« Academy Award Notes | Main | In other news... »

January 31, 2006



The saddest part of this has to be, whatever the ethics of her birth, the eight-year-old child that's left behind. No one can guarantee they will live to see their children grow up, but it's a horrible fear for a single parent.


"To put it in Christian terms, the agape love of parent for child need not be connected to the eros love of parent for parent."

But is it not better for the child to be grow in the presence of an agape love of parent for parent? You are moving in sociological circles, but the theologian in me balks at your assertion. There is a piece of the imago dei that is present in the man and the woman that is only made whole when the two are together. Removing that piece short-changes the child from seeing true love and fidelity lived out before them.


Hugo, as a 40+ female who is just back at work after giving birth to my third child, thank you for this post. Dan, on principle, I think it's wrong to pit the better against the best. Unless you want to argue that the world, or Lucy herself, would be better had Lucy not been born, arguing about what constitutes the "ideal" family structure is not relevant. Women who are single parents rarely disdain marriage; instead they are frequently achievement oriented women who themselves feel disdained by men. Many wore themselves to the bone trying to pursue the traditional path to family and finally gave up. I am so happy that technology now allows them to fulfill their parental aspirations.


my friend accused her -- and other older women like her, who conceive children artificially and while single -- of profound selfishness.

how funny. many people accuse me, a 25 year old woman in a committed relationship who says she doesn't want to bear children, of profound selfishness.

pardon the expression, but sometimes it really does feel like "damned if you do, damned if you don't," doesn't it?

The Happy Feminist

Right on, kate d! For women the only really "acceptable" choice in many people's eyes is to have kids by 35 at the latest while married to a man and of course to become a full-time stay-at-home mom.

Unfortunately, none of us can guarantee our children the perfect upbringing. While I think it is terribly sad that Wendy Wasserstein's daughter is orphaned at such a young age, I am also guessing that she will count herself fortunate to have had such a loving mother.


I'm about 95% with you on this, but it seems to me the missing component here is a call to fight for a greater social acceptance/understanding of adoption as a "real" way to have children (and to increase access, and decrease costs, and so on, to adoption). The way you phrase this--all about science to correct injustice and nothing about adjusting the social understandings of adoption to correct injustice--seems a bit out of balance. This arguably perpetuates a sort of essentialist natalism about children that is hardly an unqualified good from a feminist perspective (which is not to say feminists shouldn't fight for it as a choice).


in the interest of full disclosure, I am a white male who is also a Christian, and would be considered more conservative than Hugo on most (if not all?) issues. My frame of reference comes from that position.

I am not about to say that Lucy shouldn't have been born, and I certainly will not posit a full condemnation against women who choose to go a different path. However, I don't find it helpful to build positions on each and every particular - there is always somebody who is an exception, and it ends up being a pointless argument. I have to come at it from the other perspective - is there a "best" position? And if so, how can I (and we all) strive to help as many as possible in our world live into that position? As a follower of Christ and a person of the Word, I can't get away from the fact that there is a strong biblical argument for Divine Order, and that order includes both men and women in a committed relationship (please note: space and time don't allow for much nuance at the moment, but at least know that I am not arguing the Focus on the Family Position here).

In a nutshell what I'm trying to say is this: I agree that pointing fingers and saying "you were wrong to do what you did!" isn't helpful; in fact, it's unhealthy and morally wrong. But I have a problem with going completely the other way and saying "Hey! Ra Ra for you for bucking tradition! Since you wanted to do it, it must be okay!"


Since you wanted to do it, it must be okay!

C'mon. No one's suggesting this as a general principle. Hugo (and Wendy Wasserstein, more importantly) gave plenty of specific reasons why, in fact, this particular desire fulfillment effort was OK, not *simply* because it was desired.


Dan, thanks for your clarification. There is much that is winsome and compelling about the notion that "God's best" is one man, one woman, in an permanently committed monogamous relationship. That has been the position of Judeo-Christian orthodoxy for a long time.

