Category Choice

The Study

This is an in-depth, audiotaped, interview study of sixty-hve single mothers who were over the age of twenty when they had their first child and were economi­cally self-sufficient at the time of the interview.1 Initially, I was interested in the decision-making processes that led to older women becoming single mothers and whether or not fathers were in fact becoming bystanders to family life. I was also interested in extending my prior research on the relationship between work and family to look at how women without partners manage to combine both.2 Therefore, women were eligible for inclusion in the sample if they were unmar­ried and not living with either the father of their child or a romantic partner at the time of birth or adoption and at the time of the first interview. I wanted to avoid women who were cohabiting with someone who was defined both as a romantic partner and as a parenting partner.

National reports of out-of-wedlock births, written primarily by demogra­phers, focus on birth as the outcome of pregnancy.3 It is not possible from these reports to learn about the process that led to pregnancy. It is my hunch that the vast majority of women become pregnant “accidentally”—a term that misdirects our attention to intent instead of birth control use or misuse. I wanted to include in this study women who had children through various routes to motherhood in order to look at the father’s involvement after birth. Initially, I thought that women who become pregnant by anonymous donors would provide an interest­ing and extreme contrast, since the possibility for father involvement in daily life would be nonexistent. There are no national data on the number of women who become pregnant using anonymous donor sperm or known donor sperm.4 The data on single mothers who adopt are also problematic.

Grounded theory initially informed my choice of sampling frame.5 That is, I wanted to compare women who had the possibility for father involvement (e. g., they became accidentally pregnant) with women who did not (e. g., they were artificially inseminated using anonymous donor sperm). As I began the interviews, I discovered that the use of known donors was another route to motherhood, where the father of the child fit neither of my original categories. I later decided that I was missing a fourth route to motherhood: adoption. I struggled with how it compared to the other three possibilities and went back to do more interviews to fill in gaps provided by adoptive mothers. There are also no national data on the numbers of single women who adopt domestically or internationally.

Ultimately, I designed a sample that targeted women on the basis of biown and unknown fathers.6 Children of known fathers were either conceived through men recruited by the mother to be donors (biological fathers but not social fathers), or they were conceived within short-term or long-term relationships (“accidentally”). Children with unknown fathers were conceived through anony­mous donor insemination or were adopted. Therefore, this is not a randomly drawn sample, but instead is meant to capture the less visible (and often secretive) ways that women become mothers in order to tease out various properties of social and sociological concepts as well as the conditions and limits of their appli­cability. Women were recruited through social networks. To avoid the likelihood of drawing upon insular social networks, no more than three women are known to each other.

I developed analytical constructs for each of the four categories. Once consistent patterns emerged from the interview narratives, I defined a category as analytically saturated. In the main text I discuss all four paths to motherhood. The Demographic Appendix gives short summary backgrounds only on each woman quoted in the book, her child(ren), and the route that led to motherhood. I arrived at this point with a sample that included thirteen women who became pregnant through the use of known donors, fifteen women who used anonymous donor sperm to have a child, seventeen women who became pregnant by chanc­ing pregnancy, and twenty-two women who adopted.7

I monitored race, seeking to include women of different races in all cat­egories. The majority of women who became pregnant using either anonymous donors or known donors were white, though two women were African or Caribbean American. The majority of women who adopted were white, though two women who adopted were black and three women who adopted were His­panic (or part Hispanic). While I do not have national data on single mothers’ race and their particular routes to motherhood, reading the anonymous donor Web sites leads me to the conclusion that there are few donors of color. Black middle-class women who adopted are also difficult to find, and it may be the case that they are more likely to adopt children informally. I decided to limit my search to women who legally adopted children as a parameter. However, I did call several private agencies, and they told me that they had few clients who were single African American women, and almost none of those sought to adopt out­side of the United States. The public agencies would not answer my question about the race of single mothers adopting. The women who chanced pregnancy include five women of color. Certainly more research needs to be done on single mothers of color.

I also asked about sexual identity, though it was not a sampling criterion. During the first round of interviews there were seven women who self-identified as either lesbian or bisexual. Most had become pregnant using known and anonymous donors; two had had intercourse to become pregnant. They also adopted domestically and internationally. I deliberately decided during the fall of 2004 that I wanted to increase this group to eleven so that I could confidently include material that reflected their experience as single lesbian or bisexual women. Four of the eleven lesbian or bisexual women were Hispanic or African American.

The sixty-five interviews include women from twenty-one different com­munities in eastern Massachusetts conducted between 1995 and 2004 by a former graduate student, Faith I. T. Ferguson, or myself.8 I sought to include women of different races and sexual identities even though neither was a major focus of how I conceptualized this study. While the majority of women in the study are white, 46 percent of the families are either transracial or minority. The majority of women are heterosexual; eleven are lesbian or bisexual single mothers. The majority of women had children between the ages of two and seven, though a quarter had children over eight at the time of the first interview.

Women in this study hold jobs as varied as lawyers and waitresses. While the majority of w’omen in this study were salaried or contract employees on consult­ing or technical projects, a smaller group who tvorked in the lower-paid sendee sector earned hourly wages, and some even pieced together employment through twx> jobs. All the women in this study w^ere employed and not collecting welfare at the time of the first interview and at the time of the update, though a fewr wrere in transition between jobs at either point.9 In addition to wages, the majority of women in this study had a nonwrage source of income, usually rental property, roommates, assistance from extended family, or child support. At the time of the first interview, 65 percent of the women (forty-twro) held at least one advanced degree beyond a B. A., 22 percent (fourteen) held an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and the remaining 14 percent of the women (nine) had completed at least high school, often writh some college.

All the women in this study describe themselves as middle-class—even those wnth incomes under $20,000 and those writh six-figure incomes. Income, educa­tion, and occupation do not capture the widespread belief expressed in the United States that everybody but the very poorest and the most wealthy is entitled to claim membership in the middle class. Despite the growing discrepancies between the richest and the poorest, there is a continued belief that everyone wTo is self-supporting is bound together in the “middle class.” Because these women are neither the poorest (collecting welfare) nor the richest, they are using a cul­tural construction of “middle class,” regardless of the traditional sociological markers mentioned above. A middle-class lifestyle provides for a future, not simply coping or hanging on financially from paycheck to paycheck. Even those women who have the least income in this study aspire to be part of the middle class and are proud that they are earning a living. Those w’omen wfith the least income are “bettering themselves” through present enrollment in educational institutions and look forward to a future that is more financially secure. Between the first interview and the epilogue some women’s incomes increased, wdiile the change of careers led some women’s incomes to decline. Most remained the same, increasing with inflation. I have provided incomes for the first round of interviews in 2004-2005 dollars in the demographic appendix for those women wdro appear in the book. Overall, the median income of the group wras about the same as the median income for all families in Massachusetts at tire the time of

both the first interview and the epilogue. By the time of the updated interviews, their incomes ranged from under $20,000 per year to $210,000. The median income from wages at the time of the epilogue was $66,615, which approximates the median income for all families in Massachusetts in 2oozy10 I remind the reader that this does not include nonwage income.

