Single mom, donor dad: An unconventional pregnancy story

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk shares her unconventional journey to becoming a single mom.

“Amy has a daddy, Maya has a daddy, Isobel has…” my two-year-old, Anna, lists off her friends. Later, during dinner, she tells me her fork is her daddy. This isn’t exactly how I imagined I’d start to tell her the unusual story of her conception.

Anna doesn’t have a “daddy” in the conventional sense, as I became pregnant via a sperm donor. I had never assumed I’d have children. There were artistic pursuits I wanted to see through, I didn’t want to feel stuck in one place, and I didn’t think my interests were that suited to being a mom. I grew up in the suburbs and was determined to break away from what I saw as a stifling life of townhouse developments, malls and nuclear families.

So I was surprised when my “cool” city friends started talking about wanting children. From queer circles, activist organizations and music scenes, they weren’t the über-conventional parents I’d grown up around. They were more like, well, me — and didn’t seem to be giving up their identities to be parents.

And then my hormones kicked in.

I was 26 at this point. My goddaughter had been born, and a couple of close friends had had their first kids. My younger brother, spending a year under house arrest at my small downtown Toronto apartment (a very long story), made me realize that I was able to give up a certain amount of my lifestyle to care for someone else. I had also had a recent surgery for endometriosis, which I worried would make getting pregnant later difficult if it returned.

Up until this point, I had mostly dated women, but I was single at the time. I knew there were lots of solo parents doing just fine who didn’t believe that kids all needed to come from two-parent families. I had grown up with a father who died young and a stepfather I didn’t have a good relationship with, so I wasn’t convinced that more parents were better than fewer. This, in addition to having never harboured any white-picket-fence fantasies of a husband and house, led me to decide to become a mom on my own.

I was working in the non-profit sector and didn’t make much money or have substantial savings, but I had a steady job with benefits. Inseminating through a clinic is expensive (it starts at more than $7,500!), and for this and other reasons — the institutional setting, lack of privacy, possible judgment from staff, the awkwardness of leafing through donor catalogues — I decided on using a known donor.

I asked a gay friend to donate sperm, then another. Both said no. Then a third friend, Sid, offered. By then I was 28. He talked to his partner. I spoke to my doctor and a lawyer. We both got tested for HIV and STIs. The wild night of Anna’s conception involved me, at home alone, with a medicine syringe from the drugstore and a jam jar of Sid’s DNA.

I’m still figuring out what to tell her about her story. I started by trying to explain that her fork isn’t her father.

“Anna, remember Mama told you that Sid helped me make you?” I asked.

“You built me, like a robot?” was her reply. I’m not sure if this is progress from her fork theory, but for now, I’ll take it.

A version of this article was published in our May 2013 issue with the headline “Who’s your daddy,” p. 42.

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