First comes baby ...
Still a stigma Playing all the roles It's harder this way nAs more young women have babies outside marriage, expert says they're reordering family events. BY SUZANNE CASSIDY, Staff Writer
Emily Files has this idea for a coffee-table book titled "Baby on the Hip."
She would photograph herself chopping vegetables for homemade soup with her baby on her hip, cleaning windows with her baby on her hip, doing all sorts of household chores with her baby on her hip.
When you're a busy single mom of a 19-month-old son, you get used to doing all kinds of things with your child on your hip.
"You do the best you can," Files says, philosophically.
The 26-year-old Lancaster resident is living a life she hadn't imagined or planned, but also one she wouldn't trade for anything. Like so many other 20-something women, she has gone straight to the baby carriage stage without marriage.
As of 2011, 62 percent of women ages 20 to 24 who gave birth in the previous 12 months were unmarried, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Wednesday.
"Nonmarital fertility has been climbing steadily since the 1940s and has risen even more markedly in recent years," Rose Kreider, a Census Bureau demographer, noted in a news release.
Caroline L. Faulkner, an assistant professor of sociology at Franklin & Marshall College, says that is "true as a broad trend," but in between 2008 and 2010, there actually was a slight decline in nonmarital fertility.
And most of the nonmarital births are by women in cohabiting relationships, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, she pointed out.
Moreover, Faulkner said, "the majority of women who have a child outside of marriage eventually enter into a marital union. It's not that these women have given up on marriage; instead, they have reordered these family events."
This reordering of the events in the lives of 20-somethings was explored in a recently published report titled "Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America," which detailed how young adults are delaying marriage and bringing about "a revolution in family composition."
"Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life," the report says, and as a result, out-of-wedlock birth has become the norm for "America's large and already flailing middle class."
Forty-eight percent of first births in the United States are now to unmarried women, according to the report, which was sponsored by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the Relate Institute.
By age 25, "Knot Yet" states, 44 percent of women have given birth, while only 38 percent have married.
"I had a feeling I might be part of a trend," Emily Files says matter-of-factly. "It is strange, because I feel there still is a stigma about being a single mom. It's getting better, but I don't think society has quite come to terms with how to deal with us."
Files had her son, Silas, with a serious boyfriend, whom she'd intended to marry someday. But when she got pregnant at age 24, she had no interest in rushing to the altar. And she had no intentions of terminating her pregnancy.
"The only reasons in my mind to not have the baby were selfish reasons: It was going to be expensive, it was going to change how I lived," she says.
She figured she was old enough -- and responsible enough -- to put together a career and raise a child. She'd graduated summa cum laude from Ursinus College and had completed two semesters of graduate school, hoping to get her teaching certification. But she couldn't student-teach and support herself and a child.
And her undergraduate degree -- she double-majored in history and Spanish, and minored in art history -- wasn't terribly useful in this economy.
"I am certified to eat out of Dumpsters for the rest of my life," she says dryly.
She'd been working, off and on, for Isaac's Famous Grilled Sandwiches since she was a teenager, first as a dishwasher, then as a waitress, cook and assistant manager. She applied for the company's general manager training program and was accepted.
The program required "a lot of time away from home, and it was a lot of work," she says, but "you have to be willing to make sacrifices in the short term in the hopes that you get greater return in the future."
Her bet paid off: Four months ago, Files became an Isaac's general manager.
But her relationship with Silas' father didn't last.
"If the day I found out I was pregnant I would have found out I was going to be a single mom, I still would have kept (Silas)," Files says. "He makes everything worth it."
Her company has a "phenomenal benefits plan," she says, but day care costs take "a large chunk of my salary."
And the days can be very long.
"You definitely learn to compromise on some things," Files says. "Silas doesn't watch any TV -- that's something I feel very strongly about. ... (And) we read every night before he goes to bed. But some nights we have mac and cheese for dinner. ... You can try to be Supermom, but it doesn't always work out."
For one of Files' friends, who's also an unmarried, 20-something mom, the hardest part of being a single parent is having to be "everyone" for her 1-year-old son.
"I have to be his mom, his dad, the good cop, the bad cop, the stay-at-home mom who cooks and does the dishes, and the breadwinner, who has to work extra hard so he has a college fund," says Beky, a Lititz resident who asked that her last name be withheld. "It's very tiring, physically and mentally. It wears on you."
"When I was younger, I always kind of thought I'd get married," Beky says. "I still think someday I might get married. ... I think eventually I'll find somebody who's right for me and (my son), but right now, I'm just really not even looking."
As unmarried moms go, Beky is fortunate: A registered nurse who works in a hospital intensive care unit, she has enough seniority that she gets to choose the hours she wants to work. She works three 12-hour night shifts a week, and has a week off each month. Her parents care for her son when she works; her mother actually runs a day care business.
Having a bachelor's degree in nursing has afforded her a steady income.
"If I wanted to go back for a master's, I could do that whenever it works for me. I don't have to go back to get a good job. I already have a good job."
Says Beky: "I cannot imagine doing this without an education or a job."
It would certainly be better if young adults in difficult economic circumstances could focus on getting their lives together and then became parents, says Gail Rittenhouse, executive director of Milagro House, which provides education, housing and counseling for women and their children who are experiencing homelessness.
"It can be done the other way around, but it's harder," Rittenhouse says.
She says that the women who come to Milagro House work hard to build better lives for themselves and their children.
Gilda Pena is one such woman.
Pena, 23, graduated from a New York City high school for high-achieving students and started college in New York, becoming the first member of her family to do so.
"My plan was always to finish school, to have a family after I finished my graduate studies," Pena says.
But her first foray into college didn't go as well as she hoped, so she moved to Pennsylvania. She met a man whom she hoped to marry. When she discovered she was pregnant, at age 21, she saw her son as a "gift, a blessing."
Early in her pregnancy, she and her boyfriend broke up.
"I had a plan," Pena says. "It just didn't work out."
She lived with friends for a while, then sublet a room from another single mother until that woman's landlord halted the arrangement.
She made her way to Milagro House, and worried through her interview -- as her energetic toddler ran around the office -- that she wouldn't be accepted into the program.
"I feel so lucky, so blessed, to have found Milagro House," she says.
Now a sophomore studying psychology at Millersville University, she's determined to graduate.
"There are just so many more doors open to you if you have a college education," she says.
As a mother, Pena has to be serious about how she manages her time. She doesn't have the freedom to enjoy herself that other 20-somethings have.
But she never expected her 20s to be all about having fun anyway.
"I thought my 20s were going to be about progress and success. ... My 20s would be about building something, so that when I was in my 30s, I would have something to give to my family."
Having a child outside of marriage, she says, "didn't change what I wanted to do. It just changed the order in which I did it."