Ep 63: Using a Donor Sperm and Choosing to Be a Single Mother with Nicole
Fertility Forward Episode 63:
Each fertility story is unique and deserves to be heard. Today’s guest, Nicole, is not only a powerful warrior in the fertility space, but she is also a single mother by choice, a speech-language pathologist who works in numerous positions, and she is even getting her doctorate! In this episode, Nicole talks about her decision to become a mother despite not having a partner. She opens up about the sperm donor process and the complexities that come with making a life-altering decision such as this. All parents, no matter what their family structure looks like, need support, and we talk about the value of community and finding friends in unexpected places. There are numerous support groups and online forums for you to be a part of. Nicole also talks about the importance of speaking openly about the different forms families can take, why we should all be following our happiness, and her passion for the fertility community, which has given her so much. Nicole is the embodiment of a woman who leads with love and an open heart and shows us that we truly can have it all!
Rena: Hi everyone. We are Rena and Dara, and welcome to Fertility Forward. We are part of the wellness team at RMA of New York, a fertility clinic affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York city. Our Fertility Forward podcast brings together advice for medical professionals, mental health specialists, wellness experts, and patients, because knowledge is power and you are your own best advocate.
Dara: Today we have a wonderful guest on our podcast, someone who I've known, I want to say now, at least three years, if not more. She is here to tell her own personal journey story. She is definitely a warrior in this space and I'm happy to have her on. Her name is Nicole and we've worked together for quite some time now, haven't we?
Nicole: Yes, we have. Oh my gosh. So long now and what a nice path it's been.
Dara: I know! And, and to see you throughout, it has been pretty remarkable. And I'm excited for you today to really kind of speak about your experience which is unique in its own right because you used a donor sperm.
Dara: So take us back to, to where it all began and when you kind of were thinking about starting a family.
Nicole: Yeah, sure. My name is Nicole and I'm a speech language pathologist. Definitely a busy one because I work in three different capacities. I work in the public setting with children. I work in my own practice. I work at the university level, so I definitely have a lot of things going on at the same time. I'm also getting my doctorate. I'm a single mom by choice. And I say that because I wanted to be a mom irrespective of having a mate. So I knew I really wanted to be a mom and I just dove right in. I was scared and I knew that I had the support of my family and I didn't know really where to start. I remember where I was when I looked up the RMA clinic and I was sitting in a parking lot in my car. And I just say that because it doesn't matter where you start, where you are physically located, what age you are, your sex, your gender, what have you. It starts somewhere and that's where I started, in a parking lot, looking it up on my phone. And I definitely came here three years ago, maybe a little bit longer. And it's been quite a journey. I'm a single parent by choice, like I said, and using donor sperm. I didn't have a mate at the time and I really, really wanted to be a mom. And that was a really hard choice. I come from a family, a very, very Italian family that, you know, wanted marriage, wanted the whole thing. And I just wasn't there. I had spent a lot of my years focusing on my schooling, focusing on my career. I think a lot of people, men and women, can say, can say that. And both men and women, you know, I encourage you to listen because honestly, you know, it affects both of us. You know, I'm choosing to do this by myself and I needed a support group. And I was lucky enough to have found the fertility clinic that I found because they offer so much as far as support. And that's where Dara and I started. It's been quite a journey, but I really had to make a choice for myself, for my future. And I dove in without a lot of knowledge. But as I started going, I started looking more things up. I didn't know at first that whole donor sperm route. I didn't know where to go. It really was the doctor that suggested, you know, why don't you take a look at this particular place? She gave me a couple of options as far as locations for donor sperm. I did my own investigation and then it came down to picking. And when I think about it, I just was looking through catalogs of people and, and there's so much more to it than just that, you know? So I started there, looking up the donor sperm, looking it up and finding out what I wanted for a child to have half of.
Dara: Is it a blonde hair and blue eyes? There's so many different factors to look up.
Nicole: I know. And I think about it because in the media now there are so many socialites, celebrities who have come out to say that they're interested in IVF. They're interested in doing it for a variety of different reasons. Our knowledge of why they do things, we'll, we'll never know because we don't know their story, but it almost comes off as though it is just, you look up in a catalog and you pick and it's so much more than that. Yes, you are looking through a catalog of images. You are looking up like you would look up anything else online. However, you are picking 50% of your future child. So there was a level of seriousness, but there is a level of importance that the decision you're making is a permanent decision. So the categories that they give you are very vague, you know, it's eye color, hair color, and et cetera. And I needed support. I needed to start thinking about my lifestyle and what my support was going to look like. So when I started my fertility journey, I had no idea that I was going to have to re-examine my support system. So I really was lucky and have been fortunate enough to have a family that really supports me and my decisions. And they didn't decide for me. They just helped guide me. You know, what do you need from us? What do you need us to help you with? And, and they really were just listening blocks. They were people who just would sit and listen more so than contribute their opinion because being a person who is very opinionated and very direct, you know, knowing what I want, I really just needed somebody to listen.
Dara: I think that's great. You're very fortunate to have that close knit family that's there to support you by listening. And I, you made a really good point. I think the support is really important whether it comes from a partner, whether it comes from a friend, whether it comes from a family member, whether it comes from a team like your medical team, whether it comes from support online. I think finding people to connect with that can help you out in whatever way you need is imperative.
Nicole: That is an awesome - what you just said about the online support - I read this somewhere. It's a quote. I am not going to take credit for it. It's not my quote, but ain’t nobody going to support you like your online friend who you've never met. And I say that because online, and I encourage both men and women to get out there and look at the support groups in your respective cities, every city pretty much has a whole host of support groups. And the reason why it's city specific it's because the fertility clinics in a specific citiy are going to be mentioned in those groups. And so the people in the area are knowledgeable about those specific clinics. And so it's really important that you connect with those specific city-related support groups. I mean, in New York, there are a ton of support groups out there. And the people that are in them are knowledgeable and they have so many more experiences outside of what you're coming to the table with. And I have my own online friend who, by the way, have never met her in person. We have been friends now, pen pals, if you will, or are online pals for three years. She and I wrote each other about our families. We talk to each other about our journey and she and I, I've asked her so many deep personal questions that I don't even think I would ask a family member. I remember telling her about my first pregnancy. She was the first person I told and that's a person I never met before, online, who she has been so supportive of me. I have gone to her crying. You know, I have called her on the phone. We've talked on the phone before, but I encourage you, men and women, to get out there and connect because you can never have too many people to support you.
Dara: And it's nice to get an objective opinion. Someone who doesn't know you specifically and sometimes as much as family have their best interests in you sometimes you can get some sort of a slanted idea of things, not necessarily bad, but just different. And when someone is experiencing something similar to you, already there's something to connect on, but they can also provide you perhaps a different perspective that you may not have even seen or thought of every time.
Nicole: And I have so many experiences where I love my family. They offer me, they have steered me well. They have said things that I'm like, no, that doesn't feel, I don't know if they understand, or if they really are truly like connecting with what I'm trying to say. And I go to my support groups and my friend online, and I say whatever it is, the question is or whatever my concern is. And you're like, yeah, you know, either they've experienced it or they’ve seen it online before. And they, I can tell you, these groups are the most honest groups. They, nobody is in there for bad practice or, or for agendas. They're there because fertility is a struggle. It’s a struggle that many, many, many people...it's unidentified. You don't wear a badge, you know, outward outwardly. You know, we don't know who goes through fertility difficulties. Both men and women have these experiences. And I remember reading once online, this woman had gone to the fertility support group after three years of failed experience. And I was so surprised, three years, she went without a support group. She said, I'm just finding this now. And I can’t encourage you more, no matter your rank in life or your situation, your status, to get online, it's anonymous. You don't have to identify yourself. Many of these groups have the ability to contribute your questions anonymously. And I do that all the time. I contribute a question and I check off the anonymous question group, and you are posting a question without anyone knowing who you are. And I find it to be very helpful. The information that's out there while there is a lot and you have to tease through it, the people are there genuinely.
Dara: And that's nice to hear like that warms my heart to hear because it's interesting. Initially I would have thought that sometimes these support groups and I'm sure this happens. You know, people often talk about their negative experiences and not always their positive. So my thought would be, you know, it could have a negative energy that people can all report the negative and not necessarily be uplifting or positive. So it's nice to see that it's not necessarily that’s the case.
Nicole: So well said, and you know, often another, I guess, tangent of this and you can easily hear now how very complicated this journey is, one of the aspects of my journey, especially with my first transfer, I was lucky enough to have a child and a healthy child. And I had used a day seven embryo. That's a very new and different area of fertility where not many fertility clinics cultivate and culture embryos to day seven. And so there's an entire group out there, many groups out, there devoted just day seven embryos. And of these groups, you don't only see the negative aspect or the negative perspective. People contribute their positive. And the reason because day sevens are not the, the percentage of implantation is so much lower than other day six, day five respectively, but they're contributing their positive experiences because they want to show that there is viability in these embryos. And so I get to see all of these experiences that are positive and very real. I mean, people are sharing so much. They're sharing pictures, they're sharing an embryo pictures, baby pictures of their born children. And it just shows you that there are so many aspects. And so many pictures of what fertility looks like. There is no one face of fertility.
Dara: And every story is unique and every story is beautiful. And it's great. I'm happy that you've had different types of support because that's, that's so important. So, so you've had your son. How old is he now?
Nicole: He is two years old and going on 18, he, they, they grow up so fast. I encourage you to take a picture every day, snap a picture. Just snap one because I find myself going back and saying, oh, wow, that was six months ago. Oh, wow. That was two months ago? He's two. He's a very active little red head. I am so proud of him. And if they ask, you know, how has his father, or who was his thought, or what does his father look like? He's particularly tall, my child. So they ask a lot of questions and I, I'm very open in saying, oh, I did IVF. And I had a, you know, I had a sperm donor and I don't know the dad, but I do know a little bit about him. And I know this and that. And I usually give, you know, some characteristics about height and hair color and eye color because that's really all I know and plan on going forward, you know, describing this to him about, you know, we used, mommy needed some help with DNA. Mommy bought some DNA and mommy just needed some help. And I plan on talking about it like that. It's a very real, very honest way of explaining to a child because they are very, very smart. Kids don't need things dumbed down. They just need things explained in a way they understand it. So I plan and have been talking about it with him or about, you know, around him so that he hears and the people in my life know the people in my jobs know that I did this route. I'm proud of this route. It's nothing to be ashamed of and I feel very proud to be able to say, I have a child as much as just anyone else can say. So, you know, I, that's how I plan on doing it.
Dara: That's good.
Nicole: I had to really think about it and sit down and think to myself how I plan on introducing this to him. And there aren't a lot of playbooks out there. Not that you should follow one, but there aren't a lot of descriptions of how to do this. I'm actually working right now on a children's book on how to describe this to a child, because there aren't a lot of opportunities for parents to describe this process or even this unique process, my own process to a child. So I figured, you know what, if I don't have it out there, might as well create it myself because
Dara: I have, I have someone, I have a book I'm going to give to you. One of our friends who was on our podcast, she's a therapist, wrote a book about donor sperm and egg. And, you know, I think, I think there needs to be more out there cause there's of course, and I think you telling your unique story, number one, I'm sure it could be very cathartic for you and make it easier for your son to really understand. But I think that's wonderful. And I think, I'm assuming that's probably helpful in your process of connecting with your son and connecting with this process is, is to actually think of ways to explain it to him. I think it's remarkable and de-stigmatizing it.
Nicole: Oh yeah. You know when you hear in the news or in, you know, just pop culture online, various social media, how this celebrity, that celebrity did IVF and you're like, oh, I'm not alone. Oh, it's okay to talk about, oh, and you know, it's just more talk and more out there and more information just so I can say, oh, that's how you can say it? Oh, that's a different way of saying it. So yeah. I mean, I love seeing new things and hearing new things and it's, it's really inspiring, you know?
Dara: And it's nice to see also that the younger generation, like our children's generation, will really be much more informed and realize there's so many different ways of coming into this world.
Nicole: I know. And I, I think, you know, one of the things I always think about is when I show my son different books or stories about families and he doesn't have dad. So how do you explain that? Well, that's what a dad looks like. And, but he has a grandpa and he has a very available grandpa that's always around. So, you know, our family situation, our family structure looks different. Everyone's structure looks different regardless of who you have in it. You can have many moms, you can have many dads, you can have many kids, you know, it doesn't matter what it is it looks like. It's great that you have something or whatever it is that you have is wonderful and should be honored and, and embraced, you know? And, and I love that. And so that's the message that I really want to go forward with. And I try to show him that. Yeah, our family just looks a little different. That's all. Yep. One mom and she's loves you, so that should be good.
