Published on April 25th, 2018 | by Allison Langer0
I WISH I COULD GET DIVORCED: On Always Being the Only Parent
I’m jealous of my divorced friends. They get up to 15 kid-free days every month. They can sleep in, go out to dinner without paying for a babysitter, and have a man sleep over. Maybe the ex is a workaholic asshole with different values and a nasty new girlfriend. But he’s court ordered to take the kids away on Wednesday nights and every other weekend.
When I was 36, I broke up with my boyfriend and started searching for the perfect sperm. I never thought I’d go that route, but I’d only had a handful of long relationships, so I knew it would be risky to wait to find true love. I wanted to have a family with more than one child, so I figured I needed to get started.
I didn’t personally know anyone who’d had a baby alone, so I Googled: Having a baby alone and found the book, Single Mothers By Choice. The summary described a woman like me: strong, independent, loving and out of options.
Over lunch, I mentioned this idea to my best friend Galia, who I’d known since high school. She said, “It’s about time!” Before I even responded, she flipped open her phone and called Dr. Thompson, her fertility doctor.
One week later, Galia, drove me to my first appointment. That night, I logged onto the California Cryobank website and sorted through my options. I wanted my child to be tall, lean, smart and gorgeous, so I chose 6’3” sperm with green eyes, blonde hair, and 180 pounds of pure muscle. My sperm was a swimmer of Irish descent. His parents were doctors. Interviewers at the sperm bank wrote in his online profile that he was amiable and had a nice smile.
My baby would be amiable and have a nice smile. He would be smart. He would coo and smell good and we would cuddle, read books. I would stroll him around the neighborhood, feed him organic food and join a playgroup. I’d brag about how smart my baby was, trade Baby Einstein DVD’s and compare recipes.
After one failed insemination and one ectopic pregnancy, I committed to a round of IVF. I embraced the whole science experiment of mixing up the medications and injecting myself. I was lucky. I did not have any side effects to the hormones. No bloating, no headaches, and no emotional craziness. And luckiest of all, it worked!
The pregnancy was easy too. I played tennis into the 8th month. Then, at 39 weeks, my doctor induced labor. My baby popped out on the third push, was wrapped in a blanket and placed on my chest. I named him Jackson, after my dad, my favorite person in the world. I was a mom.
I joined a weekly playgroup. We’d feed our babies, sing songs, and chat while they slept. But a few months into playgroup, I got down on the floor with the other moms and our babies. Eight moms in a circle sang The wheels on the bus go round and round. We pedaled our babies’ feet. We swung them around. I felt ridiculous. I didn’t care that my friends’ babies spit up, were cranky and kept them up all night. I didn’t want to spend time with other moms, I wanted to spend time with my baby.
On my days off from playgroup, Jackson and I went out to lunch together and he sat in his high chair without fussing. We strolled the neighborhood and napped. He woke every 4 hours to nurse, he ate well and he was calm. By the time he was 3 months old, he slept from 7pm-7am. He was what the parenting books called an angel baby. My friends hated me. They said I was lucky. I didn’t think I was lucky. I thought that I was a better mom.
Then came pregnancy number two. Same process, same donor, different result. At the 7-week ultrasound, Dr. Thompson slid the wand inside me, waved it around and started to laugh. “Oh my,” she said. “You’re having identical twins.”
My dad laughed.
Everyone I told laughed.
It was not a joyous laugh but instead a holy-shit-good-luck-with-that laugh.
Then when Jackson was 22 months, Blake and Maclain were born.
The first year is a blur: diapers, baby food, toys all over the house, strollers, baby gates, doctor visits, and sleepless nights. The twins were completely different from Jackson. They were angry, fussy and tough. I tried to nurse them both at the same time but it wasn’t the relaxed, bonding experience I’d had with Jackson. Instead, it was a race to feed one before the other got up and got pissed. I’d walk around dangling one baby while reaching for the other. The nipple would slip from the first one’s grasp and milk would squirt her in the face. She’d wail. The second one would wail while I wrestled them both onto “my brest friend,” a cushion designed for breast feeding one child. I was too cheap to spring for the double brest friend and regretted it. After a month of double duty nursing, I gave up. Instead, I alternated one baby on the boob one day and the other on formula.
I hired a nanny and she fed one baby with the bottle while I nursed the other. She helped with laundry and daily maintenance, but after 7pm, I was alone again. Alone to juggle crying babies, to feed and to change, to mop up vomit, and to calm them down. By 9:30, the girls, exhausted, would fall asleep. And so would I. Four hours later, I would wake to their cries, struggle to feed them, crawl into my bed and within seconds hear whaaaaaa…
After days and days of the same thing, I was beyond exhausted with no possibilities of help. Instead of jumping up to soothe them, I just screamed, “Shut the fuck up!”
