Anyone who knows me knows that secrets are not my thing. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of anything in my life that not a single person knows. But for many years in my mid-twenties, my secret birthday wish was “Please let me find the man I am going to marry” or “Please let this be the year I get married." 

I'm not a superstitious person. The real reason I never shared this wish with anyone was that it felt so at odds with the very essence of myself. I am an extremely independent and goal-oriented person. I’m a planner by nature. When I want something, I plan for it and make it happen. I live by this motto: “A goal without a plan is simply a wish.” 

But when it came to dating, my approach was a bit different. Unlike my career and life goals, I wanted love to find me. I wanted it to develop naturally without the pressure of plans and expectations. I often felt weak wanting or needing a boyfriend assuming that if you built a full and exciting life you would naturally find your partner. There was only one problem with this approach, and that was time—or more specifically, my ‘biological clock.' 

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) during my senior year of college. I had a notably long number of months where I didn’t get my period. This wasn’t particularly unusual for me since my periods were consistently irregular. In fact, not having my period felt like one less thing to worry about. But as the missed periods added up to over six months, I began to realize something might be wrong.

Even so, I probably wouldn’t have done anything about it if it weren’t for a college roommate who filled me with fear from WebMD and insisted I go see a doctor. Through the power of peer pressure, I arrived at the doctor’s office that week. I explained my situation and my history of irregular menstruation. The doctor told me he was going to do an ultrasound.

I had no idea what an ovary was supposed to look like on the ultrasound screen, so when the doctor pointed to the black parts of my ovaries and said, “See how it appears like swiss cheese? Those black holes are the cysts," that statement stayed with me for many years. In fact, it’s only in recent years that I can look at swiss cheese and not think of my ovaries.    

Once I was dressed, the doctor told me that he was certain I had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but that he would test my hormones in order to confirm the diagnosis. He said PCOS was likely the cause of my absence of periods and the cysts on my ovaries. He asked me whether I was trying to get pregnant, and immediately I told him no.

At that time, I still fully believed the common warnings given to young girls about sex and pregnancy and that an accidental pregnancy would derail my life goals. It never occurred to me that the fact that I wasn’t getting my period probably meant that I wasn’t ovulating or able to get pregnant, either. The doctor put me on birth control and told me to stay on it until I was ready to think about having a baby. 

I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. So, even with the idea of having a baby being a plan for some time in the far future, I did feel a bit of concern about my diagnosis and what it might mean for my future. But the doctor hadn’t seemed overly concerned, so I decided the whole issue was no big deal. I didn’t know at the time that this was the very beginning of what would later become an eight-year fertility journey, or that I would have far more doctor visits than I could ever imagine—not to mention countless more internal ultrasounds.

After that initial doctor visit in college, I started educating myself about PCOS and learned that it's one of the most common causes of infertility. Still, I felt lucky to be diagnosed early and accepted that my PCOS diagnosis was a reality that I could not change. Based on my age, the quality of my eggs still remained within my control, so none of this stopped me from putting myself out there and dating. 

When I was 29, I had a particularly bad breakup. I was shaken, but as I reflected I started to wonder whether my desire for a baby might be clouding my dating judgment. I started to think that the two could perhaps be decoupled. I decided that I needed to start planning and considering becoming a mother by myself.

I had been told by medical doctors that the decline in egg quality becomes most significant and sharp after age 35. That became my mental deadline. With the new path of single motherhood to explore, my wish was starting to feel more like a goal with a plan.

As the old saying goes, it’s when you’re not looking that you find love. I was sharing my grand plan and excitement with a new guy friend of mine. I didn’t think of him as a potential partner. He was focused on paying for his upcoming college expenses for his kids, and I was running the numbers on the cost of diapers and daycare in NYC to see whether I could make my dream come true and swing being a single mother.

Regardless, we spent a lot of time together that year, and as we talked about our past and our goals for the future, he adamantly insisted that he loved being a husband and a father and would love to do it again. After six months I finally believed him, and we started dating with a plan to move in together, get engaged, and start trying to conceive. Fast forward one year, we celebrated my 31st birthday as a couple with not only a shared wish, but a goal, and a plan in place to achieve that goal. I finally felt like everything was coming together.

But as the reality of baby-making came to the forefront, it (unfortunately) turned out that he wasn’t as ready to be a father again. We called off our engagement, and after a year of TTC naturally, I was ready to seriously explore single motherhood and fertility treatment.

Having always known that I wanted to be a mother—coupled with the common fertility challenges of PCOS—I felt I had to act now. I knew that I could come to accept not being able to have a biological child if I had done everything in my power to try. I knew in my heart of hearts that if I waited to find Mr. Right and we started TTC and weren’t successful, I would always wonder if part of the failure was due to poor egg quality, which naturally and inevitably declines with age. I knew I might regret not having tried sooner. My priority was to be a mother. And when I thought about it, I realized that the real reason why I’d been so stressed about finding a partner was that I wanted to start a family.

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Single at 32, I knew that my desire to have a baby sooner than later would put a strain on dating and new relationships. I had learned you need a lot of time to get to know someone, especially if you want to determine whether you’re compatible enough and both ready enough for the lifelong commitment of raising a child together. I didn’t want to settle. It was clear to me that by decoupling the baby from the relationship I had the best chance of becoming a mother and developing a healthy romantic relationship when the time was right.

I knew that if I had to choose, I could live without ever getting married, but I couldn’t live without being a mother. So, I dove into my plan.

I started reading articles, stories, and memoirs of other people like me which I learned are commonly referred to as Single Mothers by Choice or SMCs. I already had a ‘family fund’ saved, because, through all those years of birthday wishes, I hadn’t just been wishing; I had been preparing for the day when I likely would need fertility treatments to help me achieve my motherhood goal. I did my research, scheduled four consultations, selected a fertility clinic, and then chose a sperm donor. Seven birthdays later, I finally became a mother to my daughter, Nora Grace Curtain. 

My path to motherhood included many emotional and medical hurdles. While my journey was a difficult one, it led me to discover the importance of patient advocacy, knowledge, and resilience. Most importantly, I found that by building and leveraging a powerful support system and community of women I was able to ride the emotional highs and lows of the experience and find joy in my journey.

Kat Curtin is a single mother by choice (SMC) who became an unofficial expert on all things fertility, loss, and pregnancy during her eight-year journey to becoming a mother to her four-month-old daughter, Nora Grace Curtin. Kat is passionate about helping other women find and walk their path to motherhood.