On occasion women have the opportunity to leave their daily lives for a time. These interruptions in routines are bracketed, and provide women the freedom and opportunity to reflect upon, evaluate, and redirect their lives. For many, interruptions serve as a refresher course or an exercise in remembering and focusing on one’s own life goals. Interruptions become catalysts when women realize that they do not want to return to the exact same lives they left. As a result, they make resolutions and envision their future in new and concrete ways. While vacations, one type of interruption, are often escapes from daily life, they can also provide a new perspective on one’s priorities. Interruptions are points of departure.
Interruptions are the most common type of catalyst, and women experience them in different situations: vacations, job layoffs, job promotions, and retreats are a few examples. Joy, whose story opened the prologue, was offered a promotion that would have dramatically increased her time commitment and travel schedule. Forced to make a decision, Joy was pulled from the comfort of her daily work schedule as she contemplated dramatic changes in her life. The job offer interrupted her casual speculation about one day becoming a mother. Now she had to imagine accepting a job that might preclude raising a child. She realized that accepting the job would mean prioritizing work over motherhood, and she began to consider turning it down. Therefore, in her mind, letting the job go became a vote in favor of motherhood. This job offer set off a chain of events that pushed the decision to have a child to the forefront of her life.
Gina, by contrast, returned to her childhood home when her mother’s illness prompted her to take time off from her life. Though her mother replaced the bedspreads and carpeting in the bedroom she had shared with her sister, Gina felt
as though coming home to care for her mother meant stepping back into her childhood. When Gina first arrived, her mother slept for long stretches, leaving Gina to find ways to occupy herself. As she rearranged her childhood dolls, her memories of pretend mothering with her sister at age seven came flooding back. The two sisters, close in age and constant companions, had imagined a life where they would live in one house with their children, while their husbands, never central in their games, would visit from another home down the street. Laughing as she recalled the naivete of this daily game scenario, she suddenly realized that her seven-year-old imagination contained the seeds of new possibilities. Instead of feeling sorry for herself that she had to shop, clean, and cook for her parents, Gina perked up. Her mother’s illness forced her home, and there she discovered a way out of feeling trapped on the sidelines of her own life. Interruptions often revisit memories of the past and become clues that women rethink in the present.
Lily recalled the thinking stage, discussing the possibility of single motherhood with co-workers and friends, trying to gauge potential reactions. Since she worried a lot about how people would treat her and even more so her child, she hesitated to commit without the approval of the key players in her life. Lily described the interruption that dissolved the barriers to becoming a single mother:
The turning point for me was my high school reunion in Minnesota. On my way home [thinking about the next reunion, five years hence] I thought, “In five years I am going to be forty-three, and what do I want to come back to this reunion like? What do I want my life to be like?” And I thought, “As a forty-three-year – old, I want to be a mom. I may not be a wife. But I am going to be a mom. I can do this.” That was in August, and I spent the next several months looking for a donor and then I started the insemination process.
The reunion put her in a position where she had to present herself to people who knew her only through her childhood dreams, and the contrast between then and now made clear the gap between who she was and who she wanted to be. She struggled to understand how she could integrate her adolescent dream of marriage and children into the context of her new life and somehow reconcile the old goal to nurture with the surprising and wonderful independence and self- sufficiency that she had created for herself as an adult. In a period of intense self – evaluation, Lily finally realized that she needed her own approval to become a single mother, because even though she had everyone else’s approval, it was still not enough. She had been looking for outside permission, but the reunion allowed her to look inward, crystallizing her identity as a woman who would actively seek motherhood, rather than making it contingent upon finding a husband.