Dara: And I think that's what it comes down to is, is showing love. That's all, that's all we all need is a little bit of love. Whenever I speak with you, you are such a go-getter. You are the perfect example of women can tackle a lot. And you, I mean, you could tackle more than most people, but you have many different jobs and looking after your son and you do what, you're an independent woman. It's pretty remarkable.
Nicole: Thank you. It's interesting that you say that because we all wear so many hats. And I often find myself when I tell about what I do, I always say, and I shouldn't do this. And I'm so guilty of it. I always say, I'm a mom. After I say, I'm a speech pathologist. I work here, I work there, I do this and I'm getting my doctorate. And then I say, I'm a mom. And I'm like, Ooh, are my priorities right? You know, and I think about my, you know, on how I label things, you know? Yeah. So if somebody asks me what I do for a living and, and what is my job, I of course will answer with the job label or the job title. But I always think about it, how I say it. And I always say, mom, after I have said all of those other things, and that's the one job at the end of the day that I, I really so much love that it's obvious. It doesn't feel like a job. It's, it's just my enjoyment, my life.
Dara: But it's a job.
Nicole: It is a job though, but it is so much a job because at the end of the day, you know, we are all taking care of our own kids and watching them grow. And we really have to take the time and I find myself wanting to take the time to really watch that part because watching him grow, enjoying him as he grows, it's the biggest gift and the least tangible. But from which I derive the most joy. So I really, I wear a lot of hats. I have a lot of help. My mom, my dad, both, you know, helped me a tremendous amount helping me with childcare, but I really want to get out there that you can do it all. It's so important. You shouldn't feel like you should choose. And yeah, you know, there are certain situations in which you have to say, okay, I can choose this or I can choose that, but you shouldn't feel that one replaces another because I am a mom. I am able to also be a speech pathologist. I can also be a teacher. I could also be a sister. I could also be a fill in the blank. I can fill the roles of multiple things and I don't want to feel like I have to choose. And that was a very big part of my deciding whether or not to go for my doctorate, deciding whether or not to continue on in certain career paths. And I didn't want to feel like I had to choose. I really, really was very passionate about that. So yeah, you can do it all.
Dara: It takes a specific person to be able to do it all. And I think you definitely have the, you have the drive and the passion, but the idea I love that you said that, is that I didn't want to make a choice of one or the other. I wanted to see how I can include all the things that bring me happiness.
Nicole: Yes, bring my happiness.That is so huge. That's the biggest thing. I have a girlfriend who was a marketing director for a really long time. And one day she said to me, she said, you know, I'm, I'm going to follow my passion and her passion was doing yoga and practicing yoga and teaching yoga. And now she is a very well-established yoga teacher. She has her kids. And she will tell you day in and day out. Not only is she doing what she wants to do, but she has it all. And she has the career that doesn't feel like a career. And she has her family, which she loves. And the job that she did have, she felt like she had to choose, do I choose my kids or do I choose my job? And if you're feeling that way, you have to re-examine your life because you might not be doing the thing that you love the most. And I'm sorry to say, but we have to really, re-examine that. If you think about it and you know, with regards to jobs and, and, and love and, and what you do, don't ask what the world needs. You should ask you to ask what makes you come alive. And because the world itself needs more people who have come alive.
Dara: I love that. That's so true. And I feel like the idea of a lot of times we do what we think we need to do, and that can be good for some time, but there comes a point if it's not bringing us happiness, even if we're good at it, you're not going to perhaps leave the mark that you want to leave. And I think it's good to reevaluate what brings you happiness. And it could be more than one thing. It could be many things.
Nicole: Yeah. I have a couple of things on my plate right now. You know, a plate is a plate and it can hold quite a few things. So, hey, fill your plate, ladies and gentlemen, fill it up.
Dara: Or get a bigger plate!
Nicole: Get a bigger plate! Choose your vessel. It doesn't even need to be a plate, use a bucket, fill a bucket, fill it. Fill it with the things that you love. Fill it with the things that bring you joy. It's so interesting how much my life has changed for the better just being a part of the fertility world. But in respect that I reexamined my life on so many different levels that I started picking and choosing things that brought me more joy and as a result of the journey that I have taken, my life is in a better place because I made better decisions for myself. I feel a lot more, I mean, I was always responsible, but I feel responsible on a different level and responsible for my happiness. You have to take care of you first, before you're able to take care of somebody else in the fullest, in your fullest capacity. And re-evaluating my own happiness, re-evaluating myself. I am able to be a better leader, a better mother, a better teacher, a better family member or sister, a better daughter, because I am happy within myself.
