Single Parent By Lantern
A Mawrter reflects on making a bold, nonlinear choice to pursue motherhood.
My first Lantern Night, I stayed up late in my single room on the first floor of Erdman and stared at my dark blue lantern. My customs people said that if your lantern went out first, you would get married first. If it went out last, you’d be the first to get your Ph.D. Like many others in my customs group, I was hoping that mine would go out last. We each kept track of the exact time our individual lanterns went out and compared notes in the morning.
As it turned out, the candle in my lantern extinguished third to last, which was disappointing. When I asked a customs person with genuine concern what it meant if your lantern went out third to last and if it had ever happened before, she took my question very seriously and said, “It means you get to choose.” I nodded vigorously. Over my scrambled eggs, I wondered what it was I would get to choose.
"At this point, I am a baby in my journey toward parenthood."
My academic choices at Bryn Mawr set me up for a meaningful career as an English professor. However, as an undergraduate, I chose not to be in romantic relationships. After I graduated, my first girlfriend and I coined the acronym LAG (lesbian after graduation), and while I learned a lot through that and subsequent relationships, I have ultimately not wanted long-term partnership. However, I have known for a long time that I would like to have children, so I am currently trying to become a single mother by choice.
At this point, I am a baby in my journey toward parenthood. After Bryn Mawr, male friends who learned I was queer would spontaneously offer that I could have their sperm whenever I said the word. However, saying the word universally changed their minds. Overwhelmed by the sperm donor choices at California Cryobank, I decided to gather with friends so that they could help me choose a sperm donor while we ate pizza. Once we had decided, I put all his information (baby pictures, medical history, and even a USB of a musical composition he wrote in college) into a dark blue binder marked “biological father,” on which I drew some doodles of DNA strands. Then I used all my savings to purchase enough sperm to be able to try three times to get pregnant.
I sometimes tell myself that my Bryn Mawr-nurtured feminism and confidence are so strong that I haven’t looked back since deciding on this path. I want to believe this because mythological rules (and those associated with Lantern Night) clearly state that if you look back, you’ll be cursed forever. To be truthful, I am a person who looks back. I have internalized a more linear, patriarchal order, even though such an order doesn’t suit me. A part of me can’t stop hearing the voice that says marriage comes before children or that I am already ruining my unborn children’s lives for multitudinous unspecified reasons. The other part is grateful to have support for the choice to do it “out of order” and for the friends and Mawrtyrs who have paved this and adjacent ways. The two most important life lessons that I have not yet fully learned are first, that everything is already happening out of order, and second, that it is harder in the short term and easier in the long term to choose one’s inner voice.
At this point in the process, I find myself spending many mornings visiting the reproductive endocrinologist to get blood drawn and have transvaginal ultrasounds. Then I rush to teach. It’s not exactly what I would have expected, but it makes for a good story.
Maybe third-to-last lantern out means becoming a successful single mom or getting pregnant with one of the first three vials of sperm. Or maybe in a twist not related to the number three, my lantern order means finding long-term partnership upon signing adoption papers. If and when I do have the opportunity to be a parent, I would like to teach my children to make up their own stories about my lantern and, more important, to make choices guided by their own light.
An assistant professor of English at Community College of Philadelphia, Elizabeth Catanese '06, M.A. '07, was a creative writing and history of art double major and earned an M.A. in English from Middlebury. She has been published in Anomalous, Referential Magazine, OVS, Adanna Literary Journal, and The Stillwater Review.