Single-minded Richmond mom loving lone parent role

Even though she was still dating at 42, Shelley John had made up her mind about having a baby on her own

Waiting for the phone to ring, Shelley John knew deep down this was probably her last throw of the dice.

At 42, she had been there and got the T-shirt for all the conventional routes to motherhood that life presents.

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Long-term relationships, blind dates, online dating - you name it, John, an elementary school teacher, had given the mating wheel a good spin.

Adoption, as she discovered, was a complete non-starter as a single woman.

In her early 40s, and after two rounds of costly, artificial insemination with donated sperm failing to cast nature’s magic spell, there was only one path left to tread.

“All that was really left was donor eggs and sperm; my eggs were just getting too old,” chuckled the now 44-year-old John, a Grade 6/7 teacher at Cook elementary.

“I kind of knew in my head that this was it, not least because it’s very expensive. IVF (in vitro fertilization) was $7,000 each time (the rest was paid by her medical plan). Buying donor eggs (online from the U.S.) was $10,000 for six.

“I’m not sure what I would have done if it didn’t work this time; but I couldn’t keep throwing money at it.

“I’d sort of prepared myself, mentally, that, if it didn’t work this time, it was OK; I love my life and it’s OK not to have a child.”

IVF
After several unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant via a sperm donor and IVF, Shelley John, still single at 42-years-old, decided to pursue the final route to having her own baby - buying sperm and eggs from the U.S. Two years later, she’s now the proud, single mom of bouncing, 10-month-old, baby boy Kazuki. Photos by Alan Campbell/Richmond News

 

When the phone did eventually ring, John finally got the news she’d been dreaming of for years. She was pregnant.

“It was more a sense of relief than being happy,” said John from her townhouse in central Richmond.

“I got a phone call from the clinic. I knew they were phoning, but didn’t know what they would be telling me.

“Before the call, I was trying to be positive, but this had happened twice before, so I was prepared for the worst, although still hopeful.

“When it sunk in, I reminded myself that I still had to be cautious, as it was very early.

“I told my parents and, of course, they were happy for me. This was going to be their first grandchild. This might be their only grandchild, although my brother, who is 37, could still shock us on the relationship front.”

A few weeks shy of nine months later — the birth was a little premature — bouncing baby boy Kazuki was born, weighing five pounds and nine ounces.

Explaining Kazuki’s diverse “roots,” John said the sperm donor was Chinese and the egg donor was Filipino.

Before making the purchase online, John said she got to know all about the donors’ medical and family history, as well as information about maternal and paternal lines, as far back as grandparents.

“I found out about the egg donor’s hobbies and there was a photo of her as well. No name, though.”

The eggs, she said, were shipped to the fertility clinic in Burnaby where the procedure took place.

Sperm banks in Canada are almost exclusively “populated” from the U.S., where men providing the sperm get paid. In Canada, no money is allowed to change hands for such a “transaction.”

John, herself, was born to a Canadian father of Chinese ethnicity and a Canadian mother of Japanese ethnicity. It was from her mother’s Japanese roots that she named her now very healthy 10-month-old son.

Asked why she didn’t try to purchase sperm and eggs to match her parents’ ethnicities, John said she tried, but getting her hands on Japanese donors was next to impossible.

“There simply wasn’t any Japanese donors out there,” she said.

“There wasn’t even that many Asian donors, so there were very few choices in that respect. It was the U.S., so most were African American or Caucasian.

“But people say (Kazuki) does look like me.

“My parents (who are in their 70s) come over every day; they are over the moon and are so supportive. It’s now that I realize I need them more than anything.”

 

Although she made a decision to become a single mom long before conception, she told the News that it certainly wasn’t through a lack of trying.

“I wasn’t thinking about this when I was 36 and kind of thought it might happen the ‘normal’ way,” she said.

“Even my doctor, back in my 30s, would say that I ‘needed to get on it now.’ But I still didn’t feel ready; I was still in the ‘research’ phase and I wasn’t ready to give up on ‘Mr. Right.’

“I was in a relationship for a while, but that ended and I realized I couldn’t hang around too much longer (if I wanted to have a family).

“I did try to date a few while I was going through the early stages of the process, but I was wary of guys not being interested while I was going through this.

“I was set up on a blind date one time, but I told my friend to make sure she told the guy my situation.

“I had a great date and, at the end, I told him that I was surprised that he was OK with me going through the (fertility) process. He was like ‘what?’

“He knew that I had planned to use donors, but thought I had changed my mind.”

A second, similar date, added John, was “OK with it at first.”

“But he then decided he wanted to have his own kids, which is totally understandable.

“The same thing happened when I went to online dating sites; they all wanted their own kids, which, again, is totally fine.

“But I don’t think guys really get the age barrier thing for women. And by that point, nothing was going to change my mind (about getting pregnant through donors).”

 

Asked what kind of reaction she tends to get from people when they learn about the choices she made to start a family, John said it has all been positive.

“Everyone has been great. Most of them know what I’ve been through to get here and are very supportive,” she said, noting there were times, when she couldn’t get pregnant, that she got quite depressed.

“I even told the students (when I got pregnant). They were shocked at first and some thought it was an April fool.

“But the librarian at the school has some great books about modern families and I just explained that Ms. John is having a different type of family.

“However, it was amazing how much they knew about gay couples having a baby and surrogate donors.

“I was surprised, given that most people in this community are of Chinese ethnicity, which tends to be quite conservative.”

 

Acknowledging that some people, mostly men, might question the fact that she’s “opted out” of having a male physically involved in the conception and upbringing of Kazuki, John said she’s certainly not aware of any resentment.

“I’ve never heard a negative reaction; maybe they’re keeping it to themselves, who know?” she said.

“People are generally quite surprised, but I’ve not heard anything weird.

“And it’s not like I hadn’t tried the conventional route!”

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