The Moms

Jessica Taran

Freezing my EggsSan Francisco, CAStory & Photos by Lauri LevenfeldMakeup & Hair by Irmina Martinez Loeffler
In a year when women are fighting for independency and equality both personally and politically, the choices we make in terms of our own bodies and our paths to motherhood seem even more crucial to the future of our gender and generation. Rather than waiting on the right partner, finding the wrong one, or just in general giving the power away to someone else, many professional women and/or women dreaming of motherhood are finding new means to  becoming moms and not succumbing to the inevitable ticking clock. For Jessica Taran, choosing to freeze her eggs at 36 years old gave her the opportunity to do motherhood her own way, to continue to seek the kind of love she dreamed of and to pursue motherhood as a single woman. Taran, our modern day hero, opens up about her process and pregnancy. Yes thanks to women changing the course, motherhood never looked so good.

1. Who are you? What were you like as a child?

I was born in Moscow, Russia in 1978, to two parents who were 22 and already married.  They had met in college.  I grew up an only child of young parents, my mom’s parents lived next door to us and were instrumental in my child-rearing.  I was dropped off there a lot and loved being there.  I also really enjoyed having young parents and still do. I remember turning 22 and realizing that I was never going to be as young a parent as my parents were; that stuck with me through today.  Although when I was little I may have asked for a baby brother or sister, in hindsight, I definitely enjoyed being an only child.  I credit the closeness I have with my parents to the fact that we have been a triad in most things in life.  They always treated me with respect and included me in serious discussions and experiences whenever they could.  I intend on adopting that approach with my child.

Because we moved to America from Moscow when I was 11, my childhood is bifurcated into my Moscow childhood and San Francisco childhood and adolescence.  In both worlds, I always had a lot of friends.  I gravitated towards the “cool” click, but wasn’t a follower.  I was always into fashion and that helped.  In 3rd grade in Moscow, I had red velcro sneakers and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt (sent in a care package by family friends from the U.S. or bought by my dad on the black market) that were the envy of the entire school.  Those red sneakers put me on the social map at school.

There was a brief year or two of severe “uncoolness” when we first moved to SF, those years, though not particularly painful, have been safely locked in a vault in the very back of my mind. By 8th grade, I found my footing (now, in off-brand generic Doc Martens), briefly flirting with a mild version of goth culture and fashion of the 90’s, made all the more mild given that I was attending Hebrew Academy of San Francisco, a now-shuttered Jewish orthodox school that welcomed many Russian Jewish emigres in the 90’s.  With the Doc Martens came the obligatory sullenness of a misunderstood teenager, but by 16 or so, I found my sunnier disposition, which has stuck.  Along with my positive outlook, the other thing that has stuck are some of the most important friendships of my lifetime, which have fulfilled me in ways I could not have imagined at that age.

In hindsight, I would say that I always strived for individuality and it has served me well.  I would absolutely try to instill that in my daughter. Being comfortable in your own skin is bar none the most attractive quality in a person.  With it, comes the confidence to succeed, befriend, and lead.

2. You always knew you wanted to be a mother…tell us about your journey getting there.

Since adolescence (and, unfortunately, until fairly recently), I had had a very irreverent attitude towards love and marriage. I believed that love had to be mad, all consuming passionate love, or nothing at all.  I am not a utilitarian when it comes to romantic relationships, always having focused more on the immediacy of how another person makes me rather than the sustainability of a happy and fulfilling relationship. In other words, my loves were chapters in a short story book, not a novel.  In the last few years, I have realized that this attitude does not lead down the path towards traditional marriage and parenthood.  But, by the time I figured this out, my biological clock had begun ticking ever more loudly (mostly in the voice of my mom).  Most of my closest girlfriends had already became mothers twice around before I realized that it was time for me to make some choices.

At 36, I moved from New York back home to San Francisco, after about 12 years.  Although the timing was right for me to leave New York for a variety of reasons, one of the paramount reasons was that I knew that if I was to have a child on my own, I could not do it in New York — not in my 500 square ft apartment, on my law firm salary, without a network of family to support me.  And so, on January 1, 2014, I woke up knowing that I had already made a decision.  By April 1, 2014, I had quit my job, put my condo on the market, packed up my clothes and art, and moved back to San Francisco – the prodigal return.

