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The choice is all theirs

Two decades ago Rosanna Hertz helped pioneer research into the growing trend of two-income families. Now she's out with a new book on what she sees as another emerging trend: single women choosing to have children.

In "Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice," the Wellesley professor writes about women who have "lost in the lottery of love." They have decided not to put motherhood on hold until they find a partner.

The numbers are hard to quantify, but one telling statistic is the percentage of unmarried women over age 30 having babies. In 1970 the figure was 8 percent; last year it was 12 percent.

Hertz has a doctorate in sociology and completed a two-year postdoctoral degree in psychiatry. She has been at Wellesley College for 23 years, where she is chairwoman of the women's studies department. Her courses include a seminar called Family and Gender Policy that explores how society can help alternative families function by addressing such practical problems as the need for day care and time off from work. In the spring she will teach courses on women and work and the American family and social equality.

Hertz, who lives in Brookline with her husband and 15-year-old daughter, began researching single mothers in 1996. That was four years after the television character Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen , triggered a national debate by deciding to have a child on her own. Hertz was intrigued by the polar opposites among single mothers: impoverished teens on one end of the spectrum and affluent women over 30 on the other end.

"Women have an income today that allows them to spend their 20s in a different way than they did in the past," said Hertz. "Often they want to travel, build careers, have a good time, and no longer feel the desire to marry young, as earlier generations did."

It didn't help, Hertz said, that women felt they couldn't count on men to be full partners in child-rearing.

"Women's entry into the labor force has not included an equal entry of men into the home as far as sharing chores an equal time with day care," she said.

Hertz conducted in-depth interviews with 65 single mothers. Some had adopted children; others had been artificially inseminated (by known or unknown donors); and others had "chanced" it by having unprotected sex. Among them were physicians, social workers, teachers, secretaries, and financial analysts.

"My lead-in question for the book was, 'Tell me how you became a single mother,' " said Hertz. "I really thought people would start telling me about the day that they decided to become a single mother." Instead, they recounted the stories of their relationships.

Many of them shared similar experiences: They waited until their 30s before deciding to settle down, then endured numerous failed relationships.

Hertz found that her own problems with infertility helped her understand the emotional struggle of many of her subjects.

"I understood many of the procedures they went through. It took seven years" before she had her daughter, said Hertz, who had endometriosis. "I'd always assumed it would be easier to have a child than get a PhD, but it turned out to be the other way around."

To appreciate what it is like to select a sperm donor, Hertz and a research assistant conducted their own test search. They spent an afternoon poring over 50 donor profiles strewn across her living room floor.

Hertz said she hadn't realized just how arduous the decision was. "It also raised questions for me about what is genetic and what is not, like humor and talent," she said. "It was like shopping in a catalog for an item that does not contain a photograph."

Besides asking women about the process of becoming single mothers, Hertz asked them how they broke the news to family, friends, and colleagues.

One woman, a schoolteacher, consulted with her pastor. She expected him to say, "What, are you crazy?" Instead, he not only expressed his understanding, he also offered his church's emotional support.

Once she became pregnant and started "showing," she explained to her students and colleagues that she had become pregnant through a sperm donor, not wanting them to think her promiscuous. She said everyone was accepting.

THE HISTORY KEEPER: These are the sorts of things Gregor Trinkaus-Randall has had to worry about in the course of his career: a document detailing the first shipment of pepper from Sumatra to the United States in 1797; directions by sea from Indonesia to Japan, dating to 1799; a Salem family's Civil War correspondence; and a scrapbook kept by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

The Stow resident has served as an archivist at the Peabody Museum of Salem and as an assistant curator at the USS Constitution Museum Foundation in Boston. A member of the state Board of Library Commissioners since 1988, he is now a state preservationist. Among his current responsibilities is planning for sudden disasters like flood or fire as well as the gradual ones caused by light and humidity.

"High temperatures and high humidity tend to dramatically increase the deterioration rate of materials," said Trinkaus-Randall. Too little humidity causes brittleness; too much promotes mold. Paper is sensitive stuff.

The 60-year-old archivist said he was greeted with smirks and raised eyebrows when he began attending meetings of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Team and other such gatherings. But he said that officials used to matters of life and death came to appreciate that civic business would come to a halt if records ranging from businesses to births were lost.

Trinkaus-Randall has been elected a fellow of the Society of American Archivists, which honored him for coordinating efforts to salvage records and other cultural resources caught in the paths of last year's hurricanes.

"We had people in Mississippi and Louisiana on the ground -- from the American Association of State and Local History -- in an RV, to help small institutions," he said.

One of the first calls Trinkaus-Randall received concerned flooding at the New Orleans Notarial Archives, which housed birth and death certificates and property records dating back four centuries.

"What you do in many cases is freeze-dry materials to stop any further action like bleeding" and papers sticking together, Trinkaus-Randall said. "You can then do vacuum freeze drying, which will take the water from a solid state and sublimate it into a gaseous state and remove the water spot causing the block."

The same method was used in Boston in 1988 when the central library flooded.

"The water main broke and came up through the floor with such force that if twisted the stacks of shelving," said Trinkaus-Randall. "Three feet of water filled the basement of the McKim Building, which a that time had mostly government documents and science reference."

Trinkaus-Randall spent a week identifying material to be freeze-dried. He said the recovery effort is still going on.

Growing up in coastal Connecticut, Trinkaus-Randall became intrigued with historical fiction at the age of 11. He spent summers during high school working at the Yale library, where his mother was employed.

He earned a master's in history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, taught history in Vermont, and then at Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill.

As an archivist, Trinkaus-Randall finds himself sometimes working at cross purposes.

"On the one hand you're working to preserve the materials, on the other hand you're working to make them available," he said.

When asked about digitizing materials, Trinkaus-Randall said that really is not a preservation option, explaining that when paper is housed properly it will last hundreds of years, yet electronic technology is changing at such a rapid rate that in many cases there is both software and hardware obsolescence within five years.

Trinkaus-Randall also spends his off hours in the saving business, but there his concern is not objects but people. He has been a member of the National Ski Patrol for 40 years, and since 1981 has been a member of the Nashoba Valley Ski Patrol, for which he is the training adviser. He spends one night a week and every fifth weekend scanning the slopes for people in trouble.

His wife, Vickery, a biochemistry and ophthalmology professor at Boston University School of Medicine, has also served on the patrol.

AROUND THE TOWNS: The Real Estate Finance Association has honored Jerome L. Rappaport Jr. of Needham with the Robert S. Swain Jr. Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to the real estate industry. Rappaport is president of the New Boston Fund. . . . The Lung Cancer Alliance awarded Billy Starr of Wellesley the life time achievement award for leading the Pan-Mass Challenge, which he founded in 1980. . . . Spearheaded by Sheila Lane of Holliston, women from the Curves fitness center in Millis raised $10,000 for the American Cancer Society in Boston's Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk.

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