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I Interviewed My Mom on Her Decision to Have Me Via Sperm Donation

I Interviewed My Mom on Her Decision to Have Me Via Sperm Donation

I always knew my family was different. Happy and whole, but different. In the late 1980s, my mother decided she wanted a baby. More specifically, she wanted to have a baby by herself, as a single parent. So, her journey of becoming a single mother by choice began – and I was born in late 1991. I’m proud to have grown up in a single-parent household and credit my brave mum for the principled, loud, quick-witted woman I am today. Being a sperm-donor baby was never hidden or lied about in our home growing up. It was embraced, explored and made normal. It wasn’t until I grew up and saw the nuclear families growing around me that I realized how truly inspiring it is to actively decide to have a child on your own. My mother’s experience, challenges and triumphs are an early and exciting example of proactive single parenthood. I hope her story will empower and inspire those who are curious or considering single parenthood. 

Did you always want children?

No. I used to complain that kids and cats were drawn to me and I disliked both of them. Sticky, scratchy, noisy, hairy.

When did you decide you wanted a baby?

When I was in my early 20’s a friend casually stated that relationship or no relationship, when she turned 30 she was going to start having her kids. I realized that finding a lifetime relationship wasn’t a prerequisite to having a child. It became more of an option for me. Also, her wording, she’d have HER kids. Not just some kids or a kid. Her kids. It was very empowering.

Was there a specific moment when you thought, ok, I’m just going to do it myself then?

In 1983, I was returning from a solo month-long vacation, my plane circled Toronto waiting to land and I looked down at the city and was disappointed to be coming back to the same life I left. I decided to change it all. I might want a baby, and if I do, I could start preparing now. Within 6 months I’d changed to a higher paying job, moved to a cheaper apartment so I could save for a house and bought my first car. Three years later I was in my house, had changed jobs three more times, increasing my income each time, and I’d turned 30. My mother had died and I missed her terribly. I realized that if I was ever going to be part of a mother-child relationship again I would need to switch positions.  

bonjibon - nancy grace sperm donation

My mom, Nancy, pregnant with me, 1991

At the time were there other options you considered and explored other than donor insemination?

I had joined a group called Single Mothers By Choice. Through them, I met regularly with a group of radical women from all walks of life. Some gay, some divorced, some single, some pregnant, some planning and some suddenly coping with parenting alone. Through their experiences and our discussions, I realized that choosing a father for my child-to-be was more than having sex. I’d be connected to them and maybe their families for the next 18 years or maybe forever. I looked at all the men in my life. Friends, past boyfriends, casual crushes and considered what having a child with them would entail. Did I want to be tied to any of them for the foreseeable future? Conversely, would I be ok with them not being involved at all? No and no.

One night stands with strangers were not my style. We were at the height of the AIDS crisis so the risk of STDs was a real concern.

What made you decide on donor insemination?

Some of the other women in SMBC were undergoing donor insemination. It was the safest choice.

What was the process of finding a donor like? 

It was the late 1980’s. I wasn’t even sure the medical system would accept a single woman into the donor insemination program. It was housed in the infertility clinic of the hospital. Catholic hospitals were turning single women away so I chose a non-Catholic hospital and there was no issue.

I was given a form to fill out indicating my preferences. Height, build, hair colour, eye colour, skin tone. My logic was to match myself so my child would be most likely to look like me and be less likely to prompt questions about their father. I’m short and fair. If I’d chosen a tall, dark-haired donor my child and would be fielding questions forever about “Do you get that from your father?”  The one thing I chose that was different from me was red hair. My mother loved red hair. The clinic was unable to source a red-haired donor anywhere in North America so we went with my second choice – blonde. The universe has a funny way of working things out.

What was the process of getting pregnant like?

I tracked my ovulation via temperature and urine testing mid-month. When my temperature spiked I called the clinic to book an appointment. I told my co-workers I was going out for a long lunch. I worked on a busy stock trading desk and lunch was never normally taken. I took a bus to the hospital, a doctor injected semen at my cervix, I lay on the table for 20-30 minutes giving it a chance to get in before I stood up and gravity got to work, then I went back to work. Repeat the next day. Two weeks later I went to the clinic before work for a pregnancy blood test. Later in the day, I’d get a call with a positive/negative result.

Negative five times, positive on the 6th. The positive test had lower than expected numbers so I was called back to re-test in a few days and got a strong positive then.

bonjibon - nancy grace sperm donationMy mom, Nancy, me and our dog Genny, 1992

During your pregnancy, what did you find was your biggest challenge and triumph being single?

Telling everyone was a bit nerve-wracking. It was 1991 and it was still quite unusual for a single woman to choose to have a child alone. I didn’t want to give people a chance to embarrass themselves or start with negative thoughts so I developed a line – “Have you heard my news? I’m pregnant. By myself. On purpose. I’m so happy!” Then I’d give them time to digest it. In my whole world only three people responded negatively. Lots were puzzled or amused or bewildered but only three who stopped talking to me. Oh, wait, five. My grandparents couldn’t handle it. They thought I was a whore. A whore they loved but still a whore. They cried whenever I spoke to them. They didn’t include you in their great-grandchildren count. I couldn’t truly fault them. They were born in 1902. Good girls just didn’t do what I did. I couldn’t hold it against them but I also didn’t need to subject myself and you to it. I took pictures whenever we were together but then one day you started noticing that they didn’t respond to you. I never visited them or spoke to them again.

What was something that really stuck out being a single parent? It can be something good or bad.

Emotionally it was way easier than I expected. My coupled friends struggled to manage and balance relationships with their partners and their children. I just had one relationship to manage.

Financially it was frustrating to see how much “the system” is slanted towards two-parent families. Tax initiatives favouring two-income families, benefits programs that allow the parent with higher coverage to submit expenses first, then the remainder submit to the other parent’s plan, single supplement charges on travel, adding babysitting costs to any outing I went on sans-child. I had gone to great lengths to make sure we were financially secure but it was frustrating to see two-parent families having fewer demands on their double income.

Having decided to be a single parent by choice, do you think that impacted your parenting style?

A lot of my work in the financial services industry focused on disaster recovery projects so identifying a single point of failure came naturally to me. Our single point of failure was me. If something happened to me, your world was hugely affected. This became very apparent when I was diagnosed with cancer while you were still quite young. After I recovered, I increased my life insurance substantially which put further demand on my single income. I also put a lot of effort into making sure you were able to be independent and could rely on yourself if you had to. You were confident in making your own decisions, able to handle money, look after your clothes and food choices. That meant allowing you to make mistakes and lowering the safety net a bit.

As a child, I remember having a clear understanding of both the mechanics of sex and also that it was an act of pleasure and procreation, since we talked so much about why our family was different from everyone else’s. Was this a conscious choice?

My mother never discussed sex with me. She said it was because she didn’t know anything, ha! “Whatever I know about sex, I learned from you kids!” I wanted to not have that awkwardness and to make sure you didn’t make decisions without being informed. I wanted you to be confident and know your worth. More times than not I got “Mommmm! Stop talking!” and I didn’t know if you were actually listening. I’m glad some of it stuck.

At the time the word used by the media for single-parent families was “broken”. She comes from a broken family. She’s from a broken home. I wanted to give you more positive wording. Our family is legitimate. We’re small, not broken. To reinforce our status as a whole family, I bought a children’s book called “How I Came To Be”. It explained sex, conception and birth with drawings and child-appropriate language. I cut the book apart, re-drew some of the pages to include the kind stranger who gave up his sperm (not the actually giving part), the doctor and the insemination and the picture of happy Mummy holding her baby. I reconstructed the book and put it into the rotation for bedtime reading. 

bonjibon - nancy grace sperm donationMom and I, 2018

How do you think being a single parent by choice shaped your feminism?

Honestly, when I look at my life and at you, my daughter, I feel powerful, accomplished and proud. I feel a little battered and very tired too. I made a choice that was unusual at the time and I raised a strong, smart, kind woman. I presented my choice positively to my family, my workplace, my friends and the school system and got them on board. I made it easier for the women who came after me. Did you know that Single Mothers By Choice isn’t even a thing now? There’s no need for a support group. Deciding to have a child on your own is just one lifestyle choice available to women now. I did that.   

What is your favourite thing about being a single parent?

It’s one of the seven deadly sins. Pride. I actually enjoy the other six too but with regard to being a single mother, it’s pride. I’m so proud of myself and of you, my daughter. I made a choice that was considered radical and strange at the time but it was right for me. I made it happen, I brought my family and friends onside, I paid all the bills, I had a lot of fun along the way. I’m proud of my accomplishments. You are a trailblazer in your own life and work. You created a career out of your interests and passions, you work hard, you travel extensively, you find and value joy. I’m so proud of you. I say it often, “having Grace is the biggest and best thing I’ve ever done.”

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I wish I hadn’t been so focused on money but on the other hand, I wish I’d found a way to have more income.

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