Giving Up The Ghost

Ghost Child photograph by Shirley Sirois

When I thought the book I’d write would be a memoir, I read Giving Up The Ghost by Hilary Mantel. I am reminded of that with her recent passing. It is the only book by her, and maybe not the best known, that I have read by that author. She was only a couple of years older than I am now.

The relevancy of acknowledging her passing now is that Mantel suffered from endometriosis, which went long undiagnosed and instead, her infertility was assumed to be caused by her suffering a bad case of female overambition. Infertility often leads to adoption. Mantel did not adopt but she did remain childless and channeled her creativity into 17 books including the one I read as well as Every Day Is Mother’s Day, Vacant Possession and Beyond Black. Her ghost was from an encounter in her youth as described in that book which I read.

In a 2003 New York Times review of the Mantel book I read – LINK> Unsuited to Everything By Inga Clendinnen – it is noted – One ordinary morning when she was seven, she encountered a terrifying something ”as high as a child of 2” manifesting in the rough grass beyond the new house. ”Within the space of a thought” it was inside her, ”a body inside my body,” and ”grace . . . runs out of my body like liquid from a corpse.” Mantel acknowledges that after this event, she was always more or less ”ashamed and afraid.”

The ghosts of the never born, those babies lost in miscarriage, or those that die in infancy often haunt women who have those experiences. It can even become an inherited trauma as in the story LINK> Mothering Ghost Babies by Kao Kalia Yang. Her grandmother lost a daughter at 7 months of age to a sudden unexplained death. Her own mother was silent in the wake of all the ghost babies she delivered into the world. Her mother had six miscarriages, all little boys, all formed enough so the adults could see that they were baby boys, but born far too small, and sometimes too blue, and other times too wet with blood to survive.

Similarly, Yang’s baby died inside of her at nineteen weeks. My own daughter lost her first conceived baby that way. Like my daughter, she had to deliver a dead baby into the world. She notes that she thought back to her grandmother’s story, and that she was her mother’s love of the babies whose share of love she had taken fully and gratefully. She says, My baby was more light than substance. He was silent, but he sang a song full of sorrow.

Sometimes, a woman must give up the “ghost” of the child she will never have. I do not believe adoption is the way to attempt to replace the child a woman would have had. It often fails the “replacement” child because they are not the child the woman really wanted. And the adoptee fails the adoptive mother’s expectations of what her child should be. Women like Hilary Mantel who simply accept remaining childless (even if it is not what they wanted) should be appreciated compassionately.

Passing On One’s Genes

I distinctly remember when my husband first told me he wanted children. I came by today’s blog in a round-about way looking at infertility and narcissism (and see one of my own blogs showing up in a google search, oh my). Yet then I found this – I believe there is no good reason – other than vanity and narcissism – that an infertile couple should opt for IVF over adoption. Please CMV. (Change my view) by LINK> Javier Mosquera at Penn State.

This got my attention as both the choice to pursue IVF and issues of adoption matter to me. We briefly considered adoption and quickly ruled it out. Over 20 years ago, I didn’t know everything about adoption that I know today. I am very glad we didn’t go that route. But for the grace . . .

So Javier writes, “Today’s topic for my Passion Blog post comes from the subreddit LINK>‘changemyview.’ The complete prompt can be found there” at the link. Javier notes that “I will be following the subreddit’s Submission Rules for comments, to keep order and structure to my posts.”

[1] We live in a world where there are orphans in need of adoption to loving homes, and where loving couples cannot naturally conceive.

While this is true, it makes the assumption that the couples unable to conceive would provide the same love and support that parents of a functional home (whose first choice was adoption) could provide. Why risk letting a couple who obviously wanted their own offspring in the first place (and pursued adoption only after being unable to conceive) adopt a child who already may feel unwanted, only to continue the cycle? Such a child may grow up to harbor serious emotional problems, and live an unhappy life. Adoption should be left for those who genuinely want it, rather than for those who feel discouraged due to infertility.

