Conclusion: Embarking on New Motherhood
The women I studied doggedly pursued secure employment while seeking out a partner, all the while holding their hopes for motherhood close. But when the search for a partner seemed as though it would block the possibility of motherhood, these women stopped following the rules. Both gay and straight women had to push aside the romance, love, and commitment that were supposed to come along with the creation of child. For heterosexual women in particular, they had to rip the seams of the package, deconstructing the old rhyme “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby with the baby carriage.” Consciously reordering the sequence in response to compulsory motherhood, these women made a series of decisions regarding how far they were willing to deviate from the narratives that govern family creation.
For women who choose this route, departing the liminal state involves resolving a series of quagmires. They enter territory that is unknown to them as they learn the language of sperm banks, adoption agencies, and legal contracts. They learn too that securing gametes is a difficult process, fraught with emotional upheaval. Selecting an initial route to motherhood from the options available to them, women find the moment bittersweet: the excitement of new possibilities—becoming pregnant for die first time, receiving a photo of a child that is waiting to be adopted—is juxtaposed with the lack of a partner. But the juxtaposition is put aside as women move on to focus on the possibilities for motherhood. The excitement is almost always shared as women extend their joy to friends and family—those they gather close to them become participants in their new lives.
The departure entails more than just a choice of a means to motherhood. Women stand on the threshold rethinking men. As they struggle in their individual decisions, they do so within a broader context—will they risk upsetting the patriarchal paradigm of two opposite-sex parents that seeks a mandatory tie between men and families? Some women play along, in particular those who chance pregnancy. Others take risks, often using donor-assisted routes, consciously seeking protection in new contractual arrangements.
In moving across the threshold and taking the first steps of their journey, women reorganize their lives, with roommates and friends taking on new responsibilities. Once only sounding boards, friends and family are now critical players and helpers, expanding the definition of who is a member of one’s family. Women do not think that having children is the closing chapter in their lives; after children arrive, the possibility of a new and different kind of search for a partner who would love them and their children may begin. However, the process of getting a child into their arms and fitting him or her into their lives is a major journey, one in which the place of men continues to be negotiated along with race and ethnicity as well as employment and child care. To get to the point of departure is a journey in and of itself, but it is merely the beginning. They now have their answer to motherhood, but crafting their families poses a million more questions.