‘I’m single, and I haven’t had sex with anyone, but I’m pregnant.’ After the shock, they were happy.’: Single-by-choice mom births son with Down syndrome, ‘I thought I chose Matthew, but he chose me’

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“I have been single for most of my adult life and never lost hope that I would be married. But as I got closer and closer to 40 and then turning 40, I wondered if I would ever have children. For one, I knew my chances decreased as I grew older but secondly, I wasn’t sure I had it in me at my age.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

Halfway through my fortieth year of life, I went over to my best friend’s house for a glass of wine and a much needed catch up on all the things of life as we knew it. By the end of our conversation, she blindsided me with something I never would have expected her to say…

‘You can be a Mom.’

And these words surfaced something so deep in me all I could do was respond with tears…and then she added,

‘You don’t need a husband.’

Then something else I needed to hear…

‘And you won’t be alone.’

So I cried more tears…and then she said,

‘And you can have your own.’

By this point, I was sobbing and disoriented. To the point of asking, ‘What are you saying?’ Because the truth is, it was like she was speaking a foreign language. This was all so strange to me because I had never considered any of it. But no matter how foreign it seemed, I couldn’t ignore how her words resonated with the deepest part of my heart. Not to mention, up until this point, I felt indifferent about children. While many women are certain they are going to be a Mom from as early as they can remember, I never had such certainty.

So the next morning I woke with having a baby on my mind, and was committed to taking the steps to pursue single motherhood, in spite of the questions and fears swirling in my head…

Me, a single mom?!?

Can I afford 1. Trying to have a baby 2. Supporting a baby?!

Could I handle the disappointment of it not happening?

How will I ever meet someone now??

What will others think of me?!

CAN I REALLY DO THIS?!?!?!

The first step was to research fertility specialists and make an appointment. ‘You should purchase multiple vials of sperm and plan for multiple cycles,’ said the fertility doctor. I replied, ‘But all I have is enough for one vial and I truly just believe it’s going to happen.’ To which he responded, ‘Well, okay, but do you understand the likelihood of conceiving the first time? The chances of a healthy couple conceiving on their first time is only 20%.’And he never actually told me what my chances were and I never asked, but I’ve since googled it and found it is less than 5% for a woman the age of 40.

Sticking with my budget and faith, I purchased one vial. But the journey nearly ended before I placed that online sperm order, simply because I couldn’t land on a donor who felt right in my heart. Having read stories of other women who had gone before me, I decided to find a Filipino donor to ensure my baby looked most like me and avoid comments like, ‘they must get that feature from their father.’ Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of options for what I was looking for. So taking into consideration how I would one day explain to my child why I chose the donor, I went with a healthy donor who the most similarity to me, the most compelling reason for donating, and also seemed to be an overall good human.

The particular donor I chose served his community as a police officer and had previously served his country in the Air Force. The thing he was most proud of in life was raising his children, and his reason for donating to truly help others who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have a child seemed merited. I should also add, he was pretty darn cute in the photos of himself from when he was a young boy posted on the website (current photos are not shared for anonymity purposes).

With my one vial of sperm and all the initial labs and tests looking good, I was set to undergo an intrauterine insemination (IUI). To increase the likelihood of success, the fertility specialist wanted me to use a drug to stimulate my egg production. However, I believed my initial work up was promising and I didn’t want additional hormones, so I declined. I could tell he wasn’t pleased but I had to go with my instincts.

Finally, when it came time for the intrauterine insemination (IUI), I was sent home with a prescription and instructions for a trigger shot which is a flood of hormones that would initiate ovulation to best time the IUI procedure. This time I couldn’t say no. I had to take the doctor’s orders, however, I prayed if there were another way, then let it be.

When the bloodwork came back to check where I was a in my cycle, it revealed I was about to ovulate any minute so I got a call from the office to come back in so we could do the IUI stat. This was a super simple procedure that took less than ten minutes and I was sent home with the date in which to take an at home pregnancy test.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

I decided to take the test a day earlier and happened to wake that morning at 3 a.m. I had the urge to use the bathroom so I knew this was my chance. I opened the pink box with the test and followed the instructions, and within seconds, two lines were visible.

I sat in shock and once I got up, I fell to my knees on the bathroom floor and thanked God. It was too early to call anyone until I realized it was evening time in the Philippines where my parents live. This made for an interesting conversation because they had no idea what I was trying to do. I didn’t tell them because I just wasn’t sure they would approve, nor did I want them to be part of the disappointment, if it didn’t happen.

So the conversation went a little like this…

Me: ‘I have some news…’

Them: ‘Yes?’

Me: ‘So first, I need you to know I’m still single, and I haven’t had sex with anyone…but I’m pregnant.’

After they got over the shock, they were happy for me. And from there, I told my sisters and then my best friends and made so many phone calls and shared the news with so many in the weeks that followed.

Now that I was pregnant, I was so sure I was having a girl, which was a bit of a surprise since I always imagined having two boys, but I also imagined being married. So all this to say that when I was told I could take a test as early as 10 weeks which would confirm my baby’s gender, I was in. My Nurse Practitioner told me it would take about a week for the results to come back.

