Tuesday, November 28, 2006


A relative of mine recently became engaged to be married, which means that I'll have to start calling her boyfriend her fiance instead of, well, her boyfriend.

There was a time, maybe 10 to 20 years ago, when it was common for single moms to refer to the father of their baby as "my fiance." It happened so often that we used to laugh about it, knowing that many of these "fiances" would never walk down the aisle together. I think that single moms called them that as a way of lessening the perceived stigma of single parenthood. It wasn't so bad to be unmarried and pregnant if you were planning on marrying the father.

Lately, though, it strikes me that I don't hear moms use the fiance word much anymore. The fathers of the babies are referred to as simply the "father of my baby", or sometimes as "my boyfriend". Once in awhile a father is referred to as "my husband", but with more than 90% of our babies born to single moms, that doesn't happen much. I wonder if the less frequent use of the fiance term indicates a differing perception of single parenthood. Certainly nationwide the percentage of babies born out of wedlock - that seems like such a quaint term, doesn't it - is increasing. Is it no longer as great a stigma as it used to be? Or am I reading too much into not hearing the fiance word?

I remember a social worker telling me that when she heard a single mother refer to the father of her baby as her fiance, she would always ask, "Oh, when is the wedding date?" knowing there would likely be none. Too cruel, too cruel.


Blogger Flea said...

What's a "wedding"?

9:13 PM  
Blogger ali said...

90 percent?! I suppose that makes sense when I stop to think about it, but still a staggering statistic. I often joke that I know what single motherhood is like because my husband is away on business much of the time. But even with all my solo parenting experience I can't imagine doing the whole thing without him. And I have a vast support network and marketable skills on which to rely should I ever find myself without him, which I'm guessing most of your single patients do not.
Do you ever feel that your Herculean efforts to save these lives are futile when you contemplate the futures they are destined for?
I don't mean to imply that all single mothers are doomed to failure and I certainly don't believe that. But I am assuming many of your patients' mothers are not just single, but barely grown themselves.

9:22 PM  
Blogger SmartBlkWoman said...

bnHave you read "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage" by Edin and Kefalas yet? It's a really good book about poor women and the reasons why motherhood is valued over marriage.

I think you would find it very interesting considering your experience with these women and their partners.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Ninotchka said...

People joke a lot about the terms "babydaddy" and "babymama", but they have appeared because there was a real need to describe a something that could not be described any other way.

Frankly, I'd rather hear "babydaddy" than "fiancee". The word "fiancee" (in this context) was an uncomfortable lie born of social stigma, whereas "babydaddy" simply accurately describes a relationship.

1:09 AM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...

ND - What's your policy on name changes at your institution? At our hosp, this is always a big deal... The baby is admitted to the NICU under the mother's last name. If she's taken a married name, then the baby has that name, but if she is unmarried or has kept her own name in the union, the baby is given her name automatically. So then, lots of parents want to change the baby's last name, despite marriage. So after the birth certificate is processed, the name can be changed through medical records or whoever it is that changes the name. This leads to a great deal of confusion as it takes everyone quite awhile to realize that baby doe was baby jones and the papers still say jones but the computer says doe and the chart spine says "Doe AKA Jones".

In short, I wish it couldn't be changed until after d/c from the NICU. I understand the point, but I feel that it happens so frequently that it is dangerous. Some names are so common - the other day I went in and got report on a baby and then found out I didn't have that baby - all because of name changes and common names.

Take care,
Carrie :)

10:51 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

it is a (imho) an unfortunate trend.
when our family moved from the bay area to the central valley here in cali i noticed an acceptance of folks of very young single parents. in my 1st born's high school it was amazing the number of her classmates who were well on their way to becoming moms, some of them ended up with their babies under my care. now she is attending a local community college and reports that she is actually a minority being 20 (next month) and not a mom of at the very least, one child.
to me it is sad as many of her friends who are now moms to 1 or 2 kids are raising the kids without the daddy in the picture at all...actually the grnama is raising the kids.
thank goodness i took all the glamour out of motherhood for her adding to the family when she was a freshman in high school. she reports she is quite content to wait a few years and enjoy her young life.
congratulations to your family.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Pine Baroness said...

It's the men, not the women. There used to be an expectation that a man would marry a woman who bore his child, hence the term fiance. Sometimes the marriage would occur before the birth and sometimes after. Social pressure and principles of honor pushed men to marry. Today men do not feel honor-bound to marry a woman who has his child. I have no idea why, but there are hordes of men out there who are not married and will not. The women dropping the term fiance is simply a reflection of their realization that the father of their baby is not going to marry them.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Stacey said...

