When I decided to use donor sperm and egg to conceive my child, I never anticipated the way in which the donor origins conversation would played out with my son.
I did my research about how to talk to my child about his donor origins. I wasn’t nervous or anxious about broaching the topic with him. I believed that I should expose my child early and often to the idea that he had been conceived via donor sperm and egg.
I bought a selection of books and readily told him the story of his conception. Emphasizing how much I wanted a baby, I explained that I needed a seed from a man and a seed from a woman, labeling them donors. And explained that the seeds were combined and put into my body so that I could grow him.
Since he was born, I’ve readily pointed out as many different family structures to my child as possible–our friends with two moms, our friends with only a mommy, friends with two daddies etc. I am so thankful to live in a progressive area where I can readily point out different families.
It was all very lovely and I was feeling confident until one day he started saying, “I have a daddy,” over and over again. He has a huge smile on his face and doesn’t act concerned. But the phrase was on instant repeat, sometimes probably 100 times a day. I was confounded by how to respond.
And so, many times a day, or sometimes many times in an hour, I’d have to say to my son, “no, sorry, you don’t have a daddy. You have a donor.” It broke my heart to have to be so blunt. I’d practiced saying, “we are a mommy and baby family,” and other nice sayings. But here I was needing to bluntly say, “sorry, you don’t have a dad.” This went on for a few months.
I want to keep the lines of communication open so I change it up a bit sometimes by asking him what he means? I don’t want to quash an imaginary friend or shut down the conversation by indicating that he’s wrong.
I should add that he doesn’t seem upset or concerned when he says this. Nor does he seem upset when I correct him. And, from what I know, he is probably just trying to explore my reaction. He’s seen other kids at school who have daddies and he’s curious about why and how they exist for some kids.
I had to notify his care givers that he was obsessed with this saying and gave them the language I had been using. I lent my son’s daycare my favorite books about various family structures so they could foster the conversation among all the kids.
It felt particularly heartbreaking because my son clearly loves men. He gravitates to them and lights up when we come across men at the park or in social encounters. I can see that he would love to have that male bond and connection. When I was contemplating single motherhood, I wasn’t too worried about the absence of a father. I agreed with the research that suggests that one stable loving parent is the most important factor in raising a healthy child. I believed I’d help him find male role models. I never had brothers and wasn’t particularly close to either of my parents so I didn’t feel too worried. But I certainly did not factor in his obvious bond and attraction to men. It’s just reaffirmed my commitment to find great male role models and play dates with friends and their dads.
My main take away on this matter is that I need to remain calm. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice my own somatic and mind/body practices to keep myself calm. Young children are intimately tied into their caregiver’s nervous systems. They are taking their cues from how we react but those cues are more than verbal. Our emotional and visceral cues are way more important to them.
I feel my body lurch internally every time I hear my son say, “I have a daddy.” And my guts do a few somersaults each time I respond, “sorry honey, you have a donor.” And, I assume he senses that. It’s possible that the reason he repeats it so often is that he’s trying to make sense of my response. No doubt, he’s trying to map this strange territory in some way.
I’ve been trying to remember to take a deep breath and allow myself to melt and relax internally on the outbreath. I tune into my contacts with the ground and support they provide. In this way I ground myself before I answer his questions.
Just one more example of how motherhood and the donor journey is always surprising. Every time I get comfortable there’s something unexpected. I look forward to seeing how this conversation evolves for us over time.
I’d love to hear about how the donor conversation is going for you. What has surprised you most? How do you deal with your reactions and emotions surrounding the topic? Shoot me an email or comment below on this piece.
And, be sure to download my FREE guide all about how to start the donor conversation with your child, complete with tips for when and how to have the conversation and a comprehensive reading list of books on every type of family configuration. It’s also great for sharing with teachers and family so they understand the basic concepts as well.
In case we haven’t met, I’m Sarah Kowalski, Single Mother by Choice, Fertility Doula, Life Coach and author. I am a go to guide for women who are contemplating single motherhood, seeking help with fertility or raising donor-conceived children. I inspire them to reconsider what it means to be a mother so they can embrace their unique path to motherhood and get down to being a badass mama. Join my mailing list below for regular articles and updates.
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Why Plan C? Well, motherhood rarely comes the way we hoped or expected. Sometimes we have to move well beyond our original vision. In my case, Plan B was to become a single mother by choice, using an anonymous sperm donor. I ended up at what I affectionately call Plan C because I needed to use an egg donor as well.
Even if your plans didn't work out as we expected (psst, it never really does), don't let it stop you from embracing your unique path.
