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Summer 2010 Table of Contents

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.”

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On 6 August 2010 at 2:24 PM, Kathleen Horigan (COM'00) wrote:

As I sat down to enjoy my summer 2010 Bostonia magazine with my three-month old daughter, Ava, in my arms, I didn’t realize I’d soon have the wind knocked out of me. The review of “3 women and a Donor”, while thorough, too breezily mentions “after Jones meets her eventual second husband, Phil, she learns months into her first pregnancy (4 months to be clearer), that the fetus has Down syndrome and she undergoes an abortion.” I would have found this startling even before Ava’s birth, but holding my very own precious loving baby, who just happens to have Down syndrome, made the review feel as if someone had punched me in the stomach. And while I strongly believe in a woman’s right to choose, for those of us who knew prenatally (me at 11 weeks’ gestation) and the many who never knew in advance (80% of Down syndrome babies are born to mothers under 35 who typically don’t have testing done,) the love and joy these children bring into our worlds is impossible to express in a few sentences.

I’d like to mention the many parents who didn’t know in advance, but who would have aborted had they known. Many of them are liberal, feminist, highly-educated (I put myself in those categories as well) -- doctors, lawyers, scientists themselves. Ironically, I have found they are the biggest advocates for children with Down syndrome – sitting on Boards, fundraising, writing articles and books, helping with The Buddy Walk and Special Olympics. They are also the first to admit they are so glad that their child is here, even if only by accident -- because they didn’t do testing. Had they done the testing, most would have chosen to abort as well. In the past year I have met hundreds of parents of children with Down syndrome, and I have yet to meet one who regrets having their child. I would encourage anyone else faced with this life-changing decision to choose life. Having Ava is the best thing I ever did (other than having Amanda, my other daughter, 7 years prior). Ps – I bought the book and enjoyed it immensely.

On 2 August 2010 at 10:38 PM, Claudia (SSW'90) wrote:

Having read the book, the story these 3 women tell is far more complex, interesting and human than a brief article can convey. It's a great read whether you agree with their decisions or not. I found the book to be bravely honest.

On 27 July 2010 at 4:26 PM, Lisa from Boston wrote:

There are so many ways to get to be a family and I think we should all be open to whatever anyone wants to choose. I agree with the comment about being non-judgmental. There's no way to judge anyone else unless we've walked in their shoes.

My husband and I tried to conceive in our late thirties/early forties as we met and married later. We chose adoption as our route and couldn't be happier now. We have a wonderful 12 year old son who has been the joy of our lives. We did try the IVF/fertility route also, but I believe now that we were meant to be the family we were and that everything worked out for the best.

I know women who decided to be single moms and each decision is a very personal one and needs to be respected.

Thank goodness we live in an age where men and women have choices in how and when a family is made. Let's honor all the choices.

Kudos to these women for telling their stories. I will be very interested to read the book.

On 26 July 2010 at 7:42 PM, Liz (SSW'11) wrote:

I think this article probably left some key details of these women's stories out -- it's a book preview, not the book -- and those who have commented already have been pretty harsh. Genetic counseling isn't unusual these days, and while women who choose to take on the immense responsibility of a fetus destined for incredible disabilities and challenges should have their choice respected, women who decide against that for a variety of sound reasons should also be respected. I hesitate to conceive naturally in part because of the enormity of such a decision.

Also, regarding the first commenter, there is a huge difference between sperm donation and in-vitro fertilization and abortion. Regardless of your personal take on abortion or IVF, a potentially unused sperm donation is absolutely nowhere in the ballpark on a basic scientific level. Perhaps you should educate yourself more thoroughly on anatomy and reproduction if you think semen is "nascent life helplessly, timelessly frozen."

I imagine these women carefully considered their decisions about their bodies and lives, and I'm proud to live in a time when women are able to have control over their own lives. I hope that if I should reach a similar age and come to similar conclusions about how I'd like to bear children, I will find people who will support/respect me -- not offer a knee-jerk reaction that labels me selfish and immoral.

On 15 July 2010 at 10:42 AM, anonymous (SPC'77) wrote:

This is a tragic story on so many levels. It is in essence a story of self absorption, highlighting a profound disconnect between a sound moral life and the easy availability of modern technology. These women wanted to raise a child at all costs because it suited their self image - if their "high flying careers" left no time for a relationship with another adult who could have parented the child with them, then it is not difficult to imagine what that could that portend for a tiny newborn as the years of its life unfolded. But that realilty, those choices, are too inconvenient for a selfish modern psyche. These women wanted a child on their own terms, regardless of the destruction and disorder left in their wake. The lack of respect for human life inherent in the entire IV process either leaves nascent life helplessly, timelessly frozen, or subjects it to "selective reduction" - a thin euphemism for the destruction of the very lives these women profess to have valued so hi! ghly - if it does not win a macabre lottery for survival.

Aborting a child who couldn't be perfect? Who had no value because it couldn't be the singular star achiever these women evidently thought themselves to be? Any man and woman who had created that child together would at least have had each other as a moral sounding board before, presumably, making that "hard choice" to end a life which had a worth, a purpose and an integrity of its own, imperfect as it may have been. This is no worse than aborting a daughter because she is not a son, or leaving a child only months older than that growing unborn baby to die from exposure to the elements because it is the wrong gender.

I doubt I could bear to read what these women have to say about "what it means to be a mother, to have a family, and to find happiness." I am not ready for that Brave New World. And that is the legacy left for the five year old son - beware, you have been born into a world that puts no value on life which it can not see as a promise of perfection, flawed though that promise may be.

On 15 July 2010 at 10:35 AM, Sase Persaud wrote:

What was there first--the child or the book deal?

On 15 July 2010 at 7:42 AM, Lydia (CAS'86) wrote:

Intriguing. While maybe it's not fair to judge a book's authors by it's review, but let me get this straight -- one of you wanted a baby soooo badly, but only a "perfect" one, please? As a mom of a child with a disability, all I can say is, you missed out on a rewarding, life-changing experience. I also worry that a "perfect" son could be held up unreasonable expectations of perfection. Be careful. But not having read the book, perhaps I am too quick to judge.

On 14 July 2010 at 10:58 AM, doug brown (SMG'76) wrote:

everyone is doing it

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