Sunday, March 19, 2006

More on The Phenomenon of Women Choosing to Have Children Sans Men

There has been a recent flurry of attention paid to the apparently growing number of women having children (by choice) without men. This includes both heterosexual and lesbian women, and the statistics attempt to exclude accidental out-of-wedlock births.

The latest installment is from Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Wanted: A Few Good Sperm
by Jennifer Egan which focuses on a few women who are choosing to conceive without husbands, boyfriends, or even prospects of partners.

One hopes to join a population of women that everyone agrees is expanding, although by how much is hard to pin down because single mothers by choice (or choice mothers), as they are sometimes called, aren't separated statistically from, say, babies born to unwed teenagers. Between 1999 and 2003 there was an almost 17 percent jump in the number of babies born to unmarried women between ages 30 and 44 in America, according to the National Center for Human Statistics, while the number born to unmarried women between 15 and 24 actually decreased by nearly 6 percent. Single Mothers by Choice, a 25-year-old support group, took in nearly double the number of new members in 2005 as it did 10 years ago, and its roughly 4,000 current members include women in Israel, Australia and Switzerland. The California Cryobank, the largest sperm bank in the country, owed a third of its business to single women in 2005, shipping them 9,600 vials of sperm, each good for one insemination.

Most of these articles focus on changing social norms:

As recently as the early 60's, a "respectable" woman needed to be married just to have sex, not to speak of children; a child born out of wedlock was a source of deepest shame. Yet this radical social change feels strangely inevitable; nearly a third of American households are headed by women alone, many of whom not only raise their children on their own but also support them. All that remains is conception, and it is small wonder that women have begun chipping away at needing a man for that — especially after Sylvia Ann Hewlett's controversial 2002 book, "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children," sounded alarms about declining fertility rates in women over 35.

. . .

In the 25 years since she founded Single Mothers by Choice after becoming pregnant by accident, Jane Mattes, now 62, has seen her group's membership conceiving at younger ages (the median age among members is 36) and more often having second children. But the biggest change, Mattes says, is that the stigma attached to this form of single motherhood has largely faded. "People used to come into our meetings literally afraid to walk in," she told me. "We don't see that as much anymore. Everyone seems to know somebody who did it, which wasn't the case even 10 years ago."

Others on the technology and economics of it all:

The Internet is also a factor; as well as holding meetings through local chapters around the country, Single Mothers by Choice hosts 11 Listservs, each addressing a different aspect of single motherhood. Women around the world pore over these lists, exchanging tips and information, selling one another leftover vials of sperm. (Once sperm has shipped, it can't be returned to the bank.) Karyn found both her sperm bank and reproductive endocrinologist on these Listservs. Three-quarters of the members of Single Mothers by Choice choose to conceive with donor sperm, as lesbian couples have been doing for many years — adoption is costly, slow-moving and often biased against single people. Buying sperm over the Internet, on the other hand, is not much different from buying shoes.

Still others concentrate on the no-man part of the story. I'd put this article in that camp. Here are a few snippets:

Now, as we sat outside, she said: "There's nothing I'd like more in life than to have the whole picture and to share it all. To have the baby, to have the miniwagon, to have the husband, morning soccer games and P.T.A. — he's out manning the grill, and I'm mixing the margaritas. But I think if I had to choose today between becoming a mom or finding the perfect man and I could only have one today, I would choose becoming a mom. And hope that I have my lifetime to find the other."

"Maybe in six months or a year I'll have more insight about it, but something radical is going on in my brain about my relationships with men. O.K., so I'm not going to keep trying to have this picket-fence-y life. I'm waving the white flag. And now I have permission to directly pursue what I want. It's a very curious and ambivalent liberation, because I would rather not be single. It's not my first choice."


"proven fertility": meaning that at least one woman conceived using his sperm

"identity-release donor" (also called an "open donor" or a "yes donor"); a growing and extremely popular category of sperm donors who are willing to be contacted by any offspring who reach the age of 18.


thistles said...

I was thinking about your post this morning as I was doling out the cheerios. I do my best thinking then...anyway, it seems to be that the people who get most upset about women choosing to have babies sans men are.....well, men.

And who gets the most up-in-arms about women choosing pretty much anything having to do with our reproductive choices be it contraception, abortion, or sexual liberty? MEN

It's almost as if deep down they know they're basically extraneous. Reproduction is the ONE thing we have that they don't and they don't want us to have any choices they can't control. Or at least have a say in.

Having said that, I live with a man. I have a baby with one. We're not married so I guess by the strictest definition I fall into the category of single-woman-breeder. When I got pregnant, he would have supported me in whatever decision I made so there are men out there who recognize the fact that our bodies are ours to control and men really have no business here.

One other random note: women in the pro-life, pro-taking away women's choices make me angrier than men. I wonder why that is?

giddings said...

I think it is a little like Republican gays. . . .

Anyway, I was thinking about your point, Thistles. At first, I was going to spin that post along the lines of "why is this interesting?"

But then, I realized, well, it IS interesting.

On the flip side of your point is the fact that these women a) seem to view this as a "second best" -- at least that's the way the articles are written and b) regardless of how you interpret their interpretation of men's contributions (I think the suggestion here is that, somehow, we are replacing men with technology) I can't help but think about how hard these women's lives will be.

Being single with child is difficult, regardless of whether or not it is by choice.

And the difficulties stem not only from having another person around to help deal with the kid, but, obviously, they have clear economic consequences.

It is all just fascinating. I'd love to get my hands on the sperm bank data. Does anyone have a connection for me?