So that we can get to know each other better , I want to share my story with you and why it put me on a mission to help women all over the world do whatever it takes to become a mother--if they decide that’s what they want.
As a child, I was obsessed with babies. If anyone asked me if I wanted kids when I grew up, I would exuberantly respond that I wanted eleven babies (I know, right? Eleven??) I distinctly remember stalking a pregnant mother in my neighborhood, asking if I could care for her child once it was born. She obliged and I spent every day after school at her house. You could basically say that loving babies and kids was my hobby.
But somewhere along the way, I lost my conviction and clarity. I went to college and law school, graduated at the top of my class, and got a job at a prestigious law firm during the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley. I was focused on my career and worked insane hours. Dating, however, was not my best skill, and I wasn’t taking any intentional steps to find "the one." When people asked me if I wanted kids, I would always say, "I don’t know. It’s a decision I want to make together with my partner once I find him."
In contrast, most of my friends who wanted babies were deliberate and intentional about their dating efforts. They spent time on dating sites, went out specifically to meet men, even hired matchmakers. Soon, they moved on to marriage and began having kids.
But I just never found him.
However, I was fast approaching 40 and there was still no partner in sight.
As I faced the closing of my fertility window, I realized I needed to think about whether or not I truly wanted children ... with or without someone to co-parent with. I wasn't panicked though. Friends all around me were having babies in their late 30s and 40s. My own mother had me when she was 39. I thought that, if anything, my generation had proven that having a baby later in life is possible and, in some ways, more desirable.
It took me over a year of contemplation to decide to take the leap into solo motherhood. As much as I loved children, I wasn’t certain that I was ready to give up my freedom and life of spontaneity.
Who would I be if I couldn’t travel the world, go see various spiritual teachers on a whim, stay out late dancing, and sample all the best restaurants and music festivals?
The flip side started to seep in too though: Would life get boring for me if I only had to focus on myself? At some point would I get bored of travel, retreats and dancing?
Already, the last few times I had traveled somewhere exotic, it didn't have the same allure. The intense drive of my spontaneous life was fading. Something else was calling me. I was looking for something ... more.
And then one day, my teacher said to me, "Have you noticed that you cry every time you talk about not having a baby?"
It was true! And that was a startling realization. But, as I considered the idea of solo mothering, I just kept thinking: This isn't the way I thought my life would unfold! I had to mourn the life I thought I was meant to have and re-imagine the remainder of my life unfolding an entirely new way.
My greatest fear was — Would I be alone forever if I have a baby by myself? Who would want to date a single mom?
I was also deeply concerned about financial stability.
How would I manage alone — financially, emotionally, logistically? What if I lost my job? Or couldn’t work again due to physical pain?
My teacher reminded me that nothing in life is ever certain.
People who find the love of their life end up divorced, cheated on, and even widowed. Happy couples remain childless due to infertility. No one's "dream life" is promised to them. And, everyone's job safety is impossible to predict.
I could freak out about having a baby alone and miss my chance at becoming a mother, or I could lean into the uncertainty and let the rest of my life unfold as it was meant to. Having a child alone did not necessarily mean I’d never meet a life partner. It might mean delaying the partner for several years, or it might mean that being pregnant would make me feel amazing and sexy and call in the partner I’d always dreamed about. It was truly impossible to predict.
Then, one day in meditation, I had a vision of a little girl in a frilly, pink dress riding on a swing on a glorious spring day. In that moment, I knew — I wanted to become a mother more than anything. All of my indecision vanished in an instant! I was ready.
I wanted to be of service in some way, and I realized I wanted to be of service to a child. (Of course, at the time, I had NO idea just how much surrender and sacrifice motherhood would entail!)
I researched the logistics and started trying to conceive a child alone with the use of an Identity-Release donor (which is an amazing process, by the way, but that's a story for another day).
But then, my OB/GYN informed me that if I wanted to have a baby, I’d likely have to use an egg donor. WHAT? This was definitely not part of the plan!
I refused to listen and instead spent a year trying to get pregnant with my own eggs (I won’t even start trying to explain the lengths I went to on that front) I finally accepted that I'd need to use both a sperm and an egg donor.
I finally came to terms with having a baby via egg donation and I have no regrets.
On April 3, 2014 my son was born. Happily. Gloriously. A beautiful, healthy, amazing son. And, I can’t imagine a more perfect union. I have no doubt I got the child I was meant to have.
Motherhood is about love, plain and simple ... no matter how complicated the journey is getting there.
You can read my whole story in my new book: Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming A Mother Doesn’t Go As Planned: A Memoir. It’s due out Oct. 17th but you can pre-order your copy now.
All My Best,