Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seeking Happily Ever After

Are Women Redefining the Fairytale?
By Michelle Cove

Three years ago, I was sitting with my friend Becky at a coffee shop talking about how lame the media was when it came to reporting the rise of single women. Sure they were reporting accurate U.S. Census numbers (such as New York Times’ 2007 posting that 51 percent of adults are now single). But in terms of reflecting who these women are and what they think about, they were totally off the mark. For the most part, single women in their 30s and older are portrayed as desperate to marry.

Ever year, a gaggle of women battle one another for a wedding proposal from one man (a stranger) on “The Bachelor.” In today’s hottest sitcoms, single 30-something women act like mindless fools to get a date. “Emma” in “Glee” spent a whole season mooning over the married Mr. Scheuster; “Liz” on 30-Rock planned a root canal for herself on Valentine’s Day so she wouldn’t have to deal with being alone.

Is this really how single women act and feel?

Hell, no. That’s why award-winning producer Kerry David and I have made the feature-length documentary Seeking Happily Ever After: One generation’s struggle to redefine the fairytale. ( We wanted to find out from women across the country how they really feel about being a single woman today. Do they see being single as a choice? Do they feel desperate? Do they want to marry? What do they think about becoming a single mom?

While it’s certainly true that plenty of women are redefining happily ever after (by opting not to marry for various reasons), most of the single women we interviewed do want to get married and have babies. But what’s different about “happily ever after” today is that these women are not willing to settle for the wrong guy. They are the exact opposite of “desperate”; they feel good enough about themselves to wait until the right guy comes along, no matter how long it takes. In fact, headlines from The Washington Post last week reported that there are now more women giving birth after age 35 than there are teen moms giving birth (hear, hear!).

And if the right guy doesn’t come along at all, most of the single women I interviewed said they will find a new path towards happiness. As the main character we follow in our film puts it, “You can have several happy endings for yourself, and happily ever after is putting the steps in place to get to any of those endings.” Now there’s a single 30-something woman in the media women can cheer for…

Michelle Cove is the Director and a Producer of the feature-length documentary Seeking Happily Ever After, and the author of Seeking Happily Ever After: How to navigate the ups and downs of being single without losing your mind, which will be published this September by Tarcher/Penguin.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Glimpse Into the Past: Meeting Ana’s birthmother.

When I started the process to adopt from Guatemala, I knew that there was a strong possibility that I would meet the birthmother. The majority of Guatemalan adoptions are relinquishment cases where the birthmother gets to know the in-country facilitator or attorney. I was excited about the prospect as I thought it would be good for my child to know something about her birthmother.

Unlike some other countries, Guatemala has no minimum-stay requirement. All of the processing has been completed prior to the arrival of the adoptive parent and the adoption is legally complete. All you need is a day in Guatemala City to go to the U.S. Embassy and apply for a visa for your adopted child. The visa is issued that same afternoon and you are free to return home as soon as you can catch a flight. With such tight timing, there’s not much room for a visit with the birthmother. In my case, I was traveling alone and my three-year-old daughter, Pearl, was at home waiting for me. I was to arrive on a Monday night and leave on a Wednesday morning. That meant Tuesday was Embassy day and the only day I would have to meet Ana's birthmother.

I had told my U.S. facilitator that I wanted to meet the birth mother. We weren’t sure it would be possible because the in-country facilitator who coordinates with the birthmoms was out of the country. Her 20-year-old son, Gerson, was handling cases in her absence.

I arrived in Guatemala on the evening of Monday, February 24, 2003. A cab was waiting for me to take me to the host family’s house. I met with Gerson to go over the required paperwork. I let him know that I wanted to meet the birth mother and he said he would try.

I met my daughter that night while I was filling out more paperwork. It was exciting, scary, and tense. I went over my questions with the foster mother and then had to get back to Gerson and his paperwork. All that was going on scared poor little Ana but she held up well and managed to get to sleep.

We took care of the visa application the next morning and when I saw Gerson I again asked him about meeting the birthmother. He gave me the same vague answer. But, while having lunch at my host family’s house, the doorbell rang. It was Ana’s birthmother, Ana Rosario. I was tingling all over and couldn’t believe I was meeting her. She was somewhat shy and reserved but had a lot to say. She was sweet and also sad at having to give up Ana. In fact, she cried most of the time we were together. She was dressed in western clothes, a black skirt and a V-neck knit top that didn’t quite cover her bra. Poor little Ana was confused by everything. She had been relinquished when she was six months old and, after four months in foster care, it appeared that she no longer recognized her birthmother. Ana sat on her birthmother’s lap and mostly cried along with her birthmother.

I took some pictures and then I asked her if I could videotape her. I told her she could watch the videotape and we did that together. Her message on the video is short, but it will be a gift to Ana as she grows up. First, she wanted Ana to know that she would always love her and would always have her in her heart. She said that she hoped that someday Ana will understand how difficult things were for her and how she was just too poor to raise her. She said that maybe Ana will be able to forgive her for relinquishing her. She also asked for Ana to come back to Guatemala someday to visit: “There are many people in Guatemala who love her and who will always love her.”

She told me a little about her family and it turns out that Ana is named for her mother (Ana) and her mother’s sister (Isabel). I’m even more pleased that I kept Ana’s birth name and the birthmother was, too. I was in tears most of the time while I was taping her message. She was such a sweet, likable, and poor woman who, as a single mom, just couldn’t get the resources together to make it all happen. (Ana’s birthmother probably earned about $100 a month as a domestic. When she went back to work, she had to stop breastfeeding. A month of formula would cost $75.)

I had a list of prepared questions that I wanted to ask her and we got to go through most of them. I found out some important information—such as Ana’s maternal grandmother dying of ovarian cancer 13 years ago. I don’t know if there is a hereditary component to that but it is good to know. I was thrilled to learn that Ana was breastfed for five months and got to experience the loving bond that comes with breastfeeding.

Ana’s birthmother told me one chilling story that illustrated how desperate her family was. After about five months, she went back to work. She said the family was forcing her to pay a lot of money to take care of Ana and she had to go to work at a bad place. (I didn’t query her on what it was or why it was bad.) One day, she didn’t have any money for milk. When she came home from work, the family had sold Ana’s earrings to pay for milk. Wow. I could tell it hurt the birthmother that Ana’s earrings had been sold. She said that that was when she realized she would have to go through with an adoption plan.

I don’t know if I can accurately convey here what it was like to meet Ana’s birthmother. It was almost more spectacular than meeting Ana, I think because I knew it would be fleeting. I cherish the memory of that sweet woman and I hope I can relay that to Ana as she grows up. I plan to send pictures periodically and to someday come back for a visit and go to Mazatenango where Ana was born.

Debbie Lynch

Monday, September 13, 2010

SMC Ambassador

An experience I had this evening left me thinking about how far I've come from the scared (okay, terrified) almost-40-year-old woman who started tentatively on the road to single motherhood 4 years ago and I wanted to share it, since many of you may have had similar experiences.

When I decided to move forward with this crazy plan, the thing that scared me most was what on earth I would tell people about my "status" as a single, pregnant woman. I see similar posts on the SMC organization's "Thinking" email list and my heart always goes out to those women. I want to reach out to them and reassure them that in the larger scheme of things it really won't matter after a few days or weeks or months. At least, it didn't for me. I embraced my pregnancy with such joy that by the time I needed to come out of the closet I did it with pride and confidence. I've maintained that level of comfort with my decision, and it has been interesting to me to see how people have just accepted my "status" as normal or at least not particularly shocking. It's especially surprising since I live in the Western US - one of the most conservative areas in the country. I know some people I work with don't approve of my decision, but I truly believe my comfort and confidence have left them in silence. Which is fine with me.

The bigger surprise has been the women who have asked me about how I approached my decision, what steps I took, how difficult and expensive the process was, all (they eventually disclose), because they too have had thoughts about becoming single moms but didn't know it actually was an option. I answer their questions thoughtfully and honestly, without going into intimate details about my son's conception or his donor.

Tonight we were visiting with a new friend, a 30 year old, attractive and educated young woman who I never imagined would show an interest in SMC-hood. I told her about this wonderful organization, how its members have encouraged and supported me though my journey, and I encouraged her to follow her heart, wherever it leads her. She told me after all the years of dating and not meeting "the one", she was coming to the conclusion that maybe she would need to take a different approach to having the baby she dreamed of.

Being a single mom isn't for everyone, but my choice to follow this path has changed my life in a thousand wonderful little ways. I really love the fact that other women, some I know well and some I have only met a few times, are encouraged by my experience and have gone from thinking that becoming a single mom is a "crazy dream" to thinking it just might be manageable.

I send out a heartfelt "THANK YOU!" to all of you who have supported and encouraged me and held me up when I think I can't make it one more day.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dads be Damned!, or... I am destroying American civilization as we know it.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am not a girl known for being in vogue. I’m not the kind of woman who, when you pass me on the street, elicits words like ‘hip’ or ‘stylin.’ I’m not big on trends. I generally have no desire to be the first person to have the latest gizmo or gadget, preferring to wait til they work out all the kinks…and the price goes down. I often will not do something I was considering if it becomes trendy in the interim, like getting a tattoo. I rather consider myself the anti-trend.

