06/30/2010 10:01 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Without a Child and With Purpose

The U.S. has more childless women than ever before, according to a recent report cited in last week's Washington Post. Among women in their early forties, one in five has no biological children. Thirty years ago that figure was only one in ten.

How ironic that these statistics were published only days before the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan that began this week. Ms. Kagan, poised to serve on the highest court of the land, ranks among these "childless women."

Not that long ago, most of society would have considered women without children as women without purpose -- surely unfulfilled and lacking in what gives life true meaning.

Over the years, some things have changed; but my own mother's sensibilities never have. She always said that each of us is born to "leave the world a better place" -- to have purpose. And she was quick to add that there were many ways to do this. Bearing children and raising them to be good human beings was one important way, of course. But it was not the only way.

You could have "influence," as my mother said. You could do good things for others that were important, meaningful and very satisfying. As a former professor, a former dean of one of the most prestigious law schools in the world, and current Solicitor General of the United States, surely Ms. Kagan would qualify.

If confirmed, Elena Kagan could serve on the U.S. Supreme Court for decades to come. In doing so, this childless woman would have the power to influence the very course of American affairs, affecting the lives of countless people, young and old. By example, she would make clear that there are many ways to leave this world a better place.

So do countless other "childless women." SOS Mothers are a prime example. SOS Mothers are the professionally trained surrogate caregivers who choose to mother orphaned and abandoned children in 500 SOS Children's Villages in 132 countries. Many are single women who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen to give their love and commitment to children who have lost their families. These women have chosen to put children back together again, to enable them to know the love of a mother and the joy of being a part of a family that is committed to each child's future.

These childless women likely will raise not one but five or ten children. If they remain with SOS for several decades, they will have raised dozens of children who regard them as their very own mothers. In return, these children love them, visit them on holidays, and credit their saved lives to their special SOS Mother.

With or without children, women have extraordinary opportunities to use their intelligence, ambition and heart to make the world a better place. SOS Mothers know why they are on this earth, and I bet Elena Kagan does too.