Editor’s Note: Sarah Lenti is a political strategist and policy advisor at SML Advisory Partners. She served as a director on the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice and worked as a lead researcher for Mitt Romney’s 2010 book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.” The views expressed in this commentary are her own. This piece is the first of a CNN Opinion series, “What it’s like to be me,” which explores the personal struggles Americans face at a time of profound social change.

Story highlights

Top Republican strategist Sarah Lenti details how — against her family's wishes and conservative values — she decided to undergo IVF to become a single parent

After being told she had less than a 5% chance of conceiving -- 3.7% in fact -- she gave birth to two baby boys, Eli and Abel.

Denver CNN  — 

It was a year ago when a young woman stopped me in a neighborhood shop. She gazed at my stroller and started crying. She told me how lucky I was to be married with kids.

My heart dropped. She didn’t know me at all.

Sarah Lenti

I am a single mother by choice. Yet I was raised in a Christian, conservative home, where I grew up believing in the traditional family unit. And I was taught that there was an order to achieving it. First, fall in love. Second, marry a man. Third, start a family.

Now in my fifth decade, only one has proven true for me – and it isn’t the first.

On the day that I turned 30, I journaled that I would think about becoming a mother should I still be single at 38. What that looked like, I didn’t exactly know. It was a promise to myself, maybe to God.

At the time, I was in a terrible relationship with a man who told me he wanted to be with me, but he could never love me. It was because of those words that I first clung to the idea of motherhood. Maybe a man could deny me love, but he would never deny me a child.

Fast forward to my 38th birthday. I was still single, and the world of dating had changed significantly in the last eight years. Tinder and Bumble, the dominant dating apps, offered countless options for single men and women, but made the experience of dating entirely impersonal.

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Dating amounted to small talk with a stranger, who you had briefly interfaced with online because you each thought the other attractive. The small talk was a prelude to hooking up, and there were no expectations even of a text the next day.

It was brutal. And after trying my hand at it, I was no closer to finding the love of my life or starting a family.

If I needed statistics to back me up, I had them. In 2014, marriage was on the decline, as was the fertility rate in the United States.

I had one real option left – and that was to attempt to get pregnant alone.

Maybe I didn’t deserve a family, or so many of the subscribers to my conservative Christian values might say. And maybe the men with whom I had been involved didn’t view me as acceptable wife/mother material.

But deep down I felt differently and decided to give myself one shot.

And so I started the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF). I was mentally prepared for the physical havoc that would ensue, and I had saved every penny for it – to the tune of $30,000.

But why didn’t I adopt? After all, even if I were fortunate enough to have a child, the child would be fatherless. And many, myself included, believe this places the child in a precarious situation.

That said, at least with IVF my potential child would be biologically related to me, his or her grandparents and cousins. The child might not have a father, but he or she would have a strong bloodline. I hoped this would help ease any future struggle for my child.

The IVF experience

The very decade I was born into – the glorious 70’s – ushered in the science and technology that might allow me to conceive. Alone.

More specifically, 1978 was the year that the first human being was born through the process of embryo creation outside of the womb, then implantation inside of the womb, pregnancy and successful birth. Since that time, IVF has produced approximately 5 million babies, with nearly 1 million of those being born in the United States.

The IVF pool is quite minuscule compared to total US births – for example, in 2011, only 0.7% of all US births were attributed to IVF. That said, and barely optimistic, I was committed to the process, or so I thought.

And yet there I was at a bar in Los Angeles, a month out from IVF, crying in front of two people I barely knew, but knew well enough to unload to.

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My life was great on paper. I had done all the right things. I went to Stanford for graduate school. I worked at the White House under Condoleezza Rice. I had the opportunity to travel the world. I had loving parents and two wonderful sisters.

And yet I felt unloved – even unlovable. And also greatly conflicted.

On the one hand, I was ecstatic – I was weeks away from my shot at becoming a biological mom. I started thinking about this potential path nine years ago and had been setting aside money for five years. I was in love with idea of having a family and giddy at the thought of the unknown.

But there was doubt. Goodness, there was doubt. There was that little voice inside my head – the voice of my parents and others – that was very much alive in me. “Why would you purposely bring a child into the world without a father? Are you really that lonely? How would that child feel one day?”

Throughout my upbringing, I was told that it’s wrong to play God. And, as recently as the previous Christmas Eve, I was told that bringing a child into the world without a father was selfish.

My heart and my brain had to fight back.

No, I was not that lonely. No, I was not that selfish. Actually, it was waking up single, every single day of my life – only to be greeted by my career – that felt selfish. And while I could never speak for the feelings that my future child might have, I took solace in the belief that any child would be happy to be alive if he or she were sincerely loved.

As I drew nearer to the implantation date, the prospect of creating a tiny human grew more real and began to override any lingering doubt.

And so, on August 29, 2014, I asked my doctor to implant two embryos. He wisely asked me to justify two. I was quick to answer. If I were lucky enough to get pregnant with twins – what a gift for them. They may not have a father, but they would always have each other.

I knew the statistics and did not expect to get pregnant. Given my age and the means of conception, I was praying for the long shot of one, knowing two would be a miracle.

The 2014 Assisted Reproductive Technology National Summary Report, as published by the US Department of Health and Human Services, is a humbling reminder of just how small the odds were during the year that I attempted to conceive. In 2014, a woman of my age, using fresh non-donor eggs with no previous pregnancies, had an 18.8% chance of pregnancy resulting in a live birth. When it came to percentages of cycles resulting in twin lives births, the success rate plummeted to 3.7%.

Yes, I had a 3.7% chance of success.