Random house, 1997.  University of California Press, 1999

Random house, 1997.  University of California Press, 1999

On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America

In writing "On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America," Melissa dove into the nation's vociferous "family values" debates about unmarried motherhood. The 1990s were a time of staggering changes in the formation and composition of American families, and political leaders were targeting the rapid rise in unmarried women giving birth and raising children as detrimental to American progress. Hers the first in-depth book delving into this emotionally charged issue. In merging personal accounts she gathered from unwed moms with scholarly research about such families, she brought commonsense analysis to this inflammatory topic. Critics praised her for doing so.

Recognizing that unwed mothers come from widely different age groups and backgrounds, Melissa focused on the two extremes of maternal age among unwed mothers: teenagers and women over the age of 35. In their contrasting circumstances, Melissa found surprising areas of common ground among women who, regardless of age or income, chose to bypass marriage and raise children on their own in spite of what could be society's harsh judgment about their decision.

She is at her writerly best describing the agonizing decision to become a single parent, the emotional discussions with her parents and the sadness she felt imagining a fatherless child. She is at her journalistic best sifting through the research on single motherhood.”
— Tamar Lewin, The New York Times Sunday book review.

Writing in "On Our Own's" prologue, Melissa described how as she entered her 40s she was considering unmarried motherhood as her path toward creating a family. Thus, exploring this topic was rooted not only in her professional life as a journalist covering children and family issues for Time magazine, but also as a single woman who felt she had a lot to offer a child, wanted to raise one and did not see prospects for marriage at that time in her life. In her book, she writes about her own anxieties and fears about going it alone with motherhood along with the stories of other single women she interviews.

 "Unmarried mothers are people about whom much is said and concluded, but from whom very little is heard," Melissa wrote. "Too often, amid the din of public ridicule and rage, these women's voices are lost, pushed so deep into the background of discussions as to fade away. ... In thinking about this new way of creating a family I sought out other women to talk with whose life circumstances had brought them to similar junctures of contemplation and action. Why were they and I willing to set out along this path to unmarried motherhood, a path that generations of women before us rarely headed down? And where was this path leading us and the children we might have?" 

A gripping, deeply researched, and beautifully written book. “when historians look back at this era of the American family, this masterful work will be the one they turn to first to understand what happened and why.”
— Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and presidential historian
Melissa brings the voices of women having children on their own into a public debate from which these voices have been conspicuously absent. Interweaving their voices with her own savvy and intuitive commentary, she has written a vitally important book.”
— Carol Gilligan, author of "In a Different Voice."