Dara: Wow. We can all learn from you.
Nicole: Thank you. I, I, I learned from a lot of people. I can't say that I get anything from any one particular person. I like to learn a lot because if I stop learning, then I'm out of the game.
Dara: For us to grow we constantly need to be on that path of learning of, you know, evaluating of, of, you know, also looking in and seeing like, am I doing everything I can for myself? And I mean, when I'm so impressed that when I spoke to you originally, and you'd said that you wanted to share your story. I remember you saying, I want to do this because I want to give back to the community.
Nicole: Yes, hugely so. This community has helped me beyond words. I can never truly repay, you know, in any way, shape or form in any tangible way. But what I can do is I can be that same type of support for others and almost like a, paying it forward, you know? Do nice for others. And I don't expect anything in return. I just want to do it because I really truly love the group, the family of fertility friends that I have developed over the years and the amount of information, it just boggles the mind at what, how they've helped me in ways that, you know, go on unseen. But I want to give back. I want to give back to this community that has gotten me so strong and through social media too. You know, it's these warriors. I, I've spoken to them on through Instagram. I've spoken to them on Facebook. You know, there are so many outlets out there that I've tried to partake in. And I just want to give back.
Dara: I mean, you're such a gift to this world for wanting that, you know? With my experience, it's like, you want to give back if you've gotten so much out of it and you've had, whether it's a good or challenging or hard, or all of the above experience to give back the thing that you got or to pass it on.
Nicole: It's the little things too, you know, when you go into these groups and you ask your question that might surround a specific topic or idiosyncratic little question that you think is, oh, so little, no idea how much it will inspire other people to share their information. And as a result, you get all of this information that you never even thought you were going to get when you first posed your question. Or, you know, there are so many times where I see a person posting a statement like this is what happened to me, this is my result and I'm not asking for anything. I just wanted a place to put it, or I just wanted a place to share. And as a result, so many other people respond and you get this community of people supporting you and you have a space to explain your opinion, just to say it. You know, so many times I see the posts that are, you know, please, you know, don't respond or with any kind of answer. I'm just putting this out there just to say it because I feel like I just need to say it. And it's respected. It's a tight knit community that's welcoming. I just want to highlight very welcoming community. That's super tight knit, willl support the people that are in it and very welcoming.
Dara: That's nice and reassuring knowing that there are people out there that really do care to support other people in their journey. You being one of them, a big one. But knowing that there is that group of people out there to help one another.
Dara: Wow. Nicole, I am so thrilled that you have been here to, to share with everyone, your really unique, incredible, empowering story.
Nicole: Thank you. I am so honored to be here. It's such a pleasure. Thank you.
Dara: For sure. So how we wrap up our sessions is we, I think you're going to like this one, we discuss gratitude. We share what we're grateful for today. So what are you grateful for?
Nicole: I can't even quantify my gratefulness for my family, for the support that's out there, for the acceptance that I've felt, for the confidence that I've developed, for the friends I've made, for the child that I have, and for my future child. And I am so grateful to be in this situation. And I hope that as a result of my gratitude, that I can help others.
Dara: I'm getting all emotional. Yeah. And I want to piggyback on that. Just, I mean, gratitude for this community, for the doctors, the nurses, the staff, the patients, the support in the community, people who are starting careers in this field.
Nicole: Yes. We need more of you. We need more of you who do multiple things. You know, the, the nutritionists who also know about fertility. Thank you, Dara. The, the embryologists that also know about the warriors and contributing their information. Thank you for going into those fields. Thank you. Thank you nurses. Thank you, doctors, endocrinologists, blood draws, you know, stenographers. I can't thank you enough.
Dara: All these people, whether they have a personal story or not are paving the way for the next generation to make it that much easier and it's such a blessing. I'm so grateful also to have had you in my life serendipitously. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you and I'm so glad that our listeners got a chance to get to know you.
Nicole: Well, thank you. And thank you everyone for listening. I can't thank you enough.
Dara: Thank you so much for listening today and always remember: practice gratitude, give a little love to someone else and yourself, and remember you are not alone. Find us on Instagram @fertility_forward. And if you're looking for more support, visit us at www.rmany.com and tune in next week for more Fertility Forward.