The amazing number of Hot Wheels a 5-year-old can manage to play with at one time wasn’t on Holly Smith’s mind the day she found out she was pregnant.
Neither was the amount of laundry two children can produce.
She just wanted to be a mom and finally — finally! — it was happening.
“I had a hip replacement the day she found out,” said Holly’s mother, Missy Smith.
The fog of anesthesia was lifting when Holly walked into her mom’s hospital room with a huge smile on her face. Holly jokingly stood in profile and asked, “Am I showing?”
It was funny, and “we were so excited,” Missy said.
Holly was about 33 years old when a conversation with a friend changed her point of view on becoming a mom.
“She said something along the lines of ‘there are lots of ways to make a family,’ ” said Holly, the bread maker and production manager at Main Street Bagels, which is owned by her parents.
Until then, Holly had been thinking more traditionally: marriage, and then kids.
But she wasn’t in a relationship with a man and didn’t see one on the horizon. She also had come to the realization that what she wanted more than marriage, was to be a mom.
“I was grieving what I thought was kind of going to be an unfulfilled dream of motherhood,” she said.
That conversation, though, put her on a path to an alternative way to motherhood that was still in line with her faith as a Christian.
“It took me a while to wrap my head around that … and when it did, it was freeing,” she said. “I could see something new.”
She considered adoption, fostering to adoption and “ways that I could carry a baby myself,” she said.
She decided on intrauterine insemination, IUI, using sperm from a donor.
Then she broke the news to Missy over a meal at the Dream Café.
“She said, ‘I’ve decided to have a baby,’” Missy recalled.
“I wasn’t surprised in a way, but I also was very surprised,” she said. And more importantly, “I thought it was great!”
“I know her, and she’s strong and will do whatever is the right thing to do, and I also knew she wanted to be a mom,” Missy said.
Holly’s dad, Mark Smith, also was happy at the news, but had concerns about how Holly would be able to financially provide for a family and the workload of caring for two or three kids by herself.
“I don’t really have those concerns now,” he said.
‘IT WAS HEARTBREAKING’
When Holly was exploring fertility treatments, “I felt like the only person who did this,” she said.
But she has since found that isn’t the case. “Single mother by choice” is a description that is becoming more common.
In 2020, 21% of children in the U.S., about 15.3 million, live with their mother only, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s a number that has more than doubled since 1968, when 11% of children were living with their mother only.
While those statistics don’t clearly show how or why a woman becomes a single mother, Holly said she has found many online groups of other mothers, both single and married, who like her have chosen to start families through fertility treatments.
Holly had seven IUI procedures over the course of a year, and this came after considerable time spent scouring donor profiles at sperm banks until she found a couple donors she was comfortable with.
She didn’t get pregnant. “It was heartbreaking. I did a lot of crying,” Holly said.
She doubted her decision. Her emotions, likely from the hormone shots she had to take, were wild. Although she had saved to be able to afford fertility treatments, the expense was high.
But she wasn’t ready to give up and decided to try in vitro fertilization, IVF, through a clinic on the Front Range.
With IVF, eggs are fertilized by sperm in a laboratory and one or more of the resulting embryos are transferred to the uterus.
Ideally, you want about 10 embryos to increase the chances of pregnancy, Holly said.
She got only three embryos, full siblings. Disappointment and doubt set in again. She recalled crying out to God in her grief, and “I heard God say, ‘I only need one,’ ” she said.
‘THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING’
Nine days after one of her embryos was transferred to her womb, blood test results confirmed what Holly already knew.
“I was not alone anymore. Plus, I was a little nauseous,” she said.
As her pregnancy progressed, she got questions and encountered confusion from others, but “I’m an open book about it,” she said.
Her parents also were on the receiving end of questions. “A few people that were important to me, that I respected, thought that it was not good,” Missy said.
There were others who were very supportive, and a close friend from church threw Holly a baby shower that was wonderful, she said.
Aside from a horrible night when Holly thought she had lost her baby in a miscarriage, her pregnancy progressed normally. Her baby was so content that Holly’s pregnancy was 42 weeks and 1 day — a pregnancy is considered full term at about 40 weeks — when labor was induced.
Then she had 32 hours of labor followed by a cesarean section. Her parents were in the operating room to get video of the birth, and despite having to scrap her birth plan, it was “the most beautiful thing in the world,” said Holly, who was then 36.
Her son, Mateo, weighed nearly 10 pounds and had a head full of dark brown hair. When he was held cheek-to-cheek with his mama in the operating room, “he started nursing on my chin,” she said. “It was very sweet.”
‘A FRONT SEAT’
Mateo was nearly 4 years old when Holly decided it was time to transfer one of her other two embryos.
With her second pregnancy, Holly was less anxious and excited to involve her son in the anticipation of a sibling. But she also was quite nauseous.
