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New Choices, New Families

How Lesbians Decide about Motherhood

Nancy J. Mezey

Publication Year: 2008

How do lesbians decide to become mothers or remain childfree? Why do new families form at particular historical moments? These questions are at the heart of Nancy J. Mezey’s New Choices, New Families. Researchers, politicians, and society at large continue to debate the changing American family, especially nontraditional families that emerge from divorce, remarriage, grandparents-as-parents, and adoption. This ongoing discussion also engages the controversy surrounding the parental rights of same-sex couples and their families. New Choices, New Families enters into this conversation. Mezey asks why lesbians are forming families at this particular historical moment and wonders how race, class, sexual identity, and family history factor into the decision-making process. Drawing heavily from personal interviews, Mezey’s groundbreaking analysis gives voice to groups long underrepresented in similar studies—black, Latina, working class, and childfree lesbians. Some chapters examine how childhood experiences contribute to the desire to become a mother, while others consider the influence of women’s partners and careers. New Choices, New Families provides thoughtful insights into questions about sexual identity, social and cultural expectations, and what and who constitute a family.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Lesbians have been having children in record numbers in the past twenty to thirty years, starting the lesbian baby boom. The boom began with women who became mothers within heterosexual identities and then later identified as lesbians. More recently, women within their identities as lesbians have been choosing motherhood by adopting and birthing children. The lesbian baby boom has captured the...

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1. At the Crossroads

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pp. 1-14

When I came out to my parents in the early 1990s, I remember telling my mother that I still wanted to have children. At the time, I hadn’t really considered how I might achieve this goal without the help of a male partner. But I had always wanted children and did not consider my sexual identity a barrier to becoming a mother. In hindsight, I see that my confidence that as a lesbian I would still...

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2. The Historical Rise of Lesbian Families

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pp. 15-31

Although I am not a historian, I am mindful that every social phenomenon builds upon events, conditions, and beliefs that continuously develop out of our past. In reading the literature on lesbian motherhood and in speaking with lesbians themselves, I began to see that many of the issues lesbians discuss come out of a recent, rich, and critical history that has allowed them to make mothering decisions...

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3. Recruiting Lesbian Participants and Collecting Data

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pp. 32-45

When I began my research in 1999, I was both excited and nervous. Excited because I was embarking on an adventure that I hoped would lead to the completion of my doctorate. Nervous because conducting research is hard work that does not always take you where you want to go. Drawing on the principles of multiracial feminism, I began my research by thinking about how I would collect the data I wanted, how...

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4. Developing Mothering Desires

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pp. 46-65

My original research question focused specifically on how adult lesbians choose to become mothers or remain childfree. However, as I began analyzing the data, it occurred to me that in order to understand how lesbians make their decisions, I needed to better understand how they came to want to become mothers or remain childfree. During the interviews I often heard lesbians state that they “always...

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5. Understanding Motherhood

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pp. 66-86

It is one thing to desire something; it is quite another to achieve it. As Gerson (1985) found with heterosexual women, and as I found with lesbians, mothering desires do not neatly determine mothering decisions. Regardless of what the lesbians in my study wanted in terms of motherhood or remaining childfree, as they moved through adult lives, there were four main factors—beliefs about motherhood, ...

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6. Negotiating Lesbian Support Networks

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pp. 87-103

In order to actualize their mothering desires, lesbians seek support from a variety of social networks, one of the most important of which comes from lesbian communities. Lesbians who want to remain childfree look to other childfree lesbians for social outlets and emotional support. Lesbians who want to become mothers look to lesbian mothers who can lend them emotional support and help them...

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7. Weighing Intimate Partner Relationships

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pp. 104-122

Having or not having an intimate partner was the factor the lesbians I interviewed most readily identified as influencing their decisions to become mothers or remain childfree. Intimate relationships greatly influence decisions to mother or remain childfree, regardless of sexuality, although the ways in which they do so vary by sexual identity as well as by race and class. For example, among heterosexuals, fragile or...

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8. Considering the Benefits and Barriers of Work

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pp. 123-142

As the three previous chapters have shown, lesbians consider a variety of factors when making their mothering decisions. They weigh their mothering desires in relation to their personal beliefs about motherhood, the amount and kinds of support they receive from lesbian networks and communities, and their relationships to intimate partners. Many of these factors overlap with one another, thus shaping...

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9. New Choices, New Families

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pp. 143-159

When I set out to conduct my research, I wanted to know what makes lesbians decide to become mothers or remain childfree and how social conditions created through structures of race, class, gender, and sexuality shaped their decisions. Mine was a qualitative study, one that did not require me to have any hypotheses about what the answers to my questions might look like. But I was pretty sure when...


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pp. 161-170


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pp. 171-181


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pp. 183-187

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895258
E-ISBN-10: 0801895251
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801890000
Print-ISBN-10: 0801890004

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2008