Shortly after moving, I started dating a lovely guy. I told him on our first date that I had moved back to San Francisco, because I wanted to have a child and be closer to my family.  He assured me that he always wanted to have kids and was generally on board with the idea of having them soon.  And so, it began.  But, after about a year of dating, with no babies on our horizon, so as not to put unnecessary pressure on our relationship, already fraught with other issues, I decided to freeze my eggs (with support, both financial and emotional, from my wonderful parents).  It was a fairly painless process for me, both physically and emotionally.  The needles that I had to inject into my belly for a few weeks did not scare me as much as I had anticipated, and the hormones did not turn me into a raging lunatic … so say I.  I went to the Pacific Fertility Center for the procedure.  The doctors and nurses (my doctor was Dr. Ryan and favorite nurse was Elvie) were extremely compassionate and understanding.  I felt absolutely no stigma or embarrassment.  If anything, I felt empowered…

… and emboldened by the choice that I had made — yet another right choice amidst some not so great ones.  The egg retrieval process yielded 8 eggs, not a great number, even for a 37-year-old.  But it was enough to give me some peace of mind and appease some concerned parties (i.e. parents) for the time being.

Despite this effort on my part, the relationship with the lovely guy did not survive the new year, and by the winter of 2016, I was single and again considering the next steps towards motherhood.  After a 1.5 year long relationship, I had no interest in getting back to the dating pool, so I decided to try getting pregnant using the IUI method, the clinical term for “turkey-basting,” using donor sperm.   First, I had to choose the sperm.  Although I had at one point discussed with my girlfriends that we could get together, drink a bunch of wine, and have a sperm selection party, I soon discovered that for me, the selection process was too personal to trivialize in that way.  I also discovered that the magical, unicorn, perfect sperm donor does not exist.  Indeed, a sobering realization that, at the very least, suggested why I was 37, single and childless.  I chose two options, Option A and Option B.  In the next five months, I tried the IUI method four times, having a doctor inject me with Option A sperm.  For some of the cycles, I took hormones and medication that triggered ovulation.  But, I did not get pregnant.   And, by the summer of 2016, I needed to have some fun, meet some men, and take a break from clinical baby-making operations.  And then, having done all that and more, by September 2016, I was really, truly ready to focus all my energy on becoming a mother through the IVF process.  

I went back to PFC and was told that I would need at least another round of egg retrieval because 8 eggs was not enough odds to yield a healthy, fertilized embryo.  So, in October 2016, again with the financial and emotional support of my awesome parents, I went through another round of injectable hormones and the retrieval procedure, which yielded only 7 eggs.  I was told that 15 eggs was just enough for the IVF procedure.  Those 15 eggs yielded only 3 embryos that made it to the week-old blastocyst stage at which time they can be genetically tested for abnormalities.  Following the genetic testing, it was determined that out of those 3 embryos only 1 was genetically viable.  This test, by the way, is an extra cost (which in the big scheme of things is a drop in a bucket) but essentially minimizes chances of miscarriage or worse.  It was with great peace of mind that I had that one good embryo implanted in me.  And, on December 21, 2016, driving from 

Marin Superior Court, after winning a major court hearing, and driving over Golden Gate Bridge, Elvie, the nurse from PFC called me to let me know that I was pregnant.  As I drove over the bridge on a gorgeous sunny San Francisco day, I was overwhelmed with pure joy and the beauty of life, an indescribable feeling that I anticipate will be surpassed only by the arrival of my daughter.

Sometime in my second trimester, I took to referring to my baby as Little Ladybird Taran, and it stuck.  I am referring her by that moniker until she is formally named upon birth.

 

3. Describe your life’s work.

I have been a practicing attorney for 15 years.  I spent the first  12 in a busy litigation practice in New York, and frankly, when I first moved back to San Francisco three years ago, I was not sure whether I wanted to continue practicing law. As I was exploring some non-traditional escapes from the practice of law, I started taking on a few contract jobs, and six months later, I realized that I had a burgeoning solo practice and was making a decent living.  I decided to pursue this path, and it has been an extremely gratifying experience.   I view my role as a problem solver, someone who is equipped with a particular skill set that allows me to help resolve a complicated business or legal issue.

My focus is civil and business litigation and asset recovery, ranging from small claims matters to high-six figure actions.  My clients include individuals, small to medium cap businesses, and start-ups.  As with any professional, my reputation is the linchpin of my success, and as a solo practitioner, I am particularly vulnerable to the opinions of others because there is no big firm name or partner to hide behind.  How I present myself, whether in person, on paper, or in any media, to my clients, adversaries, opposing counsel, co-counsel, judges, and court personnel is integral to my success.  In other words, relationship building is key.

I am proud of my profession and career, but I would not describe my profession as “life’s work”.  I take that phrase to mean something more impactful, dare I say a legacy. Throughout this pregnancy I have thought a lot about wanting to be the best version of myself, to parent by example, and also how to marry the personal attributes to which I aspire with my profession. In that regard, I have tried to cultivate a reputation for being responsive, knowledgeable in my field, honest and direct, kind yet firm.

4. What are some of the practical things you are discovering through this pregnancy and in terms of single parenting?

I have been extremely lucky in my pregnancy. Absolutely, every day of it has been a joy.  I had no nausea at all.  In the first trimester, although fatigue did hit me, my work obligations were all consuming and the pregnancy fatigue was not an option.  For the duration of my pregnancy, I have remained active, physically, socially and professionally, and have traveled regularly.  This has helped me stay sane and enjoy each day.  I am determined to maintain normalcy until the “new normal” sets in.  