[2] IVF is insanely expensive. And why force nature’s hand when there are simpler alternatives? And from what I understand, it’s not a 100% guarantee it would even work on top of that.

[3] Studies have shown that couples love their adopted child the same as their own “flesh-and-blood” child. Adoption even exists in the animal kingdom among some species. So I don’t buy the “but some people want to have ‘their own flesh and blood child’” argument, because all I hear from that is that you’re incredibly vain.

Here I will challenge two of your points, and while l concede with you, you must remember that it is our biological desire to put our DNA back into the gene pool. This is a product of evolution, with the purpose of keeping the human population alive. People want their own offspring, and furthermore, by doing so it is the best guarantee of leaving a contribution to mankind. Releasing one’s genes back into the playing field directly affects future generations. Indirectly, you may have gifted the world with the next Thomas Jefferson or Socrates. Your argument regarding expense would be valid for low-income families, but if one has the money, I don’t see any problem with someone attempting to pursue fostering children that has their own genetic code.

My young sons, maybe about the same age as Javier, are fans of Reddit (I don’t go there). My oldest who is now 21 claims he is never going to have children. I’m certainly not going to argue that with him. Though recently we did point out that my husband was 35 before he decided that he did want to have children after all. This is because my son is encouraging us to get rid of all this “kid stuff” that we have been saving for the day when our sons have children of their own. This son has always known from a very young age, his own mind, and has not been wrong any time he as asserted anything so important. I have to take him at his word.

All In One

Mom via adoption, IVF and surrogacy

Infertility is a difficult path for any woman. For many of us the expectation is that we will have children at some point in our life. The Atluri family now has 7 children but it took every trick in the assisted reproduction toolkit to get them to this outcome. Josephine is one of the 1 in 8 women requiring fertility assistance, and also one of the 1 in 4 women who have experienced a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

My blog today comes thanks to an article in LINK> The Huffington Post by Josephine Atluri. The family also had decisions to make regarding their frozen embryos, a situation in light of the uncertainties brought about by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade and the rush to close and lock doors in many Republican controlled states. Not that this was a factor in the Atluri family’s calculations but it has become a factor for many couples who have used IVF now.

The first child added to this family came by way of adoption. During the 3 years they attempted to create their family with assisted reproduction through IVF, she experienced chemical pregnancies, miscarriages and flat-out failed cycles. After losing a twin pregnancy at 17 weeks, she realized that she could no longer handle the physical, mental and emotional toll of another IVF cycle. Thus, half a year after the loss of their twins, they pivoted in their approach to parenthood and pursued an international adoption. They adopted a 10-month-old boy who became the physical manifestation of their hopes to have a family.

After a year of joyful parenthood, their sense of optimism had renewed enough to try one more IVF cycle at a new fertility center in Denver. Thankfully, they succeeded, becoming pregnant with twins again and this time the pregnancy went to term. They became the parents of healthy boy and girl twins.

The happy ending did not erase the pain experienced from infertility, miscarriage or pregnancy loss for Josephine. This eventually manifested in a fight to control her body as untreated mental health issues snowballed into bulimia. During the healing process, she discovered that she felt the need to “control” her body through her eating disorder partly because it was uncooperative reproductively. 

Every year after the birth of their twins, they received a letter from the storage facility that safeguarded the many embryos from their last IVF procedure. For four years they decided to keep them frozen. On the fifth year, her husband said, “I think it’s time we give these embryos a chance.” After a drawn-out moment, she expressed another truth she had confronted during her healing journey. “I can’t. I just can’t do it again. I’m so sorry.”

It was at this point they decided to pursue surrogacy. She says, “At every step of the process, an unthinkable level of trust, vulnerability, collaboration and communication was required.” Without complications, their surrogate gave birth to their twin boys. Even so, they continued to receive annual reminders regarding their remaining frozen embryos, They tried surrogacy again and two decades after their first IVF cycle, they are now the proud parents of seven children: a 15-year-old son, 13-year-old boy/girl twins, 6-year-old twin boys and 1-year-old twin girls.