In order to find women to interview, I “talked up” this study. That is, I men­tioned it to everyone I came in contact with, hoping they would provide me with a lead to a single mother. For instance, when the study began, I moved into a new home and started a room-by-room renovation. I happily enjoyed the company of a steady stream of people in the trades working in my house, interrupting them when I need a break from my work and bringing my study up in the course of the conversation. I tested out parts of what I was writing up on people working in my house. I found their insights to be as useful as the insights my academic friends offered. Similarly, every time I took a cab, I talked to cab drivers about my study, and I mentioned it to the owners of the neighborhood stores I frequented, from the hairdresser to the dry cleaner. Every place I went, including professional appointments with lawyers, doctors, and accountants, I made sure to include my study in the conversation. I told people, “I am doing research,” and they loved to ask, “What about?”—a terrific conversation opener. Just about everyone knows someone who is a single mother, since a third of all births today are to single mothers. These strangers provided lots of names. My daughter’s several day care settings and after-school programs became additional sources of people to tap for other networks of single mothers.

When they told me about a woman they knew (in a few cases, they were relatives of a mother or child), I would ask them if they would ask the single mom they knew if I could contact her. If the contact was someone whom I had a momentary encounter with and we were swapping our stories about work (such as with a cab driver), I would give them my business card. I relied upon those who knew the single moms to broker an initial phone call because, as a total stranger, I needed entry and a good recommendation in order to ensure that the woman on the other end of the phone would not hang up on me. This way of gathering single mothers to interview made sense to me because often the informant told me information about the single mom that I couldn’t initially ask on the phone but needed to know in order to understand whether or not she fit the parameters of my study. The informants knew intimate details that allowed me to decide if I should ask that person to speak with his or her friend about a possible inter­view. Further, the informant could say to the friend or relative, “I know her and she’s nice or okay,” or “I like what she has to say and she is looking for you to help her.”

Once I had the name of a person who agreed to a phone conversation, I had to “sell” the study and myself. I told the women I called that economically self-sufficient single mothers are given little attention in the media or policy discussions, leaving both professionals and the wider population to believe

[1] All women quoted in the text of the book are identified by pseudonym, and I have changed certain details for some women to protect their identity, such as sex of child, exact occupation, and community of residence. However, income, level of education, race, age, and routes to motherhood are unchanged. Demographic information about each woman, listed alphabeti­cally by first name, can be found in appendix i.

The first-person vignettes that open the prologue and various chapters are not verbatim accounts from the women’s interview transcripts. I wrote these vignettes drawing upon the information and stories the women told me. Two of the opening vignettes are composites of several women with similar stories; they resembled each other closely enough that I merged them to create one story. Further, without blurring stories in this way, these particular women would have been too easily identified.

Apart from the opening vignettes, all of the quotes in the body of each chapter are taken directly from the interview transcripts of a single woman, the one whose pseudonym accom­panies the quotation.

[2] was working for a company that I had been with for six years, that I had grown up with, that I had gone from being an entry-level programmer to a senior programmer, a project leader and a manager, a director. My career developed

[3] went out with a guy who pulled out a list as I was reading the menu and said,

“I have questions.” I said, “Okay”; I thought he was joking. And he said, “When you go shopping and you come home, what do you do?” I said, “I [put] the groceries away, get a cold drink, put my feet up, and say, ‘Thank God that’s over.’ ” I said, “What do you do?” He said, “Well, I line up all the peas.” And I’m listening to this and I’m thinking, “This is a joke.” So then he goes, “Where do you squeeze the tube of toothpaste?” I said, “Wherever my hand lands.

I don’t give it a lot of thought.” And he said, “Oh, no, I always squeeze from the bottom to the top front.” Now I started to figure out that he was serious.

This was not joking. I said, “You know, we’re not compatible. Why don’t we just have a nice dinner and we won’t see each other again.” And he said, “Okay.” It turned out he is a prison guard and he would line up his pris­oners from the shortest to the tallest! So this was the kind of experience I was having.

[4] guess feminism gives me some strength to be who I want to be and try to be as much as I can be. Feminism allows you to be nontraditional, to go against tradit­ional gender roles and have a child as a single person. It gives you some backing and some support to do that. … So it opened up the possibility to do things a little bit differently.

[5] walked out of there and my eyes were just wide. I thought, “Oh no, he didn’t shut down this road I am on.” He said, “It’s completely natural that you want to be a mother, of course you want to be a mother. And of course, it would be more perfect if you had a husband. But you would be a great mom. And this church community loves you, and I know they will support you in this.”

[6] woke up from surgery to be told by my doctor that I had endometriosis and if I wanted a child, I had better do it fast. I was dating no one, so I called my

[7] hope that the visit will ease two things: I hope it will ease his mind that for sure he has a dad. You know, if he had any questions about “Well, is my mother lying to me?” or any of that kind of stuff, hopefully that will be dispelled. Aid second,

I’m hoping that he will not feel like the odd one out when the other kids are talk­ing about their parents or any of that stuff. Again, fortunately (or unfortunately) he’s in a day care center with a lot of creative families anyway. So it’s not as though every child there has a father who lives in the house, or even a father. But

[8] showed her the support check. And I said, “Look, I can’t make him love you, but every month he supports you. So he’s a responsible person, Kendra, he just can­not feel what we want him to feel for you.” Her father had gotten new checks, and there was a coyote on them or something, and Kendra loved it. It was from

[9] started worrying about—was China right? Was somebody who was going to look different from me a child I could love? So, I started thinking about Russia, and then I asked wrould it be Russia, China? Russia? China? I finally just picked China. It wras torment and it was pros and cons. … I finally picked China because there was [an] age limit there and I wanted to be sure I would get an

[10] lived out of the country’ for a while. I’ve done a lot of Central American work.

And just from my own exploration, I just felt like there was too much of a black market situation there. I just felt that I couldn’t do that even though the child would be Hispanic and probably lighter. As much as the agencies I spoke to were saying there are reputable lawyers and stuff, from all that I could tell there,

I wasn’t confident of that. There was just something about it that I felt there was less control that I had, or that the agency had. But also that I am gonna live here in this country and there are children here and I think I just felt more responsible doing it here. I haven’t quite figured out how to word that, but it wras more like a gut feeling. I just felt like I needed to do it here.

