Tuesday, September 6, 2011

THE NEVER-WED SINGLE MOTHER -

We now have about two decades of good social science research that comes to the conclusion that, as a general matter, children do better in low-conflict, loving, two-parent families - Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.


Births to unmarried women are at higher risk for poorer birth outcome. They are more likely to be low birth weight, be preterm and die in infancy. Other research has shown that children are better off being raised in two-parent families." - Stephanie J. Ventura, director of the Reproductive Statistics Branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

(Both quotes came from a 2009 report in the Health section of U.S. New & World Report.)

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Not so long ago, I heard several friends mention that though they had never found "the one" their age had reached a point where they were unlikely to bear children in wedlock and they wanted a child. They were understandably in the midst of a true conundrum. I'm quite certain none of the women I knew who were considering this path wanted to be standing at this precipice of life-altering decisions. A few had already consulted OBGYN's in an effort to predict how much time they might have left to undertake the task at hand (whether they had sufficient egg supply, were in good enough shape, what the risks were, using fertility drugs, etc.).

Child-bearing doesn't fall under any realm of responsibility we men can truly understand. We join the foray as a bystander, holding our wife's hand along the way, and waiting for the blessed day when junior arrives. Studies suggest that the experience of pregnancy bond the mother and child in a natural way that father's can't experience. We are on the outside somewhat, looking in. So naturally, I wanted to support my friends' desires to experience motherhood. However, deep down, I couldn't help but be concerned as to how this kind of motherhood would work, particularly if things don't go according to plan (i.e. the birth of a healthy child).

To me, a key part of dating, and the trauma that comes from finding someone, dating them, and then moving on to someone you believe fits you better, is the navigation of differences. Much different than the way you navigate through people's personalities in the workplace, the differences you need to manage during dating and subsequent relationships are much more perverse and much more complicated. Human beings are so complex that the layers within each of our own personalities allow us to mask and block things we don't want seen in professional cases, that often come shining through in personal ones. We might go to work with a smile on our face, masking the fact that earlier in the day we found out one of our siblings fell ill. For many of us, the professional and personal are easily separated when it comes to displays of emotion, frustration or both.

In personal relationships, we're not so level-headed. Often we mask our vulnerabilities, preventing our partner of choice at the moment from getting to a deeper level that we aren't prepared to handle. The deeper a relationship goes, the more intense these feelings seem to become, and if at any time during the peeling back of the layers we feel overexposed, we often move into a defensive mode, and sometimes even go on the attack. Eventually, we all hope to find someone with whom we wish to share the deepest levels of intimacy, and that need to protect ourselves, though always present, fades somewhat in the presence of this person. Through time, it is possible we have learned to make better decisions as to whom we choose to be with and why. We no longer have the hang-ups and insecurities that pressured us as strongly as they did when we were younger. And most importantly, we have started learning how to communicate in a more intimate setting that prevents the old 'explosive' breakups that used to happen. We have learned to point the finger in our own direction perhaps, and not always at the other person, a key element in relationship problem solving.

So naturally, the question I began to pose was, is the matter of not being married one of simply not finding the right person, simply one's choice, meaning it is not their preferred way of life, or is it that these people are simply so independent in their choices and ways that they have never thought to consider that the reason they are single is of their own doing? And thus, if a woman moves along into single parenthood without having mastered that skill, is it a good idea, because there's no more intimate a setting than that of a parent and child. This forum of communication is of the utmost importance, is it not? It has to be among the most structured yet open and intimate in terms of idea exchange of any relationship we could possibly experience, the results of which cannot be understated.

Supposing a person has not learned how to communicate intimately with another human being, and suppose also that never in their world has it ever dawned on them that they had anything to do with the outcomes of their dating situations i.e., it was always that the other person was at fault. Can this person bring the kind of objectivity necessary to help a child wade and eventually swim through all the different waters of life they'll face?

This doesn't question the competency of women in any way. In fact, each of the people I learned was considering this option were wonderful people who would likely make incredible mothers. I don't envy their choice, nor their situation.

Yet, knowing the uphill battle married or co-habitating parents face, particularly parents of older ages, it behooves all of these women to ask themselves the question as to 'why motherhood' to make sure this isn't some sort of cure-all for the missing spouse that was never found. What happens if the fertility drugs cause a common side occurrence – twins? What about an autistic child? The outcomes and risks are not so simple when women decide to have children after 35, and more so after 40.

I wish each and every one of them luck. I don't know what the answer would be for me if I was in their shoes. I just hope they're willing to heavily consider and even put on their child's shoes before taking that very last step.