A Single Mother by Choice
The journey to becoming a single mother to Logan, now fourteen, and then Lucas four years later, was relatively easy once I recognized that fear of the unknown and the belief in fairy tales were not a part of who I was or ever would be. I had found my tribe and I would evolve, over time, to be one of them.
There was a myriad of sperm donors to choose from, every make and model one can imagine! I knew there were certain required traits. I had wanted my offspring to have my rich blonde hair colouring, my piercing blue eyes and my pale and creamy skin. Beyond that, I hoped for some degree of intelligence. The one thing I was looking for was a donor whose offspring would not be a klutz, would not be chosen last for the (insert name of sports team here)—who basically had some athletic ability. I found it amusing that there were some people who spent an eternity pondering over potential donors. I spent exactly twenty minutes. In my mind, it was one of those things where you never really knew what you were going to get. Spending more time and effort was not going to change that. Someone was not going to knock on my door one day and say, ‘Victoria Jones, we are here to award you the trophy for choosing the best sperm donor vintage’. This was definitely not that!
I put in my order on a Monday and the goods were delivered directly to the local sperm bank on Friday of that very same week! What service! Six vials of my potential future offspring just waiting for an opportunity. The obstetrician, a good friend of mine, merely said, “Just call me when you need me and I will meet you at my office.” There was to be nothing more than tracking with an ovulation predictor and making a call for insemination at the appropriate time. We would start simple and escalate as needed. There was little talk of ‘maternal age’ or possible problems associated with being ‘an older mother’. I was almost thirty-eight at the time.
Fast forward about five weeks when I found myself staring at a positive home pregnancy test. That was easy, perhaps too easy. Fast forward another two weeks and I was sitting with the obstetrician discussing prenatal vitamins, prenatal testing and the timing of everything that was about to happen. This was perfect, everything in an orderly fashion. There would be blood work, an ultrasound at about eight weeks to examine the thickness of something called the nuchal ridge, and close surveillance due to my ‘advanced maternal age’.
Fast forward to the eight-week ultrasound. There had been an ongoing and lively debate between myself and my obstetrician. These types of debates almost always happen when those on both the physician and the patient sides of the equation have been formally trained in the medical profession. I desperately wanted chorionic villus sampling, CVS, a new technique recently made available to patients. A small sample of the placenta would be taken for analysis. Genetic assessment, formerly performed at over sixteen weeks by amniocentesis, could now be performed at about ten weeks. The debate was spirited, with both of us standing our ground. She was concerned about the reports, although rare, of finger loss in the fetus as a result of the procedure. I retorted that it was a very small chance. Besides, there were many successful individuals, including physicians, who did not have all ten fingers! We settled on chorionic villus sampling if the ultrasound was abnormal, specifically if the nuchal ridge was thickened. Both of us were convinced that this would not be the case.
She counselled me as the ultrasound began. It would take about ten minutes and she had performed hundreds, even thousands, of this type of exam previously. She reassured me that the ultrasound would likely be normal. She seemed almost gleeful as we started. For me, it was just another step in the process towards getting to where I wanted to be.
I followed the lines of her face, concentrating intently on her eyes and the corners of her mouth, as she passed the probe over my naked abdomen. Her pupils dilated and the corners of her mouth turned down. It reminded me of the phrase ‘upside-down smiley face’. This was a phrase that I had used many times before when instructing residents on a certain surgical procedure. ‘Make the incision as an upside-down smiley face’, I would say, while thinking, and sometimes even commenting out loud, ‘I don’t know why I call it an upside-down smiley face when we all know it is a frown’. Goddammit, I know a frown when I see one! I moved my eyes back up to meet hers, and I knew instinctively that something was wrong, devastatingly wrong I surmised. She stammered, “It’s, it’s, it’s…. not normal.”
“I know,” I said, as I comforted her by laying my hand on her shoulder. I sat up to hug her. “It’s going to be all right,” I commented. “We have a plan. Abnormal ultrasound, and I get chorionic villus sampling.”
I had won the battle, however I feared I was going to be losing this war.
The NYC Flash Fiction Contest is an annual international event where writers compete to produce 1000 word stories over 48 hours! Writers are provided with a genre, place, and objects. The rest is up to them!
My first entry from July 2018 was historical fiction and I had to incorporate a bicycle repair shop and a cheque - check out 'Money Can't Buy Me Love' in my blog post!