I said it many times, over and over as I cried.
When the twins turned five months, they slept through the night. I felt like I’d survived the siege. At 16 months, I took them to their pediatrician and questioned the doctor about Maclain’s heavy breathing and random vomiting during meals. He suspected a vascular ring, which he described as an arch attached to her heart that was wrapped around her esophagus. He drew a picture on the sanitary, white paper maclain lay on. He said, “The ring needs to be snipped to release the pressure.” He referred me to a cardiac surgeon, who would snip the ring and she would be fine. But a week later, my daughter choked on a French fry and was without oxygen for 30 minutes. After five days in the pediatric ICU, and on the day of her scheduled surgery, she died.
After Maclain died, I couldn’t get out of bed. My nanny took care of Blake and three-year-old Jackson. She cooked and cleaned, as usual. My friend Kerrie took care of me. She ran my kids to preschool, paid my bills, answered emails, and made chocolate chip cookies. She did this for 2 weeks, until I felt able to leave the house. When I was finally able to drive through the preschool carpool lane again, all I saw staring back at me were sad faces. I slid down in my seat and hid my tears behind sunglasses.
I was forced to brave the preschool pity each morning and each afternoon. One morning, I was late and the dropoff line was closed. I had to walk the kids in. The moms treated me like a celebrity or a ghost. Those flat smiles, downturned eyes.
I became that poor lady who lost her child. It was fresh, and I was in so much pain, but I knew I couldn’t be that pitied woman. I thought, “Something good has to come out of this.” Two days later, I called Dr. Thompson’s office and told her I wanted to use my last vial of sperm.
Sloan, Blake and Jackson are 6, 9 and 11 today. There is so much of me in them. I see character traits that will serve them well and some they will battle. Jackson is easy and kind and smart and pure. If he upsets me, he cries. I see him trying to please everyone and I get it. I want to tell him that the world is a bully, to toughen up. Blake is beautiful and smart and spunky and sassy and she is confident and independent and good at everything she tries. But she needs me to love her more than either of the boys. And that need is wearing. I want to tell her how hard life will be if she needs love and attention that much. Sloan is hilarious and charismatic. He is the youngest, the most difficult and the most like me. He’s bossy and defiant. He says bad words because he’s not allowed and because it makes people laugh. I want to tell him to only break the rules that matter. That life will be much easier for him if he can just tone it down a little. Instead, I say, “You just lost your dessert for the week. I hope it was worth it!”
Survival mode has long ended but I’m still at it alone. True, nobody tells me how to raise my children, or changes visitation days, or argues with me over money and schools. But, I can’t roll over and take the day off.
On school days, I wake up at 7 to make breakfast, pack lunches, volunteer in three different classrooms, chauffeur kids to dance and golf and tennis, help with homework, make dinner, read stories, and sing You are my sunshine to Sloan in his room then sing Whenever I see your smiling face to Blake in her room. Jackson, at 11, is good with a just a hug and a kiss. At some point in between, I schedule photography appointments, edit client photos, produce a writing podcast, buy groceries, and fix the front door latch. At the end of the day, no matter how many books I’ve read to Sloan or no matter how long I’ve cuddled up on the couch with Blake or no matter how many times I’ve checked the UPS delivery schedule looking for Jackson’s sneakers, someone is upset that someone else got more attention. It never occurred to me that at this point, I’d still be alone.
There are weeks where everyone gets sick in succession. Nobody is getting enough sleep. The babysitter calls in sick and I can’t cancel my photo session because I could really use the $500. I think, “I chose this?”
I look back on that day in Dr. Thompson’s office when I decided to go for it alone. I didn’t imagine past the cute baby stage and into the real 365 days of work each year of life. You asked for this.
Yes, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering if I made a mistake. Those single mothers by choice left that part out. The part where you wake up one morning and ask, “What the hell was I thinking?”
I was thinking that life would be more fun with children around to cook for and to play with, to hear giggle and sing. But this mom thing is fucking hard.
Last night, Sloan complained, “MOM…I don’t like this macaroni and cheese. I said the yellow one with shells not the white twisty one.” I wanted to stick his face in it but stormed out of the kitchen instead. “Make your own dinner!” I said.
I thought I’d be Mary Poppins. Turns out I’m more like Miss Hannigan.
I miss my old life, my freedom. And although I probably will miss them when they’re gone, every day with little kids and no free time is a struggle.
I would still like to meet a great man, a partner. But when? I feel old and tired. I don’t want to be touched or needed. I want to be left alone to watch Grey’s Anatomy.
People say, “Enjoy it. It goes by so quickly.” I wonder if that is mom speak for “I know it sucks, but you’ll still miss them when they’re gone.”
All other photos courtesy of the author