Excerpt from the Author’s Note of Knock Yourself Up:
        Love Makes a Family
        On the politics of single motherhood and
        the purpose of this book
“My friend Lucy became a single mother by choice—sort of,” a woman told me over the tapenade at a friend’s 40th birthday party. “She wanted a kid and she was getting older, but she’s from a conservative family and she really couldn’t deal with what their reaction might be to her doing it alone.
“So,” the woman explained, “she purposely sought out a really passive man, and within three months they were married.”
“Uh,” I said, channeling Dr. Phil, “how’s that working for her?”
“Not so great,” the woman replied. “I mean, she has a great daughter, but she has to deal with this guy who has 50 percent say in everything.”
Marrying a guy only because you want kids, no other reason? It sounds a little outrageous in this day and age, but it’s really as traditional as it gets. In this book, you’ll meet nearly 50 women who bucked that tradition. We had children—or are thinking about having them—because we believe we have a lot to offer, as moms. About the only thing we didn’t have to offer our kids was a guy named Dad.
Not that we were against the idea of a dad. Most of the women in this book would love to find the right guy but, when push came to shove, decided finding a husband just wasn’t their number one priority. Having a child was.
Of course, not all of us wanted a husband—I talked to at least one woman who prefers being single, and another who likes having boyfriends but prefers to parent on her own. Then a handful of us are gay, like me, so having our romantic partner be the father of our child was never an option. Still, most of us gay girls would have preferred to have had a child with a partner as coparent—that’s certainly the case for me—but, like our straight sisters, having the child was the non-negotiable part of that equation.
Single-parent family values
All the women in this book pursued parenthood because we want and value family. In fact, you might say we have, dare I say it, family values. But fifteen years after Republican Vice-president Dan Quayle threw a fit about the fictional single mom on the sitcom Murphy Brown, creating family without a father still sets off some right-wing folks. My original intention with this book was to start with the idea that a mature single woman with adequate resources thoughtfully having a baby on her own is an OK thing to do, and move on from there. But then I realized I should probably at least acknowledge the political and cultural debate. As I was writing the book and falling in love with my new baby boy, I watched a fairly negative talk-show segment on single moms by choice and read several scathing opinion columns calling moms like me selfish, man-hating, immoral meanies. Ouch.
Actually, the single moms I have talked to seem like great parents, and before they went down this path, most spent a great deal of time thinking about—and prioritizing—the needs of their future children. Most held their idea of having a baby alone up against fairly traditional notions of family and morality, and decided in the end that what they were doing was a good thing. And I think it is. I’ve been impressed by their courage, their thoughtfulness and their love for their children. Their kids are lucky.
Knock Yourself Up does make a few apparently controversial assumptions: Single moms can be great moms. When raised in a safe, loving environment with their basic emotional and physical needs met, kids turn out OK. Being raised by a good single mom is a lot better than being brought up inside a bad marriage. Love makes a family.
As it turns out, there’s a fair amount of research to back up these assumptions (for a look at some of it, see chapter 7—or the excerpt posted on this website under “resources”). Still, like many of the women I talked to, I had a lot of serious concerns about choosing single motherhood. You might, too, if you’re considering this path. You’ll read about some of those concerns and how we worked through them. But although I discuss concerns, I offer no apologies.
What about dads?
Like the character Murphy Brown, most of the moms in this book are “intelligent, highly paid professional wom[en],” as Quayle put it. But by raising kids on our own, are we “mocking the importance of fathers,” as he opined back in 1992? I don’t think so. “No man? No problem!” is part of the cheeky title of this book, and indeed not having a man was not a permanent barrier to motherhood for the women I interviewed. But for me and for most of the other women it wasn’t exactly a nonissue. Most of us were very careful in considering the ramifications of having a kid who won’t have a dad.
All of us have given a lot of thought to how we can give our kids the best life has to offer, including male role models and father figures. And despite Mr. Quayle’s opinion—one that is still common to right-wing pundits—most of us, straight and gay, value fatherhood. And men. Most women choosing single motherhood are heterosexual and most of the ones I talked to have had plenty of suitors—they didn’t go down this road because they couldn’t get a date, as one negative stereotype would have it. What the straight women in this book rejected was not men or marriage—it was the idea of getting into a bad marriage, or the wrong marriage, just to have kids. Or picking a man, any man, to get pregnant by and raise a family with. In fact, many have made the decision to bear a child out of wedlock because they respect marriage too much to enter into it lightly, for reasons of social and procreational expedience. Far from seeing men as unnecessary, I’d argue that these are women who really value men, seeing them as equals, partners, lovers, soulmates—not as a turkey baster attached to a paycheck. Finally, most of us think that having two good parents is a great thing for a kid—but we have ended up deciding that quality beats quantity, where parents are concerned.
