“Heidi, you’re a high-risk case,” said my doctor.

I sat in my dressing gown, humbled.

I, too, had been infected with San Francisco’s sweeping epidemic — ‘Peter Pan Paralysis’ (PPP).

The symptoms:

  • Incessant frolicking through cocktail parties wearing the same outfits I did at age 25.
  • Disjointed Tinder-thumb, from frenetic swiping of all the city’s options.
  • Disillusionment that the small fortune spent on egg freezing would stave off the nagging tick of my biological clock, and allow me to conceive up until I hit the nursing home.
  • Refusal to admit that my body is biologically wired to have children now, even if I still hadn’t found a partner I wanted to have children with.

“You are going to have to make some hard choices,” said my doctor. “If you want to wait for romantic love, it may be too late to have children. If you really want children, you need to reconsider your options. Your eggs won’t stay fresh in the freezer forever, you know.”

My doctor brandished the perfect antidote to my malady — statistics. Her graphs of fertility declines and egg freezing efficacy (~20%) inserted a hypodermic needle of fear into my veins. I convulsed in panic. Damn you Sheryl Sandberg, I really cannot have it all, can I?

How on earth did I end up in this predicament? Was it a focus on my career? Too many surf trips? Dating the wrong men? I had collected boyfriends like bad pop CDs from the 90s, spending way too much on one hit wonders while paying little attention to the worth of the entire album. But alas, it’s too late to lament that Lou Bega CD now. Regrets just prolong our ailment.

It was time to stop dancing the Mambo No. 5 . I needed to kick Peter Pan Paralysis and move forward with life. I didn’t want my hypothetical future children to be conceived from freezer burn.

My doctor sent me home with four vials labeled ‘PPP remedy.’ I was to choose one, and never look back. As I weighed the options, my imagination went into overdrive, painting various stories of life without Never Never Land.

When is it too late to have a baby? Had a missed the ship already? Could I choose a different ship?


Vial 1. “Knock Me Up, Darling.”

Instructions: Have a baby with someone, (anyone?) now. Forget about soul mating, and focus on “mate mating.”

Temporary side effects: Romance withdrawal tremors

My trial swig: The Life of the Settler

According to my friends, I was childishly set on a ‘soul mate,’ when what I really needed was a ‘mate- mate,’ or someone to help me man a ship. ‘Settling,’ they said, really just was ‘becoming mature.’ Could I throw passion overboard?

For pragmatic inspiration, I revisited the infamous Atlantic article “Marry Him: The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough”.

The author wrote, “My advice is this: Settle!…Don’t worry about passion or intense connection….Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.”

Could prioritizing stability over chemistry work? In many arranged marriages the couple learns to love each other over time, co-creating passion while co-combating halitosis.

I gave it a go, allowing my friends to set me up with men that wanted desperately to settle down and have children. The problem was, they seemed so, well, desperate. And that was before they open mouth breathed on me.

Perhaps I couldn’t make passion walk the plank just yet.


Vial 2: “Knock Me Up, Self.”

Instructions: Saddle up to the sperm bar while the ovaries are still kickin’ and dedicate the next few years to solo baby raising.

Temporary side effects: Odd fascination with the biological components of splooge.

My trial swig: Sola Mama or Bust

We all know the classic adage “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” Maybe this works for some, but I’ve never been good at following directions. I decided to reverse the mantra to tap into my own mojo. Instead of hoping Mr. Right would gallop down my driveway in the nick of time, I’d take matters into my own hands. He could take his sweet ol’ time while I visited clinics to discuss injecting myself with other people’s sperm.

My male friends were both intrigued and terrified.

“Stop looking at me like that. No, you CANNOT have MY sperm,” one said, making sure we always had three feet of space between our bodies as if I could induce conception by mere proximity.

Another was more open minded, “Perhaps I could give you mine. But I’m going to need to sign papers that I’ll have limited responsibility. You could just go to the sperm bank too. Less messy. Literally.”