She thinks of herself as a warrior in a 17 year long war against infertility. Thanks to the support of online community, she was able to find strength in her story and voice. She speaks up about women’s physical and mental health issues in an effort to destigmatize and normalize these important conversations. She has become a fertility, pregnancy and parenting mindfulness coach.

So Many Siblings

There is a difference between sperm and egg donations which are utilized in assisted reproduction to enable a couple to become parents. A man donating sperm can father a lot of genetically related children – which is now becoming apparent to many of the maturing individuals who owe their lives to that process. It is a lot more complicated and involved for the woman who donates her eggs. Generally, she is never going to be involved in the number of offspring that a man donating sperms can theoretically create.

Donor conceived persons do have some concerns in common with adoptees as it relates to their medical family history and cultural genetics and the unknowns that such conceptions entail. Therefore, my blog today is inspired by a story in The Guardian about Chrysta Bilton. Her father was a prolific sperm donor. In her 20s, she discovered that she had dozens, and most likely hundreds, of biological siblings growing up all over the US. That the man she knew only as her dad, the one who struggled with homelessness and drug addiction, was secretly one of the most prolific sperm donors at the California Cryobank.

Chrysta’s story is complex, worth the time to read it, if it interests you. I was a young adult in the 80s and settled down into the married life that is mine late in that decade but I have some sense of what it was like. My life does not resemble Chrysta’s in the least really but there were the unconventional choices that I made as well – to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother (I was already divorced from her dad) while I tried out driving an 18-wheel truck, which I found I could do. That led to taking off to live without much of a safety net in the marijuana growing region of Humboldt county. We had some bags of dried beans and the guys (I was the only woman and did the cooking and cleaning up afterwards) shot critters for us to eat. We also got some Salmon from the local indigenous people. Those were my wild days.

I do have some understanding of the issues related to donor conception. With the advent of inexpensive DHA testing, something that seemed like it could be kept private within the closest family, is not something that can or should be kept private today. I’m grateful my husband and I have always been open, honest and transparent about our own choices regarding how we became the parents of our two sons.

Chrysta ends her story with this contemplation – What is family? What does it mean to be in someone’s family? What responsibilities do you have to those people? Meeting her 35 new siblings, she realized “something shared between all of us is that we all had a mother who desperately wanted us to exist.” That is a truth, children born by assisted reproduction are not accidents. They were intended. I believe that is an important factor.

In Britain today, donor children born since 2005 have the right to find out the identity of their biological parents when they reach 18. This “removal of anonymity” law came about after studies found that adopted and donor-conceived children benefited emotionally from knowing who their biological parents were, regardless of whether or not they had any contact with them.

As of late 2021, in the US, it is still technically possible to have anonymous donations. There is a Right to Know movement that is seeking to unseal closed adoption records but that has only been accomplished in about half of these 50 United States jurisdictions.

Chrysta’s book about her experiences is titled – A Normal Family. Her book is available in the US at all the usual booksellers.

A Strong Urge to Parent and Infertility

Like I believe all Coen Brothers films, this one is quirky. Holly Hunter is excellent as a fierce mom. Her infertility coincides with the birth of quintuplets to a local business owner. Like many infertile women, the fact that some people have many children (including her husband Hi’s supervisor at work) while some are denied the joys of parenthood seems very unfair. She concludes that the Arizona (their last name and the state where this takes place) family has more children than they can handle (due to fertility drugs) and she hatches a plan to take one of the quintuplets as the child they want in their life.

Not only is Hunter’s character, Ed, infertile but they cannot adopt due to Hi’s criminal record. And actually, that is a bright spot as far as anyone who would like to see less adoptions is concerned. The kidnapping scene is hilarious as the babies go every which way and Hi tries to corral them, sometimes carrying one under each arm. Quite a few of the characters are exaggerated and not meant to be taken seriously – from Hi, to 2 escaped former convicts who force their way into the couple’s lives to the crazed bounty hunter like something from a Mad Max or similar movie. Also funny also is his supervisor’s large and unruly family who visit the couple causing chaos everywhere.

In the end, Hunter’s character only wants to make things right again and returns the baby as well as turning down the $25,000 reward. But I did fall in love with the fierceness of her mothering instinct to protect the baby against all threats. That was beautiful to behold.

Holly Hunter w Nathan Jr

Confusing An Embryo With a Live Baby

I think a lot of the emotion on the pro-Life side of things comes from misinterpreting an embryo by thinking of a live baby. Our frozens from the medical assistance we received to conceive my oldest son didn’t take when we tried for a second child. We had frozens leftover from our second attempt that did succeed but we knew that we had taken an unacceptable risk with my pregnancy and our son’s well being with that effort (if we had known, we would not have even tried but I am forever grateful that we did). Not wanting to simply dispose of these frozens, we did donate them to a couple trying to conceive. After initially receiving the good news of a pregnancy, that hoped for event subsequently failed to progress. I am still glad that we chose to give these frozens a chance.

For many years, it seemed that we had been lucky with our youngest son as there were no unfortunate effects. Then, around late 2014, I realized that he couldn’t see at a distance very well. An eye exam resulted in glasses. Due to the pandemic, follow-ups with his eye doctor were delayed. In that intervening time, his eyesight worsened significantly and an option that might have been available as a corrective could not be employed due to his now age of 17 (he actually was glad and I was glad for him – he didn’t want to do that one). Now, he does eye drops before sleep to hopefully hold the line on any more regression of his eyesight worsening.

Though my husband had tended to blame my son’s love of computer games and Discord relationships, in researching the issue, that potential cause has never been proven. What has turned up in studies is a statistical effect from gestational diabetes. Due to my age at his conception, a condition that I had only experienced late in the previous pregnancy, emerged as early (or even earlier, unknown to us) as 6 weeks gestation. It took insulin and Metformin both to control it and I still ended up on bedrest for 6 weeks as he was so large my womb could hardly tolerate it and threatened to deliver early.

I have admitted to my son my probable complicity in his condition. He has been very kind about it, acknowledging that I did not intentionally damage him. I do feel responsibility regardless. I share my story because although medical science has made it possible for women of an advanced age to conceive and successfully carry a pregnancy, better to have your children when you are still young enough to do so without extraordinary measures. My son has always felt like my reward – my peacemaker (a story on CD told in song by Joanne Shenandoah that I listened to in the first days of his conception). He is the sweetest son and I am glad he is in our lives.

Snowflake Babies

These IVF Embryos do look like Snowflakes

Seems there is always a trendy term or a label given to everything these days – GenZ – for example. Today I learned one I had not heard before but I have had personal experience with.

Embryo donation seems to be in vogue these days with couples experiencing infertility issues. In the religious community sphere embryo donation seems to have become yet another pro-Life issue. Elle Magazine published a feature, The Leftover Embryo Crisis, in 2017 that indicated there were an estimated 1 million frozen embryos in storage at that time.

Both of my sons were conceived via IVF. The youngest was born in 2004 and so, when 2005 rolled around, knowing we had no intention of attempting another pregnancy at my advanced age (and honestly there are very real risks in giving birth at age 50 that I am glad we didn’t understand at the time but I knew then about the potential risks and would not have done that to yet another child at that point – I will say we are all grateful that my youngest son is in our lives) we were faced with paying another year’s storage fee on the leftover frozen embryos.

A woman in my mom’s group told me about Miracles Waiting. We felt we needed to at least give these potential children an opportunity to be born. We just couldn’t simply destroy the embryos. The response to our listing was overwhelming. Quickly we were matched. The couple put us and our original egg donor through a LOT of hoops but eventually everything was agreed to, including the recipients agreeing to share in some of our original expenses directly connected to the creation of their embryos. There was also communication about their hoped for child eventually having a relationship with our two sons.

The woman did conceive and we were all very happy for her chance to experience pregnancy, give birth and maybe even breastfeeding her baby (which I did for over a year with both of our sons). It had been her lifelong dream to have those experiences. Sadly, it did not end well. She had transferred all 3 of our only leftover embryos and so, there was no second chance for her in that regard.

