Every day for the past three months, my four-year-old daughter has asked to play Big Sister. This is the set-up: I play Mommy, she is Big Sister, and her doll is Baby. (I’m thinking, “Don’t we kind of play this every day, for real?”)
We bathe Baby, put her diaper on, and feed her. In the meantime, I discreetly leave the bedroom to pack my daughter’s lunch in the kitchen. But all of a sudden, she’s right there next to me, holding Baby.
“Mommy, can I have chocolate for breakfast?”
“I’m not Mae! I’m Big Sister!”
“I’m sorry, I forgot–”
“You don’t know how to do anything!” She storms off.
At last, it’s time to leave for school. Big Sister stops to pick some flowers on the street corner. I’m in charge of holding Baby. My cell phone is buzzing in my pocket. I hang onto Baby’s arm to find it.
“No, you’re not doing it right!” she scolds me, yanking Baby out of my arms. The caller is gone, as is Big Sister, stomping down the sidewalk.
Indeed, my daughter is the perfect Big Sister: helpful, caring, and considerate. Also a dictator. But I’m concerned. She takes the game so seriously.
I think about the fact that all of her school friends have siblings. Does she need one, too? I am 32 years old. There is no reason I cannot have another child in the near future. Except that I don’t even have a boyfriend.
We are at a friend’s four-year-old Pirate and Princess Birthday Party. There are 20 kids in costume, including my daughter, in her pink tutu and sparkling crown. Everyone gathers around the tree to hit the piñata.
“Your daughter is so beautiful!” a voice carries over the whack of the stick.
I turn to the mom next to me. I don’t recognize her. “Thank you,” I say, always awkward about how to respond to that kind of compliment.
She introduces herself as the mother of one of the classmates of the birthday girl. When she tells me her name, I recognize it. She’s an investigative reporter for one of local newspapers. I ask her about her job.
But she wants to talk about Mae: “Did you give birth to her here? What nationality is her father?– Oh, you’re a single mom–”
I openly spill the details of my personal life, an attribute my own mother has reproached me for.
“I want to ask you something,” this mom whispers to me, “but my husband would kill me.” He’s one of the safeguards at the piñata, making sure no one gets hurt.
“What is it?” I ask.
“C’mon.” I’m sure that she wants to be a matchmaker and set me up with one of their bachelor friends.
She shakes her head. “You might be insulted.”
“I won’t! Really!”
“You see, we want a second child,” she tells me, “but I’m too old. We’re looking for a donor. I’ve never just gone up to anyone and asked like this–”
I try to hide my shock. “I’m flattered,” I say.
And part of me really is. In some strange way, I feel like she values me. This woman doesn’t even know me, yet she thinks I’m beautiful and worthy. She wants my genes. Gosh, she wants a part of ME.
“You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” she asks.
“Um, kind of,” I say. “My mother is Catholic and my father is Jewish–”
She claps her hands together. “Perfect!”
Treats pour out of the piñata and hit the ground. Mae is diving down for some loot.
“Uh, I guess I can think about it,” I say, awkwardly.
She hands me her card. “Oh, please do!”
“People don’t walk around casually asking married people for their eggs or wombs,” one of my single mom friends tells me when I explain what happened. “I don’t know why they think as single moms ours are any less precious to us.”
Maybe she’s right. Was I singled out because I’m a single mom? All that flattery I felt is gone. I feel used.
But if my eggs are so precious, why don’t I use one to have another baby? I could give Mae a sibling. It’s possible. But I don’t have a boyfriend. As much as I want a partner, I’m not about to rush into anything just to have another kid. Single parenting one child is challenging enough.
And, selfishly, one child feels just right. At the grocery store this weekend, Mae was helping me pick out some apples. All at once, two kids in the cart next to us were fighting. I rolled away and breathed a sigh of relief. Sure, my Great Life Plan — traveling around the world, for instance — is not working out the way I’d imagined it. But jaunting off to another country someday with my daughter is still possible. I can’t begin to imagine taking a trip to, say, Africa, with two kids. Moreover, there’s the issue of overpopulation, which I could talk about at length.
The longer I listen to my single mom friend, the more irritated I feel. “I would never be interested in giving an egg to a person who would ask that way,” my friend tells me. “I wouldn’t want them raising my biological child.”
For a moment there at the birthday party, I felt egged on (pun intended). I could do this, I thought. I’d give up just one egg and earn an easy $5,000. Or maybe more.
After all, it’s just a little egg. I make a new one every month.
My insides mysteriously hurt. I don’t know if it’s a cramp, or my gut trying to tell me something. It is 6:45 a.m. Mae is crying for me in the other room to come in and get her. I have to go.
No, this is not just an egg. That egg will hook up with some man’s sperm, and develop into a child: my child. If I gave up my egg, I would give Mae a sibling. She would forever have a brother or sister. Except that someone else would be doing all the work. Hey, maybe she could even go on overnights at their house! The truth is, though, her sibling might be more like a distant cousin. Our visits might be awkward and tense. Worse, what if I regretted my decision? For now, I’m going to keep all my eggs in my own basket.