[11] got to see where these kids met and went to sehool and then went to Bethany’s house for this remarkable five or six hours where no one got up to go to the bath­room. And there was a parade of people. Bethany’s father was there, too, and

[12] want a happy and whole and healthy child. And I believe not having to give up entirely one family to gain the loving family which she has will in the end give her the least hole or emptiness. And I’m trying to do it in a way that supports her, that’s not out of my imagination. I really, if all things were equal, wanted to have a tremendous amount of first-hand information. I think adoption is hard. I think it’s another layer for children to process.

The more I learn as a parent, the more I know that this is the best way to go.

You can’t wait. In some ways I want it to be her choice. You can’t introduce her to strangers at age eighteen. I care about these people. I have tremendous affec­tion; I am very, very lucky in that I trust them. I’m not saying that if we would have a more open adoption that there wouldn’t be an issue once in a while. But I feel very confident.

I think Isabelle can only gain, whatever questions she will have about her ident­ity, I think she can only gain in having a relationship, regardless of how intense or how often, from knowing them and having direct access to them. Not only for questions, but just the opportunity for them to know her. Who knows? But I believe it’s true. So that’s why I’m doing it.

[13] feel like it’s a very conscious task. I feel like I’m only at the beginning. Although I clearly have categories that I’m trying to fill in. Personal relationships, culture


This study was triggered by a small but intriguing advertisement in a Brookline, Massachusetts, community newspaper.

The headline read “SINGLE ISSUES.” It went on:

Is single motherhood for me? 9 sessions on decision-making for women whose biological clock is ticking. Explore single parenting options vs. childfree living. Call Jane Smith at. . .

The ad piqued my curiosity. As a family sociologist, I had been following the data on the rise in single motherhood. Ever since the famous incident of then vice president Dan Quayle attacking the fictional TV sitcom character Murphy Brown for becoming a single mother and hence a bad role model, I had been keeping track of the mismatch between media portrayals and demographic reports on single mothers. I immediately dialed Jane Smith, told her I was a social scientist, and asked if I could observe her group. I explained that I had a child through marriage, but I was interested in finding out more about older women who were considering becoming or who had become single mothers. She recom­mended I attend a meeting of the local chapter of Single Mothers by Choice, which met once a month in a neighboring town.

I entered the building feeling the same sort of stage fright that overtakes my body each semester as I begin teaching a new group of students. Who would I find attending this meeting? Would they kick me out because I had a child and a

husband? Would they grant me permission to attend their monthly sessions? And how did they manage to raise a family and simultaneously hold down a job when two-earner couples struggled with the challenges of both?

I blew that this group might be able to answer some of the questions I had about the process that led women to become single mothers. The data I read told me only about outcomes; they didn’t tell me how women came to their decision to become a single mom. What did it mean to them to make this choice?

The meeting was just starting as I entered the room. This first meeting con­sisted of self-described “thinkers”—women who were trying to decide whether or not single motherhood was for them. They were meeting to discuss questions that the women who would attend the later meeting had already faced. The second of that afternoon’s meetings featured a panel discussion by experts and experienced single moms and included a mix of women in different stages of becoming mothers. Some women were trying various routes to motherhood; others were pregnant or in an adoption queue. Finally, there were the women who had children ranging from newborns to age twelve. The older ones played outside but joined in for the potluck dinner.

The women seemed a bit hostile when my assistant and I were introduced. We were not single mothers, and we told them so. They wanted assurances that we were not right-wing zealots or nosy journalists who might do them harm, intentionally or not. They wanted to know more than just my professional cre­dentials and past publications; they wanted to know which side of the contested debates about family I supported. I suppose that my being a professor of women’s studies and a sociologist helped a bit, but their concerns were more personal. Could I capture their world accurately? Would I?

I left understanding that these women were different from me in more ways than I had anticipated. Most important was that I had not expected to find that these women made becoming a parent the primary focus of their lives. At the moment, this was what seemed to define these women in a way that I could not fathom for myself, as I saw parenthood as one of a number of identities I had, something that was an outgrowth of a relationship with another adult, not separ­ate from one. I needed tounderstand why and howtheyplaced motherhood at the center of their lives.

The organization was interesting from a social science perspective because it operated as a focus group at each meeting. At least part of each afternoon meeting was spent discussing topics the women put together. For instance, a newly pregnant woman asked a lot of questions of the other mothers about their experiences with child care. Often my field notes were about topics common to all mothers. But impromptu panel discussions—where several women would volunteer on the spot to talk about their concerns—demonstrated unique issues they faced because of the route to motherhood. When did other women start to date again? a pregnant woman asked. Would a Big Brother program provide male role models for her children? another new mother wondered.

Ultimately, this local organization provided a wealth of information that we could turn into researchable questions for in-depth interviews.


Below are short summaries of women featured in the book. This appendix is meant to connect featured women with basic demographic information, details too cumbersome to include in the body of the book. All women have been given pseudonyms, and I have changed certain details for some women to protect their identity, such as sex of child, exact occupation, and community of residence. However, income, level of education, race, age, and routes to motherhood are unchanged. All information is consistent with that given at the time of the first interview, with the exception of income, which is approximated here to corre­spond to 2004-2005 dollars. Social class is complicated to assess. Following Ellwood and Jencks (2001), I have taken into account both education and income as I assigned each woman to a social class. The page numbers that follow the description of each woman are a good tool with which to trace the women featured in the book.

Abby Pratt-Evans, a white 38-year-old woman, has one child, age 2, whom she gave birth to using anonymous donor sperm. Middle-class, Abby has two master’s degrees, works as a teacher, and makes S6o, ooo a year. She owns her own condo, and her mother provided child care for Abby’s son, who has recently begun to transition into family day care. (6, 8,14, 57-60, 65,69, 71,162,171,178,

206-7, 215’ 237ni (Ch. 4))

Althea Williams, an African American 40-year-old woman, has one child, age 3, whom she conceived with a known donor who lives abroad. Middle-class, Althea works as a professor and makes $85,000 a year. She lives in a multifamily home

that she owns and rents out two units, bringing in an additional $34,000 a year. (16-17, 44, 78-79, 205, 206, 2 15-16)

Angie Dasilva, a white 46-year-old woman, has one child, age 3, whom she conceived with a known donor, who is a parenting partner. Middle-class and with several advanced degrees, she works as a self-employed consultant, making $39,000 a year while receiving an additional $60,000 a year from her trust fund. She owns her condo. (148-49, 150, 151,216, 248П9 (Ch. 7))

Annette Barker, a white 42-year-old woman, has one child, age 3, whom she gave birth to using a known donor, who became involved with the child. Upper – middle-class, Annette works as a manager in a technology firm and makes $100,000 working four days a week. She has a small trust fund and owns her condo. (7-8, 33-34, 46, 81-83, T5^> 162-63, 178, 205, 211,216)

