Friday, December 08, 2006

Pg. 69: "Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice"

Rosanna Hertz is the Luella LaMer Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Wellesley College.

Her new book is Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women are Choosing Parenthood without Marriage and Creating the New American Family.

I asked Rosanna to apply the "page 69 test" to her book. Here is her reply:
My first reaction to page 69 was “My goodness, this page contains one of my most favorite quotes.” It is no secret that life doesn’t always turn out as planned, and in many ways, this is what makes life worth living. Susan, the mother in this quote, had ignored the anonymous donor – her child’s genetic father -- even though he was a “ghostly presence” in her life with her child. Page 69 contains a moving conversation between a mother and her daughter about what each would say should they meet the anonymous donor as they bring the vial of sperm to life. As the mother embraces the donor in this conversation she is also helping her daughter recognize herself more fully. Children love and want assurances that donors who “helped their mom have a baby” love them. My hope is that I capture how women adapt to less than tidy situations – a critical part of one’s humanity. This quest became increasingly important to me over the ten years I spent interviewing these women--some several times-- as a way to understand the process of decision making.

Quote from page 69:

One time she was saying she thought she would like to meet him sometime, and I said, “Why?” And she said, “I’d like to see what he looks like and if he’s nice and if he likes me and things like that.” And I said, “Yeah, me too.” And she said, “Oh, why? What would you say?” And I said, “I would hug him and kiss him and tell him how much I loved him and how wonderful he was to give me a wonderful daughter and how grateful I was and how I just love this man to pieces even. If I ever met him I would just thank him and thank him.” So she was beaming by the end of the conversation because it made her feel good about him and herself.

Anonymous donors are only one of several routes to pregnancy and motherhood I discuss in the book. This page does, however, represent one of the key points. The middle part of this book, where page 69 is located, is about how mothers build families from a mother-child core, including how they acknowledge the absence of a dad and the ghostly presence of an anonymous donor. As much as women may have become mothers in unconventional ways they often adhere to conventional norms about family life. Biological kin of known donors and women who became pregnant with a boyfriend become involved extended family. Some of these men become socially involved dads even if the arrangement with their child is unique. However, whatever path they take, women weave broader ties from the very start. They conscript men who are family and friends to help them raise their children; roommates and tenants become important in their lives, as do daycare providers with whom they develop special relationships. They never really become substitutes for a dad but they offer these children loving adults whose presence helps make them a family.
Many thanks to Rosanna for her input.

Among the reviews and endorsements:
"Single mothers have been in the cross-hairs ever since Dan Quayle attacked TV's 'Murphy Brown' for 'mocking fatherhood' by having a child without being married. But Rosanna Hertz's fascinating in-depth study shows that the former Vice President was wrong. Today's Murphy Browns--middle-class, self-supporting single mothers by choice--are not trying to score ideological points. Rather, their commitment to motherhood survives the fading of their hopes for marriage. This is an important book that debunks the myths and stereotypes of a family type that is here to stay."
--Arlene Skolnick, co-author of Family in Transition

"It's impossible to do justice here to the complexity of the portraits Hertz paints in this well-crafted book, including the different ways that women handle the often unexpected results of their decisions."
--Stephanie Coontz, Washington Post Book World

"In this page-turner of a book Rosanna Hertz follows the lives of middle-class single women who choose to become mothers without husbands or partners. Through vivid portraits and interviews, the romantic ideals and day-to-day complexities of single parenting come alive--all carefully portrayed within an historical and sociological context. This is a notable contribution to our understanding of how changing norms, changing technology, and changing laws are creating new family dynamics in modern America."
--Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, President, American Sociological Association
Additional scholarly reviews are available here.

Click here for a Q & A with Rosanna; it includes the answer to the question, "What important lessons can single women who are considering having children on their own learn from your book?"

Rosanna Hertz is also the author of More Equal than Others: Women and Men in Dual-Career Marriages, and her edited and co-edited books include Studying Elites Using Qualitative Methods, Reflexivity and Voice, Qualitative Sociology as Everyday Life, Our Studies, Ourselves: Sociologists’ Lives and Work and Working Families: The Transformation of the American Home.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue