Hungry for Motherhood: The New Mother
Being “stuck” has a vivid meaning in the context of a traditional, mainstream life sequence in which marriage is a prerequisite for motherhood. Stymied in their efforts to give and get commitment, many women have abandoned the belief that marriage is an essential part of the family equation. The women in this study set marriage aside, fully realizing that as they aged motherhood could slip out of their grasp.-32 These particular women refused to be driven to the altar by their desire for children. Reserving marriage only for love, they no longer reserved motherhood for marriage.
To become a single mother is not an inherently selfish act, because what drives parenthood is neither wholly altruistic nor completely self-absorbed. These women’s decisions to become a mother reflect the broader mandates of American culture that tie motherhood to womanhood, parenthood to adulthood. Their decision is akin to that made by their partnered heterosexual peers, although it is not sheltered by social norms. Parenthood in the context of single mothers is regarded with needling suspicion by much of the rest of society, as it is a threat of the unthinkable—families without dads, the ultimate displacement.33
These women are hesitant in their decision. Without a precedent, middle – class women have the heavy burden of setting one.3^ No longer constrained by social pressures in the same ways as before, women are still kept static and stuck by the fear that two parents (even same-sex parents) are inherently better than one. However, at some point motherhood becomes a more compelling force than fear. Compulsory motherhood, painted as a biological urge to emphasize its necessity, overtakes these women. As Susan, forty-eight with a nine-year-old, described it:
Time was running out and I began to start wrestling with the idea that I might
not meet someone in time. And so I knew that by this time I really had a very
strong desire to have a child. And it didn’t abate. It got increasingly larger. I knew that I would be really unhappy if I didn’t have a child. I’d made a decision that come hell or high water, I was gonna have a child. But I hadn’t decided how even though my first choice was not to be a single parent. My first choice was to have a partner.35
Many women suddenly and overwhelmingly become hungry for the motherhood they have put on the back burner up until this point.3*5 As their desire for a child overtakes them, other considerations such as work, success, and the search for a suitable partner pale. Single motherhood can be the solution to the dilemma for these women.
However, the decision to go it alone is not made overnight. Joy elected an anonymous donor after deciding against the possibility of complications that might occur with a known donor. Claudia delayed applying for adoption until her age nearly disqualified her. The paths to single motherhood, as we’ll see in later chapters, are diverse and involve complex decisions about timing, insemination or adoption, and racial, ethnic, religious, and ideological considerations.
How did these women I interviewed for this study get “unstuck”? What nudged (or shook) them free? These are the questions I take up in the next chapter, when I explore the liminal stage—the time between socially sanctioned statuses, the period during which new alternatives are possible. There we stand to gain deep insights into the mechanisms of social change by examining the thoughts and behaviors of people at the leading edge of change.