Regardless of the person or turkey baster I serenaded during the height of ovulation, I realized that I would likely be solo in the ensuing childrearing. Given the soaring costs of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I would have to move to the mountains, join a female commune, and craft an alternative, estrogen-infused lifestyle where women survived without men. Luckily in California, these things exist. I did always want to chop my own wood. I just hoped that in doing so I could find love later. Perhaps with a neighboring lumberjack.


Vial 3: “Get Knocked Up for Me.”

Instructions: Plan for adoption, knowing that anything could happen in the years of waiting to be gifted someone else’s child.

Temporary side effects: Gray hair from the emotional rollercoaster of waiting

My trial swig: Heidilina Jolie

I always found something about adoption beautiful. I worked with troubled youth in my 20s and afterward craved a larger opportunity to provide a stable life to a child that would otherwise be put in foster care. I fantasized about spending holidays with the birth mother, being served unpronounceable foods on silver platters as gratitude for my crusading baby saving. Then I did more research. As it turns out, adopting is a tedious, non silver platter like process, particularly for a wanna-be sola mama. Even if you are willing to traverse the globe for a child, no one is going to serve you food on any platter. In fact, most countries blacklist single parents. And the wait, whether domestic or international, is two to five years MINIMUM if you want a healthy child. I may have gray hair by then. And how could I plan with such a large time window?

The social worker reprimanded me, “If you really want children, all your well laid plans go out the time window anyway.”

Am I ready to wait amid life’s chaos? Much more importantly, will I be ready to tackle the challenges of raising a child if and when the opportunity arises?


Vial 4: “Love Me Truly.”

Instructions: Hush the need to replicate my DNA and hold out for romantic love.

Temporary side effects: Agony of dead end love affairs

My trial swig: The fling with Dread Pirate Roberts

Despite my doctor’s litany of reality checks, I could not rid myself of a girlish faith in fate as inspired by ‘true love’ in The Princess Bride.

Visions of impure passion refused to fade away, despite my efforts to embrace a new, ‘mature’ Heidi. The harder I tried, the more frequent my thoughts would wander to a bustier version of myself on the cover of a romance novel, my bodice being torn open by a wild haired man aboard a pirate ship. I threw my biological clock into the sea, letting salt rust its gears.

As I wrote more lines in my burgeoning romance novel, “The Libidinous Buccaneer,” I questioned the idea of settling. I needed passion yet knew the pursuit of Dread Pirate Roberts had steered many a maiden off course towards disaster.

Sticking to the love boat has two risks: 1-Never meeting anyone that lives up to my heightened fantasy. 2- Meeting him, but too late to have children together.

Is the chance of finding true love worth the risk of not finding it at all? If I waited for fate to play its hand, how should I bide my time? Sign up for adoption?


So, what will I choose?

The remedy vials sat on my desk like sirens, each begging me: “Drink me, and start a new life.”

I realized that the most important thing isn’t WHAT I choose but THAT I choose.

When we choose we take action and are no longer victims of Peter Pan Paralysis. Some people choose babies, others romance, but hopefully we all end up at the same destination, which is just more love. There are a million ways to have children in your life and a million paths to fall in love. I needed to bushwhack my own.

The truth was, I was scared shitless. I was scared of making the “wrong choice,” bush-wacking my way to the wrong land, especially if I had a dependent in tow. This fear is likely what got me into Peter Pan Paralysis in the first place.

I decided to mix two of the elixirs together, hoping for the right blend of passion and partnership. I swallowed it quickly, praying for a lumberjack that doubled as a shipmate, and throw another year’s worth of ice on those eggs.

Popsicle anyone?


by Heidi Isern.
Writer. Thinker. Whiskey drinker. Business development at IDEO. Life and startup advisor. Let me help you tell your story. Follow me on Twitter
This article has been republished from Medium with the author’s permission.


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