Almost 2 months after that attempt and a positive pregnancy test, her husband wrote us. “I just wanted to let you know that the baby did not survive. The ultrasound today showed only the gestation sack but no yoke sack, and they did not grow as much as the doctor wanted. In a nut shell, . . . We are very devastated as we now know that our chances for conceiving are past us.”

About 1 month later, the woman wrote us – “Thanks for your continued kind thoughts.   The past weeks have been very difficult for me.   The baby not surviving was my last chance to experience pregnancy.  Sorry that I haven’t written sooner, I just haven’t been able to put any of my thoughts into words.”

“As a blessing from above we have been given the opportunity to foster parent, if only for a short time, a baby boy that was abandoned by his birthmom at birth.   This 17 year old gave birth at home, put this sweet little boy into a plastic trash bag and threw him over a fence into a retention pond area.   Within an hour people heard his cries and rescued him.   Caring for another is a good way to stop thinking about your self.”

“I am so saddened. It still is hard for me to accept. I was going between denial and anger.   Now, with feeding the baby every two hours round the clock, I don’t have time to think about it.”

I do believe they eventually adopted the baby. I also believe that God always answers our prayers. Maybe not the way we thought they would be answered. To my understanding, even a “No” is an answer. I do not regret donating the embryos. Of course, I am sad for this couple that it did not bring the results they hoped for.

Sharing this experience is not intended to support nor deny the option to donate one’s frozen embryos or acquire someone else’s. Compared to adopting a newborn infant, I do believe that a baby growing in the womb of the mother who will be raising the child pretty much eliminates 100% mother/child separation trauma. Some donor conceived persons do have issues with the way they were conceived and I am well aware of them. Though my husband and I did not see inexpensive DNA testing coming, it seems in our good hearts and ignorance, we have handled our own family’s situation almost perfectly. Someday, our sons may view their own conceptions differently than we do but, at almost 18 and 21, they seem to understand clearly and have no issues with it. They know – bottom line – they would not exist otherwise. They know they are loved and that they live in a “very close at heart and 24/7 everyday” life family. And I do think that as boys, their 50% genetic connection to their father matters as genetic mirrors for them. Some sadness in my youngest son that he doesn’t have any of my genes but our love for one another seems genuine.

Is Infertility A Disability ?

Sunshine, Angel, Rainbow

This morning has been a learning experience for me. Infertility is a leading cause of adoption. One adoptee wrote – I find it hard to sympathize with infertility and I’m aware it’s because that was the only reason I was adopted by my adoptive parents. I’m angry because of the abuse I’ve suffered because of that issue. In the adoption community, women are counseled that they must deal with their mental and emotional issues related to infertility before choosing to adopt a child. An adopted child will never be a replacement for a baby you lost or failed to conceive. An adopted child was conceived and birthed by another woman who will always be that child’s first mother.

Is infertility a disability ? – turns out that legally it is.

In 1998, the US Supreme Court found in Bragdon v Abbott that reproduction is a “major life activity.” And the Court held that the risks of passing the disease to offspring constituted a “substantial limitation” on reproduction. Consequently, infertility met the ADA’s criteria as a disability.

According to the World Health Organization – Infertility has significant negative social impacts on the lives of infertile couples and particularly women, who frequently experience violence, divorce, social stigma, emotional stress, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. A diagnosis of infertility is determined as the inability to get pregnant after a year or more of trying. Infertility can trigger feelings of shame and a sense of failing to live up to traditional gender expectations. Infertility can strain romantic relationships that included the expectation of shared parenthood. (We watched the 2020 movie Ammonite last night which dramatizes that strain.)

The National Institutes of Health notes that – infertility could be a source of social and psychological suffering for women in particular. In some communities, the childbearing inability is only attributed to women, hence there is a gender related bias when it comes to a couple’s infertility.

Psychologists also must understand that infertility is a kind of trauma, often a complex trauma. Anxiety, depression, grief and loss are part of the psychological impact of infertility. There may even be more to the experience when defined by the individual. At the extreme, the process can be so stressful that a woman who undergoes fertility treatments may develop a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While defining infertility as a disability may have legal and medical applications, most women do not see their infertility as a disability. When I experienced secondary infertility, I never thought of myself as disabled. I simply had reached an age where my own fertility (I gave birth to a daughter at 19 and had a pregnancy aborted at age 22 or 23) naturally had ended. While it did make me sad that my husband now desired fatherhood after I was too old to gift him with that, I still did not think of myself as disabled. Women in my adoption community who have experienced infertility do not consider themselves disabled either.

Part of my learning experience today was learning about all the “baby” symbolic concepts that I didn’t know before. Angel baby always was understood by my heart. I find it interesting that a mom’s group that I have been part of for over 18 years initially gave our group the name Sunshine Babies because our babies were all born between April and August. Later, we simply changed that to Sunshine Moms. We knew nothing of the use of such words when we chose that concept as our group symbol. We never knew that word “sunshine” had a larger meaning outside of our group.. We all conceived via assisted reproduction. Therefore, a sunshine baby can have different meanings for different families.

My own daughter experienced a still birth prior to giving birth to my grandson and later my granddaughter. It was a sad and traumatic event to be certain. The terms acknowledge the complexity of pregnancy and infant loss as well as any pregnancies that follow such a loss. For those as clueless as I was before this morning – here are some commonly used phrases related to pregnancy outcomes.

The term rainbow baby refers to a baby born to a family after a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. The concept of a rainbow baby relates to the concept of a beautiful rainbow appearing after a turbulent storm. The concept symbolizes hope and healing. I always have loved rainbows. After every storm there is a rainbow. A rainbow baby brings an unimaginable amount of joy and a sense of peace, knowing that you now have a beautiful, precious little baby.

The sunshine symbol is often used to refer to calm moments before a storm. Therefore, a sunshine baby is the child who was born before you encountered a loss. Your loss could be the result of a miscarriage which is defined as the loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 to 24 weeks. A sunshine baby represents hope. Their presence allows you to believe that you can conceive a baby successfully. Your sunshine baby is a reminder that you are fully capable of maintaining a pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby.

There are even more terms as well – a Golden baby: a baby born after a rainbow baby, a Sunset baby: a twin who dies in the womb (I did experience a “vanishing” twin in my first son’s pregnancy), a Sunrise baby: the surviving twin of a baby who dies in the womb.

If you have a biological child, you are simply lucky. Some people will never have that chance or will have had the opportunity to parent taken away from them by miscarriage or infant death. When an intractable infertility may become an awareness after a first pregnancy results in a loss. Some women will mourn that loss all the more, realizing that they will never, ever experience having a child of their own genetic biology. This can be extended as well to a birth mother who loses her child to adoption for whatever reason, especially if that mother never experiences a reunion with her child (as happened to both my maternal and paternal original grandmothers).

The truth is, when you lose a baby from any cause, you develop a permanent psychological scar. In some women, it is difficult to imagine that they will ever have another baby. Losing a baby can change a person’s dreams and hopes of any future that includes being a parent. Some people will tell you that you should just “get over it.” This is not helpful advice to extend to a bereaved parent. The overwhelming feelings experienced following a loss are normal. Usually with grief and sorrow, the intensity does lessen as time passes.

Both Genders Drive Adoption

For some time now, my husband has been making use of old photos to create slide shows as a screen saver. I enjoy looking at these . . . memories. One of my current favorites is of my husband lying on his chest looking at our oldest son as a 3 month old infant lying on the bed. They are both smiling at one another. Clearly, there is a real connection between them, an energy. And it is true, while my husband does honestly love both of his sons, he does a lot of work around our farm with the older boy. They seem to be in-sync so well. Of course, the older one, now 21 years old, is more mature but over the last several years, they have replaced roofs, planted trees and both worked for the 2020 Census and could share stories each night when they got home. Just as I saw with my in-laws respect for my husband’s opinions, there is a respect on my husband’s part for each of his sons’ perspectives. It is a beautiful thing to see. For my part, I am inspired by both of them and who and how they are developing into maturity.

