As told to Swathi Raman.
Suddenly, it hit me. One day I woke up and I was thirty.
I was so quiet earlier in my life that I spent much of my time in my twenties and early thirties focusing on my social life and building a large group of friends, I didn’t put too much emphasis on dating. And when I was dating, I put pressure on the relationship to progress. I felt like I needed to make sure that I was settled and had kids by 35 (the magic number for me). Even if I didn’t vocalize it, the pressure on my relationships was palpable. I became very depressed and frustrated with the way my life was going.
When I was 34, one of my friends told me, “Why don’t you just get the kids out of the way yourself, and that way you can relax while dating and not feel rushed?” It clicked, and I decided to have kids on my own.
I did my research and found out that it was actually much more common than I thought to become a single mother by choice. In fact, there are several support groups for mothers who chose to have their children in this way, including other South Asian moms. I’ve been to several Single Mothers by Choice (SMC) meetings and social gatherings. They have been a great support network for me.
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Maryland, near Washington D.C. My parents raised me in a conservative South Indian household. I was raised in a big family – both my paternal thatha and paati lived with us.
In my early years I was a loner. I kept to myself and didn’t even attend significant high school events such as prom or the senior banquet because of the fact that I just didn’t have friends to go with. My parents also didn’t want me to go to prom – something that came with a conservative Indian upbringing.
In both high school and college I was awkward around guys. Coupled with the fact that I was shy, I didn’t date either. By the time I got to college I was more interested in getting to know many people and building a large network of friends, and I didn’t want to focus my energy on just one person (i.e. a boyfriend).
Today I still have an active social life. Currently I am working as an IT professional for the IRS. I hold an MS in IT from JHU, an MA from Reading University (in England) in International Security and an MFA in film from American University. I’ve also been an avid filmmaker and have worked on short films and participated in film competitions. My feature Film ‘Arrange to Settle’, was screened at the DC South Asian Film Festival this year.
Initially, my parents were opposed to the idea of me becoming a parent on my own. The thing that bothered them the most was the fact that I was choosing to be a single mother. They were worried about what people would say, that I would become a laughing stock. Naturally, they were most concerned about what the Indian community would think/say about me. The first thing my sister said when I told her that I wanted to become a single mother by choice was that I couldn't cure my depression by bringing a baby into my life. She tried to play devil's advocate and gave my parents my perspective and me their perspective.
Even though my parents told me they were not supportive of my decision, I still decided to go ahead with artificial insemination. My sister helped communicate to my parents my perspective. Once I became pregnant, they were completely on board and have been absolutely amazing from Day 1, through to my delivery, all the way through to now. I’m happy to say that they love their granddaughters and dote on them constantly. My mother even came with me to one of my Single Mothers by Choice groups.
The most surprising was the reaction of the elders in the family. My mother was scared to tell her father about my decision – but when he found out, he was happy for me - that I would be settling down and becoming a mother. Since he was a former police officer, his only concerns were really just to make sure that everything was legal! If she was still here, I believe my paternal paati (with whom I grew up) would have been supportive.
I do not know the girls’ biological father personally. However, the donor’s profile came with information about him, his likes/dislikes, personality, ethnicity, and his parents’ information as well. The donor is of Eastern European origin. I did not have a preference for a South Asian donor. South Indians tend to pass down a lot of heart disease to their children. Generally, from a Darwinian/evolutionary perspective, I believe that children who are mixed race are healthier. I personally believe that racial mixing is important for the human race.
As I was doing research on the sperm donation process, a great deal of my research was focused on its legal ramifications. I chose an anonymous donor as opposed to a known donor because he would have no parental rights. This way, I don’t have to worry about the donor - resurfacing and suing for custody of my children or asserting his parental rights. I definitely did not want my children going through a tumultuous situation like that. I did have friends who offered to be my sperm donors as well. However, I didn’t want to put my children through the situation of being born into a split household (where Mom and Dad are not together). However, according to the donor process, my daughters can choose to have one face-to-face meeting with the donor when they turn 18. After that, if all parties would like to stay in touch, I would definitely support my girls’ wishes.
