Conclusion: A New Vision
The liminal state is a period of shifting back and forth between remaining in search of a partner and moving forward to having a baby, bypassing marriage.7 Women are stuck and can’t easily figure out what to do. For many, the liminal state is about being caught between competing visions: their parents’ married lives versus families headed by women. The latter, once a sign of poverty and immorality, has now become the way that some middle-class employed women are opting to create families. However, despite its growth as a phenomenon, motherhood without marriage is not culturally established. This, in part, is why women waver before acting.
Women stretch their consciousness in order to challenge the narrowness of prevailing worldviews: they can create self-sufficient middle-class families without plunging into poverty or marrying unsuitable partners. Suddenly a new vision comes into focus: they dare to think about bypassing marriage. However, thinking and readiness to act are separate. Often women test their own readiness by creating artificial hurdles that they must surmount before acting on their desires to become mothers (e. g., another degree, a certain sum of money in the bank, purchasing a condominium).
Looking back fondly at their own family life leads to a review of their childhoods. As gender expectations have changed, they are caught, leaving them without a clearly charted life course. While their mothers may not have articulated their role in the family, the daughters view their mothers’ lives as subordinated to their fathers. These women believe that relationships can be more equal than
what they witnessed as children. Further, in the workplace they experience an equality their mothers never thought possible, and want to extend this equality into their imagined home life. Prior relationships did not lead these women to “having it all,” and they feel they must choose what is most important to them. As good girls who conformed when they were children, they often embraced the changing social tides by grabbing on to opportunities once reserved for their brothers. But motherhood on one’s own requires a greater degree of nonconformity. Lesbian women are already nonconformists, but they too are breaking out of the two-parent formula for family. All women waver in their decision, postponing it as they move back and forth imagining various scenarios.
Often without warning, an event occurs that crystallizes their desires, focusing a decision: a future without a child is simply unbearable. They have been talking and thinking about what to do with those closest to them for a while— wanting everyone aboard in case they decide to move forward. A catalytic event disrupts the ping-pong-like contemplation. This event makes them realize that they need to change this back-and-forth pattern that has so far characterized their adulthood. They dare to step out of line: the baby carriage is about to come before marriage. The catalyst may take different forms but always results in a woman giving herself permission to become a mother.
Their decision to become mothers on their own is in some ways a continuation of changing norms for women in our culture. Ironically, while their achievement in the workplace became a symbol of equality and progress, these women do not give up motherhood, the oldest expectation and centrally defining identity for women. Instead, they take a risk in order to adhere to the mandate of compulsory motherhood.