But even if we accept the premise that this is the "best", do we not do a tremendous disservice to people by suggesting that any alternative is woefully inadequate? Is it possible that God's grace and love are so abundant that many different notions of what constitutes "family" might also be "best"?

I tend to think of the term "best" the way I think of the word "favorite." My pastor, Ed Bacon, often says "I'm God's favorite. You're God's favorite. We are each God's favorite." It's a lovely contradiction, the notion that we are each the favorite of the Lord -- and yet it's based on a sound understanding of Scripture and tradition. I think "best" works the same way. A married couple, living together in faithfulness, can look at each other and say "We are living out our call to holiness together". Wendy Wasserstein, with a different understanding of "the best", came to a different conclusion. The end result -- new life, longed-for life, cherished life.


The problem with arguing ideals is that the world never lives up to them. Even in a two-parent, stay-at-home-mome household, there are always problems. Some little, some big. After all, nobody is born a natural perfect parent, and infants don't come with an owner's manual.

We can argue all day about this hypothetical pie-in-the-sky "perfect home" but I think it's worth keeping in mind that it will never exist.

Maybe instead of demonizing single parents, older parents and other non-traditional families, communities should look for more ways to help support them. Oh I know, nobody wants to waste time and money on "someone else's kid" but that's half the problem in our society these days. A lot of people like to stand on their soapboxes and condemn, but few like to actually help out.

Personally, I think the kid in the single-older-parent home who is nurtured is far better off than the kid in the "traditional" home who is overlooked, dismissed or abused.

As for women over 55 or so having kids, well there's always the issue of the fact that mom may or may not survive to see junior graduate from high school, but I don't really have an answer for you. Some people die at 56, others live to be 96 or 106. Some people get smashed to bits in a car wreck at 26. You can never honestly guarantee to your child that you will always be there, no matter how much you love them. That's true for all parents, no matter what age they are.

Elayne Riggs

As a 48-year-old who desperately wants to get pregnant and for whom fertility drugs haven't worked, I admit to being selfish but I can't help but identify with Wasserstein's situation.

The Happy Feminist

I have heard the argument before that it's not fair for an older woman to have a child because she might not live as long as a younger woman. Of course, you never hear that when an older man has a child-- presumably I suppose because the older man is not bucking biology and because there is of necessity a younger woman still in the picture. Still, one would think, that if the ideal situation really is a two-parent household, people would also worry about an older man becoming father and possibly dying when the child is still young. Yet we never hear any kind of griping about older dads.

Charming Billy

I don’t know why Wasserstein chose to have a child in such a way that guaranteed that the child would never have a relationship with her father, so I’m not qualified to dissect her motives. However, I do wish to point out general similarities between prostitution, pornography, and artificial insemination in cases like Wasserstein, inasmuch as these practices degrade human relationships by reducing one partner to an object. Granted, the outcomes and intentions differ. However, all these practices use human beings instrumentally. This aspect of artificial insemination disturbs me far than the contemplation of my own superfluity.


Did Hugo grow up with a dad around?

The Happy Feminist

I am not sure I understand where you are coming from Charming Billy. IF someone donates an organ, isn't he or she "being used instrumentally?" What's wrong with that?

And as someone who did grow up with a dad around, I can assure you that a two parent home is not always the ideal situation either. I would have given anything when I was growing up for my mother to divorce my father and raise me as a single parent! I prayed daily for her to do so. (And I'm not just picking on dads. It can work the other way as well.)

So I am absolutely with Hugo-- I don't think it is fair to measure someone's desire to give life or nurture a child as a single parent against some ideal. Most families DON'T live up to the ideal. Even if you could convince me that a two-parent home is generally preferable, I think that a single parent can say, well, I have so much to give in so many areas that I think I would be as worthy a parent as anyone around even if I can't provide that "ideal" two-parent environment.