I arrived ahead of time, as I had every Saturday for the past five years. Jerry’s Rent and Repair Bike Shoppe, a grungy, badass hole in the wall, had become our favorite weekend dive. It took us away from the day to day uncertainty of our way of life, if only for a few hours. We both felt the oppression of our reality being lifted during the times we spent at the shop and cycling throughout the city on our tried and true rentals – a three-speed Traveler for Terry and a 10-speed Varsity for myself. During these times, it almost seemed like we could last forever. Somehow it was never enough.
I approached the counter where I was greeted by Jerry, owner and ‘whatever the shop happened to need at the time’ manager.
“How’s it hangin’, Steve?” he smiled as he shot me a deuce.
“Fab man, just fab! Love the new bandana, man!”
“Shall I get your ride ready for you?” He asked heading toward a long row of rentals resting along the north side of the shop.
“Not yet, man. Don’t know if we’ll be groovin’ today.
A look of confusion crossed his face. “I can dig it. Find me when you’re ready.”
I looked down at my watch. Terry was five minutes late. This was not unlike him, and I wondered whether it signaled the start to another otherwise normal day or if it was to be the end of an era – our era. As I meandered around the shop, past the long line of beloved bicycles waiting for their annual service, I wondered what my life would be like without this place. I tried my best to remind myself that Terry was just late…
I strolled by Jerry’s white and blue transistor radio chained to his Remington cash register. I smiled as I recalled him muttering something about the boob tube never being able to overtake the old Marconi. With the ability to reach so many people, I was sure he was onto something. The radio sprung to life as I rolled the dial to the right and adjusted the antenna. The reception was remarkable today - I could make out almost every word amongst the static!
The big news stories of the day reached out to pull me in. Exactly four weeks had passed since America had managed to land a man on the moon! The gruesome facts in the ‘Manson murders’, as they were being called, were just coming to light across the nation and the world. The newest bit of interesting broadcast, unlikely to turn into much of anything, was a massive traffic jam as people headed to the annual Woodstock Fair in upstate New York. I suspected it was something added just to fill the feed. The announcer faded as the Fab Four came to life in front of me.
‘Can’t buy me love, love
Can’t buy me love…..
Cos I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.’
I took a seat at a bench in the corner and pulled a single blank check from the back pocket of my faded Levi bell bottoms. I stared blankly at it as I passed it back and forth between my sweaty palms. I knew that what I had to offer to Terry was unconventional to say the least. It was the only way I could think of that he might consider staying in my life. The past years had been very difficult as we had watched the rise in the feminism movement and the anti-war faction and almost anything that spoke to the freedom we all so longed for, but only for some of us. There had been faint rumblings of a man named Milk and others like him. These were brave men, unlike myself, who we dreamed would make our lives important as well. Until then, the only hope I had was the single blank check staring up at me from my hopeful hands.
I checked my watch once again. The Seiko suggested that Terry was already half an hour late. This was not unlike the love of my life; however, we had fought more often over the last several months and unless there was a way that both of us could be committed to this relationship, I figured that it had run its course. I would never have imagined myself in this predicament as I had loved only women up until the time I was thirty-one. I knew from the moment that Terry and I met that things going to be different.
The idea of offering him everything I had with a single signature on a lone blank check had come to me only recently. I struggled to understand what exactly I was trying to do. I only knew that I was willing to offer him all my worldly possessions to get him to stay. I pulled a ballpoint pen out of my back pocket. As I gazed down at my name and address, I thought about how many times Terry and I had discussed this becoming his address as well. I dated the check, August 16th, 1968, and noticed that my writing was barely legible. Was what I was willing to offer going to be enough?
Terry was now 40 minutes late and I feared that he was not coming. I hung my head and the first tear landed. I used it to smear the date. The second tear was used to erase Terry’s name. It was unlikely that this check, which held my hopes and dreams only five minutes ago, would last long enough for Terry to show his face.
I looked up and my eyes locked with Terry’s. As he made his way towards me, I took one last look at what remained of the emaciated check. I placed it back into the deep pocket of my Levi’s. The Fab Four had been right all along.
The book launch for The Silence of Motherhood took place last evening. It was an excellent night with standing room only by the end!
I read two of my reader’s favourite chapters, Chapter 11 - Self-Insemination, and Chapter 17 - The Death of Motherhood. Self-Insemination is one of my favorite chapters and quite humorous as you will see from my week three blog! The Death of Motherhood is quite a bit more intense and involves a woman who is a Jehovah’s Witness who, along with her husband, refuses blood products. It has a very tragic ending. Every time I read it, I am almost on able to get through it without breaking down. It seems to be one of the chapters that has had the deepest impact on readers.
It was very surreal to be reading the book in front of an engaged and gracious crowd. I was once again surprised at the deep emotional impact some of the chapters have on me even though I was the person who wrote them!
