5 Movie Myths About Having a Baby on Your Own

by Erin Goddard
Nov 16, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. ET

With the exception of the occasional mature, cashmere turtleneck-wearing divorcée in a Nancy Meyers film, rom-coms don’t have much use for single mothers. They’d rather focus on the “first comes love,” not the “my egg supply is dwindling, Prince/ss Charming is taking their damn sweet time, and if I don’t have this baby now, I never will” alternative. (Single dads, on the other hand, are a big-screen goldmine. See: Sleepless in Seattle, The Holiday, Love Actually, Three Men and a Baby, etc.)

But not even Hollywood can ignore the reality that many women are more invested in motherhood than in meet-cutes, especially when this reality somehow permits filmmakers to bust out an absurd biological clock dream sequence or animated montage in which a leading lady drools over every baby she encounters. Really, oh, screenwriters?

The past three decades have given us a handful of female movie characters who embark on solo parenthood through various avenues with mixed results. Some plots move the needle forward, touching on important topics related to infertility, "superwoman syndrome" and gender roles. Others, however, perpetuate outdated notions — including the one that involves a dreamy dude swooping in at any moment.

Read on to see which films resonate and which ones repel.

1 /5: Myth: A baby could just fall into your lap

1/5 :Myth: A baby could just fall into your lap

Baby Boom (1987)

Corporate climber J.C. (Diane Keaton) hasn’t seen her cousin in about 30 years, but that hasn’t stopped him from conveniently throwing her the guardianship of his only child when he and his wife die in an accident in England. Even more improbably, J.C. isn’t vetted by any sort of social agency; she’s literally handed the baby by a British woman who is rushing to make her next flight. The entire transaction takes less time than it would to purchase a pet goldfish.

The reality is that adoption is a long, expensive, drawn-out process for anyone, particularly a single woman. Even though it’s highly inconvenient for J.C. to be thrust into the role of a mother — she’s got a high-powered job, the prototypical selfish yuppie boyfriend and expensive bed linen — the ‘80s trope (hi, Three Men and a Baby) that random babies are totally up for grabs doesn’t really ring true for most folks grappling with infertility and adoption red tape IRL.

Other gripes: If J.C. struggles to juggle motherhood and her career in New York City, how is it possible for her to single-handedly and effortlessly run a baby food company valued at $3 million the second she sets foot in Vermont? Is there a nanny we’re not seeing or does flannel just make everyone super-efficient? J.C. also has the advantage of being rich; not many working mothers can quit their jobs and buy a sprawling property in Vermont. And as much as we adore Sam Shepard, the arrival of a handsome doctor who loves to hold babies is, again, really convenient.

What it gets right: Raising a baby isn’t easy. The film highlights the strain of being a working mother, including the struggle to find good child care and support at the office. J.C. is punished and sidelined in favor of a younger male colleague (played by go-to ‘80s creep James Spader, obviously) when her boss realizes she’s committed herself to raising a child. Three decades on, that still, sadly, feels relatable.

2 /5: Myth: Only lesbians & ‘ugly girls’ use donors

2/5 :Myth: Only lesbians & ‘ugly girls’ use donors

Look Who’s Talking (1989)

New York City accountant Mollie (Kirstie Alley) isn’t planning to get pregnant, but her affair with sleazy married client Albert (George Segal) and a bitchin’ Beach Boys song get her there. She decides to keep the baby, but tells everyone she’s undergone artificial insemination. Her mother (Olympia Dukakis) is scandalized, insisting that she’s too pretty to rely on a “frozen pop.”

It’s easy to chalk this up to dated ‘80s attitudes, but the more recent Baby Mama, The Back Up Plan and The Switch also reference dangerous assumptions about the "type of women" who would resort to artificial insemination and IVF. It’s good to acknowledge the stigma, but LWT doesn’t actually combat the stereotype; the whole sperm-donor plot is just an easy cover-up for Mollie’s affair.

Other gripes: Mollie is a little too fixated on finding a dad for Mikey, dating a series of despicable men simply because they might make responsible fathers. Also, does her company have some sort of yearlong maternity leave plan, and if so, are they hiring?

What it gets right: Being a single mom can be messy and complicated and lonely. And props to waiting until Mikey’s a full-on toddler before Mollie inevitably succumbs to the dubious charms of babysitter James (John Travolta).

