This is an in-depth, audiotaped, interview study of sixty-hve single mothers who were over the age of twenty when they had their first child and were economi­cally self-sufficient at the time of the interview.1 Initially, I was interested in the decision-making processes that led to older women becoming single mothers and whether or not fathers were in fact becoming bystanders to family life. I was also interested in extending my prior research on the relationship between work and family to look at how women without partners manage to combine both.2 Therefore, women were eligible for inclusion in the sample if they were unmar­ried and not living with either the father of their child or a romantic partner at the time of birth or adoption and at the time of the first interview. I wanted to avoid women who were cohabiting with someone who was defined both as a romantic partner and as a parenting partner.

National reports of out-of-wedlock births, written primarily by demogra­phers, focus on birth as the outcome of pregnancy.3 It is not possible from these reports to learn about the process that led to pregnancy. It is my hunch that the vast majority of women become pregnant “accidentally”—a term that misdirects our attention to intent instead of birth control use or misuse. I wanted to include in this study women who had children through various routes to motherhood in order to look at the father’s involvement after birth. Initially, I thought that women who become pregnant by anonymous donors would provide an interest­ing and extreme contrast, since the possibility for father involvement in daily life would be nonexistent. There are no national data on the number of women who become pregnant using anonymous donor sperm or known donor sperm.4 The data on single mothers who adopt are also problematic.

Grounded theory initially informed my choice of sampling frame.5 That is, I wanted to compare women who had the possibility for father involvement (e. g., they became accidentally pregnant) with women who did not (e. g., they were artificially inseminated using anonymous donor sperm). As I began the interviews, I discovered that the use of known donors was another route to motherhood, where the father of the child fit neither of my original categories. I later decided that I was missing a fourth route to motherhood: adoption. I struggled with how it compared to the other three possibilities and went back to do more interviews to fill in gaps provided by adoptive mothers. There are also no national data on the numbers of single women who adopt domestically or internationally.

Ultimately, I designed a sample that targeted women on the basis of biown and unknown fathers.6 Children of known fathers were either conceived through men recruited by the mother to be donors (biological fathers but not social fathers), or they were conceived within short-term or long-term relationships (“accidentally”). Children with unknown fathers were conceived through anony­mous donor insemination or were adopted. Therefore, this is not a randomly drawn sample, but instead is meant to capture the less visible (and often secretive) ways that women become mothers in order to tease out various properties of social and sociological concepts as well as the conditions and limits of their appli­cability. Women were recruited through social networks. To avoid the likelihood of drawing upon insular social networks, no more than three women are known to each other.

I developed analytical constructs for each of the four categories. Once consistent patterns emerged from the interview narratives, I defined a category as analytically saturated. In the main text I discuss all four paths to motherhood. The Demographic Appendix gives short summary backgrounds only on each woman quoted in the book, her child(ren), and the route that led to motherhood. I arrived at this point with a sample that included thirteen women who became pregnant through the use of known donors, fifteen women who used anonymous donor sperm to have a child, seventeen women who became pregnant by chanc­ing pregnancy, and twenty-two women who adopted.7

I monitored race, seeking to include women of different races in all cat­egories. The majority of women who became pregnant using either anonymous donors or known donors were white, though two women were African or Caribbean American. The majority of women who adopted were white, though two women who adopted were black and three women who adopted were His­panic (or part Hispanic). While I do not have national data on single mothers’ race and their particular routes to motherhood, reading the anonymous donor Web sites leads me to the conclusion that there are few donors of color. Black middle-class women who adopted are also difficult to find, and it may be the case that they are more likely to adopt children informally. I decided to limit my search to women who legally adopted children as a parameter. However, I did call several private agencies, and they told me that they had few clients who were single African American women, and almost none of those sought to adopt out­side of the United States. The public agencies would not answer my question about the race of single mothers adopting. The women who chanced pregnancy include five women of color. Certainly more research needs to be done on single mothers of color.

I also asked about sexual identity, though it was not a sampling criterion. During the first round of interviews there were seven women who self-identified as either lesbian or bisexual. Most had become pregnant using known and anonymous donors; two had had intercourse to become pregnant. They also adopted domestically and internationally. I deliberately decided during the fall of 2004 that I wanted to increase this group to eleven so that I could confidently include material that reflected their experience as single lesbian or bisexual women. Four of the eleven lesbian or bisexual women were Hispanic or African American.

The sixty-five interviews include women from twenty-one different com­munities in eastern Massachusetts conducted between 1995 and 2004 by a former graduate student, Faith I. T. Ferguson, or myself.8 I sought to include women of different races and sexual identities even though neither was a major focus of how I conceptualized this study. While the majority of women in the study are white, 46 percent of the families are either transracial or minority. The majority of women are heterosexual; eleven are lesbian or bisexual single mothers. The majority of women had children between the ages of two and seven, though a quarter had children over eight at the time of the first interview.