For those people who are becoming friends of Victoria Jones and her life, I am looking to host a virtual book launch over the summer by Facebook live stream. I look forward to hearing what people think and hope that many will participate!
Stay tuned for more!
One month after Justine’s death I was in Dr. Barkley’s office waiting for the next chapter of my life to unfold. As I lay on the cold table, looking up at the stark lifeless ceiling, I drifted in and out of awareness as I followed my favorite meditation app with my ears and my mind. Meditation, like Silence, was a close friend. I think it was because the three of us had similar interests – do a good job and move on.
It was obvious that Christine, Dr. Barkley to the outside world, was in somewhat of a rush that day. I thanked her for fitting me in at the end of a long, busy day. She again expressed her condolences on the loss of my first pregnancy. I reflected for a moment that it had not actually been my first pregnancy, however I forced that thought to the back of my mind. I stated that I had moved on and was ready to take the plunge for the second time. I understood that there were risks, as there is with almost anything in life. There is no success without real risk.
As she inserted the frigid speculum, I laughed and commented that this would be much easier with some fine wine, soft candlelight and Mr. Right – or even Mr. Right Now! We made idle chit chat about our jobs and the dedication it took to be successful in our respective fields. Aside from the speculum, I noted no specific feeling as she deftly and efficiently performed the insemination. I marveled at how quick and seamless the potential creation of a new life could be. We both laughed as she got up, not even three minutes later, and asked that I remain lying for about 5 minutes before I got up to leave.
“You can show yourself out, I assume?”
“Certainly! Thanks!” With that, she was gone.
I looked up at the ceiling once again and said out loud, “Well, that is that”. How simple it seemed. I had read countless stories of women spending thousands of dollars on appointments, tests and prescriptions in search of the elusive highly desired pregnancy. I had spent 20 minutes choosing the donor and called my obstetrician when I was ovulating. It doesn’t get much easier than that. I had a good feeling about things this time!
As I watched the clock on the wall approach 5 minutes, I wondered who was coming back to remove the speculum. I thought I remembered waiting five minutes the last time I had been in this precarious position, but I did not remember having to personally deal with the speculum. I was sure that I had been in many, many much more difficult situations before, but right at the present moment my mind was drawing an elusive blank. As a physician, I had even used a speculum on numerous occasions myself, in a professional capacity. I rolled my eyes and thought about what kind of bizarre contortionist movements I was going to have to engage in, the end goal being to get the speculum out while leaving the desired contents inside. I certainly hoped that the ‘swimmers’ of the day were moving as quickly as their qualifying spreadsheet boasted they could, toward their desired destination.
I decided that I was going to wait five minutes more and then I was going to make my move. I felt that 5 minutes would leave me enough time to google ‘freeing oneself from an unwanted speculum’ or ‘5 easy steps to self insemination’. If all else failed, I was going to admit defeat and call the front desk. While some interesting, and I am sure invaluable, information arose from these two searches, including ‘how to free yourself from a manipulator’, ‘how to free yourself from love that hurts, and ‘how to inseminate at home’, there was nothing that informed me on how I could free myself from my present predicament.
I called the front desk and was disheartened when my important inquiry went through to voicemail informing me that the clinic was closed until tomorrow morning. I patted my abdomen and muttered ‘well kid, I guess it’s just you and me now’.
It had now been 27 minutes since Christine’s departure. I decided that was long enough. I tilted my pelvis up and placed a pillow underneath my butt. I unscrewed the speculum in the direction that I thought was correct – backwards like steering a boat. I counted to three, tilted my pelvis up and removed the speculum. What talent! Sometimes I even impressed myself!
I quickly dressed and opened the door to almost complete darkness. I had forgotten how quickly the night descends during the winter solstice. I grabbed my coat and ran directly for the front door. I was travelling to quickly to notice the red warning sign sitting atop the door, and as soon as the cold night air rushed in, a sound louder than I thought I had ever heard before was unleashed from the clinic. Even when the door slammed shut behind me, the alarm persisted in trying to escape. I debated making a run for it or simply remaining where I was and awaiting my destiny. The decision was made for me. It was too late.
The loud silence that enveloped my house was foreign to the story of our lives. This was not a place where I ever expected that I would be, although I had longed for it endlessly, especially in those early days. I had longed for it, and now I did not want it. In fact, I loathed it. How could my perfect life be disrupted by what I thought that I had always wanted? I could hear it echoing in from the corners of my mind, in a voice which was all too familiar, that of my best friend Rosalee Crookman, ‘Be careful what you wish for, Tori’!