3 /5: Myth: Surrogacy is weird

3/5 :Myth: Surrogacy is weird

Baby Mama (2008)

Like most solo movie moms, 37-year-old Kate (Tina Fey) is career-minded but unlucky in love. She’s also infertile according to a fertility doctor who informs her of her T-shaped uterus. Multiple rounds of insemination and IVF are unsuccessful, and being single has hurt her chances of adoption. The obvious next step for wealthy Kate is to consider using a surrogate, but she balks, dismissing this option as something for “weirdos.” She eventually changes her mind, but the ensuing drama with deceitful (but funny!) “baby mama” Angie (Amy Poehler) doesn’t do much to paint surrogacy in a positive — or reality-based — light.

Other gripes: Kate rather miraculously has her own baby with sexy juice guy Rob (Greg Kinnear), because not even a T-shaped uterus can stop a conventional Hollywood ending.

What it gets right: At least it's refreshing to see IVF acknowledged as an option for single women who haven’t had success with insemination alone.

4 /5: Myth: The perfect partner will just turn up

4/5 :Myth: The perfect partner will just turn up

The Back-up Plan (2010)

Which is more ironic? Meeting the man of your dreams right after you’ve been artificially inseminated or being pregnant while dating a dude who makes wine and forbidden soft cheese for a living? Though it’s worth noting that successful, single and baby-mad Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) wouldn’t have crossed paths with Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) if she hadn’t been leaving that fertility clinic, this rom-com seems to suggest their romance would be far less awkward and complicated had she just, like, waited on the whole trying-to-have-a-baby thing. (Yes, it would be, but it’s also this kind of thinking that makes countless women put their plans on hold for the foreseeable future based on a what-if.)

What makes this even more infuriating is the fact that Stan is such a selfish, insufferable romantic lead that it’s shocking he’s not played by Gerard Butler. When he pouts about the inconvenience of Zoe’s pregnancy, she’s the one made to look unreasonable. Even her loved ones tell her she’s sabotaging the relationship and using her pregnancy as an excuse to keep him at bay. What they should be telling her is that Stan is an entitled man-baby who complains about being poor but owns his own estate and vineyard. If she wants to date, surely she could find someone who doesn’t act like the coolest thing about her — her strength and confidence in taking charge of her life — is a handicap or inconvenience.

Other gripes: The film milks every pregnancy cliché out there (who takes a pregnancy test seconds before their date arrives?), but never acknowledges the very real fear of (and rate of) miscarriage. Instead, Stan accuses her of lying for not telling him straight off the bat about her insemination. The scenes featuring the single-mothers support group Zoe joins also rely on tired stereotypes; the women are portrayed as ridiculous hippies who swear by extended breastfeeding and water births yet are militant and judgmental about dating.

What it gets right: Zoe’s reasons for having a child on her own — even though that doesn’t really play out — are very relatable. “It just hasn’t happened for me” is a line many can relate to. The film also shows her pursuing her fertility options, including asking a friend to be a donor before ultimately going with a sperm bank. One can’t help but wonder what a story about Zoe having the full, Stan-free single-mom experience would look like. (Probably better than this movie.)

5 /5: Myth: This is definitely how donor sperm works

5/5 :Myth: This is definitely how donor sperm works

The Switch (2010)

Based on a Jeffrey Eugenides story, this rom-com raises a lot of scientific questions. Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) wants to use sperm from a known donor (fine) and chooses Patrick Wilson’s married teacher Roland as the lucky guy. He’s doing it for the money even though a specimen from a sperm bank would only set Kassie back a few hundred bucks. How much could he possibly be making?

Kassie decides to do the deed during an insemination party, which glosses over the fact that optimum insemination is a very precise, time-sensitive process linked to a woman’s ovulation. Did she break out an ovulation kit the day before, furiously send out an e-vite and cross her fingers people would show up?

At the party, Roland leaves his sample unattended in the bathroom. It’s no wonder Kassie’s best friend, Wally (Jason Bateman), is able to spill the goods down the sink. But rather than tapping Roland on the shoulder and suggesting he serve up another sample, a drunk Wally fills the specimen cup himself. Lo and behold, he’s the father of Kassie’s baby.

Other gripes: What Wally does with the specimen feels like a gross violation. Drunk or no, he let his dearest friend insert his sperm without her consent. Kassie is mad about it for precisely one scene and then predictably agrees to marry him. Now they’re one big happy family, yay!

What it gets right: Kassie strikes a chord when she describes her anxieties about her age and her fertility. It also makes sense that her character would move back home to have a support system, though it’s left unsaid how she handles telling her cushy new job that she’s pregnant and needs a transfer.