I also consider myself an ‘armchair feminist.’ I believe in women’s rights. In equal pay for equal work. That women are still treated unfairly and in some cases detrimentally in many sectors of our society, and certainly around the world. I have a solid, but what most would say less radical approach to the expression of my beliefs. No bra burner am I. Sorry, ladies, but that polyester, spandex, lycra, elastic contraption is a friend of mine, particularly when I’m forced to sprint after my 4 year old (and I assure you that this 39 year old body does not readily sprint in general, let alone without sufficient upper body support). I make no demand that we spell women with a “y.” I do wish I could list one of my titles at work as “web mistress” instead of “master,” but one must pick her battles.

Given the above, imagine my surprise when I was notified by two articles I read this past week that by being both a feminist (armchair or otherwise) and a single mom (raising a son, no less), not only am I part of a growing trend (and therefore trend-y), but that I:

“view men and women as being the same instead of different but equal” (emphasis mine)

“[believe] men are not important in the raising and nurturing of children”

‘diminish the value of two-parent households and role of good fathers’

“equated maleness with everything that’s repugnant”


“just love a movie that glamorizes teenage pregnancy and deprecates the male role in conception…” (Well, I’m not sure if I can argue with this last one—who DOESN’T love a movie that glamorizes teen pregnancy AND depreciates the male role in conception? It’s a two-fer, people—who’s not on board for BOGO?)

I had no idea I was such a busy woman! So much to do! Pack lunch, lay out clothes, go to work, pay the bills, castrate the entire male gender, destroy the very fabric with which our great society was created... Whew. No wonder I’m always so tired!

If only I were a LESBIAN, feminist, single mom, I’d have a trifecta: like a frickin’ atom bomb, I could obliterate culture, civilization, and all sense of order and moral decency in one foul swoop…sigh…maybe in my next life…

The two articles that schooled me in my destructive ways were “Why Jennifer Aniston Taking a Stand Against Bill O’Reilly Criticism Matters” on The Women’s Media Center site ( regarding comments Jennifer Aniston made while promoting her new film “The Switch,” and one called “Skinny Jeans, John Wayne, And The Feminization Of America” in The Bulletin: Philadelphia’s Family Newspaper ( on gender roles and how men are no longer allowed to be ‘men.’

The Jennifer Aniston article talks about recent comments that she made while promoting her new film “The Switch” about a woman who decides to become a single mother by using a sperm donor. Mayhem ensues. A good time (she hopes) will be had by all. Her initial comment as quoted from the article was:

“Women are realizing it more and more, knowing that they don’t have to settle with a man just to have that child,” she told press last week. “Love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere.”

This comment apparently set off Bill O’Reilly (and really, what doesn’t set off Bill O’Reilly?) who, on his segment called “Cultural Warriors,” accused Jennifer of “throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that hey, you don’t need a guy, you don’t need a dad” and calling her public support of single parenthood “destructive to society.”

Considering it’s Bill O’Reilly, it is clear that anything that doesn’t fall into his definition of “the norm” would be destructive to society. But how is it that a film about “an unmarried 40-year-old woman [who] turns to a turkey baster in order to become pregnant”, that is rated PG-13 for “mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language,” is “throwing out a message” to TEENAGE girls? Has Jennifer been hitting the middle schools to give speeches about her cool new movie and how they all should follow in her character’s footsteps, immediately, if not sooner? Obviously both the film and the comments she made about single motherhood were directed at women of a certain age, namely those clearly well out of puberty.

Bill certainly has the right to take issue with single motherhood if he so chooses, but let’s stop trying to twist things around to make ignorant charges completely unrelated to the point.

(Speaking of completely unrelated, this is somewhat off topic, but—a turkey baster? Really?? Having gone through this process, I assure you that for most women, it’s much more clinical, and complicated, than that. I believe it’s safe to say that, in general, there is not a passel of single gals running amuck in the kitchen gadgets aisle with conception on the brain.)

Since The Switch is “from the people who brought you Juno” it’s serendipitous that the second article I read on the feminization of America should reference Juno, (quoted in the list above) as a film that “feminists just love” for both glamorizing teen pregnancy and dismissing the father figure. Since THIS film actually IS about teen pregnancy, I can honestly say I can see how some might view it as a ‘glamorization’ of the situation. However, I’m not sure how or why feminists in particular would have such adoration for it.

Aren’t feminists supposed to be for reproductive rights, and family planning centers, and female contraception? I guess I lost the memo from Gloria Steinem indicating that I should begin promoting teenage pregnancy. As I said, I’m an armchair feminist, so it must have slipped by me. I will get right on it.

What disturbed me most about this article on ‘gender roles’ was its inference that by choosing to be a single mom (and feminist—don’t forget that part), I had somehow declared men and all things manly as irrelavant, useless, and unsavory (“repugnant,” in fact). Like being trendy and promoting teen pregnancy, I had no idea that I was suddenly required to hate men and all they represented. The ignorance of this train of thought is truly mind-blowing.