Women in this study hold jobs as varied as lawyers and waitresses. While the majority of w’omen in this study were salaried or contract employees on consult­ing or technical projects, a smaller group who tvorked in the lower-paid sendee sector earned hourly wages, and some even pieced together employment through twx> jobs. All the women in this study w^ere employed and not collecting welfare at the time of the first interview and at the time of the update, though a fewr wrere in transition between jobs at either point.9 In addition to wages, the majority of women in this study had a nonwrage source of income, usually rental property, roommates, assistance from extended family, or child support. At the time of the first interview, 65 percent of the women (forty-twro) held at least one advanced degree beyond a B. A., 22 percent (fourteen) held an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and the remaining 14 percent of the women (nine) had completed at least high school, often writh some college.

All the women in this study describe themselves as middle-class—even those wnth incomes under $20,000 and those writh six-figure incomes. Income, educa­tion, and occupation do not capture the widespread belief expressed in the United States that everybody but the very poorest and the most wealthy is entitled to claim membership in the middle class. Despite the growing discrepancies between the richest and the poorest, there is a continued belief that everyone wTo is self-supporting is bound together in the “middle class.” Because these women are neither the poorest (collecting welfare) nor the richest, they are using a cul­tural construction of “middle class,” regardless of the traditional sociological markers mentioned above. A middle-class lifestyle provides for a future, not simply coping or hanging on financially from paycheck to paycheck. Even those women who have the least income in this study aspire to be part of the middle class and are proud that they are earning a living. Those w’omen wfith the least income are “bettering themselves” through present enrollment in educational institutions and look forward to a future that is more financially secure. Between the first interview and the epilogue some women’s incomes increased, wdiile the change of careers led some women’s incomes to decline. Most remained the same, increasing with inflation. I have provided incomes for the first round of interviews in 2004-2005 dollars in the demographic appendix for those women wdro appear in the book. Overall, the median income of the group wras about the same as the median income for all families in Massachusetts at tire the time of

both the first interview and the epilogue. By the time of the updated interviews, their incomes ranged from under $20,000 per year to $210,000. The median income from wages at the time of the epilogue was $66,615, which approximates the median income for all families in Massachusetts in 2oozy10 I remind the reader that this does not include nonwage income.

In order to find women to interview, I “talked up” this study. That is, I men­tioned it to everyone I came in contact with, hoping they would provide me with a lead to a single mother. For instance, when the study began, I moved into a new home and started a room-by-room renovation. I happily enjoyed the company of a steady stream of people in the trades working in my house, interrupting them when I need a break from my work and bringing my study up in the course of the conversation. I tested out parts of what I was writing up on people working in my house. I found their insights to be as useful as the insights my academic friends offered. Similarly, every time I took a cab, I talked to cab drivers about my study, and I mentioned it to the owners of the neighborhood stores I frequented, from the hairdresser to the dry cleaner. Every place I went, including professional appointments with lawyers, doctors, and accountants, I made sure to include my study in the conversation. I told people, “I am doing research,” and they loved to ask, “What about?”—a terrific conversation opener. Just about everyone knows someone who is a single mother, since a third of all births today are to single mothers. These strangers provided lots of names. My daughter’s several day care settings and after-school programs became additional sources of people to tap for other networks of single mothers.

When they told me about a woman they knew (in a few cases, they were relatives of a mother or child), I would ask them if they would ask the single mom they knew if I could contact her. If the contact was someone whom I had a momentary encounter with and we were swapping our stories about work (such as with a cab driver), I would give them my business card. I relied upon those who knew the single moms to broker an initial phone call because, as a total stranger, I needed entry and a good recommendation in order to ensure that the woman on the other end of the phone would not hang up on me. This way of gathering single mothers to interview made sense to me because often the informant told me information about the single mom that I couldn’t initially ask on the phone but needed to know in order to understand whether or not she fit the parameters of my study. The informants knew intimate details that allowed me to decide if I should ask that person to speak with his or her friend about a possible inter­view. Further, the informant could say to the friend or relative, “I know her and she’s nice or okay,” or “I like what she has to say and she is looking for you to help her.”

Once I had the name of a person who agreed to a phone conversation, I had to “sell” the study and myself. I told the women I called that economically self-sufficient single mothers are given little attention in the media or policy discussions, leaving both professionals and the wider population to believe

[1] All women quoted in the text of the book are identified by pseudonym, and I have changed certain details for some women to protect their identity, such as sex of child, exact occupation, and community of residence. However, income, level of education, race, age, and routes to motherhood are unchanged. Demographic information about each woman, listed alphabeti­cally by first name, can be found in appendix i.

The first-person vignettes that open the prologue and various chapters are not verbatim accounts from the women’s interview transcripts. I wrote these vignettes drawing upon the information and stories the women told me. Two of the opening vignettes are composites of several women with similar stories; they resembled each other closely enough that I merged them to create one story. Further, without blurring stories in this way, these particular women would have been too easily identified.