A cat walked by, followed by another, and another. I laughed out loud at the irony that was inherent in one of my oldest son’s favorite memes. There stands an open door with a clowder of cats advancing into a welcoming house with a caption that reads ‘We understand you are over 40 and still not married!’. Logan had reminded me on many occasions that this meme reminded him of me – his dear old mom! This was the stuff that comedy was made of and that I was filing away for future use. My first career choice had always been stand-up comedian. My current career, cancer surgeon, had only arisen from a passion ignited later in life. However, that was a different story for a different place and time.
I listened carefully and was amazed, as I always was, by how loud the sound of complete silence was. It seemed to consume the house in its entirety, and to ring loudly in my ears. I closed my eyes and let it take me over fully and completely. I acknowledged to myself that it was likely going to become a much more common part of my existence, and I was trying unsuccessfully to accept that. Silence had always been a friend I had turned to in time of need, however I never anticipated I was going to have to accept it as one of my few and longest lasting friends. I reflected on my favorite time to be alone with Silence, late at night and into the early hours of the morning. It comforted me, while at the same time it seemed to insist that I more deeply explore what he meant to me and what we could become together.
As I had done many times in the past, I relied on my good friend Siri to help provide me with what I needed most. I asked her ‘What is the definition of Silence?’. Siri rose at once to my inquiry. She brought Google along into the conversation, and he came up with an exhaustive string of websites, all vying for the definition which best suited my needs. I was impressed by his apparent depth of knowledge on the subject, although I knew he was just bringing the right people into the conversation – he had no real knowledge himself. However, I made sure that I praised him for his efforts. My first discovery was that the use of the word silence in everyday conversation had been on the rise over the last ten years or so. How strange that in a world that was becoming smaller and smaller, and louder and louder, that silence was enjoying a swift resurgence. I wondered, out loud of course, if people weren’t yearning for a return to a quieter time? I got up and began to pace as this often helped me think. I found it ironic that Google would select to epitomize the word silence by choosing to conduct his part of our conversation without sound.
My thoughts rushed back to my current situation; the situation I found myself in that had resulted in this need to explore the relationship between Silence and myself. It had been nearly 14 years of someone needing me constantly; someone needing me to the extent that I was unable to separate them from any sense or definition of who I really was, as a person and especially a woman. I had chosen to have my children on my own, unaware of the extent to which this would braid itself into my whole existence of who I was as an individual. It was a world that I was sure only myself and other single parents could acknowledge – those who were truly alone in their quest to ensure a life where their children could rise to their passions and be all that they could be. I wondered if ‘normal’ families, as society liked to call them, those with ‘two parent households’ or those families where there had been divorce, felt the same as I did. It was one of those things that I tried to push to the side as it was not a question that one could ever answer. Had these other caregivers spent the last 14 years of their lives knowing where their children were every moment of the day, day and night, knowing there was no other person who could account for them? I smiled to myself and thought not.
And now my children, once again, had left me… alone…
Each time I am asked this question I think of a different answer. The simple answer is that it was on my bucket list and it was coming down to one of the least things that I needed to cross off. The more complex answer is that there are a lot of things that I needed to say! I often wonder if it was right or wrong to try and crowd them all into one book, however it is what it is.
The main theme is the silence of motherhood and I do believe this was the tipping point which allowed me to move forward. It is so stark and so real the first time it hits you as a single parent and you are left alone in your house. I imagine it is the same for all parents, not just those who are single for whatever reason. You long for a moment to yourself when your children are younger, and you would go to great lengths to get it. Then, you get what you wish for – in droves – when they are older. You are unsure what this means or what to do with yourself.
Silence is experienced in so many ways, by so many women, that the story needed to be told. From actual loss of life, to loss of voice, and uncertainty about heading down a new road, women are faced with fighting many of these battles alone. At times it is because the grief it so raw that there seems to be no justifiable way of sharing it. How can the loss of a child be communicated in words to another? It is an emotional journey with no end in sight.
The Silence of Motherhood is a story of grief and loss, yet it is one that reminds us to find the joy, humour, and passion in each day. My passion can be found in my children and the freedom to be whomever I need to be. My joy is watching them become their own people and wondering if I had any influence on the paths they have chosen. My humour is in trying to defeat a rectal suppository before it defeats me…
You’ll have to read the book to find out what that means!
Dr. Victoria Jones is a surgical oncologist who lives with her two adorable sons, Logan and Lucas, conceived via donor insemination. She has published extensively in scientific journals, and won research, teaching, and mentoring awards. She enjoys any type of learning and/or self-development, travel, cooking, and wine. She spends her free time transporting her children back and forth between their myriad of exciting activities.