Barbara Graham, an African American 45-year-old woman, has one African American child, age 5, whom she conceived using an anonymous donor. Middle – class, holding several degrees, Barbara works as a professional in a university, making $78,000 a year. She owns a two-family home. Her mother, whom she considers a parenting partner, occupies the other apartment. A lesbian woman, Barbara also has a steady romantic partner. (18, 152-53, 216)

Beth Marshall, a white 41-year-old woman, has one child, age 2, whom she adopted through the Department of Social Services as an infant, rare for a white baby. Middle-class, she works as the director of a nonprofit organization, making $65,000 a year, adding to her paycheck with a yearly $10,000 gift from her par­ents. She has a master’s degree and owns her condo. (172, 216)

Brandy Heines, an African American 26-year-old woman, has one child, age 3. Working-class and with a high school degree, she works as a child care worker in a day care center and makes $25,000 a year. She receives two days of free child care for her daughter at the center where she works, and her mother helps with child care two days a week. She rents her apartment. (95-96, 164, 206, 216, 242119, 2421112)

Cara DeSouza, a white 32-year-old woman, has one biracial child, age 3, the result of a one-time encounter. Lower-middle-class, Cara, who has a two-year associate’s degree, owns a salon and makes $80,000 a year. She rents her home and her parents help her with child care. (91-92, 216)

Caroline Barton, a white 46-year-old woman, adopted two sibling sets. At the time of the interview, they were ages 18 and 19 and ages 4, 7, and 8. Middle-class, she works as a high-level administrator employed by the state, making $60,000 a year while completing a doctoral degree. She receives approximately $10,000 a year in financial assistance for the younger sibling group from a government agency to pay for the special services her children need. (121-23,216)

Charlotte Alvord, a white 48-year-old woman, has one child, age 5, whom she adopted from Romania. Middle-class, Charlotte works as a professor, making $70,000 a year, and lives in campus housing. (10, 11, 183-84, 207-8, 217)

Claudia D’Angelo, a white 52-year-old woman, has one son, age 7, whom she adopted from Russia. Middle-class, Claudia works as a clinical psychologist and makes $50,000; she receives additional yearly money from her mother. She owns a multi-family home, renting out two apartments. She has a long-term romantic partner, Carl, (xii-xiv, 3, 5-6, 8-9, 11-12, 20, 24, 25, 48-49, 110-12, 145, 146, 158, 162, 173, 180, 203, 217)

Colleen O’Neil, a white 53-year-old woman, has one child, age 13, the result of a planned pregnancy with her then-boyfriend. Middle-class, Colleen works as an artist and runs a bed-and-breakfast, bringing in $55,000 a year from the latter. A small trust fund left by her father, who lived with her until his death, adds $10,000 a year, replacing his Social Security check, which used to add to her family income. She owns her own home. (90, 92,93-94, 168, 213,217, 242П10)

Corina Joseph, a white 44-year-old woman, has one child, age 3У2, whom she gave birth to using an anonymous donor. Middle-class, Corina, who holds a series of degrees, works on contract as a software developer and made $40,000 a year at the time of her interview, an amount that can vary drastically. She owns her own home and usually rents out two rooms. (70-72,217)

Crystal Stevens, an African American 28-year-old woman, has one child, age 3У2, the result of chancing pregnancy with her then-boyfriend. Working-class, she works as a secretary, making $20,000, while finishing up her associate’s degree. She rents her apartment. (93, 217)

Darlene Caroff, a white 47-year-old woman, has one child, age 23, the result of a chanced pregnancy. Working-class with a high school diploma, she works a sec­retary, making $50,000 a year. She rents her apartment. (101-2, 217, 242П10)

Deborah Toland, a white 44-year-old bisexual woman, has one child, age 9, whom she gave birth to using a known donor, who has escalated his involvement. Lower-middle-class, Deborah, who has a bachelor’s in education, works as a child care worker in a day care center and makes $25,000 a year. She owns a two-family home and rents the other unit, bringing in $12,000 a year. (72-73, 75, 217, 2401128)

Ellen Hammond, a white 31-year-old woman, has a daughter, age 2, the result of what she terms an unplanned pregnancy with her boyfriend, Gavin, who remains sporadically involved. Middle-class, Ellen works as a financial analyst and makes $105,000 a year. She lives in and rents out rooms in the house her mother owns. (12, 48, 86-88, 89, 92, 96, 102, 156, 159, 162, 169, 178, 180, 206, 217)

Marli Simmons, a white bisexual 46-year-old woman, has one child, age 3, whom she adopted from China. Middle-class, she works as a professor, making $60,000 a year with an additional $10,000 gift from her mother. She rents her home. (107-8, 112-13, 114, 127-28, 129-30, 219-20, 244Ш113-14, 2441116, 245П20)

Mary Conners, a white 49-year-old woman, has one child, age 13, the result of chancing pregnancy with her then-boyfriend, who serves as a parenting partner even though the romance ended. Middle-class, Mary works as a teacher and makes $55,000 a year. She owns her own home, in which she periodically rents rooms. (99-100,153-54, т5^, 22°> 242ni4)

Melissa Manning, a white 40-year-old woman, has twins, age 4, whom she gave birth to using an anonymous donor. Middle-class, Melissa works as a clinical social worker with a private practice and makes $65,000 a year, supplemented by a trust fund that yields $20,000 annually. She owns her own home. (64, 66, 69, 181-82,188, 220)

Nadine Margolis, a white 39-year-old woman, has twins, age 2, whom she conceived using an anonymous donor. Middle-class, Nadine works as an engineer and makes $100,000 a year. She rents her home, hoping to buy in the neighborhood. (25-26, 30-31, 43, 64-65, 66, 69, 173, 174, 174-75, ^6, 22°)

Naomi Henderson, a white 33-year-old woman, has one child, age 1, the result of a chanced pregnancy with a boyfriend who fathered a child with another woman at the same time. Middle-class, she works as a property manager, making $70,000 a year. She rents her home. (15, 96-97, 206, 220)

Nicole Shiff, a white 45-year-old woman, has two biracial (Native American and white) children, ages 12 and 15, whom she adopted out of foster care at ages 6У2 and 8. Aliddle-class, Nicole works as a self-employed consultant and makes between $60,000 and $120,000 a year. She owns her own house. (10, 11, 220)

Patricia Sullivan, a white 45-year-old woman, has one African American child, age 3, whom she adopted through a private agency. Middle-class, she works as a nurse, making $50,000 a year. A former lover occasionally helps her out financially. She rents her apartment and sublets out a room. Her roommate has a special rela­tionship with the child. (114, 115-16, 117, 128-29, 163, 166, 168-69, 220)