Apart from the opening vignettes, all of the quotes in the body of each chapter are taken directly from the interview transcripts of a single woman, the one whose pseudonym accom­panies the quotation.

[2] was working for a company that I had been with for six years, that I had grown up with, that I had gone from being an entry-level programmer to a senior programmer, a project leader and a manager, a director. My career developed

[3] went out with a guy who pulled out a list as I was reading the menu and said,

“I have questions.” I said, “Okay”; I thought he was joking. And he said, “When you go shopping and you come home, what do you do?” I said, “I [put] the groceries away, get a cold drink, put my feet up, and say, ‘Thank God that’s over.’ ” I said, “What do you do?” He said, “Well, I line up all the peas.” And I’m listening to this and I’m thinking, “This is a joke.” So then he goes, “Where do you squeeze the tube of toothpaste?” I said, “Wherever my hand lands.

I don’t give it a lot of thought.” And he said, “Oh, no, I always squeeze from the bottom to the top front.” Now I started to figure out that he was serious.

This was not joking. I said, “You know, we’re not compatible. Why don’t we just have a nice dinner and we won’t see each other again.” And he said, “Okay.” It turned out he is a prison guard and he would line up his pris­oners from the shortest to the tallest! So this was the kind of experience I was having.

[4] guess feminism gives me some strength to be who I want to be and try to be as much as I can be. Feminism allows you to be nontraditional, to go against tradit­ional gender roles and have a child as a single person. It gives you some backing and some support to do that. … So it opened up the possibility to do things a little bit differently.

[5] walked out of there and my eyes were just wide. I thought, “Oh no, he didn’t shut down this road I am on.” He said, “It’s completely natural that you want to be a mother, of course you want to be a mother. And of course, it would be more perfect if you had a husband. But you would be a great mom. And this church community loves you, and I know they will support you in this.”

[6] woke up from surgery to be told by my doctor that I had endometriosis and if I wanted a child, I had better do it fast. I was dating no one, so I called my

[7] hope that the visit will ease two things: I hope it will ease his mind that for sure he has a dad. You know, if he had any questions about “Well, is my mother lying to me?” or any of that kind of stuff, hopefully that will be dispelled. Aid second,

I’m hoping that he will not feel like the odd one out when the other kids are talk­ing about their parents or any of that stuff. Again, fortunately (or unfortunately) he’s in a day care center with a lot of creative families anyway. So it’s not as though every child there has a father who lives in the house, or even a father. But

[8] showed her the support check. And I said, “Look, I can’t make him love you, but every month he supports you. So he’s a responsible person, Kendra, he just can­not feel what we want him to feel for you.” Her father had gotten new checks, and there was a coyote on them or something, and Kendra loved it. It was from

[9] started worrying about—was China right? Was somebody who was going to look different from me a child I could love? So, I started thinking about Russia, and then I asked wrould it be Russia, China? Russia? China? I finally just picked China. It wras torment and it was pros and cons. … I finally picked China because there was [an] age limit there and I wanted to be sure I would get an

[10] lived out of the country’ for a while. I’ve done a lot of Central American work.

And just from my own exploration, I just felt like there was too much of a black market situation there. I just felt that I couldn’t do that even though the child would be Hispanic and probably lighter. As much as the agencies I spoke to were saying there are reputable lawyers and stuff, from all that I could tell there,

I wasn’t confident of that. There was just something about it that I felt there was less control that I had, or that the agency had. But also that I am gonna live here in this country and there are children here and I think I just felt more responsible doing it here. I haven’t quite figured out how to word that, but it wras more like a gut feeling. I just felt like I needed to do it here.

[11] got to see where these kids met and went to sehool and then went to Bethany’s house for this remarkable five or six hours where no one got up to go to the bath­room. And there was a parade of people. Bethany’s father was there, too, and

[12] want a happy and whole and healthy child. And I believe not having to give up entirely one family to gain the loving family which she has will in the end give her the least hole or emptiness. And I’m trying to do it in a way that supports her, that’s not out of my imagination. I really, if all things were equal, wanted to have a tremendous amount of first-hand information. I think adoption is hard. I think it’s another layer for children to process.

The more I learn as a parent, the more I know that this is the best way to go.

You can’t wait. In some ways I want it to be her choice. You can’t introduce her to strangers at age eighteen. I care about these people. I have tremendous affec­tion; I am very, very lucky in that I trust them. I’m not saying that if we would have a more open adoption that there wouldn’t be an issue once in a while. But I feel very confident.

I think Isabelle can only gain, whatever questions she will have about her ident­ity, I think she can only gain in having a relationship, regardless of how intense or how often, from knowing them and having direct access to them. Not only for questions, but just the opportunity for them to know her. Who knows? But I believe it’s true. So that’s why I’m doing it.

[13] feel like it’s a very conscious task. I feel like I’m only at the beginning. Although I clearly have categories that I’m trying to fill in. Personal relationships, culture