My husband was ultimately abandoned by his father after his mother offered him the get out of child support card in exchange him signing his rights way. I can only imagine how hard it is growing up knowing that one or both of your biological parents want nothing to do with you. It has certainly payed it’s toll on him, as well as the fact that his mother even made this an option for his father. Society is going to hell.

It’s like The Judds’ song. “Did lovers really fall in love to stay? Stand beside each other come what may? Was a promise really something people kept, Not just something they would say? Did families really bow their heads to pray? Did daddies really never go away? Whoa oh Grandpa,
Tell me 'bout the good ole days.”

But perhaps it could be a good thing. Perhaps women are becoming stronger and more independent. Perhaps a mother is deciding to have these children instead of aborting them. In my opinion that’s a good thing. Isn’t it better to be alive without a father than aborted?

I really love your blog.

2:35 PM  
Blogger WendyLou said...

Your social worker sounds like the one at my hospital. How cruel of her to do that to moms of sick babies. Part of the social work Code of Ethics is "Start where the client is" and "unconditional positive regard." She is no where near either of those social work values.

I live in a suburban area where marriage rates are higher than the rest of the nation, and we get married younger here too.

When Sydney was discharged, she was the only baby of the 4 in the NICU born to married parents. Seems our NICU just defaulted to one parent, as after your rooming in, you were only given ONE breakfast tray.

On the name thing, I hated that even though we knew DD's name before she was born and admitted, we could not get them to let her be anything but Baby Girl lastname, because of the rules.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

Is there really any great harm in this trend? I have no good opinion of "shotgun weddings" myself, having seen several friends and relatives ruin their lives and their children's lives by marrying someone just because they had a baby in common. It's better to have a stable single parent household than a hate filled, abusive, unstable two parent household. Those marriages never last anyway.

Nor are all the "single mothers" really all that "single." I'm unmarried, but raising my daughter with my partner of over 10 years. From what I've read, this situation isn't all that uncommon. The statistic I read (though, admittedly, in Newsweek), was that about 40% of kids born to "single mothers" are actually born to cohabiting partners. Marriage is a strange institution and not all of us want to participate.

Incidently, Carrie, the kid has his last name. This was something of an argument as we both have unusual last names and both wanted them carried on into the next generation. His is the rarer, so he won. I initially wanted to hyphenate, but my partner eventually convinced me that the last name Strange-Bizarre would just cause the kid too many bureaucratic problems later in life to be worth it.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

stacey: The answer to the questions in the Judd's song is NO. It's a myth. Marriages didn't ever always work out, people always fell out of love from time to time. The difference is that now people can get out instead of being trapped in a loveless, possibly abusive relationship. And even that isn't precisely true: there were always divorces and separations, formal or informal. We're really no different from our ancestors, no better, no worse.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're tired of single mothers, you could move to Manhattan. Most of the babies in our Upper East Side NCCU are born to wealthy, married 40+ year old women. The preemie rate spikes on both ends of the socioeconomic scale.


4:42 PM  
Blogger Dream Mom said...

Oh, how I long for the days when people got married first and then had children. Hollywood is leading the way with this trend, baby first, then marriage.

I remember being in the PICU with Dear Son and a woman had twins in the NICU, with her "fiance" of course. After chatting a bit, it didn't sound like they were going to really get married (they had broken up a few times before). Taking care of those twins that arrived early and with most likely special needs is going to be a two person job. Of course, at Big Academic Medical Center, the numbers are probably pretty close to the numbers you quoted at your facility.

I don't begin to understand this trend of single motherhood. What happened to the good old days when men romanced women, they fell in love, got married, bought a house and THEN had children? It probably fell to the wayside the same way church weddings did, only now we have "destination" weddings-where's the faith part?

I feel sorry for children today-they need a mother and a father, not just one or the other or when it's convenient.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

dream mom: Forgive me, please, for asking a personal question, but aren't you divorced? How can you see marriage as a guarentee of stability and having two parents in the child's life given your experience?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Dream Mom said...

Dianne-Yes, I am divorced however I was married for fourteen years. We didn't have children the first five years to prepare for our children. While we are divorced (the statistic I hear is that 90% of all parents of special needs children get divorced), I am pro marriage and my ex husband and I work together on a daily basis to take care of our son together. We have a real partnership when it comes to caring for him and put Dear Son's needs first. We have both put our lives on hold so that we can give Dear Son the care that he needs.

Because I am divorced, does not mean I don't believe or prefer that people should be married. Also, Dear Son was planned and I think being married as long as we were is a little different than having a child out of wedlock with no intentions to marry.