Penny Hawkins, a white 39-year-old woman, has а 1У2 – year-old child, whom she adopted from Romania after her infant conceived using an anonymous donor died. Aliddle-class, Penny works as an editor and makes $57,000 a year. Her widowed mother moved into the home Penny owns to help care for her child. (15, 22°)

Rebecca Thompson, a white 45-year-old woman, has a 4-year-old child, whom she adopted out of China as an infant. Middle-class, Rebecca works as a lawyer and makes $130,000 a year. She owns her own house and runs a small bed-and-

Reflecting Back

These women’s stories had changed much, much more than I ever expected. Hearing the new ways women explained their lives and choices today made them alive for me once again, not simply subjects with paper transcripts. It is no secret that life does not always turn out as planned, and in many ways, this reality is what characterizes our human existence. I realized that it was in the telling and retelling of their stories that each woman recasts her humanity. That is to say, their own rewriting of their master plan, especially their agenda to resequence children and marriage, shows the very inconsistencies and changes that bring them once again to life. How they have adapted and integrated, making sense of less than tidy situations, is what I find most compelling. Humanness is best captured by life’s vicissitudes and the way in which one navigates one’s path through them. It is the humanity of these women’s stories that I hope that I have conveyed not only in this epilogue, but also in the book as a whole. The women you have met here are not simply quotes and trends, but part of the process of making unexpected and complicated choices as women, of which it is my job to make sense and fit into a larger picture.

Empty Nest: Life after Hard-Won Children

When I asked women over the phone about major life changes since we last spoke, many of them told me of their anticipation for life after children. By the time I called them for the update, women had begun to think about their lives once hard-won children left home, heading for college. Preparation for the empty nest was under way—these women again had become “thinkers,” contem­plating their next major life transition. A smaller group had already watched their children leave for college and had their post-child life already in progress. As they began to think about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives, some talked about renewing old friendships or finding new ones; others considered developing new interests, while still others talked about maybe finding a partner as intensive child rearing came to a close.

Those women with children completing middle school or in their early high school years are in a new stage where they have a taste of life without their child. As teenagers become more independent and have their own social lives that often include a Friday night dance or a sports competition, a Saturday night movie or sleepover at a friend’s, mothers ask, “What will it be like without my child?” As Erika told me:

First it was unnerving. Then I sat down, had a glass of wine, and listened to some good music that I selected, and I thought, “This is actually nice.” But I knew that she would be home at the end of the weekend. As much as I did miss her, I knew that this next stage would be both of us exploring and becoming more indepen­dent. I have started to date in the last year and I have realized that even at my age I can do this and it is fun. Would I like a companion? You bet. I also want my daughter to leave for college and not worry about me. So, I am beginning to think about all the things I want to do—creative things and more—that I have put on hold.

Time for themselves is either lost or transformed when women become mothers. That time can now can be recaptured. Women reclaim hobbies or develop long­standing interests once the intensive early years of motherhood start becoming a distant memory. In the present, many dabbled with independent lives and their thoughts turned to how they would occupy themselves after the nest emptied, again finding time for themselves. They looked ahead even further to retirement, confronting a question mark as to how they would fund their post-employment years.

Among the women with a middle schooler at the time of the first interview, Colleen provides one of the most dramatic examples of a post-child life. When her daughter was in high school and her property was worth double what she had originally paid, Colleen sold the Victorian home that had housed her bed-and – breakfast. She bought a smaller home in the neighborhood, mortgage free, using the real estate profit to support her transition back into a full-time career as an artist. When her daughter entered college on a scholarship, Colleen made a big move, deciding to start a bed-and-breakfast again—this time in Africa. When I spoke to her on the phone, she was preparing for her international move, still planning on spending winters in Massachusetts.

Other women spoke of less definitive and daring plans for their empty nest. The words of one woman resonated in the group as a whole, saying, “I really need to figure out life separate from having a partner.”Many women still hoped to find a companion, and “finding a relationship” was still on their agenda. More broadly, women spoke of wanting to travel, explore old hobbies and new interests, and invest more time in friends. As another woman said, “We are lucky if we get to use all the potential we are born with. I’m trying to tap into some of the things I have let lay dormant. I don’t want to die not having tried those.” She continued, “We all have dreams at different stages in our lives.” The dream of these women to have and raise a child is coming to a close—they believe they must reinvent them­selves one more time, finding a new dream to put at center stage.

Diluting the Mother-Child Family

Joy McFadden, whose story opens the book, had reorganized her life to better accommodate the growing number of baseball, basketball, and soccer games that occupied a substantial portion of her children’s time. One of the few women to have two children when first interviewed, she preferred to be in the cheering sec­tion at those games than to be at the workplace. At the time of the update, not only had she figured out a more flexible way to make a living to accommodate her kids’ schedules, she had also made time to campaign for a seat on city council. She had sold her first home to buy a new, larger house in the same community. Over the years, she had managed to not only raise her two children but also embed herself within the community; she now felt that her life was full, even though she had not ruled out someday finding a companion when she wasn’t so busy with other parts of her life.

Even though she was still without a partner, Joy considered her family com­plete, as she had told me when I first interviewed her after the birth of her second child.3 The other women that I interviewed fulfilled the need for completion in the intervening years between the first interviews and my update calls. Many women by that time had followed Joy’s lead, adding a second child to their family A To them, the way that their families felt finished would be through the addit­ion of another child. Some adopted, while others gave birth to another child. These mothers often voiced that the mother-child dyad that they had been living in needed another participant to feel balanced. Sienna’s story was unremarkable insofar as she was one of several mothers who had adopted a six-month-old from China.5 When her first daughter was seven years old, she returned there to adopt a second child, a toddler. Even though money was tight then and she was still pay­ing off the expense of a second child, what she termed her “MasterCard baby,” she said, “You need to take a chance to get a chance.” She wanted the chance to expand her family, to complete it. To her, two people were only the start of a family. Her daughter was becoming more and more independent, but Sienna said, “I’m not done yet stomping in puddles and struggling with how many more times down the slide until we have to go home.” She wanted her older child to have a sibling to mentor, struggle with, and love. For herself, a second child gave her the chance to “continue the challenges and adventures of childhood” and to not separate so quickly from her first daughter’s early years. Further, Sienna hoped to build a team, leaving the relationship of a twosome behind. As a family of three, she told me, they all had to renegotiate their lives and reconfigure them, “from the dog on up.”6

In the first interview, the vast majority of women expected that after the child, they would reenter the dating scene, looking for a third member to add to their pair—a companion for themselves who would also become another parent for their child. Rosalie, now married and the mother of two more children with her husband, was still adamant that when she became a single mom, she formed a functioning family, though she almost contradicted herself when she explained the transition:

It was equally as complete when I was a single mother. You are a family once you have a child with or without a man in your life. I never thought I would meet any­body who would want to take on a young woman and a child. I had resigned myself to being a single mother. But I met my husband and we fell in love.

