Two massive changes in American social patterns — the emergence of a growing number of upwardly mobile, well-paid women professionals, including Jewish women professionals, and the unprecedented liberalization of sexual mores — may have produced a development unique in western society: an organized and growing group of American women who choose to have children out of wedlock.
Many of them are members of Single Mothers by Choice (SMBC), a kind of mutual aid society organized by Jane Mattes, a New York City psychotherapist, who described the development and functions of SMBC at a luncheon sponsored by the American Jewish Committee last January and elaborated on the rationale and activities of the group in several telephone interviews with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
She said SMBC has a mailing list of about 1,000 women and holds monthly meetings at a nearby church for which attendance fluctuates. She said 20 members is considered a small attendance and 40 a large attendance. The group holds “thinkers series” sessions three Monday nights a month, on alternate months, to discuss the pros and cons of unwed motherhood. She said attendance at those sessions is restricted to ten women so that their concerns can get thorough attention.
HALF ARE JEWISH
The group also holds two social events each year and 65 members attended the most recent one. Indicating she did not know the personal histories of many of the members, including a number of out-of-town members, she estimated that about half of the unwed mothers are Jewish.
At the luncheon, according to a report in the news letter of the Committee’s William Petschek National Jewish Family Center, Ms. Mattes, the unmarried mother of a four-year-old and the person who started SMBC, was the featured speaker. She “movingly described what it is like to be a woman in her mid-thirties with no immediate prospect of marriage and the gnawing fear” that it might soon be too late for her to bear a child.
“At age 36, after considering and rejecting the possibility of adoption, she chose to become pregnant,” according to the newletter. She stressed SMBC members are not opposed to marriage “if the right man should appear.”
75 PERCENT USE ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION
She told the JTA that about 75 percent of the unwed mothers use artificial insemination because they feel it is not fair to involve a man in such a situation. She said a great deal of information is available about the donor of the sperm, including whether he is Jewish, his race, his family background and related information.
The group, small in number initially, began meeting in 1981 and was incorporated as a non-profit organization under state law in 1983. Dues are $45 a year, which includes a monthly newsletter, she said.
Once a woman has attended a thinkers series session, she can attend the monthly meetings, Ms. Mattes said. The goal of that series is to explain the realities of unwed motherhood to women thinking about it.
“One really can’t do it alone,” she said. “You have to have a support system, which takes time to build up.” Some women who deliberately become pregnant discuss with unwed mothers the idea of having an abortion, once they have learned from SMBC members the complications and demands of motherhood on a single women. Ms. Mattes said that after the age of 35, abortions are rare.
Agreeing that a woman planning to have a child out of wedlock needs a considerable amount of savings for pre-natal care, the birth, after-care and planning for the infant’s future education as an adolescent and young adult, she said women coming to the thinkers session are urged to save as much money as they can and to have insurance. She said some SMBC members had saved enough to buy a house.
MOST CHILDREN STILL VERY YOUNG
She said that for her, and for many like her, careers took priority. By the time such women achieve their career goals, she added, most men seeking marriage have married.
She suggested that she was more fortunate in her own support system than other SMBC members in that her office was in the same Manhattan building in which she has her apartment and that she builds her working hours around her son’s needs as much as she can.
Currently, she told the JTA, “we have no children over the age of six” but that she knew of a few unmarried mothers who have adolescent age children.
Asked whether her son was aware of his unusal familial status, she said he had asked, when he was 2 1/2 years old, why so many children he saw had both “mommies and daddies.”
Ms. Matthes said she replied that some children “live with their daddy and some with just their mommy and some with both.” She said the mothers brought their children with them to the monthly meetings and the children were cared for in a nursery which is part of the church where they meet. She said she pointed out to her son that all the children in the nursery had “only mommies.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.