By: Bridget Straub
Here’s how my life was supposed to play out: I would sell my first book at nineteen, fall in love with the musician love of my life by twenty-two, and have the first of our six children by the time I was twenty-six. We’d probably live in a big old craftsman-style house and travel every summer.
Now, for the reality. None of that has come to pass. Here’s what really happened:
When I was eighteen, my older sister and I moved from our hometown of Oakland down to Los Angeles, specifically the San Fernando Valley. We had come down several times before to attend various concerts, lured in by the stories printed in Rolling Stone and Creem magazines. It was a lot like Almost Famous, only we didn’t have the nerve or even the desire to be actual groupies. For us, it was about the music and the adventure.
I had dropped out of high school the year before over creative differences with a teacher (he said I hadn’t tried hard enough on a painting and I reasoned that he couldn’t possibly know how hard I’d tried), and joined my sister in her childcare business. We subsidized our move to LA with the money we had made, and quickly began taking care of kids down here as well.
I wrote my first novel, 4U2NYT, right on schedule and my sister began pursuing her passion, photography. I got an agent and developed a crush on a cute Italian bag boy at a nearby grocery store. Life was progressing, if not exactly as planned, close enough, or so it seemed. However, the crush went nowhere and the agent said he did have publisher interested in the book, but first I would have to change everything about it. Still young and foolish, I righteously took my book and went home! I grew depressed, as did my sister who, although getting a lot of praise for her photography, was not making enough money for us to give up childcare in exchange for the life of struggling artists. We decided a road trip was in order, and drove cross-country to see Bruce Springsteen, who was doing a series of shows in Philadelphia. Best trip of our lives. We came back inspired and ready to embrace our future.
All that time I had been looking around, waiting for Mr. Right to come along, but after seeing a program on artificial insemination I thought, “you know, if he doesn’t hurry up and show, I may have to get started on those six kids without him.” This was so long ago that it was deemed dangerous to be pregnant after thirty-five, and, wanting a large family, I was feeling old by twenty-six. Crazy. Within the year I started looking into A.I. as a serious option, found a doctor and a fertility clinic, and decided to go for it, with the full support of my sister.
It was surreal. At that time, you sat in an office going through a binder containing short profiles of possible donors. It was like catalog shopping. Because of my fondness for Italian boys, I chose what looked and sounded like the ideal match –not that there were actual pictures or anything. This was all to be anonymous. I think it was something like $200 a try, so I was thrilled when I got pregnant the very first time.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stick and I had the longest miscarriage in history. It went on for weeks. I was left drained and depressed while the rest of my family, who had been only reluctantly supportive up to this point, told me it wasn’t meant to be, and that I should put this all behind me. But I wasn’t about to give up and I spent the next year trying to get pregnant again.
During that time, my eldest sister moved to LA with her actor husband and discovered that she was pregnant, too. This brought the two of us much closer, which has been wonderful. I kind of idolized her growing up, but, being the big kid, she just thought of my brother, our youngest sister, and me as the little kids.
My son was born a few months before my twenty-ninth birthday, just six weeks after my niece. When my sister had to go back to work, my other sister and I gladly agreed to watch my niece, which meant she and my son were practically raised as twins for the first few years of their lives. I continued to write, although with two babies to care for it was difficult, and I alternated between trying to get published and finding other ways to make money. For a while I designed and sold hand painted clothing, frames, step stools, etc. My second niece was born two years after my son and up until they all started school we took care of her, too.
Now in all this time you might note that Mr. Right had not shown up. In fact, I was having trouble even finding Mr. He’ll Do Until Mr. Right Comes Along. The circle I was hanging with consisted of young couples with kids in the same age range as my son. So most of the guys I met were married. Not a lot of dating options in that, but I remained optimistic that the right man would come along.
Years passed with very few prospects, and I began to joke that my poor husband-to-be must have conked his head somewhere in Europe and was wandering aimlessly, lost and confused. As my son got older, I began to accept that Mr. Right might never show up. I had looked around and seen enough unsatisfied and divorced couples to know that I was not the sort to settle for anything less than a truly deep connection with someone.
I blame –and credit –my mom for my stubborn determination. She was widowed when I was only seven, but always said my dad was the love of her life. Later as her friends pressured her to find a father figure for her five kids, she married my stepfather and for the rest of her life alternated between fighting and a resigned acceptance of what was best for all of us. The truth is that, at least for me, it was a hard thing to watch. As a result, I came to the conclusion that I would rather forgo marriage than end up in the same boat. But I would not forgo having more children, so it was back to the sperm bank.
It was still weird. I was given printouts instead of a binder to flip through, but the process was pretty much the same. I chose another Italian donor with features similar to that of the previous donor. My first daughter was born eleven and a half years after my son, who fell in love with her right from the start. Knowing that my daughter would benefit from a sibling closer in age, my second daughter was born two years later. Our family was now complete. As much as I would have liked to have gone for the original six, as anyone knows, kids don’t come cheap. I’ve definitely bitten off all that I can chew.
As for dealing with the fact that my kids don’t have a father, it has surprisingly never been the issue I feared it would be. I always felt that should any of them feel awkward or conflicted about it, it would help to have siblings with a shared experience. None of my kids’ donors are the same, and yet they have many of the same characteristics. At twenty-five, thirteen, and eleven, I could count on one hand the number of times one of my kids has brought it up.
Happily, single parenthood has lost the stigma that it once had. My kids have never had to defend themselves against the fact that ours is not a traditional family, and I’ve had an easy time explaining to them that not all families are alike. I’m sure it helps that we live in LA, but there’s even common ground within my own family. Out of five kids, three are married and two are not. My sister who has not married continues to live with us and is, for all intents and purposes, a second parent to my children. My eldest sister is the conventional one, still married and with two daughters. My brother married a woman who already had three children and then they had a son together. He also later adopted her three kids. Finally, my youngest sister and her husband have one son who came to them through adoption.
There have been times when I would have given anything to have a husband’s help in raising my kids, particularly through my son’s more turbulent teen years. But it’s like the saying at my daughters’ preschool: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” I live by those words, and, while also encouraging my kids to reach for the stars, I know that anything is possible, and so have raised them to do the same.
Find out more about Bridget Straub at bridgetstraub.com