According to the Pew Research Center, the number of American women without children has risen to an all-time high of 1 in 5, a jump since the 1970s when 1 in 10 women ended their childbearing years without having a baby. But many women without kids still have what we think of as a "maternal instinct"—an innate desire to love, care for and nurture someone or something.
There's a new kind of parenthood that many women in their late 30's and early 40's are gravitating to—one that doesn't involve tucking a little one in bed at night, or nursing him through a cold—but that is fulfilling nonetheless. We have found a way to be mothers without actually being parents.
My choice to try and parent a group of girls who weren't my own was a very conscious decision. The beginning of my relationship with a group of seven smart and precocious fourth- and fifth- graders began one afternoon when I was sitting on the toilet. I had just seen the results of yet another negative pregnancy test. It had been nearly two years of trying and this last round of IUI (intra uterine insemination) had failed, just like all the rest. I picked up the test and gave it a good shake. I knew it wasn't a Magic 8 Ball—I couldn't just expect a different result to appear. But I would have taken a Try Again or even a Too Soon to Tell over the harshness of a simple, non-negotiable no. The tears were welling up in my eyes and I was gearing up for a good cry of the Sally Fields in Steel Magnolias caliber when the phone rang. It was Anita from the Girl Scouts' New York City headquarters asking when I could come in for a training session.
I had filled out an online volunteer form a few weeks prior, after a soul-searching talk with myself during which I tried to determine why I so desperately wanted to be a mother. I was always into Girl Power, but more in a Spice Girls-listening type of way than in an actually-doing-something way. I thought, maybe if I couldn't have a baby of my own, I could have several daughters. I could teach them how to pitch a tent, make complicated knots or start a fire with two sticks. Okay, so I didn't actually know how to do any of those things, but still, maybe I had something to offer.