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Arts & Entertainment

Three Women and a Donor

Single motherhood brings alum love, family — and book deal


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. Photo by Mark Thomas

A successful woman in herlate 30s wants a baby, willing father or no. She wrestles with the decision,purchases some vials of grade-A sperm, and begins the journey to motherhoodalone. Then she unexpectedly finds a man, and together they create a family.The sperm is passed on to an unlucky-in-love friend.

Repeat thecycle two more times, and you’d start to think those test tubes contained themakings of a magic potion — or an interesting book.

“We wouldtell people the story,” says sperm recipient number two, Beth Jones (GRS’91),“and we kept hearing, ‘You should write this.’”

Afterlearning the premise for Three Wishes (Little,Brown, 2010), a joint memoir by Jones and old friends Carey Goldberg and PamelaFerdinand, it’s hard not to envision another title popping up on the bookstoreshelf: The Sisterhood of the TravelingSperm. Like those best-selling stories of four plucky teenagers and theirenchanted pair of jeans, Three Wishesis in large part a testament to the enduring power of women’s friendships.

But it’s alsoa case study of evolving perceptions of what it means to be a mother, to have afamily, and to find happiness. At the time, Ferdinand, an adjunct professor atCOM, and Goldberg were reporters, Ferdinand for the Boston Globe and Goldberg for the New York Times, and Jones, a graduate of BU’s Creative WritingProgram, was working as a freelance writer and educator in the wake of apainful divorce. Each realized her high-flying career left little time for ababy, an oft-depicted female fear. But their tale, Jones says, eschews theJanus-faced caricature of the single professional as coldhearted ladder-climberor hormone-crazed spinster.

“The stuffin sitcoms, soap operas — we defy that,” Jones says. “We’re three professionalwomen who recognize that by helping each other, we’re only going to helpourselves as well.”

And perhapsmost important to the book’s female readers, it’s true. “It’s hopeful, and it’sreal,” Jones says. “It’s not as if we’re manufacturing a fairy tale.”

Their storyof a quirky, hard-earned happy ending struck a nerve in the book world: a weekafter the three found an agent for their manuscript, they lined up meetings with fivedifferent publishers.

“Werecognize that ours is not a typical story,” Jones says with a laugh.

It’s hard to know if she’sreferring to the authors’ reportedly hefty advance or to their unorthodox roadto motherhood. She speaks with determined optimism: if you will it, they (inthis case, babies) will come.

“I don’tnecessarily want to call it magic,” she says, “but there’s a power in makingdecisions and choosing things, rather than sitting back and waiting for them tohappen.”

But Three Wishes offers no miracle cure forunhappiness. It’s a straightforward account of an agonizing decision to have ababy alone and the freeing power of that choice. Jones and her friends achievetheir goals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer along the way.

Jones inparticular endures heartbreak, starting with the messy unraveling of her firstmarriage: her husband leaves her for his 21-year-old personal trainer (althoughJones prevails with a $10 million divorce settlement).

“We can saythat there’s a bit of an element of revenge in it,” she says of writing aboutthe divorce. Later, after she meets her eventual second husband, Phil, shelearns months into her first pregnancy that the fetus has Down’s syndrome, and sheundergoes an abortion.

Jones,Ferdinand, and Goldberg remain “deep and supporting” friends and businesspartners as they promote the book, Jones says. If nothing else, the experiencehas left a legacy for her now-five-year-old son.

“I have abook that’s basically about how much I wanted him,” she says. “I think I wroteit, whether or not I was conscious of it, with him in mind.”

Katie Koch can be reached at katieleekoch@gmail.com; follow her on Twitter at @katieleekoch.

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