I hate to think of Hollywood as the leading edge of our social norms, but it sure feels like it sometimes. A decade ago, you could almost hear the outcry when Murphy Brown had a baby out of wedlock. Even then-Vice-President Dan Quayle weighed in on TV's fictional mom. Lately, it seems like less of an issue. Madonna wasn't married when she gave birth to her daughter. More recently, Katie Holmes had a baby before she tied the knot with Tom.
Turns out it's not just Hollywood. New data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates 37 percent of babies were born outside of marriage in 2005. That's almost four of every 10 births. Some are the product of two-parent families, but most are born to single mothers. They're generally not teens in trouble but women who are a little older and who've made a conscious decision to become a mom.
In the course of reporting on these statistics for the Today Show, we met Stacy Madison, a businesswoman who spent her thirties building a pita chip company. No man in the picture, she was married to the job. When she wasn't in love at 39, she went shopping at a Boston sperm bank and came home with twins. "Ideally, I would have loved to have started a family the traditional way," she told us, "met somebody and fallen in love. Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way." Madison isn't shy about detailing her struggle raising twins solo but calls motherhood the smartest decision she's ever made.
It's an issue many women confront. For whatever reason — let's not always blame the career — they didn't meet THE guy, they know the clock is ticking and they want a child. So they go it alone with help from a sperm bank or someone who's willing to help make the dream come true.
Almost unilaterally, women (and a few men) who've traveled this road find it rewarding and they tend to involve their friends and siblings and parents, so the child has a large extended family. How do the kids fare? Put them in a crowd and there's no visible difference between children of unwed moms and the rest. Some critics, however, call the decision selfish and say children raised by one parent are at greater risk than others for everything from depression to problems in school.
As for the single parents I know, I simply don't know how they do it. They are amazing mommies whose struggles are as constant as their love. When one of mine gets sick in the middle of the night, I've got a sounding board next to me: Is this serious, should we go to the hospital? Decisions on everything from what school they attend to whether they can drink soda are made by a committee of two. I don't always agree with the other board member, but I'm sure glad he's there.