Mashed Potatoes

I always wanted to be a mom. I figured I’d fall in love, get married, and have two kids – a boy and a girl. I’d read them Goodnight Moon at bedtime and comfort them after scraped knees. I envisioned the whole family making caramel apples together for Halloween.

I thought life was right on track when I got married at 29. Two years later, I was divorced. Since then, I’ve been on approximately 279 first dates, 83 second dates and had 10 real relationships.

At age 41, I’d been dating for over a decade and was no closer to caramel apple making or Good Night Moon reading than I was at 30.  Still, I was determined to keep at it.  What I wasn’t ready for was a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer.  I didn’t cry as much as you might think. Mostly I was in attack mode.  Just tell me what I need to do to beat this and I’ll do it.  I came to terms with losing my breasts to a double mastectomy, losing my hair to chemo and burning my skin to radiation. What I wasn’t ready for was the news that chemo could put me into early menopause and leave me sterile.  One word came to mind. Fuck!

I had been counting on that year to be THE YEAR I finally met someone.  Going through cancer treatment was going to put a major crimp in my dating life.   The fact that I could lose my fertility on top of all that was almost more than I could bear.  That’s when I cried. I cried hard.

My oncologist suggested I consider freezing embryos before chemo.  When was I supposed to do that?!  I was already in the midst of a whirlwind of tests and decisions and searching for wigs and scarves.  I said to a good friend, “I can’t do the embryo thing. It’s too much.” She said “Lisa, you’ve always wanted to be a mom.  I just don’t want to see you make a decision you’ll regret for the rest of your life.”  I knew she was right.

One small issue, embryos require sperm and I wasn’t even dating anyone!  That night, I checked out the California Cryobank website in search of a baby daddy. I looked through the donor profiles and it felt strangely like online dating. Life is so crazy.  In a nanosecond, I went from JDate to Cryodate!

I hadn’t found someone in over a decade of searching, now I had to pick someone in 48 hours?! My fertility doctor said the best sperm comes from a donor in his early 20’s.  I’d always liked younger men but this time it was under doctor’s orders!

I waded through hundreds of profiles over a weekend and miraculously found the sperm donor of my dreams…a super smart, very musical, athletic 23 year old tall Italian. As if that wasn’t enough, his favorite food is mashed potatoes.   MY favorite food is mashed potatoes!!  Perfecto! I affectionately call him #11101.

The next night, I was at Nate and Al’s with friends telling them about the new man in my life.  We joked that I should take pictures documenting our brief courtship.   Me with the sperm canister at the beach; me and the canister having a candlelight dinner; me and the canister slurping both ends of spaghetti like Lady and the Tramp.

But in reality, my only real contact with #11101 was when I picked him up from the sperm bank. I walked into the reception area. “Um, hi. Uh, I’m here to pick up my sperm?” The woman behind the desk was completely un-phased and hoisted a large brown box onto the counter.  Driving to Beverly Hills with the father of my future children frozen in the back seat of my car is one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced.

The IVF went great resulting in 7 embryos. I was overjoyed.  Everything else about my cancer journey had been about avoiding death. My fertility experience was all about creating life.  Most importantly, freezing these embryos gave me hope. I didn’t know when or if I would use them but it felt amazing knowing they were there. All I had to do now was survive.

After a year of treatment, I was declared cancer free!

Four years later, I was ready to be a mom.  One small problem, I was still single.  Turns out beating cancer is a lot easier than finding a soul mate in LA.  So I started to think about having a baby on my own.  My friends and family were so supportive, especially my best friend Kellie. She assured me that while I might be a single mother, she’d make sure I wasn’t doing it alone.  All this support gave me the strength to go for it. I was exhilarated, and terrified. I also learned that because of the cancer, getting pregnant would be a risk to my health….so I called a surrogate agency to find the perfect uterus. Her name was Elba and I swear when I hugged her I felt wings.

When it was time to implant the embryos, I was walking on air.  I fantasized about decorating the nursery, the moment I would first hold my baby and whether my child would get my naturally curly hair. Finally it was pregnancy test day.  The longest 10 hours of my life until the phone finally rang.  It didn’t work.  I was never going to have my own biological child.

I still desperately wanted to be a mom and so I moved on to plan B or plan C or whatever plan I was on at this point.  While it wasn’t easy to give up the dream of having my own genetic child, I decided to search for an egg donor and amazingly found a great match right away.  She was Jewish, from the east coast and went to an Ivy League school.  Me too!  She played piano and flute growing up. So did I!  She even went to musical theater camp in middle school.  Yep, I was looking for a nerd like me.

I had now assembled a sperm donor, egg donor and surrogate.  The holy trinity of fertility!  Team Baby produced a whopping 17 embryos.  Because I definitely didn’t want twins, my doctor advised to implant just one.  How to choose?  As it turns out, there was one embryo developing ahead of the rest.  The embryo seemed to be saying “pick me! pick me!”  And so we did.

On June 15, 2012, my son Joshua was born.  I was in the delivery room and cut the umbilical cord. It was the happiest day of my life.  6 months later, Kellie died of breast cancer.  The whole time I was in the process of creating life, she was fighting for hers. Kellie was so happy when Joshua was born. Watching her hold him and smile just days before she passed was something I’ll never forget.  Kellie never got to live her dream of becoming a mom. But I did and every day feels like a dream.

Life with Joshua is pure joy.  Our house is filled with laughter, we read Goodnight Moon before bed and this Halloween he’ll try his first caramel apple.  There are so many wonderful moments together but my favorite is when he throws his arms around my neck, looks me in the eye and says “mommy and Joshua!” And I say back “yes, my love, mommy and Joshua”.

If anyone told me 10 years ago that I’d go through cancer treatment, then have a baby on my own with an egg donor, sperm donor and surrogate, I would have thought, “oh no!”.  But that’s exactly what happened and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. And while my son may not have my hair, my nose or my eyes, he did get something very important from me…he loves mashed potatoes.

Lisa Hochberg