On single motherhood (and no, this isn’t about me)

I am a freak for documentaries — so I’ve put as many as I can possibly find into my Netflix queue. This week “And Baby Makes Two” came. It was made about 10 years ago in New York, and it’s about a group of women who decided that they wanted to have children, even though they didn’t have a spouse or partner.

Some of them had focused on their careers during their child-bearing years or just hadn’t found a spouse, and felt that time was running out for them to raise a child. One woman was widowed. Some of them were having IVF, others realized their bodies weren’t going to produce children anymore, so they adopted.

I found the whole thing really fascinating. And even though I’m not in that situation, in some way I felt like I could understand them. Something about being a woman, and knowing that you are able to do such an incredible thing as giving birth, makes you feel like you should. But I think what these women were really searching for was a sense of family. Sure, they all had parents and siblings and cousins, but they were missing out on the closeness and intimacy of an immediate family.

One interesting part was that this group of women, as they spent time together going to birthing classes or welcoming others as they came home to the airport with a newly adopted baby, they really became family to each other.

The film crew checked in with them a few years later. The women all said that motherhood had turned out to be much harder than they realized, and certainly harder alone. But I don’t think any of them would go back and change what they did.

So here’s the question — if you found yourself in your late 30s or early 40s, single and with no children, would you consider having one on your own? Is that pathetic? Is it human nature? Is it selfish and hurtful to the child? Or is it just another form of family?

They had Gloria Steinem comment that our culture seems to approve of a single mother when she’s been victimized — the baby’s father left her, or she was widowed or divorced. But for her to be in control of the decision is very controversial.

What bothers me is not the idea of a child growing up with one parent, but the idea that the child doesn’t know who its father is, or doesn’t have a “normal” relationship with him. I think that’s somewhat confusing. Although, is that any worse than a situation where a child doesn’t know its father because he left?

Some of my friends were discussing this article about how Alice Walker’s daughter doesn’t have a relationship with her feminist mother because they disagreed so much on the topic of motherhood. Walker (despite being a mother herself) hates the idea of it, and basically disowned her daughter when she announced she was pregnant. The daughter felt that motherhood was something to be proud of, and that she missed out on a great deal of her childhood having an absent mother.

First of all, I don’t think motherhood and feminism have to be two separate things, by any means. That’s just nutty. But I do think women have to ask themselves, if I have kids, what’s gonna give? I believe you can have a lot, but you can’t have it all. A partner who shares in everything certainly makes it easier for you to balance career and family. But I look at my schedule now and can barely find time for myself. How would I stay sane with all that plus kids?

It’s just like being in a relationship. At some point, you can only be so selfish. And that’s not being unfeminist, it’s being realistic. If you wanted to have a dog or a business, you’d have to give up some things, too.

The other question this brings up, and it’s a big one, is do we need to have kids at all? Just because we can, does that mean we should? Bringing another person into this world, a very tough world that can barely handle the residents it has, is a big responsibility.

And I was talking to my best friend about this — at our age, the idea does start to affect our relationships. If we didn’t feel we had a limited amount of time to decide to have kids, we wouldn’t feel this sense of urgency that often pressurizes our relationships. It makes us look at ourselves and go, Did I really mean that? Why is XX such a big deal to me?

Not too long ago I interviewed a woman who told me she didn’t want to have kids for the longest time. And then, nature gave her a little push. At the time I talked to her she had a two-year-old and 7-week-old twins. An exhausting responsibility, I would imagine. But she sounded content. Like it was hard, and kind of ridiculous sometimes, but it just felt like the right thing for her to be doing. And I guess that’s what it comes down to. Do you feel in your heart that it’s the right thing for you to do?

It didn’t take me a whole lifetime to figure out that family was more important than all the bullshit we put up with in other parts of our lives. As women, if we want our family to grow, is that so bad?