INTO THE FUTURE
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.