Donny Deutsch, ad man-turned cable TV show host-turned morning show expert on just about anything, looked straight into the camera. Normally, he'd be looking at Savannah Guthrie, the Today Show moderator of the curiously popular (and yet curiously entertaining) "Today's Professionals" segment to share his opinions. But on a Monday morning a few weeks ago, Donny seemed to have something especially important to say.
The recurring segment, a panel of three opinionated professionals: Star Jones, Esq.; Nancy Snyderman, M.D. and Donny, is filled with banter about the hot topics of the day, refereed by Guthrie to get to the next hot topic as the segment time counts down quickly. But with this topic -- whether or not women are naïve about their fertility lifespan -- Donny wanted the viewing audience to hear him loud and clear. His message was directed to the single women of a certain age still hoping to find a mate and have a child. It went something like this: "Don't wait any longer," he warned as he stared into the camera. "Have a baby on your own." Then, to add a bonus to his big idea, he said: "Trust me, men will find you even more attractive if you do."
Guthrie, who is reportedly separated from her husband of six years and who will turn 40 in December, is childless. She seemed visibly uncomfortable with the topic from the start, clear to point out she is well-aware of her fertility math and believes most women are. Nevertheless, she dutifully asked the panel for their thoughts.
Jones, close to 50 and divorced, said not having children was her greatest regret. Dr Nancy, a mother in her late 50s, blamed the cliché go-to reason: women's career drive. And the debonair Donny Deutsch, who fathered his last child at age 49, was telling single women what to do.
American Women are having children later than ever. 46 percent of women ages 25-29 are childless, compared with 31 percent in 1976. Fourteen percent of first-time moms are age 35 or older. And nearly one-fifth of women ages 40-44 are not mothers. Research indicates that half of the latter group is simply waiting for Mr. Right. This new fertility phenomenon, first blamed on career, now blamed on naiveté, is what's spurred a new trend in voluntary single motherhood. 41 percent of mothers are unmarried (we don't know, however, how many are in committed relationships with the baby's father, a la Natalie Portman and fiancé Benjamin Millepied, who had a son together, Aleph, earlier this year). That's compared with just 5 percent of moms who were unwed in 1960. Overall, Pew Research states that as recently as 2008, 69 percent of all Americans thought single women having children on their own is a bad thing -- an opinion point that increases to 75 percent among married people. (To be clear, I'm part of the minority who thinks otherwise.)
A few of acquaintances of mine, accomplished women in their late 30s and early 40s, have decided to become single mothers. Without a mate in site, each determined it was 'now or never' to have the baby they desired. One, the recent mother of twins, went so far as to start a business to counsel single women with resources on how to have a baby on their own. Others remain somewhat secretive of their pregnancy, presumably avoiding questions and judgment.
But lately, it's women like me who feel judged for not taking the same route. "You could always have a baby on your own," goes the popular refrain. But this exchange, which once sounded well-meaning and hopeful, has become filled with a more stern sense of warning about never becoming the biological mothers we dreamed of if we don't go ahead and, as Donny so over-simply put it, have a baby on our own.
When did voluntarily becoming a single mom become a gauge of how deeply a woman wants to be a mother? Since when proving your bravery or upping your attractiveness to men become reasons to have a baby on your own?
The day after the Today Show segment, I was having coffee with my friend "Jon," a 40-something divorced dad who does not date women who want to have children, although he dates women with children already. He simply has no desire to become a father again himself. I reported that I felt frustrated by Donny's remark. After all, how would I have a baby without back up? My mother is no longer alive. My father lives in another country. My brother has children of his own to worry about ... How could I earn a living and raise my baby -- let alone be available for the baby? You can't easily be a stay-at-home-mother and pay the rent on that home without a partner.
"I've recently been dating a woman who had a kid on her own at age 41," Jon replied. "She's a social worker at a New York City public school and frankly I was curious about how she could afford to do it. Slowly but surely, after I visited her three-bedroom Upper East Side apartment and heard of her Hamptons home, I could tell she came from a wealthy family. I guess it helps if you have parents who can lend a hand and a mortgage."
Oh Donny. It was the very same year his hit "The Big Idea" TV show about entrepreneurship first aired on CNBC that I was starting my own company, Savvy Auntie. One of the reasons I started the business was that I knew there was no way I could be a single mother and earn enough income working in corporate America to support the child. The women who earned enough at my former employer traveled once or twice a month for days at a time. And we all stayed in the office well past 7 P.M., often even well into the night. I started my business thinking that if I did choose to have a child on my own, I could potentially have a chance of being available to pick her up from preschool or make his parent-teacher night on time. But that is still not within reach for me.
I don't discredit Donny's idea that men are attracted to women who have a baby on their own. Motherhood and bravery look good on most women. Plus, it takes the pressure off the men one dates to get married and have children before the woman's clock stops ticking. But isn't it enough that I lose points for my womanhood by not being a wife and mother? Must I also lose my attraction for not choosing to have a baby on my own? And why, despite how I started a company to show the value aunts and godmothers play in the American Family Village, is my desire for a child of my own discounted with: "So you don't want children?" simply because I haven't met a man with whom to have them.
Remaining childless may be my greatest regret, as it may be for Jones. And I know I will always be subject to judgment like Nancy's: It will always be presumed I put career before motherhood, or my life before a life that may never begin.
After Donny's remarks, Guthrie changed the topic to the final topic of the day, Donny's 54th birthday. A cake was rolled on set and the panel celebrated the happy occasion. Dr. Nancy swiped a little icing from the side of the cake. Jones smiled through her regret. Guthrie seemed happy the segment was over. And I went back to work.
Here's to all the brave women who choose to proactively have a child on their own. And here's to the brave souls who haven't -- the ones who believe you cannot, in fact, have your cake and eat it too.
Follow Melanie Notkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/savvyauntie