March 30, 2006
The New York Times Magazine doesn't want single women my age to enjoy their weekends.
A few months ago it was Maureen Dowd with "What's a Modern Girl to Do?" on how men don't like smart, independent women, and now this: "Wanted: A Few Good Sperm," a March 19 cover story about older single women choosing to have babies on their own.
The subject of women in their late 30s and early 40s deciding to become pregnant through artificial insemination isn't new. Feminist writer Wendy Wasserstein, who died in January, had a baby that way in 1999. And Lori Gottlieb, The Journal columnist whose words appeared in this very space, chronicled her artificial insemination journey in "The XY Files" in September's Atlantic magazine. (Mazal Tov to Lori, who gave birth to a boy in December!)
Single-Mothers-by-Choice are not exactly new, but the topic has been, unfortunately, coming to my attention increasingly often.
"Everyone I know is getting their eggs frozen," my high school girlfriend in New York said to me when we had brunch there a few months ago. As I tried to eat the eggs on my plate, she continued to regale me with stories of her friends and their tribulations in extracting healthy, viable specimens. I didn't say anything, because, for one thing, I was trying to eat (is nothing sacred regarding appropriate table conversation anymore?), and, for another, she herself was seven months preggers, so this line of conversation seemed smugly, frightfully directed at me. As if people aren't invasive enough. It was once considered rude to talk about your finances, but now it's apparently even acceptable to inquire about the state of your unborn children.
"Tales from Cryogenics" was interrupted by my fitful choking on my omelet, hopefully conveying my discomfort with the subject. I'm really not interested in having a baby out of wedlock. (Did I just say wedlock? I mean on my own.) No, it's not my Jewish values that prevent me from wanting to be a single mom (although I couldn't really imagine the heart attack my father would have), it's just that I think it would be too hard to have and raise a child by myself.
But maybe I just don't get it because I just don't have baby fever. I don't have that treacly feeling pulling at my insides every time a toddler walks by. I don't have names picked out for my future children. I don't have the urge to kidnap a little girl in pigtails pushing her mini-grocery cart through the supermarket (I suppose that just makes me sane). Don't get me wrong, I love children. Not just in principle either: My niece is gorgeous and brilliant, as are my friends' children, if just a bit less so.
But I know that I'm not like the women in the article, who won't let the lack of a husband get in their way of having a baby. It's a physical, emotional and financial roller coaster for these women -- finding a sperm donor, going through the fertility drugs and insemination process, and then, if they're lucky, finally having a child -- on their own.
Some days I feel like I can hardly run my own life. How could I raise a child by myself?
"Maybe they'll meet someone after they have a baby," you say.
Maybe. Maybe. But if these women tried so hard to meet someone for the last 20 years (many were on JDate) and weren't able to do so, how much harder is it going to be to meet someone once you have a kid? So many men out there won't date a girl with a stomach, let alone a kid. But even for the men who will, what single mother has the energy and time? The article found that without a father in the picture, these women never have a break.
That was what was scary to me and the dozen friends who called me after reading the article. It seemed like women of a certain age have to make a choice:
Baby now or husband now?
Maybe having a baby now doesn't preclude having a husband at some point in time, but if you do choose that route, there is a chance that you might never get married.
Of course, there's no guarantee that you'll find a husband even if you hold out, and by the time you do it might be too late to have a baby.
It's like that impossible short story "The Lady or the Tiger?" where the princess could choose to let her lover be eaten by the tiger or have him go off with another woman. An impossible situation, the definition of dilemma.
Yet, maybe, that is the beauty of modern times. Once, there was no choice. You found a husband and, if you were the right age, you had some kids; or you didn't, and that was that. Today, for better or worse, women have a choice.
The women in the Times article chose one way: Baby first.
For now, I've chosen differently: Partner first. But I suppose it's good to know that the option -- in case I change my mind -- is always out there.