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HBO Documentary Examines A New Type of Single Mother

Monday, July 29th, 2013

“Ruthie and Tra-vis sittin’ in a tree,” my little fourth-grade classmates would sing as I jumped rope at recess.

Nina Davenport and baby

Nina Davenport/Courtesy of HBO

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in a baby carriage.” A schoolyard game taught us the “proper” sequence of life events before we even understood them. But what if that doesn’t work for everyone?

Filmmaker Nina Davenport examines the new trend of single women of a certain age having children without Mr. Right in her autbiographical documentary “First Comes Love,” premiering Monday, July 29 on HBO.

Davenport always wanted to be a mom, but as she got older she felt her chances of finding a man to have children with were fading along with her “rapidly diminishing ovarian reserve.” At age 41, Davenport decided to stop waiting and go it alone. “You can have the child and you can have the loving partnership for the rest of your life,” counseled her sister-in-law. “It’s just going to happen in that order.”

Using her friend Eric Oleson as her sperm donor, Davenport underwent fertility treatments before becoming pregnant and giving birth to her son, Jasper. Over the course of the film, Davenport found support in some—like her best friend and birthing partner, Amy Meselson—and scrutiny in others, like her father. But aside from confronting the difficulty of becoming a single mom, particularly at an advanced age, the movie raises important practical questions. Would Davenport be able to afford all of the expenses of a child? If Eric doesn’t want to play a larger role than sperm donor, and Amy’s commitment does not officially extend beyond delivery day, where will Davenport find the longterm help she needs?

Davenport’s film tackles tough issues as members of her own family cast their doubts over her journey into motherhood. “What about having a child is going to make that [financial] stressor go away?” questions Davenport’s other sister-in-law. “You don’t expect to provide a worse life for your child than you had. Do you?”

And aside from a potential financial burden, Davenport’s friends Howie and Dara seemed to be in awe of the motivation driving her to become a mom no matter what. As a new dad Howie said, “In all seriousness you have a much harder time because I see what it’s like with two people and you are alone so…wow! That’s going be twice, even more than twice [the amount of work].”

Throughout the film, Davenport consults with other single women in their 40s who have either had kids on their own or are trying to. Though limited, her pool of women all seem to be successful in their careers, independent, and confident in the people they have become. But as these women reflect on their paths, is all this self-investment and personal growth at the expense of finding a suitable parenting partner?

As women in Davenport’s documentary forego the romantic relationship in favor of a parental one, they may also give up the financial stability of two potential incomes, the emotional support of entering parenthood with a partner, and the physical sharing of time spent with the new baby. If that baby cries in the middle of the night, there is no “It’s your turn, honey.”

But as more women take full control over their reproductive future, the community of single mothers by choice will continue to grow. With that choice they choose the love of a child before the love of a partner, showing that truly “first comes love.”

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