Three Women and a Donor
By embracing single motherhood, Beth Jones and her friends found love, family — and a book deal| From Alumni Books | By Katie Koch
The authors of Three Wishes, (from left) Carey Goldberg, Pamela Ferdinand, and Beth Jones (GRS’91), write about the agonizing decision to have a baby alone and the freeing power of that choice. Photograph by Mark Thomas
A successful woman in her late thirties wants a baby, willing father or no. She wrestles with the decision, purchases some vials of grade-A sperm, and begins the journey to motherhood alone. Then she unexpectedly finds a man, and together they create a family. The sperm is passed on to an unlucky-in-love friend.
Repeat the cycle two more times, and you’d start to think those test tubes contained the makings of a magic potion — or an interesting book.
“We would tell people the story,” says sperm recipient number two, Beth Jones (GRS’91), “and we kept hearing, ‘You should write this.’”
After learning the premise for Three Wishes (Little, Brown, 2010), a joint memoir by Jones and her old friends Carey Goldberg and Pamela Ferdinand, it’s hard not to envision another title popping up on bookstore shelves: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Sperm. Like those best-selling stories of four plucky teenagers and their enchanted pair of jeans, Three Wishes is in large part a testament to the enduring power of women’s friendships.
But the book is also a case study of the evolving perceptions of what it means to be a mother, to have a family, and to find happiness. At the time, Ferdinand and Goldberg were reporters, Ferdinand for the Boston Globe and Goldberg for the New York Times, and Jones, a graduate of BU’s Creative Writing Program, was working as a freelance writer and educator in the wake of a painful divorce. Each woman realized her high-flying career left little time to make having a baby a priority, an oft-depicted female fear. But their tale, Jones says, eschews the Janus-faced caricature of the single professional as coldhearted ladder-climber or hormone-crazed spinster.
“The stuff in sitcoms, soap operas — we defy that,” she says. “We’re three professional women who recognize that by helping each other, we’re only going to help ourselves as well.”
And perhaps most important to the book’s female readers, it’s true. “It’s hopeful, and it’s real,” according to Jones. “It’s not as if we’re manufacturing a fairy tale.”
Their story of a quirky, hard-earned happy ending struck a nerve in the book world: a week after the three found an agent for their manuscript, they lined up meetings with five different publishers.
Each woman realized her high-flying career left little time to make having a baby a priority.
“We recognize that ours is not a typical story,” Jones says with a laugh.
It’s hard to know if she’s referring to the authors’ reportedly hefty advance or their unorthodox road to motherhood. She speaks with determined optimism: if you will it, they (in this case, babies) will come.
“I don’t necessarily want to call it magic,” she says, “but there is a power in making decisions and choosing things, rather than sitting back and waiting for them to happen.”
But Three Wishes offers no miracle cure for unhappiness. The book is a straightforward account of an agonizing decision to have a baby alone and the freeing power of that choice. Jones and her friends achieve their goals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer along the way.
Jones in particular endures heartbreak, starting with the messy unraveling of her first marriage: her husband leaves her for his twenty-one-year-old personal trainer (although she prevails with a $10 million divorce settlement).
“We can say that there’s a bit of an element of revenge in it,” she says of writing about the divorce. Later, after Jones meets her eventual second husband, Phil, she learns months into her first pregnancy that the fetus has Down’s syndrome, and she undergoes an abortion.
Jones, Ferdinand, and Goldberg remain “deep and supporting” friends and business partners as they promote the book, Jones says. If nothing else, the experience has left a legacy for her now-five-year-old son.
“I have a book that’s basically about how much I wanted him,” she says. “I think I wrote it, whether or not I was conscious of it, with him in mind.”