I thought, “This is the person I want to share my life with.” He closes the circle. Now I have someone to share the burden of parenting with, as my oldest son’s father isn’t involved on a regular basis, seeing as how my son only spends a couple of summer months with him.

Both single motherhood and married life have their pros and cons. A partner brings new negotiations about daily life and adds another dimension that can be challenging. Other women who had not added a partner or another child also said their lives were complete, and they wanted it noted that it did not take a partner to feel that family life was fulfilled.

However, among those women who found partners, some did say that a part­ner made a big difference in their family life in various ways. Kerry, who became pregnant with an anonymous donor, represents a new sequencing to family formation. Kerry fell in love with a wonderful woman and welcomed her into her family as both a second parent and partner, expanding the mother-child dyad. She and her partner went to Vermont in order to obtain a civil union (a substitute for marriage, then not yet allowed in Massachusetts) around the same time that her partner adopted her child in Massachusetts. Kerry explained an import­ant way in which her partner completed a missing element in her child’s life: “Elizabeth is the perfect addition. It is great to have a partner, but it really fills out that side of our son, as they both share a similar mind-set.” Their child’s interests were more similar to his new mom’s, and this helped Elizabeth forge a bond with him that was central to their family. In Kerry’s case, completion was about the quality and dynamic of change that occurred with the addition of a new family member.

While it is often within a woman’s control to add a second child, and thus easier than finding a partner to share her life with, both kinds of additions create a similar shift in family dynamics, especially as it pertains to the mother-child relationship. The intensity of the mother-child dyad was a recurring theme that women expressed to me in the updates.7 Many women told me that their family

donor agreement) so that Charles could adopt. However, Sam, the known donor, did not remove Zoe from his family health insurance policy, a symbolic act for everyone. Sam retained that special “spot” for Zoe, as Jennifer hoped he would. The two families, which came to include Charles’s daughter from his first marriage and Sam’s wife and two children, saw each another a few times a year. Jennifer considered this entire group kin, with varying obligations to Zoe.

Lori-Aim, whose story opens chapter 3, found her life partner right under her nose. She ended up marrying the “Wednesday woman,” one of the group of friends who volunteered to take care of Andrew during the gap hours between the end of day care and Lori-Ann’s return from work. The “Wednesday woman” also adopted Andrew. However, Lori-Ann and Andrew still maintained contact with Pennsylvania Bob, the donor. Pennsylvania Bob, despite Lori-Ann’s belief at the time that she asked him to be a donor that he never wanted to be a dad, subsequently married and had other children to whom he was an active parent. Lori-Ann emphasized that Bob was still important in Andrew’s life: “He never articulated missing a dad because he had Pennsylvania Bob and he knew he had a special closeness.” But the second parent to Andrew was indisputably the woman she had been with over the previous few years, who had been a daily presence in his life since early childhood. Unlike Jennifer, Lori-Ann and her donor kept their families separate, but Pennsylvania Bob still visited Andrew without his family when he was in town.

By contrast, Annette’s relationship with her child’s known donor had not worked out so neatly. John, the known donor, had had a relationship with their child that escalated to informally sharing custody. In the years between interview and update, John went from the best example of an escalating dad who became a co-parent to a distant dad in sporadic contact with his son. Annette, who had been initially ambivalent about resuming a romantic relationship with John and becoming a family under the same roof, allowed him to move in with her after they wrent to counseling and things seemed to be working. But when he lost his job and became deeply depressed, they parted. Their child, now thirteen, continues to see his dad regularly. When we spoke, she was currently involved with another man, but her son was not so welcoming.*4 Annette tried to make the genetic family work—but as much as she loved her child’s father for giving her her son, she needed to move on, and found another romance that was more satisfying.

Some women maintain less contact and more distance from the beginning than Jennifer, Lori-Am, and Annette. Althea, whose child’s known donor lived an ocean away, arranged a visit when her son was in preschool, described in chap­ter 4. The summer before the update, she had arranged a second encounter, traveling with her now middle-school-aged son to visit the donor and his family in Ethiopia, meeting his other children and extended family. During the interim years, he and Althea’s son e-mailed from time to time. Hillary’s two sons by a known donor were content with an occasional glance at a picture, expressing no

interest in meeting him.*5 The donor likewise had not approached Hillary for contact with the children. Althea and Hillary illustrate the variation between relationships with known donors and reinforce how with the passage of time women who become pregnant with known donors no longer feel at risk because of their route to motherhood.

Women who chanced pregnancy, discussed in chapter 5, likewise settled into a routine regarding their child’s father and his extended kin. Ellen and Gavin, featured in chapter 6, were still disagreeing over Skyler and who was responsible for what, including setting boundaries for their daughter. When I called, Gavin, who had married the woman he was dating, had recently taken Skyler on a family vacation, but he usually saw her when it was convenient for him. Ellen continued to make plans for Skyler to spend time with her dad through her child’s stepmom. In many ways, nothing had changed—they were still bickering. Brandy, also featured in chapter 5, eventually took Alex to court for child support after he got out of jail. The routine paternity test shocked them both, revealing that Alex was not the father. Regardless of genetic parenthood, their daughter, Ali, remained a part of AIex’s extended kin, and Alex continued to let her refer to him as “Dad.” The paternity test absolved him from back child support and future mandatory child support, but he still occasionally bought gifts for Ali. Though Brandy had no child support, she prioritized having a social dad for her daughter over tracking down a genetic father. In essence, nothing had changed for Brandy either, despite the shocking news of the paternity test.

Beyond fathers, siblings and half siblings were an interesting twist to these women’s updated stories. Naomi, mentioned in chapter 5, blew from the time that her son was an infant that there was a half sibling, the result of her two-timing then-boyfriend. Naomi, who never married or had more children, remained in contact with the mother of her son’s half brother, as they had orig­inally agreed upon when they met for the first time when their children were under a year old. The two families continued to meet from time to time, though Naomi unlisted her phone number to keep her son’s father away.