At Christmastime, about three months into her pregnancy, she found herself listening in as Mateo played with their nativity set. He had the angel announce to Mary that she was going to have a baby. Then Mary would throw up.
“He had a front seat to all of it,” Holly said.
If his new sibling was a girl, Mateo wanted to name her Flower. If the baby was a boy, he wanted to name him Race Car.
His baby sister was born in June, and Missy, a doula and midwife helped Holly through the natural childbirth. It was hard, but “it was such an amazing experience,” said Holly, who was 40 when her daughter arrived.
When she and Missy drove up to Holly’s house, which is next door to her parents’ home, Mark and Mateo were waiting on the porch. Mateo was incredibly excited.
“He was so into it. And the first time he held her, he sang to her ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’” Missy said.
Then Holly and Mateo discussed names, because “I wasn’t going to name her Flower,” Holly said. “We decided on Ivy.”
‘A PERFECT FIT’
Mateo is now 5 years old, and Ivy is 10 months old.
“They are just lights in my life,” Holly said.
Mateo is an energetic preschooler. “He loves to build,” Missy said. “Sticks, blocks, whatever.”
He’s also incredibly imaginative. One of his creations being an imaginary cat world, she said.
Mateo says the funniest things, and “he makes me laugh all the time,” Holly said.
He used to give Mark all kinds of hugs and kisses, but these days those tend to go Ivy’s way. “He really loves her,” Mark said.
“He seeks her out,” Holly said. “He tells her secrets.”
As for Ivy, she’s a smiling, verbal baby, but she’s also feisty, Holly said.
She makes this “power growl” sound that has earned her the nickname “Bulldog,” Holly said.
Since Holly and the kids live so close to Missy and Mark — Mateo dubbed them Yaya and Dado — they see each other every day and they even go on vacations all together. Mateo and Ivy are the Smiths’ only grandchildren.
“We consider ourselves a family unit. All five of us,” Missy said. “We have Sunday breakfast all together, always. We’re together a lot.”
“It’s really unusual,” she said. “People say, ‘why do you do that? You’ve lost your freedom.’ But it’s perfect for us.”
“People talk about how happy they will be when their kids are off and they can do their own thing,” Mark said. “Missy and I aren’t like that. We are in with the kids and now the grandchildren and that is how we like spending our time.”
Holly is thankful her father is there to be a male influence in her children’s lives, and that her kids also get to see a marriage that works. Her parents have been married for 47 years.
“It’s a perfect fit because Holly needs help, and we want to be involved,” Missy said.
‘MOM AND KID FAMILY’
Before beginning fertility treatments, clinics usually require that patients speak with a therapist, Holly said.
She spent time with several therapists before deciding to go ahead with treatments, and she was glad she did.
She talked with therapists not only about herself, but about her children and what to expect as they learn how their family is unique. She learned how to be open and to talk in real terms, and not in a “magic seed” kind of way, she said. It’s “total biology.”
When questions came up, she explained to Mateo that there are four things needed to make a baby: sperm, egg, uterus and a lot of love.
“We’re a mom and kid family,” Holly said.
She makes a distinction between a dad and “biological father” or “sperm donor” because she doesn’t want her kids to grow up with expectations of the donor.
The donor who allowed her to become a mom gave her an amazing gift, but he’s not a dad, Holly said.
That said, she did choose an open ID donor, so when Mateo and Ivy turn 18, they have the option of contacting him.
“I just think that’s important. It’s really their story,” Holly said.
‘I’M PROUD OF HER’
“I’m so grateful that I get to build this family,” Holly said. “God’s vision is a lot bigger than ours.”
People still ask questions, usually starting with something like, “I don’t know if you want to talk about this …,” and then Holly shares her story. “Most people just think it’s cool,” she said.
Missy describes her daughter as an “amazing” mother.
“(Holly) is really pretty selfless … the only thing she really cares about are those kids,” Missy said. “She’s really patient. She’s fun. She’s flexible. She’s definitely always trying to empower her kids.”
When she can, Holly always seems to have her nose in one parenting book or another and she has connected with moms groups online, Missy said.
“We’re hoping she gets to have a third,” Missy said, referring to Holly’s last embryo.
“To me, she’s an inspiration. She’s a lot better mother than I was,” Missy said.
How Holly handles parenting is “better than I did as a parent, that’s for sure,” Mark echoed. “Got to hand that to her.”
“If she has frustration or tiredness, she doesn’t show it to the kids,” he said. “She loves to play with them. She can play at their level, both 5-year-old and 10-month-old, for long periods. I can’t do it that long. … she just goes and goes.”
“I’m proud of her. Proud of the job that she’s doing. And I’m really grateful that we’ve got these grandchildren,” Mark said.
“It’s pretty powerful to take back your story,” Holly said.
Motherhood may have come a different route for her than for others, but it is just as wonderful.
“It’s life-changing in every good way,” Holly said.