A week went by and I heard nothing.

By a week and a half, I received a voicemail. The medical assistant asked if I would return the call to schedule a time to come into the office. And my heart dropped. I knew there was more to it. The thing is, I wasn’t at all concerned there would be anything to it. I was still basking in the light of having beat the IUI odds that I had no concerns with what the test was actually screening for i.e. genetic disorders.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

Driving to the appointment later that day, I was filled with anxiety that I would learn my baby wasn’t going to make it. Upon arrival, my nerves had calmed, and I was brought back to the room where I patiently waited for my Nurse Practitioner, who I had been seeing for nearly fifteen years. She entered with a smile on her face. I smiled back and immediately asked, ‘is everything okay?’ Her smile quickly changed as she shook her head and said, ‘no.’ I immediately got up to meet her, and we embraced while I bawled and through tears finally asked, ‘what is it?’ She said, ‘Down syndrome.’

When I could finally take a break from the tears, we sat down and she held the results in front of me which showed a 9/10 risk for Down syndrome and also, I was having a boy. With further shock I said through tears, ‘It’s a boy?’ Because we had such a long-standing relationship, she knew me well enough to know the question did not even have to be asked of whether or not I was keeping him. And she shared most babies with a chromosomal abnormality like Down syndrome don’t make it to 12 weeks, and my baby did.

She said, ‘he’s a fighter.’ And fight is what he has done in the face of every obstacle that has come his way, and I know he will only continue to do.

I had hopes to have a natural birth in a birth center and while the ultrasounds leading up to his birth didn’t show any immediate concerns, I felt it was best to deliver him in a hospital. I chose a midwife for my prenatal care and she knew my desire was for a natural birth so she did all she could to support that. At my 39-week appointment, I was not at all dilated and because of the high risk of my pregnancy due to my age and the likelihood of my baby having Down syndrome, it was not advised for me to go beyond my due date. I was scheduled to start the process to induce at the hospital and my best friend accompanied me for the 4:30 a.m. check-in that day.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

Labor was full of ups and downs. Things weren’t progressing, then they were progressing. My baby’s heart rate was okay then it would drop. A natural birth seemed to be on the horizon and then suddenly a c-section was scheduled. While waiting for the c-section, I dilated to 9 cm and by this time my younger sister and two best friends were all in place to help me deliver my baby. I did have an epidural so I was using all my might to push without really feeling anything until next thing I knew, I’m being rushed to an operating room while gripping my best friend’s hand asking her ‘Am I about to lose my baby?’

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

I later learned Matthew’s heart rate was dropping while I was pushing so they had to make the hard and fast call to quickly get him out via emergency c-section. Unfortunately, I had to be placed under general anesthesia, so I woke in the operating room without my baby.

Matthew was rushed to the NICU because he required oxygen support so it wasn’t until nearly 5 hours after his birth we would meet in the NICU while I was still nauseous and still feeling some of the negative effects of the anesthesia. While it wasn’t what I had hoped, it was the sweetest reunion and there was nothing like holding this little baby that grew inside of me.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

I spent four days recovering from the c-section and going up and down between the postpartum floor and the NICU to visit with my baby. When it was time to leave, I believe my body went numb to protect me from the deep grief of leaving the hospital without him. But I didn’t miss a day of visiting over the course of seven weeks and then advocated for his transfer to the Children’s Hospital for a consult that resulted in a much-needed surgery. He stayed at that NICU for another week and a half. I never thought I would make it through this time, but I am here to say, I did.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

Matthew is four and half months old and has now been home longer than he was in the NICU. But I also had to go back to working full-time after being home with him for just one month. I’ve never been so physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted yet, I have never felt more empowered and whole.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

A chaplain came to visit us during Matthew’s stay in the NICU and he shared the most beautiful anecdote. He told me ‘our souls are given a glimpse of this life upon entering it, with the choice to say yes or no.’ He said, ‘Matthew saw he would have Down syndrome and all these health conditions. But he also saw he would be loved by you. You would be his mom, so he said yes.’ The whole time, I thought I chose Matthew, but knowing he chose me has been the greatest source of my strength. Matthew has pulled a strength out of me I never knew I had and made me love like I never knew I could. The joy he continually brings to my heart feels like a dream.

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

I’m still new to all of this but suffice to say, single parenting is not for the faint of heart. Nor is having a child with special needs. But Matthew choosing me has been the greatest gift I have ever received.”

Courtesy of Michele Elizaga

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Michele Elizaga. You can follow her on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more amazing stories of single mom journeys here:

‘We have to deliver this baby immediately.’ Everything went black.’: Single mom goes unconscious during birth, wakes up to ask, ‘Who is this baby?,’ after life-threatening HELLP syndrome diagnosis

‘I was 20, got drugged, sexually assaulted and pregnant. ‘Why did you keep the baby?’ Well, this baby was a MIRACLE.’: Single mom overcomes abusive relationship to find her ‘prince charming’

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