Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
Heather spent her 20s and much of her 30s devoted to her career. An opera singer, Heather spent much of her time on the road, seeing the world. Children and having a family were neither on her mind, nor conducive to her lifestyle. But after September 11, her outlook shifted entirely. She discusses getting pregnant by a friend, her family’s reaction to her pregnancies, laboring alone in a bathtub, and the distinction between a single parent and a sole parent.
On what changed her mind about having children. I was always very focused on my singing career, not really thinking about having children. I lived in Manhattan, but traveled a lot in Europe. At one point, the king of Morocco invited me to sing and sent a private plane. I was very much a jet-setter, and I think my friends and family always thought of me as a bit different from the norm, living what they considered a fairly crazy life. When I’d meet a man who wanted to get married and go that route, I was never open to it. I thought it would throw me off the path of my singing career.
I was in Manhattan on September 11. At that point, I was in the throes of my singing career, traveling constantly, all over. But I think that experience changed me profoundly. It made me realign what was important in my life. That’s when it occurred to me: I wanted to have a family.
On making her desires concrete. There was a man in my life, who I’d been involved with off and on for about eight years. We went to dinner one night, and I told him about how I’d realized I wanted to have a baby. He offered to help me.
I think of myself as a naturalist, so I don’t think I would have wanted to go to the extreme of using medical technology to have a baby. I was really hoping to do it the way I did, the old-fashioned way. There’s certainly nothing wrong with something like IVF, but I personally just did not feel that calling.
After that dinner, I started charting my cycle and figured out when I was ovulating. The next month, I called him up and asked him to visit me, three days in a row, on the particular days when I knew I’d be fertile. And so, he did. Two months after this man made the offer, I was pregnant.
On sharing her news. I hadn’t told family or friends what I was doing. Once I was four months pregnant, I flew home to visit my family. We all sat down to dinner, and I told them I’d brought them a present. I gave my mother and my sister cards with a sonogram picture inside. I think my mother was probably the most shocked: It was very much out of the blue. They were very surprised, and they were not exactly thrilled. They didn’t quite agree with my decision, but that was okay with me — I knew I was doing the right thing. I could just feel it.
I loved being pregnant. It was perfect. I hired a midwife, who ended up being the only person in my circle who I felt like really celebrated and supported my decision fully. I didn’t really have any friends with kids — they were all single and living in Manhattan. I’d barely even held a baby, ever, in my life.
On giving birth. My plan was to do a home birth. I knew I could do a birth at home. Again, everyone doubted it and everyone tried to talk me out of it. But I knew that was what I wanted to do.
I’d been talking to my mom on the phone one morning, and when I turned to put the phone back on the hook, I felt a pop: That was my water breaking. I took a shower, and I packed my bag — I knew I wanted a home birth, but I didn’t want to give birth in my apartment in Manhattan. I had a rental out on Long Island, on the beach, where I was prepared to go. I had to move my car at 8 a.m. for street cleaning, so I decided to just start driving out there. On the way, I stopped for a bagel.
When I got there, I decided to walk on the beach. I was wearing a pink sundress. A woman stopped me and said, “You’re so beautiful, you’re glowing!” And I told her, “I’m in labor!” And she freaked out a little — “Oh my god, oh my god!” Then she took my photo. I really love that photo — the last one of me pregnant.
After my walk, I called my midwife. It turned out that she was at another birth. I told her that was alright, that I knew I could do it: I’d been reading a lot about birth, so I got in the bathtub and lit some candles. I labored, in the tub, by myself. I knew I could do it alone. It felt very much like a dream.
At some point, I was laboring on the toilet, when I looked up and saw a woman washing her hands in the sink. She introduced herself as a midwife dispatched by mine, and said now we were done with our formalities. I started to feel the urge to move a little bit, so I left the bathroom and went out and saw it was daytime again: I could see the ocean through the windows. I got on the bed and the midwife said, “Get ready to catch your baby.”
And I did. I caught my baby. It was perfect.
On her first postpartum period. The midwife stayed with me for a little while, until the baby was nursing. She got me all settled, and then I was just by myself, with a baby, out at the beach. That was the time when I would have loved to have someone there. Because it was hard. I’d just been in labor for 36 hours. From then on, I barely slept. But it was also beautiful: I had this baby I’d been dreaming about.
