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Rethinking Choice: Potential Pregnancies, High-Tech Mothering and Reproductive DemocracyPerin Gürel

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The role of implicit and explicit advertising is also undeveloped. The reader never knows quite why so many women are willing to undergo untested procedures, drain their savings accounts, and break national laws in order to "potentially" conceive. How does the rhetoric of donor "angels" and "forever families" work to fuel this intense personal pronatalism in the U.S., for example? How does Scandinavian Cryobank's American advertisement campaign, which boasts that the baby will be "a Viking," obfuscate the fact that the birth rate by an insemination cycle remains at a "high" of 34.6% per cycle? Does the market actively encourage a kind of personal eugenics for women and couples who could in fact conceive by other means or adopt? Instead, Spar is at her best in applying economic analysis to facts and numbers. What does emerge from her substantial insights is the power of the fertility market, as directed by a rather insatiable demand for a product that is conceived as "priceless" and for which customers will pay "over and over and over again" as long as they can (4)

Where does this "insatiable demand" come from? How does it take shape in specific cultural environments and how does it turn a couple or a woman into a grateful customer? It was partially these questions that made me turn to Hertz's readable in-depth sociological study of middle-class women who chose to be mothers while single. Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice is based on interviews with sixty-five Massachusetts single mothers, 11 of whom identify as lesbian or bisexual. The book, written by an eminent feminist sociologist, does in fact suggest several compelling reasons for the continuing rise of demand, beginning with the hegemony of "compulsory motherhood", the common-sense belief that all women must want to become mothers. More interestingly, Hertz speculates that there might be a direct influence of The Baby Market on this long-standing ideology: "Compulsory motherhood has strengthened its hold as new reproductive technologies and the globalization of adoption have put children within every woman's reach" (5). Several feminist works, which Hertz does not cite, have called into question the rise of "technical imperative," alongside compulsory motherhood, due to the "mere existence of pre-natal screening and infertility treatments, and their 'never enough' quality" (Thompson 58). Motherhood in its high-tech stage might have paradoxically become the norm, as opposed to the ideal. It is certainly interesting to see the ways in which science, not the expected culprit, religion, directs women's reproductive choices. Preceding the complex ways in which these women learn to maneuver through "the language of sperm banks, adoption agencies and legal contracts" is the overdetermined rise of desire (xvii)

Assisted, single motherhood is variously normalized by Hertz's interviewees. Most women in the study naturalize their decisions, explaining their quest for motherhood as fueled by a "compelling force" and an immediate "biological urge," although their entry into motherhood is far from impulsive (19). [2] Almost all report delaying motherhood until they reach the limits of their fertility or the age limits for adoption. They take many societal measures, such as enlisting family members and friends. Moreover, their eventual entry into motherhood is not justified by their biological need to reproduce (many become mothers through adoption) but by their ability to financially support a family and to successfully wield a humanist, rights-based rhetoric. To read even closer into Hertz's depictions, these women "claim the [legal] right" to motherhood even as they biologize it as the "ultimate fulfillment that is unique to women" (39). [3]

Reading into Hertz's straightforward depictions is often necessary because Hertz is reluctant to theorize at the expense of her subjects. She clearly perceives a new cult of motherhood, fueled partially by the rise of "supply," but she is not out to criticize these female pioneers for succumbing to "social control," or, as she puts it, for being only "reluctant revolutionaries" (193). Hertz is much more interested in the "how" question; she lucidly reports the women's thought-processes and experiences before using the tools of feminist sociology to come up with unifying threads. Despite her well-executed forays into sociological explanation marked with discussions of "paradigm shifts" and "catalytic events," Hertz keeps the jargon and the scholarly tone minimal. The book has even been described as a "page-turner" by a reviewer; its brilliant yellow cover decorated with a female cartoon figure and the dramatic vignettes that open each chapter make it Hertz's first book openly addressed to a lay readership as well as other sociologists. [4] As such, the study has a heavy emphasis on experience related through life narratives. Each chapter's opening vignette chronicles a woman in the middle of life-changing revelations and actions, ranging from descriptions of settling on a donor or deciding on the race of the child to adopt. The stories follow the women even after the birth of a high-tech child or the adoption of a Chinese orphan, and outline the dilemmas children and single mothers face in a society that still works within a 20th-century, heterosexist kinship system.

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Perin Gürel is a graduate student in American Studies at Yale University. She holds a B.A. in American Studies and English from UC Berkeley, where she worked as a teaching assistant and studied with folklorist Alan Dundes.

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