My concern is that as a society we're so pronatalist that we're willing to sacrifice women's health so that they can give birth. Is there a link between Wasserstein's years of fertility treatments and her cancer? Do fertility treatments raise a woman's risk of getting cancer? We don't have good answers to these questions - why not? I do know that in my own experience, the correlation between fertility treatments and cancer seems high.


Cleis, there's no good data analyzing the link between fertility treatments and cancer. The studies that have examined the subject tend to look at correlations between fertility drugs and breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer, not lymphoma (which is what Wasserstein died of).

Hugo, the part of you post which I find most striking is this: my buddy saw her actions as evidence of narcissism and upper-middle class privilege.

I'm not on board with the narcissim argument, but fertility treatments really are the province of the upper middle class. They're far too expensive to be widely available. (Insurance almost never covers such treatments.) The older a woman is, the less likely fertility treatments are to be successful, meaning (potentially) more rounds of drugs, etc. Given that a round of IVF costs approximately $15,000, there's no way the average person is going to be able to pay.

As someone who's lived for the past 5 years in bioethics land, I can tell you that the subject is in no way settled, and a large part of it has to do with the lack of regulation of fertility clinics. (Arceli Keh is the oldest woman to give birth in the U.S., at age 63, and I can assure you, she caused, and continues to cause, a lot of controversy.


Aldahlia: My parents divorced when I was small, but I saw my father regularly.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

While I can see reasons to have reservations about some varieties of fertility treatment, I have difficulty seeing the age of 48 as a sufficient moral barrier in itself. The average woman reaches menopause at about 50; though the odds are small, a woman could have a child at 48 without any fertility treatment at all. Either Elayne Riggs or I could, in principle, become a mother in the usual way, even if it's unlikely that either of us will. And either of us, if we do get pregnant, is a good deal more likely to survive till the child grows up than not. In fact, given my family history, I'd actually have a darn good chance of still being alive when the kid is 40.

La Lubu

Hmmm....I've seen this attitude displayed towards "older" women who had their children without fertility treatments, too. Hell, I've heard this same thing myself when I had my daughter at the extraordinarily advanced age of 32 (hey, in central Illinois, it makes you the oldest mom at drop-in by a long shot!). Yes, even down to the "aren't you worried you won't live long enough to see her grow up?" (a worry that has no age, I'm afraid). I think it's the barrier-breaking that is assumed that gets folks' shorts in a twist. That, and short memories (both of my grandmothers had children in their mid-forties, back when it was considered perfectly appropriate to continue one's childbearing into those years).

Thing is though, just about all of the older women who undergo fertility treatments in their forties is because they spent their twenties and thirties trying to do it the "traditional" way, and it didn't happen. This isn't "brave, pioneering women forging new paths" or any other sterotypical "selfish career-bitch" veneer---it's women who simply want a slice of life most of us get to take for granted.


For women the only really "acceptable" choice in many people's eyes is to have kids by 35 at the latest while married to a man and of course to become a full-time stay-at-home mom.

Heh. I'm exactly that. It's not all that acceptable in my community. It's seen as incredibly selfish! I am, however, EXTREMELY urban.

When it comes to family and childbearing, everyone's got an opinion. Which, of course, they're happy to share.

((Anyone want my opinions???? PLLLEAAASEEE???))

I realized, after the first two years of parenting, that people invest a lot into their kids but it's an extremely limited career in time. So they're wandering about, hoping to bump into someone they can "teach".

The Happy Feminist

You're right . . . some segment or another is going to see every woman's choice as "selfish." Whether we have kids, don't have kids, stay home with the kids, don't stay home with the kids. I think this is related in part to the notion that women are supposed to be living "for" others. To the extent our choices can be linked to our own needs or preferences, we are violating that cultural mandate.

Charming Billy

Happy Feminist,

You wrote:

"I am not sure I understand where you are coming from Charming Billy. IF someone donates an organ, isn't he or she "being used instrumentally?" What's wrong with that?"

