Life Without Father
THE AUBURN-HAIRED ACTRESS SITS ON the patio of her Spanish-style, Hollywood Hills home, cuddling her plump, 5-month-old son and entertaining him with a symphony of silly sounds. "Ah goo, ah goo!" she says. "You've got the goofiest smile!" As the baby gives an appreciative burble, his mom sweeps him up and carries him into the kitchen to prepare dinner for two. After putting the baby to bed, she devotes the rest of the evening to reading scripts.
What's wrong with this picture?
Nothing, according to the contented mother, Susan Ruttan, who thinks it's nice—but not necessary—to have a man around the house when raising a child. "I wanted to have a reason to work as hard as I do in my life," says Ruttan, who is making the transition from L.A. Law, where she was a regular for seven seasons, to developing her own projects. "And that reason is Jackson."
Like many career women, Ruttan felt she was running out of time. "I realized that I had to have a baby in my life and I had to have one now," says Ruttan, 45, who separated from husband Randy MacDonald, a boom-microphone operator, a year ago. "If I didn't, I'd be 80 years old and saying, 'Where are my children? Where's my family?' "
Families in which mother and baby make two are burgeoning. According to a recently published U.S. census report, the number of unmarried women with one or more children has increased by 60 percent since 1982—and more than tripled among professional and managerial women. The U.S. does not keep separate figures for adoptions, but California, which does, has seen single-parent adoptions almost double as a percentage of all adoptions in the last nine years.
Nowhere is the trend more evident than in Hollywood, where Linda Ronstadt, Ann Wilson, Diane Wiest and Mia Farrow (who's done it seven times) have adopted solo. "For years women have suffered from the societal complex that says being single is unworthy," says noted Los Angeles adoption attorney David Radis. "Being single doesn't close the door to being a parent anymore."
Ruttan, for one, feels more worthy than ever. "Since I've had Jackson, I've become calmer, happier and more tolerant," she says. "Nowadays, I relate to the whole world like it's a baby: 'There, there, everything will be fine.' "
Not long ago, her life was anything but fine. Her two-year marriage to MacDonald had collapsed, and her role as secretary Roxanne Mel man on L.A. Law was downgraded from weekly to occasional. "I began to feel a hollowness that wasn't filled by a wonderful man, a great house or a great job," Ruttan says. "I hit the wall. I never pictured myself at this advanced age without children."
While Ruttan and MacDonald had discussed the possibility of adopting, they never got beyond the talking stage. When it became clear that things with MacDonald weren't working out, Ruttan decided to become a parent on her own. Last February she contacted an attorney and began open adoption proceedings.
A month later, Ruttan learned of a 27-year-old woman living in the eastern part of the U.S. who was seven months pregnant and was looking for a home for her child. Ruttan flew the woman to Los Angeles, where she met first with the actress's lawyer and then with Ruttan. The two women readily agreed that Ruttan would adopt the baby. Ruttan arranged for the expectant mother to stay in an apartment in Los Angeles for the remainder of her pregnancy and for six weeks following Jackson's birth. The rent as well as all medical and legal expenses were paid by Ruttan. Ruttan will not disclose her costs but indicates they were around the norm ($ 14,000) for this kind of adoption.
Ruttan was at home on May 19 when she got the call. She rushed to the hospital, coached the birth mother through the five-hour labor, cut the newborn's umbilical cord—and then got a huge surprise. Ultrasound had predicted a girl. "Someone said, 'It's a boy,' and my eyes traveled down his body to this thing between his legs. I shouted, 'It's inside out,' "Ruttan recalls, laughing. "Camilla became Jackson."
Jackson, born at 7 lbs. 3 ozs. and 19¾", went home with Ruttan the next day but will not legally become her son until adoption papers make their way through a backed-up court system. "Alter holding that baby in my arms," Ruttan says, "I don't think I could have given him back."
These days, Ruttan, who recently shot an NBC Movie of the Week (Jack Reed, Badge of Honor, a mystery with Brian Dennehy that aired Nov. 12), is experiencing the anguish of a new working mother. "It is really hard to leave Jackson during the day," she says. "The first day I went to work, I cried most of the morning between shots."
Ruttan seems intent on making sure her son enjoys the stable parenting she herself lacked. When she was 2, her father, a logger who found work from town to town throughout the state of Oregon, and her mother, a nurse, divorced, and she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother, also in Oregon. After graduating from high school in 1966, Susan rejoined her mother in Santa Rosa, Calif. There she met Mel Ruttan, a Green Beret. Three years after they were married, Mel was killed in a motorcycle accident, and Susan was once again cast adrift.
L.A. Law, which she joined in 1986, gave her the anchor she lacked. Even though she had voiced a desire to ease up on her L.A. Law role a year ago, her feelings were bruised when she was bumped as a cast regular at the end of last season. Still, Ruttan feels grateful to the show for providing her the steady income that allowed her to consider the costly process of adoption. "L.A. Law gave me Jackson," she says simply.
Ruttan has been forgiving in other areas of her life as well. Now that she has her own child, she has become closer to her own mother. "It is only since we have become older that we recognize ourselves in each other and marvel," says Ruttan. "But yes, the baby has created a whole new level of closeness."
Her conciliatory frame of mind may even extend to her marriage, although, she says, she and MacDonald have a lot of issues to work out. Whether or not they get back together, Ruttan is already considering expanding her new family by adopting another child—this time a toddler. "There are so many toddlers out there needing homes," she says. Until that happens, she relishes the time she has with Jackson alone.
"Every night I tell him the story of how he came to me," she says, hugging him tight. "I tell him his birth mother cared a great deal about him and was very, very careful about who she let be his mother.' "
MARY H.J. FARRELL
VICKI SHEFF-CAHAN in Los Angeles