For women who used anonymous donors, half siblings take on a new import­ance as well. While most women have abandoned the hope of contact with their anonymous donor, many have posted on donor registry Web sites in search of genetic half siblings. One of the pieces of information they were given from the sperm bank was the number of other children sired by this donor, a figure taken from self-reporting on the part of other mothers. They hope that eventually another mother who shares the same donor will happen upon their posting, bringing their children who are genetic half siblings into contact. Something I never anticipated was the way in which half siblings become important links to genetic identity for children of anonymous donors. Abby, who called on her college friend Nina to help select an anonymous donor, was among the first women to register her child’s donor number on a new donor registry Web site. Abby, whose child was in elementary school at the time of the update, couldn’t

their family. Women are not magicians who can produce genetic or birth parents out of a hat when their children start asking. However, the children of these women must eventually reckon on their own with the master narrative of the two-parent heterosexual nuclear family that is considered normative. Children become weavers of their own stories, using the birth narrative their mother gave to create their own explanations of how they came to be. When they were young, the mothers spun the stories of fathers they had never met, or they became the gatekeepers to those who lurked around the edges of family life. However, at a certain point, children must articulate on their own answers to the barrage of questions as to where they came from. During early school years, children devel­oped pat answers. One woman told me when her adopted child was in preschool she would say to her friends, “I have a mom in America and my birth father lives in China.” Children who are adopted usually indicate that they have birth parents elsewhere, and this seems to cover the issue of fathers—at least that everyone has one, even if he is not a dad. Other children from donor-assisted families reiterate their mother’s version of their birth stories. In the case of anonymous donors, they tell their friends that they have a genetic father (whom sometimes they call their donor) and maybe they will meet him someday; in the case of known donors, they say they have met their genetic father, but he lives elsewhere.

The father question is really about a tangible dad, though young children are answering it by conflating biological fathers with social dads.16 Children’s answers became more sophisticated in the elementary and middle school years, sometimes diverging from the story their mother gave them. When asked about his “other parent,” one male child conceived with an anonymous donor would boldly comment, “There is no father and my mom did not have a boyfriend when I was born either.” This child is making a definite claim: that no man is his father and the subject is closed. Other children give vaguer statements to their friends.1? In fact, often the language of donors is made commonplace in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, where children are expected to describe their family, as is the possibility of adoptive and birth parents. The complexity of these family structures may have eluded children initially, but the presentation of these struc­tures by children as possible and even normal has expanded acceptance. As harsh as kids’ peer groups may be, as they age they begin to find common ground and shared interests with their classmates. Their athletic abilities, their beautiful singing voices, their humor, or their leadership becomes the stuff that results in friendships and admiration of one’s peers. Further, the curiosity over birth stories becomes stale and the questions eventually stop. Since these families did not move around, consistent relationships and stable communities with many different forms of family save the children from having to continually explain themselves. Diversity of families has made the single-parent home just another structure in the spectrum rather than an oddity. In short, women’s fears that their child would be ostracized because of their family structure (including the way their family was formed) never materialized, partially because of their commitment to weaving

back to school in the evenings in order to completely change their employ­ment (to earn an ЛІВА in order to broaden career mobility in engineering and to transition from a financial analyst to a massage therapist). Two women had also completed four-year college degrees and another the police academy, which gave them larger paychecks (and allowed at least one woman who had been piecing together employment to finally land a single adequate job). Other women took on more at their jobs as their children became heavily involved in school. Naomi, for example, a real estate broker, increased her work commitment to seventy hours a week, with some weekends. When I spoke with Naomi last, she was a property manager with another firm, but she took her lead from other women in the organ­ization to jump at this career change, doubling her paycheck. Valerie took con­trol of her employment as well as taking a new step in her career—she expanded her own business, increasing her paycheck and diversifying the kind of work she was taking on. When I spoke with her over the phone, her small business had recently won a major government contract, a feat that will keep her employed for several years. Even though she had married, Valerie was still the main breadwinner.

Because most of the women had completed educational and career goals before having children, I was not surprised to hear that employment had not drastically changed. Work remained an important part of their identity, though women continued to downshift and transition in the ways I observed in chapter 8. While I was cheered to hear that several women who had just been getting by at the time of the earlier interview had now completed their educations and found good jobs, the fact the most women’s employment was relatively stable in the intervening years is reassuring—it shows that educated women can make it financ­ially on their own. However, I did find it disconcerting that home ownership, which is the security blanket for many of older women, was simply out of reach for the younger women. To be fair, with the rising cost of living and raising a child today, doing what these women do is becoming more costly and therefore more difficult. For this generation of single mothers, though they might not be able to afford luxuries or have college funds for their children, the future looks stable. In short, single motherhood did not become a career death sentence, though it definitely entailed rethinking time commitments and reinventing themselves.


During the winter of 2005 I called all the women I had interviewed at least four years previously.1 As many had only been in the beginning stages of family building at the time of the first interview, I asked them how their lives had changed in the intervening years. When we had first talked, most of the women had toddlers and young children, and none of the women had live-in romantic partners. Eagerly they told me about the life changes that had occurred. Somehow over the years I’d begun to feel as if their lives were fixed in time, as if their first interviews were a reflection of their lives in the future. I was surprised to find out just how much their lives had changed.

There were three questions that motivated me to pick up the phone. Prompted by my own curiosity about what had happened in the lives of these families, I wanted to answer the very questions with which people peppered me when asking what my research was about. Had these women succeeded in resequencing the nursery rhythm about love, marriage, and the baby carriage? What had become of the fathers, especially the known donors, as well as other men in their lives? Finally, had single motherhood led directly to financial disaster, or were women still successfully juggling work and family years later?

When I began this study, if I had been asked to predict these women’s futures based on their wishes as expressed in the interview, I would have guessed that single motherhood was a transition on the way to the coupled two-parent family, reversing the sequencing. I might have predicted that those who found partners would have more children. However, I certainly did not imagine that women would have more children on their own. Even if they sometimes wished

for one, they had told me that they could not afford the second alone. As I reopened these women’s stories by picking up the phone, I discovered my predictions would have been inaccurate. Many surprises awaited me on the other end of the line.

One of the biggest surprises was how the women had “completed” their fam­ilies. Despite some women’s objection to the term complete and their preference {or finished to mean that they were content with their family size and did not wish for additional members, most women happily used the term, though it was inter­preted in different ways. By the time of the update, die older women were in their late forties and fifties and most likely finished having children; however, the smaller group who had graduated from college in the late 1980s and 1990s may continue to add more children in the future. Contrary to my predictions, women did not wait for a partner to move on with their lives; instead they had second children on their own. As much as the master narrative of the nuclear family as the ideal continues to be pervasive in our culture, these women’s lives are telling a new story, one in which single motherhood can create a planned family of more than one child. The addition of another child brought closure to the fam­ilies of a smaller group of the older women. This act, the second child, trumped conformity, reluctantly taking the revolutionary act of single motherhood one step further.

As for romance, less than half of the women described themselves as cur­rently romantically involved. However, 23 percent (ten) of the women I spoke with had increased the size of their family through marriage or civil union.2 One woman married the father of her child, while an additional four spouses had adopted their partner’s child. On the surface, these women had achieved the coupled two-parent family. But as I discovered, even among this smaller group, the addition of a second parent often did not translate into the exclusion of other adults tied to the child through blood or social parenting.

