Unwed motherhood, usually an accident, was a deliberate choice with the two women in this story. They decided to get pregnant despite the absence of a reliable partner, and regardless of financial and social disadvantages. They are driven mothers. They have chosen their own brand of liberation; by the code of the sexual revolution, they are counter-revolutionaries.
'I gripe a lot," says Florence Seldes in the first minute of a long lunch. "I have a lot of problems being a single woman and raising a child. Right now my son has a cold -- he seems to have a cold right through the winter -- and I am living with my mother and looking for a job. But it would be tragic if I didn't have a child."
Florence, 42, is sentimental and down-to-earth. She has always wanted to be a mother. Married in her early 20s, she tried to have a child; after her divorce, she continued to look for the right man.
She takes tense sips from a Bloody Mary. "The biggest regret of my life is that I had an abortion," she says. "My boyfriend insisted on it. We weren't married, he said, and he wasn't divorced."
Before the abortion, Florence thought that if the choice had to be made, she needed a man more than a child. After the abortion, she began to feel that she must have a child, regardless of the consequences.
Then came a sudden tragedy: Her brother Walter, her only sibling, drowned. Their father died when they were small children, and their stepfather was dying of cancer. "The thought of ending a family is tragic to me," she says. "I thought of having a baby before Walter died, but his drowning made it more urgent."
A trilingual secretary -- English, Spanish and Portuguese -- she was transferred to Brazil. It occurred to her to have a child there rather than in Washington, where she had lived for six years.
Florence quickly acquired a boyfriend. "He was handsome, intelligent and irresponsible, and our relationship was getting nowhere," she says, "but he said he'd be thrilled for me to have his child. When I found out I was pregnant I was very happy."
Florence named the baby Nicholas after her father, and chose as his Hebrew name David Eliezer, her brother's Hebrew name. She says she did not want the father's name on any document because she feared that the father would not allow his son to leave Brazil.
"He left me -- he disappeared -- when I was six months pregnant," she says. "But by the time Nicky was born, his father had gotten married. He saw Nicky once. He was very happy seeing his son, and I was ecstatic seeing him." But she hasn't seen him or heard of him since then.
Florence, who now lives in Baltimore, thinks that perhaps she should have stayed in Brazil longer. "Over here, everyone is for himself," she says. "Brazilians love children and anything that has to do with maternity."
She says that she was nevertheless happy to come back to her Washington apartment. "But something happened to me as a mother," she says."Things didn't fall into place the way they used to. I became shaky in my relationships. What used to be friendships changed gradually. Everybody was eager to welcome the baby. But I seemed to have disappointed my friends. I was no longer the interesting adventurer they had known me to be.
"My having a child doesn't discourage men. But my being a mother puts a barrier between men and myself. Sometimes I feel that Nicky's father put a curse on me, and that I will never stop loving him and never be able to love another man.
"Other single mothers I know date like crazy, but I am much more anchored in my motherhood. I remember feeling empty and aimless, but now that I am a mother, life is never meaningless to me. It's sometimes painful but never meaningless."
She is furious when someone asks if she regrets having had the child. "Is a married woman asked whether she regrets having had her child? Once a human being exists, does anyone have the right to ask whether that person should exist? Such arrogance!"
Florence says that "in the abstract" she would like to get married and would want to have another child.
"Being a single mother is not a TV sitcom," she says. "There is nothing glamorous about my life. But if that's the way it has to be for me to have a child, then that's the way it has to be."
Her advice to other women is that having a child is within their power. "If a woman is sure that a child is what she wants, she need not be at the mercy of a man's marriage proposal to grant her this wish," she says."If anyone is at anyone's mercy to have a child, the man is at the woman's mercy. Just because a woman is unfortunate enough not to find a good mate, she need not further punish herself by denying herself a child.
"My real regret is that my son and my brother don't know each other. My son has no male figures around him. He is 6, and he asks who his father is and what he is like. I tend to romanticize him."
Nicky uses a lot of adult words and prefers grown-up company. One day he told his mother that he imagines his father to look like Louie on the TV show "Taxi" -- a rolypoly little guy. "A male version of me," Florence says.
In her late 20s, divorced and lonely, Veronica Petrics longed to have a child. Her son from her unhappy first marriage lived with her, but was turning into a teen-ager; she worked long hours as a waitress.
"The desire to give birth again grew stronger as time passed," she says, "and regardless of the fact that I didn't meet any man I would have liked to marry. I wanted to fulfill my womanhood."
By the time she discovered she was pregnant, she had no interest in the boyfriend, whom she had been dating for only two weeks. "I was beginning to think that I wouldn't ever get pregnant again," she says."I was delighted with my good fortune."
Veronica called the man to inform him. He suggested an abortion. "I told him I was everjoyed and would raise the child myself," she says. "I am completely against abortion. The fetus has a soul."
Veronica had a difficult delivery. She asked the nurse to phone the father with the news: a healthy girl, christened Eva. After returning home, she called him, and he expressed his wish for a speedy recovery. "The child didn't reach his heart," Veronica says, with a bitter edge to her voice.
When Eva was one month old, Veronica sent him a picture of the baby. "He never replied," Veronica says, "and just as well. I no longer liked him. He was intelligent, well educated -- a clean, decent fellow with a good job. But he didn't have strong principles. But I wanted to give him a chance to see her. After all, I was grateful to him for having given me a child."
Welfare officials suggested that she ask him for child support. Veronica refused. "It would have been forcing him against his will," she explains."
She doesn't think he will ever want to see his daughter. "But if he ever does," she says, "I would never refuse to let him see Eva. Repentance is never too late."
Two years ago Veronica moved to the Los Angeles area where she works in a bakery and is active in the Church Universal and Triumphant, which focuses on reincarnation. She moved for two reasons: She wanted to be near the headquarters of her church and she wanted Eva to get "a spiritual education" instead of a public school with its "negative influences of drugs and open sex."
"I am contented," Veronica says, and there is a churchy ring to her voice.
She was born in Hungary, where she completed college, then escaped to Austria with her husband and their son in 1967 and came to Washington the same year. They divorced, and though Veronica was on the verge of marriage a few times, "it just didn't work out in the end," she says. "Maybe in a previous life I did not have a child, and I carried over the desire into this life." She believes that having Eva "purified" her.
In case she marries again, which is likely, she would want another child. "I pray for another child," she says. But, she says with an evangelical fervor, she would never have a child out of wedlock. She talks about "the sacredness of marriage preventing the channeling of energies toward evil." She goes to church every Saturday and Sunday, and lives what she calls "a pure life."
"It was a pure desire in my heart to have a child," she says. "But I would not do that again unless I am married. Looking back, I don't think I should have done it. No. But all I have to do not to feel guilty is to look at her."
Eva is a star student, an affectionate daughter.
"I have always had a fire burning in me," Veronica says. "I have a passionate nature and I have a desire to be creative. But since I am not a painter or a writer, love has been my way to express my nature. The most creative thing I can do is to be a woman, and my daughter is my most perfect creation."