While I’m sure there ARE single moms and/or feminists who DO hate men, for whatever reason, I have a news flash for author Jane Gilvary. I do not hate men. I love men. I have many wonderful, amazing men in my life. I adored my father who, along with my mother, raised me to be independent and stand on my own two feet. I am the product of the ‘family unit’ and I bear said unit no ill will. I place great importance on the role of men in raising and nurturing children, and consciously make an effort to include positive males in my son’s life. Luckily, I am surrounded by many such men, so the task is not as daunting as it could be for some. I DO view men and women as ‘separate but equal’ and have no desire to have us considered ‘the same.’

Oh, and I’ve never seen Juno.

My choice to become a single mother had nothing to do with devaluing or dismissing the role of men in the raising of children. It DID have to do with my strong desire to have children, my age (tickticktick), and the fact that I have not yet met the right man for me. He may be out there (I still hold out hope) and if he is, he will most certainly play an important role in the upbringing of my child.

In the meantime, I want my son to be happy, healthy, and comfortable being who he is. I am making my best effort to raise a good citizen and responsible human being. And the many males in my life assist me in doing so.

I have to say while I knew single motherhood was a hot button topic, I didn’t realize that that and feminism still drew such ire from certain spheres of our society.

I had no idea I was involved in a cultural war. I believe I will need a better bra for this.

Stephanie R.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Back-Up Plan - not that one

Lately, the subject of single mothers by choice has been all over the media because of a movie that recently came out, starring Jennifer Lopez, in which her character becomes pregnant with the help of an anonymous sperm donor, only to fall in love with Mr. Right immediately afterward. I haven’t seen the movie, and, as a “real” single mother by choice, I’ll never have the time to see it, but I have viewed some of the recent TV news stories and discussions about it. And while it’s nice to have a celebrity like J-Lo showing single women that they do have options, I can’t say this movie is anything like my life—nor is “back-up plan” an appropriate term for the process by which I came to have Jayda.

I never pictured myself as a single mom; but then again, I didn’t always picture myself as a mom, period. Unlike some of my friends who were always talking about having babies during their 20s and 30s, I said things like, “I’ll have kids if I marry a guy who I know will be a great dad, and who really wants to have kids,” but I wasn’t obsessed with being a mother at all. I wasn’t even comfortable around children, and didn’t think they liked me very much. In fact, before I had Jayda, I’d never changed a diaper, and could count on the fingers of one hand how many babies I’d actually held. And yet, as soon as the nurses put my newborn child on my chest, I knew I was put in this world to be Jayda’s mom and care for her.

There was a point in my mid-30s when I had an epiphany and realized that I’d be incomplete if I never had a child, and that I’d just been suppressing my desires for fear of never meeting Mr. Right. I was flooded with maternal feelings and became baby-obsessed almost overnight. It took a lot of thought and planning to have Jayda (as well as plenty of drugs and monitoring and money, since I didn’t get pregnant on the first try like J-Lo’s character did in her movie), and I can hardly allude to the process as a back-up plan. “Back-up” to me implies second-best, and having Jayda was an ideal plan for me, because I can’t imagine my life without my amazing daughter in it.

Unlike J-Lo’s character, I didn’t find Mr. Right while I was pregnant (though I did date during the first two trimesters), and I still haven’t found him now that Jayda is about to turn three. But that doesn’t trouble me at all, and I hate the implication that a woman “needs” a man to be a good mother. Or that having a husband is always the ideal “plan.”

Most of my friends did find their Mr. Rights before they had children—or at least they found someone whom they thought was the man they’d be with forever—and I can’t say their lives are all better than mine. A few of my friends are going through nasty divorces now—and are battling over custody issues. Several others actually married someone as their “back-up plan”—fully knowing the man wasn’t exactly what they wanted or needed in their lives—but rushed to settle down because they felt their clocks were ticking. Those friends (and their spouses) are all pretty miserable. And then there are my friends who are happily married (or at least appear to be), but just about all of them admit that having a husband is a lot of work, and they’re forced to divide their attention between their children and their man. There’s nothing wrong with that—and I know having a good husband is a worthwhile investment—but I can’t say that these women’s children are thriving more than mine is…or that the moms are so much happier than I am. We’re all just experiencing life the way it happened to us…and most of us are realizing that you can’t plan everything, especially when it comes to being a mom.

Plan A…Plan B. What’s the difference? Life is what we make of it—and just because our lives aren’t as we always pictured them, doesn’t mean they’re second-best. Mine certainly isn’t. It isn’t movie-perfect, either, but I don’t really know anyone whose life is.