Other women found “completion” without marriage or another child. As much as women may have wished for partners in the first interview, for many, that wish for a partner in romance and parenting never became reality. They therefore revised their take on family, bringing closure without a partnership or marriage. They had redefined family completion as feeling embedded in a chosen family and their own maternal kin. As much as a partner might have added a new dimension to their life with a child, they did not feel that they were lacking anything in the absence of a partner/parent. They now staged their families as a whole, no longer waiting for the entrance of a missing member from the wings. By the time of the update, they had revised this projected scenario of marriage, and the mother-child pair in the process was recast as a family finished or one unto itself.

All these women reiterated the great joy their children had brought them. Their children had transformed their lives as parenthood took center stage. This is not to say that 24/7 parenting was not stressful at times, particularly when they had young children. However, women adjusted their personal lives and employment, and often were surprised to discover that having children energized them.

Even though each of the mothers completed her family in a different man­ner, they all found ways to move across the threshold into uncharted terrain and settle comfortably into accomplished lives.

Does This Marginalize Men?

High-tech science, such as parthenogenesis, may be slow to reach the masses, but families created without dads are here now. As this book has discussed, the place of men is already being questioned by these women, and the best conclusion many can muster is that men are a luxury item. For children without dads, mothers supply men as mentors, friends, and kin. This involvement does not secure a place for men as dads in families. In fact, men are not needed in the family—even the act of sex and the job of financially supporting the family, both of which traditionally bound the man to the mother and child, no longer require men. The possibility of creating children without the act of sex detaches the genetic claim men make to children. This revolutionizes the meaning of men in families.

Consequently, men need to rethink their place in the family because it is no longer implicit. Without automatic membership, men must find a different basis for connection to families. This will mean that men will have to exert new energy to claim a place. If we strip away the assumption that men are entitled to a special place in the lives of children on the basis of gender, what will men have to offer? I suspect that in order to have men rethink their place in the family, they also need to rethink their place in the workplace. The workplace remains hostile to both men’s and women’s involvement in family. Perhaps this will be what finally reshapes the workplace significantly—men as well as women pushing the workplace

to accommodate the family. Under these conditions, men will reemerge as a different kind of player in the family (though clearly such a statement assumes that men want to be part of family life, and that is by no means necessarily true). Becoming more involved in the daily lives of children may make them more a parent and less an antiquated symbol. But what will win men a place in family, making them once again important to women and children, is the question. What men offer today is obsolete, and I am hopeful that they will revise their offerings. What will they bring, and will every family want it? Further, will they have to be a dad to offer it?

What Is Holding Women Back from Female-Centered Families?

While social parents have solidly established their places as primary in children’s lives, I am not ready to completely disregard the weight of genetics. It is difficult to separate the cultural lore surrounding genetics from its importance in identity formation; it is often overemphasized in a society that builds families around blood ties. Genetic ties have meaning beyond the nuclear family, extending intergenerationally, an accepted basis for who is in and who is out of the family. However, as the open adoption movement gains momentum and women reiterate frequently the special place of the donors in their child’s life, it is clear that while genetics may not make a parent, genetic parents offer children pieces of their identity.

New reproductive technologies have opened up the possibility for intention­ally crafting genetic ties; however, the women sketched in this book shy away from playing with genetics in nontraditional ways. These women initially prefer to conceptualize the donor as theirs alone, even when faced with the number of children sired by their donor on the paper profile. Implicit in a decision to use an anonymous donor is the decision to forgo direct access to the donor. But he is not irrelevant. When questions of paternal identity are unanswered, women turn to a new search for other donor siblings as a stand-in for more information about the child’s paternal identity. Donor siblings are an extension of the anonymous donor, which is why women try to provide their children with them. The increase in donor sibling matches and the growing number of individuals registering on Web sites for that purpose indicate a new way in which kinship is born.1 Yet while women scour the country and the Internet in search of genetic siblings and half siblings of their children, they adamantly refuse to share the same donor with their friends.

While donor registries could provide one answer to the absence of paternal genetic identity, the use of reproductive technologies could provide another. Imagine if a group of women—say, a circle of friends from college—got together and decided to share the same anonymous donor. Each could order sperm using the same donor number without even having to leave her own home. These mothers would not be pledging to become co-mothers to each other’s children,



Middle-class single mothers are here to stay. However, the future is less about women who chanced pregnancy or chose adoption and more about donor-assisted families. These women are challenging norms of both family and reproduction. While it is news that single motherhood has moved into the middle class, and important legally that these women are allowed to adopt, it is women who had donor-assisted children who are casting light on the future. Science and technology are moving families in an unanticipated direction, changing the way we have babies and parent children.

Women who choose single motherhood are most often at odds with their biological clocks, bumping up against the constraints of their fertility. Science has the ability to change this—in fact, change is already under way. The options for extending fertility are quickly increasing. Older women are using the eggs of younger women to become pregnant. Older women’s DNA is being inserted into younger women’s eggs. Younger women are freezing their eggs or even ovarian tissue to be used to gestate at a later date. Beyond that, it may eventually even be possible to restock a woman’s egg supply using bone marrow stem cells, adding to what is generally thought of as a limited stock at the time of birth.

Science not only extends fertility but also reinvents the way babies are made. Parthenogenesis, the development of an embryo without sperm, has already been successful in mice, and reproductive cloning is already possible, though heatedly debated. The reproductive technology with which the world is already familiar has been used by these women, and even something as nondescript as artificial insemination challenges the way in which families are conceptualized. The simple fact that women can now reproduce without men physically present (as a whole human being) holds a world of possibility, already realized in this book. But the implications of not needing any part of men, not even a gamete, are even more far-reaching, and the scientific realization of this possibility is around the corner.

This science holds special potential for women. The ability to put off chil­dren indefinitely could enable women to wait even longer to find a perfect part­ner, no longer slaves to their biological clock. But more likely, women will turn to science in order to give birth to their own children rather than pursuing other routes to motherhood that involve large adoption fees and having to prove to social workers diat they are qualified to be mothers. Even for the reproductive technology that is now old hat, increased accessibility is changing its meaning in our world and changing families. Ordering sperm over the Internet brings this technology into anyone’s home, making families without dads within reach. New generations of women are savvy to options available for timing their child to fit their life, some of which might not include a partner. In the future, repro­ductive technology, particularly artificial insemination, will no longer be a last resort, but an option for women of all ages. Future generations of younger women may prefer to take intercourse out of the reproduction narrative by ordering sperm off the Internet rather than chancing pregnancy with a lover in order to become mothers.