Having said all that, I am not very good at asking for help, but a lot of practicalities of pregnancy and child rearing requires assistance of your loved ones.  Figuring out what to put on your registry requires help from your friends who have already gone through it.  Carrying boxes of delivered goods when you’re in your third trimester requires the help of your family, friends or kind neighbors.  Moving furniture to create a nursery can also be challenging by yourself (something that I would typically do on my own).  I know that, going forward, I will have to ask for help and there is no shame in that.

Another aspect of going through pregnancy without a partner is that you are witnessing and experiencing your body changing in a miraculous way with nobody with whom to share your immediate observations.  Mom and girlfriends sort of take the place of your partner in that role.  On the flipside, there is a certain beauty in the solitary nature of pregnancy; it has taught me to how to be much more in tune with my body and to respect it more.  I intend to carry this newfound understanding with me into and past labor, and to harness it to help me get back into shape after giving birth.

I am currently in the process of interviewing a live-in nanny, which I hope to have for about a year. I am using the website www.care.com and some Russian online resources to find and screen the candidates. For me, that will be the ultimate learning experience in asking for help, giving up some of my autonomy and physical space, and delegating authority within the most important job of my life.

 

5. Fave / Current Reads for Preparation, Pregnancy and Parenting. Or anything else relevant to you!

I chose not to read any pregnancy books (so as not to freak myself out or anticipate changes that may never occur), but I do subscribe to an App called Ovia, which I have found really enjoyable and informative. It focuses both on the development of the fetus and the changes in mom’s life. It provides a holistic platform for all things pregnancy-related, and is written with a view towards a modern woman.

I also read on my babymoon vacation (along with every other mom-to-be on the beach) The Happiest Baby on the Block. I cannot yet comment on the effectiveness of its prescribed method, but it certainly is an easy read. I have looked for books related to single parenting, specifically related to infants, but have not found anything that resonated deeply with me. I did come across children’s books that deal directly with the questions that toddlers may have in single parent households. I’ve ordered all of them on Amazon and can’t wait to read them to Little Ladybird.

I am enjoying the pre-natal classes at Yoga Tree, my favorite class being on Sundays at the 6th Avenue location. It has a very serene flow

of energy and it’s helpful to hear about other mama’s pregnancy experiences and apprehensions.  Btw, once the belly pops, maternity workout clothes are a game changer.  I recommend the workout gear kits sold by www.seraphine.com (super comfy, stylish, and affordable).

 

6. You are a strong feminist and woman advocate, how do you forecast the relationship between you and your daughter? And what are your hopes and dreams for her?

I am fiercely independent and take great pride in being so, and I want to raise a similarly capable human, who is equal parts strong, loving, and kind.  I want her to find herself and be comfortable in her own skin but will guide her to temper this freedom of spirit with the understanding of the practicalities and unpredictability of life.  This will no doubt be a difficult balance to achieve.  Some of the more practical values that I want to instill in her are adaptability, curiosity, reliability, and not being afraid of change or of the “other.”

From what I have observed, including in my own relationship with my parents, one of the most difficult achievements in life is to recognize and respect the individuality of your child and not treat them as an extension of your own inner self.  I don’t know that I will succeed where so many have failed, but I want to enter motherhood with that goal in mind.  I am also hyper aware that being a single mom can easily lend itself towards creating a co-dependent relationship.  To me it’s important to avoid that, as it will inevitably lead to resentment at some point in the future. For that reason, I am not inclined to practice attachment parenting or co-sleeping, and intend to set some boundaries from the get go.

 

7. How do you think your work as a Civil Litigator prepared you for Motherhood?

This is actually an easy answer: as I already mentioned, I view my job as being a problem solver. As such, I know how to stay cool under pressure, manage my time wisely, and compartmentalize.  If one thing is going wrong, you can’t throw up your hands and be paralyzed; you just have to take a deep breath and approach each problem constructively.  Often, a solution becomes apparent when the problem is properly articulated and communicated to the other party. I am hoping my communication skills don’t fail me when dealing with an infant and a toddler. I may have to spray paint these words on my walls or tattoo them on my forearms to stay sane through the first few months.

 

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Part of my process in making the decision to have a child on my own was coming to grips that the traditional path towards marriage and parenthood may not happen for me. The way I see it is: for some, the romance track and the parenthood track intersect, for me, at least for now, those tracks will have to be parallel. I am not at all worried that I will not find romantic love or that being a mother will somehow delay it.  If anything, this process has made me more self aware, patient, loving, and open to the universe in a way that could only beget more love. In five years, I will still be me, still social, easy-going, fun-loving, and hard-working, but perhaps, more responsible and less casual about romantic love.

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