The newborn time was kind of a blur: I was tired. Every so often, we’d go for a walk on the beach. I think everyone underestimates the power of sleep-deprivation. It can be so overwhelming.
The man who was the donor said that he’d be involved as long as it made sense, as long as I wanted him to be involved. My first son was born in August. That December, the man said he was going to come and take us both to Christmas dinner. I was holed up in my apartment, with a baby; going out was a big event. I packed up all our stuff and was ready. And he never came. It was pretty awful.
That was when I started to have reservations. If he wanted to be involved, fine — but he couldn’t be involved like that. It was just rude.
But I knew I wanted my son to have a sibling, a full sibling. So I think I was trying to overlook those kinds of incidents, for a few months. After about a year, I’d had enough — I knew my son would start to be affected by how he was acting, eventually. I told him that I appreciated what he’d done, but that it didn’t seem like being involved was for him. He agreed, and he left.
Two weeks later, I found out I’d gotten pregnant that night. I was overjoyed. I was 39 at that point. It felt like such a gift.
On a second pregnancy and birth. I knew that my friends and family wouldn’t receive the news well, that I was pregnant again. So I didn’t tell anyone. I was about 5 months pregnant, wearing jackets and scarves to cover up. My mom came to visit, and I told her how I wasn’t feeling well. I was feeding my son at the time, and my mom told me I shouldn’t be giving him food if I was sick. I said, “Mom, I’m not sick.” She looked at me for a second and said, “No.” And I told her, yes, I was pregnant.
When I was in labor with my second son, I drove out to the beach again, this time with my first son, who was just under 2. I got him dressed and fed him breakfast, waiting for the babysitter to come. I got in the tub again, where my second son was born. Later that day, I got up and made spaghetti for my older son and me, for dinner. The three of us were there alone, celebrating.
My family and friends might have thought that a moment like this was sad, that I had to do something like that on my own. But I’d say it’s not at all sad. It’s such a gift. Our family of three is a perfect family. I know that I did it, for us. It’s a pretty great feeling, to be able to provide a peaceful and joyful home for my family.
On motherhood and timing. I feel so lucky and so grateful. I’m so lucky that I had the chance to live my dream, have a wonderful singing career and see the world. I’m so lucky that I had the foresight to look ahead and plan for what I wanted for the long-term. I’m so lucky I figured it out before it was too late — it definitely felt like it was in the nick of time. Again, I was 37 and 39 when my babies were born.
When people have babies in their 20s, I think lots of them look around and wonder what they’re missing out on, while being stuck at home with a baby. I don’t have that: I already saw and did everything I wanted to do. I feel lucky I could fully engage and marinate in the joy of my children, without looking to see what I might be missing. Because I know for sure that I’m not missing anything.
There are plenty of women who are my age who didn’t have the foresight or courage to figure out having a family and do it. And I did. So I’m very lucky. If I’d run into a physical problems getting pregnant, I think I would have still figured it out. I would have had to do something like IVF. But that’s not a conversation I had to have with myself.
On perceptions of family. I do think there’s a difference between being a single parent and someone like me, who is a sole parent. Many single parents get child support, or weekends off, or have help making co-parenting decisions. I don’t have those things. I think people who are truly sole parents don’t have enough recognition.
We are a little unusual, for the place where we live now. Plus, I didn’t realize how much older I was going to be than the other mothers until I went to kindergarten registration. Right now I’m tackling first and second grade, plus menopause. That’s something.
Once, when my boys were 4 and 6, we’d watched an episode of Peppa Pig. The dad pig was taking pictures and later, in the tub, my son said, “Mama, do you wish we had a daddy pig to take pictures of us?” For a second, I was a little taken aback — I hadn’t expected those questions to come up while they were still little. But then I said, “No, I don’t. I think our family is perfect, the way that it is.”
Since then, we’ve talked about it: My boys know that there was a man who gave me a gift, who gave me what I needed to make them. My children are real animal lovers; we always say that we’re like the raccoons, who mate but then the male raccoon leaves and the children are raised just by their moms. I teach them that families are different — some have a mom and a mom, some have two dads, some have one dad or one mom — and all are perfect, like ours.