August 19, 2019

Everything You Wanted to Know About My Berlin Baby

When I was 31, I may have subconsciously predicted this moment: I am pregnant, as a future single mom by choice, via a sperm donation.

At that time, I was a single’s columnist for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, kind of like a Jewish “Carrie Bradshaw.” I wrote a piece entitled “I’m Not a Fixer-Upper,” chastising people who were desperate to set me up on the assumption that I couldn’t be happy single. But I was.

I had written: “Women are living longer these days; technology has improved fertility. We can wait until the mid-30s before our biological alarm clock starts ringing. In the meantime, thank God for ‘snooze’!”

One reader, a fertility specialist, wrote in and said not to count on technology. There is no guarantee.

Nevertheless, I kept hitting snooze, until exactly ten years later.

Interestingly enough, in the last few years, I would never reveal my age in public, especially because so many tell me how young I look (it must be genetic), and also because I wanted to attract more mates, and younger women are by and large more attractive to men.

But since undergoing IVF in Israel last year (very luckily, successful on the first time), I care less to attract a mate—at least not for his sperm. A transformation has occurred within me. My future daughter has already changed me, for the better.

Since my Jewish “Carrie Bradshaw” days, I haven’t written much about my personal life. I reasoned that writing about men as a singles columnist turned them into commodities. I didn’t want to see my dates as fodder to turn into a buck. Instead, I wanted to see them as people, as lovers, as potential fathers.

I’ve had some serious relationships since I stopped writing about them but never felt I met the eternal “one.” And, deep down, I still liked being single. I could travel on a whim. I could go out and party and feel endless possibilities about whom I could meet. I could easily move cities, which I did in 2008, when I moved from Israel to L.A., then back to Tel Aviv in 2013—then to Berlin in 2016 where I wrote a steamy Israeli-German love story and developed a journalistic voice in the former Nazi country.

In Berlin, I became, sadly to some, happier than I was in Tel Aviv. Life was easier, not a constant struggle, not a constant war, although I still fight for the Jewish people in my own way. I didn’t face the subtle social judgment I felt in Israel as a single woman in her late 30s. I dated, researched my novel, wrote fascinating stories, traveled and thanked God that I froze my eggs before moving to Berlin so that I could reduce the biological pressure to procreate.

Then…I hit 41. I no longer dated “men,” but “sperm,” remembering the warning of the fertility specialist, and I didn’t want to rely on my as-of-yet unredeemed frozen batch. I needed to date for tachlis—purpose. I met a wonderful man who wasn’t ready yet to get married, but I found myself, out of character, pressuring him to consider raising a family sooner rather than later—with me, even though, ultimately, we were a mismatch.

Finally, I realized that for now, I wanted a child more than a man, and time really was running out. I turned to technology to realize my dream of motherhood. But this time: I was ready. I’ve always prided myself on my creativity: novels, paintings, videos, songs. But while I hope those creations are eternal, they are not things of flesh and blood that I could hold, mold, and shape in my image, who would give my values a life of their own.

And while some women see this path as a default, it started to make sense to me, even as a first choice. Being a single mom suits my personality as a free spirit. Maybe some psychological issues were behind my resistance to marriage (which I guess therapy couldn’t straighten out), but I’m not the type to easily bend my values for another. I wouldn’t want to risk a divorce, which could entangle my child in a custody battle and dual loyalties. This path seemed to me…whole.

Some friends and family gently encourage me to move back to Los Angeles to be with my family, or to Israel, where family is more central to the culture. About a half a dozen Israeli friends are single moms by choice, or on that path.

But I think I was able to come to this decision because I want to raise my daughter where I’m the happiest. The fact that I can raise a child in Berlin is a testament of faith that I have in Europe, led by Germany, to eventually do what’s right and take the steps and policies to ensure the safety of its Jews of all ages. Truth be told, I didn’t feel any safer in Israel, with rocket wars and intifadas breaking out every year or so, taking lives for no good reason. But it’s much harder to criticize Israel than it is Germany.

My unborn daughter has already given me many gifts. Honesty, for one. For a long time, I haven’t written about my personal life, partly out of respect for my own privacy and partly for fear that it might scare men away. But I’m not scared anymore. I don’t desperately need a man for sperm or co-parenting. I need a man because he sees me and I see him. Because we have common values. Because we are good to each other, as independent people, unbound by biological constraints. She might have cured my commitment-phobia!

That’s not to say I recommend this path. It is a highly individual choice, and I believe the loving nuclear family is still the ideal form of parenting. But not everyone has the good fortune of meeting or being ready for their forever soulmates when they are still fertile.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to write about this journey as a single mom. I don’t want my child to become fodder to make a buck, either (this isn’t a paid entry). Would I’d want her to Google me one day and know all this about her–and me?

But I hope that my love for her and the good care I intend to give her will inspire her to forgive any of my missteps, and to discover that she had a wise, brave mom, a pioneer who sought to change the world for the better, in her own way–and to live a great life because it will be like her mother’s: authentic.

Orit Arfa is an American-Israeli journalist and author based in Berlin.