Once I decided on a donor, I initially was going to self-inseminate, which could be done at home and was more cost-effective. However, at that time, my OB-GYN told me I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Eventually, it was my third round of IVF that was successful.
Since I had been trying for two years unsuccessfully, I decided to have two embryos transferred, with the hope that at least one would take. To my pleasant surprise they both took and I became pregnant with fraternal twins.
My pregnancy was difficult because I had hyperemesis gravidarum. I threw up at least 1-2 times a day. Sometimes I couldn’t keep any food down. I was even hospitalized twice on IV fluids because of severe dehydration. I lost weight during my pregnancy, and finally gained weight during my third trimester.
I was also anemic and had pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome. I couldn’t sleep, type, and sometimes that pain was so excruciating that I would wake up crying in the middle of the night. Knowing what I know now, if I had to do it again, I absolutely would – I love my girls so much and they are worth it.
Ultimately, I ended up having a scheduled caesarean when I was 37 weeks pregnant. I wanted names that were unique, but also didn’t rhyme. I ran several baby names by my friends and the ones that everyone seemed to like were Hayden and Tenley. I named them Hayden Parvathy and Tenley Lakshmi. Their middle names are the names of my two grandmothers.
Since I’ve gone through this experience, I’ve had an absolute outpouring of love. My girls are well loved by all my friends and family. Many of my loved ones tell me that I seem so much more comfortable and happier with myself, and my life.
I believe in sharing information and being open. One of the most surprising things is that when I share my story with others, I learn about other women who are going through the same thing, and also want to have kids of their own. I believe that with the Indian community especially, being transparent and providing information is vital. There is a tendency for the community to gossip – if I’m not open about everything, I worry that the truth will be lost. I don’t want anyone to make false or inaccurate statements. For example, I don’t want people thinking that I just got “knocked up” because of misinformation. I want them to know that having my children was a very deliberate and planned choice that I chose to go with.
I’ve been a bit surprised that I’ve found it easier to date since I’ve had my children. People are naturally curious about the process. The thing that offends me on dates is when men state, “If I had known you two years ago, I’d have been your sperm donor.” I don’t like the assumption that I would have simply been dating at that time to get a sperm donor to conceive!
The other thing that bothers me is when women ask me for my other frozen embryos (I still have four more fertilized embryos in storage). To me, they are all full siblings for my girls, so I could never imagine giving that precious part of me away to a stranger! To put this in perspective, if someone had multiple children, no one would go around asking for one of their kids! Why should it be any different for me? That’s the same way that I feel about the remaining embryos.
There really haven’t been any downs! It’s always been ups since they were born. They are awesome babies, and they both have their own personality. Hayden is the shy one, and reminds me of my former quiet self when I was growing up. Tenley on the other hand, is more outgoing and social, and reminds me of myself now! They are both my mini-me’s.
Motherhood is a great experience. My girls have a lot of love around them. I’m doing pretty well on my own; I’ve always been Type A and need to have something to do at all times – so my babies are perfect for that! I also have a nanny and an au pair helping me out.
Even though they are only 4 months old, I tell Hayden and Tenley about the donor and how they came into this world all the time. I’ve already started to read them books with stories about being a single mother by choice. I have different ways to tell them their birth story, in an age appropriate manner, for every stage in their life. I tell them already that I just wanted them so much, I couldn’t wait for their dad to come along – I just had to do it myself! I want them to know that they were always, always, wanted and loved children and never accidents or afterthoughts.
Last thoughts and advice…
To women who are considering this path to motherhood: Make sure you’re prepared emotionally, mentally, and financially. And don’t worry about societal norms, just focus on being happy and making the right decision for yourself.
This was definitely a way for me to experience motherhood on my own terms. However, I never really considered myself a feminist. I love chivalry and believe the sexes have their unique and different strengths. I really believe that one day I will be married and have that “picket fence” lifestyle that I wanted many years ago. I truly believe that there is someone out there for me - I just haven’t found him yet. I’ll keep looking until he walks into my life!
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