The idea that families can be created by women alone may not seem revolutionary, but it changed the worlds of the women I interviewed, allowing them to imagine families crafted in new ways as both legitimate and valuable. Leaving the liminal state, these women claimed the right to motherhood because it represented a promise of ultimate fulfillment that is unique to women. However, these women had to first confront the role of men in their process of becoming mothers. Society still jealously guards men’s connection to children when they choose to assert it.1 Even after women decide to exit the liminal phase, ready to make the departure to single motherhood, the route to the moment when women hold their child in their arms is pitted with societal expectations and stereotypes.
Women begin their journey by figuring out the options available to them for becoming mothers. Initially, it remains blurry as to what route to motherhood to try first, but slowly they bring their options into focus. These women store in the back of their minds the books they have read, the therapy sessions and self-help groups they have attended, and the conversations they have had with other women. They then have to figure out how to use that information in the context of their own lives.
Now on the threshold, women act on motherhood for the first time by chancing pregnancy, finding a known donor, ordering donor profiles, or putting in the paperwork to begin an adoption. Women who become pregnant through lax birth control use act twice, once when they discontinue contraceptive use and then again when they decide not to abort but to give birth to and raise this child. As they stand poised to depart on this new journey, all women are forced to reconcile the new way that men will fit into their lives for the purposes of becoming a mother.
Often women pursue more than one route to motherhood. While some, usually older women, make a beeline straight to adoption, most, including gay women, explore the possibility of biological motherhood as their first choice.2 Taking a chance on becoming pregnant with a lover is less limited by age, cutting across women in their twenties, thirties, and forties. Women in their thirties, most of whom have all options available to them, gravitate toward donor-assisted pregnancy, caught in a quandary between locating a known donor and accepting the more attainable unknown donor. The known donor—a “bio father”—could
also reveal himself in the future and satisfy the child’s curiosity about his or her genetic roots, making discovery easier. Women speculate that this meeting might be important for the child’s sense of identity.3 Before considering insemination with an anonymous donor, women first ask various men—childhood friends, spouses of family and friends, and former lovers—to become donors.
Regardless of the route to achieve compulsory motherhood, women must devise a substitute for the Ozzie and Harriet family model in which many grew up. Individual contracts supplant familial obligations in the new model, reinforced by the emphasis on the individual in legal precedents.4 These various kinds of contractual relationships, both formal and informal, regulate genetic ties and break with precedent.
Concurrent with weighing their options of how to become a mother is the shaping of a new child-friendly life. Although the phrase “baby makes two” illuminates their choice to meet these demands without partners, these women also realize that they are part of a larger extended family of kin and friends that will support them and welcome their child. This web provides a solid base for creating family life. The families these women create are embedded in a network of voluntary relationships, unrecognized by government and the law. A baby procured through one of many different means and a “chosen family” are both part of the formula for new motherhood.5