6:38 PM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

Thanks, everyone, very interesting comments. Pine baroness is absolutely correct when she notes that fathers have to take just as much responsiblity as the mothers, but in our society they simply don't.

I agree with Dianne that the good old days weren't always so good, and also that shotgun weddings aren't so great. But creating a child has to be taken seriously, and I pretty much agree with Dream mom's sentiments.

Carrie, our babies keep their mom's last name (unless the parents are married, of course) until they are discharged. But keeping track of them after that is tough, because at least half of them change their last name.

8:41 PM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...

I think we should require that they keep mom's last name until discharge. I honestly believe it to be a matter of patient safety! I understand that you find it difficult to keep track afterwards since half of them change their name, but take what happened to me today for instance. I was assigned 4 babies - I added them to my hotlist on the computer at the start of my day. By about halfway through the day, I went onto the computer to sign out meds on a baby and she suddenly had a first and different last name. I was thinking, "Uhhh...is this the right baby? Did I have the wrong baby all along?" I gave report off to a nurse tonight who asked me for the baby by the original last name. I was trying to explain the baby's new name while all the charts only have the original last name at present. (They will be updated and alerts with both names will be added - but it still can be confusing!)

Is this not a recipe for disaster? I would have to say that close to 70% of our babies have their name changed at some point during the hospital stay.

Carrie :)

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

Dream mom: Thank you for your courteous answer. 90% of parents of children with special needs get divorce? That statistic is more appaling than the "never married" one. If one plans to have a child out of wedlock then one can set up support systems and be ready for the child's needs. Divorce is never planned though and I doubt that every couple handles it as well as you and your ex have--leaving lots of opportunities for an already needy child to not get what he or she needs to do as well as possible. Do you have any opinions on why so many parents of special needs children divorce? Would, for example, more help with the children (ie visiting nurse help, respite care, subsidized housecleaning, etc) help in making the care of these children less overwhelming and therefore less likely to cause a breakup?

11:15 AM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...


A lot of it starts right in the NICU even, if that's where the baby has to spend time. It is an extremely stressful thing to have a child with special needs. A lot of times, 2 people just have extremely differing views about it. One may feel that this is simply not what they had in mind for their life. Another may feel that they simply cannot take care of a special needs child. And then there are financial considerations, expenses, time, etc. I don't know if the statistic is 90%, but I, too, have heard a lot about parents of special needs children splitting up. Even with help (or even when the baby is still in the NICU), it is an incredibly stressful, trying situation - and it tests people in ways that are beyond belief...

Just my .02, from the perspective of a NICU nurse!

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As a mother of an ex 28 weeker who has CP, I can give you a little bit of insight into why couples with a child with special needs divorce. My husband and I are not divorced but did seperate for six months not long after our daughter came home. For us it was much more deeper issues than houusecleaning and respite. To be honest I don't think any of that would of even impacted on the overwhelming feelings we had relating to the losses that we as a family unit had incured. You lose the dream of the pregnancy and normal birth. You both have to sit and watch your baby suffer. As a mother you have to wear the guilt of failing your baby and them having to suffer to terribly as a consequence. It doesn't matter how supportive and loving your partner is you feel (irrationaly) that they may also blame you.

Of course to go with this and for us with long term impairment there was much grief. With grief you get anger. You can't be angry with your baby, your other children, the hospital staff, so that leaves your spouse. My husband was going through all I went through too. Maybe I was weak but I couldn't carry all his hurt and pain too. I had to be strong for everyone else who was relying on me. It was wrong of me but I looked at him as a adult and he could look after himself through this. We were in survival mode. We never stopped loving each other just stopped carring about each other like we should of. This all eats away at a relationship. What would of helped us was someone outside of family and friends to debrief to.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

You can't be angry with your baby, your other children, the hospital staff, so that leaves your spouse.

I've felt this at stressful moments even with a basically healthy child. Sometimes when my daughter was 18-24 months she would cry and want me all night. I knew it made more sense for my partner to sleep if he could, that there was nothing he could do, etc., but I still felt the impulse to yell at him for sleeping when I had to be awake. I suppose it was a mental defense mechanism to keep me from getting angry with the baby. It's a natural human impulse I'm afraid and so many times worse when the baby is sick.

I can't imagine that anything could make it easy to raise a disabled child, but could anything be done to help even a little? Would having a therapist to vent to be of any benefit, for example? Not just in terms of keeping the parents together, but in terms of easing the situation both the parents and the child in general.

2:42 PM  

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