New York's single mother turn Jennifer Lopez's 'Back-Up Plan' into their first choice
Tuesday, April 20th 2010, 4:00 AM
Staceyann Chin is single by choice and wants to be a mother so she’s being inseminated and hopes to become pregnant soon.
The movie’s backdrop is New York – one of the most popular cities in America for so-called "single mothers of choice" or "choice moms." The city is a leader in this cultural and social trend, and draws support from the many specialist fertility centers in the area.
"There are all sorts of different families in New York City, so single mothers feel especially welcome here," says Manhattan medical writer Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, author of "Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth" (Norton, $24.95). Here are five mothers on the solo path.
When a gay friend agreed to donate his sperm, Chin hoped her search had ended.
"I’d asked various male friends, but none of them went through with it," says the lesbian writer and political activist. "It’s a big deal for guys, especially, I believe, for men of color, because it’s uncommon in their culture.
"In the beginning, I thought I’d have men cascading toward me with charitable offers of their sperm. How wrong I was! I discovered men are generally very territorial about it and, if they don’t get the pleasure, they don’t see the point!"
The pal who twice stepped up to the task last summer was different. But two attempts – plus the tricky logistics of arranging to be in the same place at the same time to collect the fresh sperm – proved unsuccessful. Instead, she is now contemplating using a sperm bank – and a $1,500 IUI (intrauterine insemination) – even though she doesn’t have health insurance for the procedure.
"At my age, it’s not as if I can afford the luxury of waiting," she says. "If you have a male partner, it’s relatively easy because you accept the characteristics of the person you are with. With sperm donation, you can drive yourself crazy worrying about how smart the guy is, his height and what the kid will look like."
"I have a lot of love to give a child. To me, that’s enough."
Away on a business trip for her 38th birthday, Mayer washed her face, took a deep breath and addressed her reflection in the bathroom mirror.
"You aren’t getting any younger," she told herself. "And it doesn’t look like the right guy is coming along any time soon." It was time to take matters in her own hands.
Eight years later, Mayer, who lives in Rye, is the proud mother of Caroline, 6, and 4-year-old Ben — both conceived after artificial insemination, using frozen sperm from the same anonymous donor.
"I always knew I wanted kids but, for a variety of reasons, it hadn’t happened," recalls Mayer, who split from her most serious boyfriend in her early 30s.
"I was dying to have a child, and if the only way was on my own, it was a case of ‘so be it.’ "
She conceived Caroline in the fall of 2002. It was her fifth attempt at IUI, in which donor sperm was injected into her uterus by a specialist. She used the fertility drug Clomid to improve her chances.
"I went to a sperm bank and chose the donor, a dental school student born in 1970, because he was tall, but also because I liked the sound of his personality. When I told my family, I got the usual: ‘Oh my God, you can’t do this!’ But everyone came around in the end," says Mayer, who’s now in a support group, (singlemothersbychoice.com) that holds weekly meetings.
Nine months after Caroline was born, Mayer decided to buy and store three more vials of the same donor sperm.
"I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever use it," she says. "But given the fact she would never know her father, I thought it might be nice for Caroline to have a sibling who was 100% her biological match."
Mayer, who employs a nanny, calls Ben her "most precious gift" to her daughter. Brother and sister are very close. "I tell people that just because you don’t have a husband or boyfriend, you don’t have to give up your dream of motherhood."
Eileen Sinn, 47, Queens
As a young woman, Sinn imagined herself falling in love, tripping up the aisle and having a family soon afterward. But with 40 on the cards and no man on the horizon, she decided to go it alone.
With dogged determination and despite other health issues, the businesswoman underwent seven cycles of IVF treatment at the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital (based in Manhasset, L.I.).
She became pregnant with twins at the age of 44, on the second attempt at using donor eggs (from an anonymous woman in her mid-20s) and sperm provided by an anonymous medical student. She calculates that the whole process, including the failed attempts, cost her about $100,000.
"Many older women take a lot of persuasion to use donor eggs because they want the child to be a little biological piece of themselves," says Sinn, who had the full support of her parents. "But when I realized that I might otherwise never have babies, it didn’t matter."
She almost cried when her specialist, Dr. Avner Hershlag, confirmed the news that both embryos had successfully implanted. "After everything I’d been through, I was over the moon," says Sinn, who had previously miscarried at 13 weeks after becoming pregnant through IVF using one of her own eggs.
Healthy twins Julianna and Alex were born on June 15, 2006. "They are gorgeous children and light up our lives," says Sinn. "It’s amazing to watch them play together. There’s a very special bond."
"Julianna has been watching it a million times," says Sinn. "She was asking about family the other day and I said, "There are all sorts of different families in the world. Ariel only has Triton as a daddy and you only have me as a mommy. And we’re all doing just fine!’"
Linda Siegel, 45, Manhattan
After five attempts at IUI and two unsuccessful rounds of IVF, each time using donor sperm, Siegel realized that pregnancy was unlikely to be an option.
"It was taking its toll both emotionally and physically," recalls the pediatric intensive care doctor. "There were so many tests and, though the costs were mainly covered by insurance, it was stressful."
At 40, she attended a conference about adopting kids from abroad. She was particularly drawn to Guatemala.
"I speak Spanish and I liked the fact that the babies in Guatemala are raised in foster homes, rather than orphanages, which are more common in Eastern Europe," she says. At that time, there were fewer restrictions on younger babies being adopted by single mothers.
Siegel registered with an agency and, after one disappointment when an infant girl was placed elsewhere, was matched with little Benjamin.
The paperwork was signed when he was 8 months old. After a mandatory five-day stay in the country, she brought Benjamin home. "He cried a lot for the first day or so, and whenever the door opened or shut, it was as if he was searching for his foster mother," says Siegel. "But things got better and better."
Benjamin, now 5, is thriving. "Adopting Ben is the best decision I ever made," says his mom. "He brings so much joy to my life."
Ava, 52, of Manhattan (Ava is not her real name and her sons’ names have been changed)
Hiring a surrogate was a no-brainer for the TV producer, who openly admits being "squeamish" about pregnancy. "I don’t really ‘do’ doctors," she says. "Since I was older, the thought of IUI, IVF and all the tests and needing bed rest during the pregnancy didn’t appeal at all."
Instead, Ava paid a gestational surrogate to carry her twins, now 5, conceived with donor sperm. She doesn’t know whether the eggs came from her own ovaries or those of a younger woman.
"The doctor inseminated eggs from both me and the donor," she asserts. "I don’t plan to find out which of them were transferred into the surrogate. I don’t need to know, nor do I find myself wondering."
Choosing the three different parties for the treatment — sperm donor, egg donor and surrogate — was a painstaking process. In the end, she employed a divorced mom of three in her 30s from Maryland, who gave birth in New Jersey. "There was a lot of craziness," admits Ava, who paid a total of $75,000 for
the fertility and surrogacy services, of which about $30,000 was paid to the surrogate. "I’m afraid she had some unexpected emotional issues."
The two women had an argument the day before the C-section, and Ava was barred from the delivery. "Before she went into the hospital, I hired a hotel room
for her and her friend. She changed the booking to