The difference between organ donation and artificial insemination is that in the latter case an invaluable and essential human relationship is whittled down to a bare minimum.

What I'm arguing here is not that having a dad around is always better than being raised by a single parent. For the record, after my father left when I was 8, my mom went back to college, got a full time job, and raised four kids on her own. I'm now happily married and have 2 kids of my own. So I have a pretty good idea of what a single parent can and can't do.

So "where I'm coming from" isn't a blanket condemnation of single parenthood. And I certainly don't wish to condemn anyone's desire to have children. Wanting children is like wanting to breathe; it's not morally culpable per se. In fact it's praiseworthy.

However, I do think that when women choose to forego not only marriage, but also any possibility that they or their children will ever have a relationship with the father, this decision is morally questionable. Firstly, because all things being equal, a child benefits from a father's presence. Yes, you and I both seem to know something about less than ideal fathers. However, everyone seems to agree that having an adequate father around is better than not father at all. Sorry, I won't accept your challenge to convince you of that fact since I regard it as established.

Secondly, to me, at least, it's clear this choice displays a profound indifference, or blindness, to the emotional, social, and moral richness of fatherhood. In spite of Hugo's emotional resilience in the face of artificial insemination, this choice does indeed say that the invaluable and essential relationship of father and child is largely expendable. When parents think it's ok to deprive a child of this good, I have to wonder what other goods they might consider expendable. It makes me doubt judgment of anyone who would seriously make the argument you formulated thus:

"I think that a single parent can say, well, I have so much to give in so many areas that I think I would be as worthy a parent as anyone around even if I can't provide that "ideal" two-parent environment."

I'm not questioning your judgment personally. However, this argument is fails to convince. It concedes, rather than questions, the desirability of two parent family. In other words, it argues that while one understands what's best for one's child (the two parent family) one would be such a good parent that one doesn't in fact need to provide what one has just conceded is best for one's child.


this choice does indeed say that the invaluable and essential relationship of father and child is largely expendable

It's not all about you.


it's important that individuals garner a viewpoint and belief system that 'makes sense' to them, however, it is entirely offensive to implicate / project this personal viewpoint unto others.

myself and countless others were raised in households where women refused to leave abusive relationships because "the best" for their children required they stay. i myself have experienced this i can say very confidently that those people should never have married - it would have spared the many of us the scars that burden us to this day. much of this burden would never have evolved, had they divorced sooner.

and then i have also watched as non-abusive, unhappy couples walk miserably through the steps of parenting while their children pray for divorce or a fast track to independance.

what defenders of gods holy union appear to forget, is that this is an 'ideal' and not necessarily a reality. few can contest to experiencing this ideal.

i chose to have a child on my own. i did so after a long and extremely hard journey of self-reflection, contemplation upon the relationship i had with the father, and all the while with an entire universe of challenging assumptions to combat: continuing my pregnancy alone will "flush my life down the toilet", "will be unfair to my child" et al. these assumptions are rampid and exist as if by osmosis in our society like looming black curtains. the degeneration of our characters and self-esteem onsets the moment we consider parenting alone - whether by leaving a spouse or continuing a pregnancy.

i took up that journey and i very thoroughly considered, wieghed in and deliberated. i am quite certain that no woman could escape this experience when seeing themselves as having to make that choice. and i made the choice. and it was the right choice for myself and for my son and this has shown itself to be true through the ten years that have now passed.

i will enjoy a meaningful and 'blessed' relationship, when it occurs. not because of my age or a pressing desire to have children, or because someone/anyone else expects it of me. allowing that relationship to occur in ones life is quite different than endeavoring to manifesting it from thin air. this indeed is not within the control of any one woman or man. to attempt to "make" this of less suitable relationships in order to procreate - that, is more in tune with crafting a "sperm donor" situation. not the opposite.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004