The potential risks of respectability
This brings me back to Lucy, the woman who married just to have kids in a way that would please her conservative family. There’s certainly something to be said for a marriage like that, especially if both parties know what they’re getting into. Lucy’s kid will know her dad and will have two parents to take responsibility for her care and upbringing. That’s all good. But—though marriage may be the most traditional, respectable choice, is it necessarily the most moral one, in this case?
What happens when Dad discovers he’s just a stud? What happens when Mom decides she maybe doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life shackled to that random guy? What happens when their daughter realizes Mom and Dad aren’t a love match? That, for Mom, Dad was just sperm, a paycheck, and a mantle of respectability? It all could go relatively well. But it could be a tinder box; a recipe for upheaval and pain. Marriage can be a wonderful thing if entered into for the right reasons, and it can be a terrific structure in which to raise a family. But it isn’t a magic wand that will ensure safety and happiness. This mom’s bid for stability and respectability could easily end up resulting in an unhappy, unstable environment for her kid.
The new breed of single moms
The well-being of their kids was the main concern of most of the moms in this book. That’s probably a big concern for you, too, if you’re considering parenting alone. Will the kids be OK? It’s a good question. Single motherhood gets a bad rap. Deservedly so, it seems. There are statistics galore about how bad it is for the children, who tend to drop out of high school, turn to crime, use drugs and otherwise suffer the consequences. But those grim statistics are about single teen moms without adequate financial, educational, or community resources. The stats are also about divorced moms who thought they were all set with a husband and find they can’t manage as well after the divorce, raising angry, hurt kids while they are alone and experiencing a sudden drop in income and dramatic shift in lifestyle. I could suggest that blaming this entirely on the moms is not the way to go, but that’s another book.
The women in this book constitute another, newer set of single moms, a set that hasn’t been taken into account by most studies: educated adult women, usually over 30, who want to have kids and who have the resources to do it alone. Not that we are all rich—some are, but others are far from it. But if not rich in cash, we generally have an adequate amount, and more important, we have the personal resources to pull off parenthood, to figure things out if times get tough, to make sure the kids are OK. In researching this book, I talked to more than 50 single moms or aspiring single moms from all over the country and listened in to the discussions of hundreds of others in meetings and internet discussion groups. Most of us decided on single motherhood after much thought and as a real choice—not because we literally had no other options. And unlike Murphy Brown—who did make a considered choice to bear her child rather than abort the accidental pregnancy—we got pregnant on purpose.
What about adoption?
Knock Yourself Up is specifically about single women who, like me, decided they wanted to bear their own biological child. “Isn’t that selfish?” I’ve been asked. Maybe it is—though I am not sure selfish is the right word for choosing to take complete responsibility for another person’s care for 18-plus years. But if it is selfish, it’s a primal selfishness, one that’s shared by just about everybody. Adoption is the better thing for anyone to do, single or married. And some of the moms in this book have adopted, in addition to having biological children. But adoption is a different path with its own issues and complications. This book is about single women who not only want to raise a child but who, like so many other women, want the messy, scary, beautiful, animal experience of having a baby grow inside them, of giving birth, of knowing another human being from the moment of conception, and of having a deeply physical, biological connection to a child.
So, what kind of book is this?
Knock Yourself Up is a girlfriends’ guide, subjective as hell. (A clink of the Cosmopolitan glass to Vicki Iovine, author of The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy and queen of the Girlfriends’ Guide publishing empire, no relation to this book.) There are already two excellent how-to books on choosing single motherhood, based on sound psychology and reams of research: the now-classic Single Mothers By Choice, first published in 1994 by psychotherapist and single mom Jane Mattes, and the newer, breathtakingly thorough Choosing Single Motherhood, the Thinking Woman’s Guide, by Mikki Morrissette, the single mom of two. They’ll tell you exactly what you should do, laying out the issues step by step.
This is a different kind of book. Though I brought in some experts to help elucidate a few of the thornier issues, Knock Yourself Up is generally light on research and heavy on anecdotes, covering both the serious and the silly. Not everyone has as many crazy capers on the way to single motherhood as I did, though most women do find something to chuckle about as they go to absurd lengths and often great expense to do something that’s supposed to be so natural and come so easily.
On the warm fuzzy side of things, many single moms by choice find, as I did, that most people—even conservative grandparents-to-be and small-town strangers—turn out to be surprisingly supportive of the decision once you give them a chance. (Even if they did vote for Dan Quayle!)
But as heartwarming or funny as choosing single motherhood can sometimes be, it can be also hard, heartbreaking and lonely. When I was going through it, there wasn’t anything out there to give me the real dirt on what it’s like, physically and emotionally, to go through this process as a single woman. It’s different for everyone, to be sure. But it’s my hope that by sharing my experience and the experiences of many others, you’ll get a clearer picture of what might lie ahead, both good and bad. Most of all, I hope reading this book will feel like talking to a group of friends who have been there before you—helping you feel that, even though you may be going it alone, you’re in good company.
Who are the women in this book?
Just like in many real friendships, my “girlfriends” and I have had totally different experiences. In fact, on some points, we completely disagree. And that’s precisely the point. Knock Yourself Up is meant to be a lively support group in text form, offering a diversity of perspectives. Of the 43 women I interviewed at length for the book, most are members of the group Single Mothers By Choice who answered a call I placed on their online bulletin board. Other than that, though, these moms and moms-to-be are all over the map–literally. I spoke to a lot of women in New York and California—the usual suspects for “alternative” choices—but also in Ohio, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, Utah, New Mexico, New Jersey, Michigan, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Canada. (I could have talked to women in Australia, England and Israel, but I didn’t want to pay the phone bills!)
The women in Knock Yourself Up are also fairly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Five of the women I interviewed are Black, one is both Native American and African American, and one is both Puerto Rican and Filipina; the other 36 are white. My numbers of Black, white and Asian respondents are roughly in proportion to the percentages of those groups in the general population. I am not sure why I didn’t get more Latina women responding to my interview requests. I know they are out there; perhaps they just weren’t members of the groups through which I sought interview subjects or didn’t feel comfortable sharing their stories with me. Lisa, the Puerto Rican–Filipino woman I interviewed, said that she went to a single mom’s support group meeting for a while but quickly dropped out. “I stopped going because there was no one who looked like me. I just didn’t fit in.” As for sexual orientation, the majority—37—of the women I interviewed are straight. Six are gay.
One thing most of the moms in the book do have in common is that they are middle-class. The vast majority are college-educated women with white-collar jobs, though I spoke to a few with other educational backgrounds, and to some women who are artists or have careers in the service industry. I didn’t ask anyone to disclose her salary, but I heard numbers ranging from $20,000 (what one single mom made the year she was pregnant) to $250,000. I’d guess most make somewhere between $50 and $100K.
Now, there are plenty of single women who decide to be solo parents for the same reasons as the women here, but who do not have the same kind of educational background and income level. With enough determination and community support, their kids can do fine, too. In fact, a 2004 multiethnic Cornell University study found that the kids of educated, able moms tend to do well even if they’re living below the poverty line. There are some who basically position childrearing as a middle-class privilege, something that’s only OK if you have a certain amount of money. That’s not right, but the reality is that without certain educational, financial and community resources, raising kids alone can be a lot harder, and those kids are more likely to represent those grim single-mom statistics. This book specifically deals with the smaller segment of single mothers who have incomes that make it possible (though not always easy) to support a family.
In any case, while my sample is neither scientific nor comprehensive, there’s a fairly wide range of experience represented by the women I talked to. I hope that reading our stories will give you a feel for what choosing to be a single mom is really like—and what it might be like for you.
And why it might not be for you. I hope this book will help you if you really want to be a mom, but I also hope it might dissuade you if you feel you should be a mom. Single motherhood is still considered a radical choice in mainstream America, particularly among middle-class white women, but choosing not to be a mom is probably considered the strangest choice of all. That’s too bad. There are a million excellent reasons not to have kids, starting with the best one of all: “I don’t want to.” Likewise, there are a million good reasons to have kids, but there are some terrible ones. Like, “everyone else does,” or “my parents are pressuring me for a grandchild,” or “I don’t feel like I’ll be a real woman until I’m a mom.” Or, how can we forget, the number one bad reason to get into any relationship: “I’m miserable and lonely and a child (boyfriend/girlfriend/cupcake/cigarette/martini) will solve all those problems.”
Since I live in New York City, I don’t have a car. This means I have nowhere to put bumper stickers—which may be why I seem to feel compelled to plaster them all over this author’s note. I already pasted one in here, earlier: Love Makes a Family. So I’ll end with another: Every Child a Wanted Child.
As my bumper stickers suggest, I am what you might call a liberal. Some of the other moms in this book would call themselves conservative. I live in the Big Apple, while many of the other moms live in Middle America. I’m gay, and most of the women I talked to are straight. But one thing that definitely unites me and all of my single-mama “girlfriends” across the country, besides that we tend to be pretty self-confident and independent, is that we really, really, really wanted our children. And that, I hope we can all agree, is a good thing.
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Copyright (c) 2007 by Louise Sloan. All rights reserved.