The Almodovar movie was sold out that November night and, after studying the marquee, my friend turned to me and said: “Do you want to just get a drink?”
It was a regular night out with my friend, let’s call her Daphne. After a glass of wine on an empty stomach, I found myself confessing not how much I wanted a man in my life but how much I wanted a baby, so much so that I was seriously contemplating doing it on my own. Daphne rolled the remains of a second martini around her glass.
“Why don’t you ask Z?” she said finally, meaning her ex-boyfriend, let’s call him Zachary. “You two have a good relationship. I bet he’d do it.”
Zachary was thirty years old, with a dimple on his chin. He was kind, funny, and trustworthy. He had everything I was looking for in a man to father my child.
It wasn’t that I’d given up on true love, but that biology was threatening to give up on me. At almost thirty-seven, I was every clich’ of the aging, baby-crazy spinster I swore up and down I’d never become. I nursed an embarrassing envy of Angelina Jolie – not for her lips or her lover but for the terrific ease with which she could amass children. Even if I wanted to adopt, that road seemed closed. I could just imagine the application: “Broke, single, self-employed writer seeking kids.”
I wanted to have a baby the old-fashioned way, and I had to do it on the cheap, which meant finding someone willing to pick up the other half of the job with no strings attached. It was asking a lot, and that was before we even got to my list of requirements. First he had to be clean. No question. And a lot of men out there, though you respect their minds and even their hearts, you have no idea where the rest of them has been. The last thing I needed holding up my baby-making project was a rendezvous with the neighborhood STD.
Second, he had to be single. Not necessarily uninvolved, but no wife or long-term partner in the mix. You may know the rare married couple so secure in their affection for each other and so overflowing in their affection for you that wife would be willing to let husband have sex with you four or five times a month indefinitely until the little blue line appeared. But I’ve never met them.
Third, he had be trustworthy, and to trust me. Babymaking would require real commitment. Unless you ovulate like clockwork – and I most definitely did not – he had to be willing to show up on short notice. No headache nights, no mysterious trips out of town. My baby daddy would have to make himself available at 9 a.m. or midnight, fresh off a red-eye and with a killer case of the flu.
More importantly, the laws on parental rights are changing all the time, so even if you do write up a contract, odds are it won’t hold up in court. You want someone who you can talk to, reason with, should either of you decide you want the “family” relationship to be different from what you agreed upon up front.
On top of that you want a decent genetic backdrop – the recovering heroin addict with two alcoholic parents was out. And though he didn’t need to be an astrophysicist who sidelined as a male model, smart and funny and reasonably good looking would all be pluses, too.
Think hard. How many men do you know how fit the criteria?
I knew one: Zachary.
The angsting I did about who and how took up years, perhaps a necessary period of grieving for that vision of having children the traditional way. But when I tell the story now, people are far more interested in the practical details: Who’s your baby daddy? How did you ask him? How long did it take to conceive?
The who is confidential – a secret held between him, his ex-girlfriend, myself and our son. I knew him pretty well. We’d joked and flirted, shared meals and the occasional movie. I wanted that familiarity with my child’s father. An even casual knowing felt far preferable to ordering him up from a vial. For one, it was quicker and cheaper. But, on a deeper level, I wanted my child to spring from an act of – if not passion – at least fun and laughter.
The most awkward part of it all was the asking. I kept trying to pin Zachary down for a drink but his work schedule and mine seemed permanently incompatible. So finally I cornered him in the lobby of the gym we both frequented and spoke fast before he could interrupt.
So I’ve been thinking it makes sense to do things out of order, kid first, then the man. “I know we’ve talked about relationships and how hard they are in New York.” Deep breath. ” So I’ve been thinking it makes sense to do things out of order, kid first, then the man.”
Cut to Zachary looking completely baffled.
“I was wondering if you’d consider being the father of my child.”
Cut back to Zachary. Puzzlement replaced by shock.
“Wow. That’s not what I was expecting.” We both blushed.
“I guess I have to think about it.”
Zachary and I met again a week later, the longest week of my life until that point (since replaced by the week I spent waiting for amnio results). He’d told me on the phone that he thought he could do what I’d asked, but he did have some questions. Questions are healthy, I tried to convince myself. They mean he’s viewing this as a genuine commitment. Just say yes to whatever he wants, I thought. Just get him into bed and make him stay.
Zachary’s questions turned out to be good ones, the kind you’d want any responsible father to ask: What kind of responsibility would he have toward the child? (None, I’m moving across the country with it.) Would I expect money from him? (No. I didn’t have any, but I knew he didn’t either.) How exactly does the timing of all this work? (Short lecture on fertility charting.) They’re probably some of the easiest questions I’ll have to face as I embark on life as a single mom.
We began trying a few weeks later, when the line on the ovulation kit came up a hazy blue. I cracked a bottle of champagne, but just wore jeans and a T-shirt. Foreplay consisted of some awkward “So, how was your day?” chitchat. I didn’t want to seem like I was just using him – even though I was just using him.
How long did it ultimately take before I got pregnant? Five months, and we met up three to five times each cycle. It wasn’t romantic, but for the most part it was relaxed and occasionally even silly. The magic moment of conception took place in a window of time between work and a doctor’s appointment while we listened to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
The longer it went on, the deeper our emotional attachment grew. We got into the habit of long discussions in bed. I talked him through a career crisis and we navigated the etiquette of his starting to date another woman.
Sometimes I fantasize that he’ll want to come join the family.As with any couple, bringing a child into the mix has shaken up everything. When I left New York, five months pregnant, he sent me off with a yellow onesie printed with the words “Righteous Baby” and told me that he loved me. I sent him a photo of Leo the day after he was born. When he called to check in on us I could hear the emotion in his voice as he confessed he had no idea what to feel.
I got what I wanted and a thousand times more. Life with Leo is every gushy, Hallmark-card clich’ of parenthood. I’ve never, not even for one second, regretted my decision to become a single mom. Zachary and I still talk a few times a month and he’s met his son three times.
Now that Leo is nine months old, I’m not sure what role Zachary will play in our lives. He’s had a couple of relationships since I got pregnant. Sometimes I fantasize that he’ll be so taken with Leo’s existence he’ll want to come join the family. We could move to a new town together, start fresh, and have more babies.
More realistically, I imagine conceiving a second child with him to raise on my own. Ours hasn’t been a particularly close relationship in the sense of swapping life stories and spending lazy afternoons with a stack of DVDs. But such details seem to pale next to the fact that we’ve created a child together.
I love him. It’s not the kind of connection I’d searched for in the past, the romantic whirlwind that would end in registering at Target or eloping to France. It’s the kind that stems from being on the receiving end of a single act of tremendous generosity. When, a couple of months in, I finally worked up the courage to ask Zachary why he agreed to do this, his answer left me no doubt that I’d made the right choice: “I just thought you’d make a really good mom.” In the course of those twenty-something nights and afternoons we spent together, Zachary didn’t just give me a son. He helped me to redefine the meaning of love.