op that prevents rentals, is the kind of coincidence that feels like a endow from above- nothing of that are important, because I can’t afford it.It is, surely, nuts: to sort of live together but not. It feels like cheating, to have L’s support and proximity without the hard work of cohabitation. How would we explain it to the children? Or to ourselves? That we like one another sufficiently to be in daily contact, except on dates when we don’t? What would the minors even be to each other? Cousins? Best friends? The fall victim to a half-arsed piece of psychological evasion, or recipients of a radical new vision?

In those first weeks after moving, we register a honeymoon span in which the loveliness of living almost together is nothing to the luxury of living sort of apart. The act of leaving my flat and sauntering up one flight imbues daily sees with the tiny frisson of moment. When one of us snarls, the other goes home without it being understood as a histrionic gesticulate. There’s no matrimony or joint mortgage, but a commitment has been stimulated. I have the long-overdue realisation that relationships rely on a balance between independence and the right height of curtailment of liberty to liberate one from the burden of choice.

One evening, L sits on the sofa with her son, reading a book about different kinds of pedigrees. “‘ Some parties have two mommies ,'” she speaks, drawn attention to an portrait of two badgers wearing earrings with a newborn badger in their midst. “‘ Some people have two daddies. Some people have one mummy, hasome people have one daddy .'” Her baby, who isn’t a baby any more but a toddler and the most delightful child in the nations of the world, isn’t fairly old-time enough to formulate questions and we are off the hook for a little while yet. L and I exchange gleams.” Some people have a neighbour ,” she says, sotto voce.


My final ultrasound of its first year tumbles just after Christmas. I am six weeks from the due date. The technician looks at the screen. He frowns, says something I don’t catch and leaves the room. Someone else comes in. Everyone accumulates by the monitor while I look at the ceiling and try to figure out what to have for lunch. A fourth physician comes in and tells me to get dressed and follow him. I feel a spike of frighten. In his office, my high-risk obstetrician, Dr Y, is waiting.

” They have to come out ,” Dr Y says.

” Oh my God .”

The placenta for the smallest baby is working only intermittently; if it stops wholly, she’ll die.

” This is not an emergency ,” Dr Y says calmly,” but it is … fairly urgent .” He tells me he has time the following day, New Year’s Eve, or the day after that.

” Let’s do it tomorrow ,” I say, trembling.

” Three pm ?”


My dad is in London and offers to come straight-from-the-shoulder to New York, but I don’t want him in the air while I’m having surgery; I can’t add anxiety of his plane going down to everything else. At L’s that night, I tell her to ask her mother to come across town the following day to watch her son.

” I’m so happy you’ll be there ,” I say.

” It’s only because everyone else is in England .”

” No, it isn’t. I would want you to be there, whatever .”

As I say this, I realise it’s true. Fear pushes me inwards, pleasure pushes me out, and while I am as frightened of having these newborns as of anything, it’s a different kind of fear: not a contracting but an opening out. I have been so stringent in ensuring I can do this alone, perhaps the reinforce is that I don’t ever have to.

Right up until the last moment, a small part of me ponders, what if all this is a mistake? What if Dr Y turns to me and says there’s nothing in there- of course you’re not pregnant! Did you think that, by signing a few cases words and handing over your credit cards, you could dodge millennia of growth , not to mention convention and common respectability? Go home, buy yourself a cat and never be talking about this again.

But at 4.17 pm the next day, a tiny, raging cry packs the room. Baby A is removed from the cellar of my form. I burst into weepings. L grasps my hands. A minute later, Baby B comes out and L leaps from her seat in the direction of the children while Dr Y, turning to his students, regards a rapid pop quiz over my bowels. Then the nurses drawing over the babies.

L gets all of this illegally on camera. It’s not footage I can watch too often. The newborns, two flat-faced Glo Worms covered in gel, are blotchy and impossibly alive. I am lunatic on the gurney, grinning drunkenly at my two girls. Over and over I say it, in the manner of a woman shortly to come forward with more doses:” Oh my God, I can’t believe they’re both blond .”

* This is an edited extract from An Excellent Choice by Emma Brockes, published by Faber& Faber at PS16. 99. To tell a imitation for PS13. 99, go to or see 0330 333 6846.

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