Becoming a father came at the right time for my husband in his own maturity. When we first married (my second marriage), he was not interested in having children. He was glad I had been there and done that – so no pressure on him. And it is also true that because I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 19, I had already known motherhood. Indeed, she has made me a grandmother twice. She was there for me each time one of my parents died (only 4 months apart) and through the challenges of being the executor of their estate, including giving me the benefit of her expertise in real estate selling and negotiating the final contract with a buyer.

Even though my early motherhood was a good experience for me, I was totally blown away when after 10 years of marriage, my husband did a 180 on me and wanted to become a father. Unfortunately, it turned out that age had produced in me secondary infertility and we had to turn to assisted reproduction and an egg donor to have our sons. 20 years ago, no one saw inexpensive DNA testing and the matching sites 23 and Me as well as Ancestry becoming so popular in use. Fortunately, we have handled the situation of having two donor conceived sons as well as any ignorant parents could (both had the same genetic sources and so, are true genetic and biological siblings). By handling the situation, I mean we have always been honest about their conceptions with our sons. They really did need to become older to understand the details. Getting their DNA tested at 23 and Me (where their egg donor also had her DNA tested) gave us the opening to fully describe the details, which does not seem to have troubled them at all. Before we had theirs tested, I also gifted my husband with a kit from 23 and Me.

For me, having lost the privilege of actually raising my daughter when she was 3 years old due to my own poverty and her father’s unwillingness to pay child support (and even so, he ended up paying for her support by raising her himself) – these second chance opportunities to prove I could mother children throughout their growing up years has been a true blessing for me. Experiencing motherhood now has healed much – including a decision to have an abortion after my daughter’s birth and the subsequent discovery that I carried the hep C virus – thanks to pre-treatment testing related to my oldest son’s conception. (BTW, this week I will finally complete, after living with this virus for over 20 years, a very expensive treatment regime which required a grant for the co-pay as well as Medicare Part D because otherwise, I still could not have afforded to have that virus treated).

All this just to share that this morning, I was reading an accusation about infertile women driving adoptions. One woman noted this – “we seem to be letting the guys off scot-free. The dudes who want a Daddy’s Little Girl or to play football with their own Mini-Me. I am not saying that childless woman are not a huge factor in the adoption industry, but I am saying that we live in a patriarchy and men also have a macho thing going on from birth … carrying on the family name, the stereotypical being the breadwinner for their very own brood instead of watching other guys’ families from the sidelines as a failure. And sometimes it isn’t the woman’s inability but the guys’ faulty minnows and that is definitely a macho & emasculating situation that they can rectify by sheer force (IVF or adoption are ways no one else will really be the wiser if they keep these secrets). They can be saviors and still be Daddy Dearest at the same time win-win.”

I know that in the case of infertility, the “blame” is statistically equal – one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors according to the National Institutes of Health. Clearly in our case, because 50% of each of our son’s DNA clearly establishes that their father’s sperm did the deed, the problem was my age. We didn’t start our efforts until I was already 46 years old.

That Pesky Biological Clock

No one ever told me that there was a cut-off point. I had been pregnant twice – gave birth once, had an abortion with the second one. Then, I remarried and after 10 years of marriage, my husband suddenly decided he wanted children after all. We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an advanced age live longer. Then we saw another one maybe the next day that indicated my odds of conceiving were very low. We had been trying all the usual things, timing intercourse, using ovulation predictors. Nothing was working. And so we saw a doctor who worked in fertility issues recommended to me and he tried a injection that was supposed to boost my last egg which we had just seen on ultrasound. That didn’t work either. I was in my mid-40s at that point.

Yesterday, I spotted a link to an old 2016 article in The Guardian titled – “The foul reign of the biological clock by Moira Weigel. I think that is a good thing. Many women are unaware that their reproductive years are as limited and short as they naturally are. Personally, I think Mother Nature needs to catch up – save women who are immature and really too young from conceiving and extending the age at which a woman can conceive to be more equal to that of men. My having given birth with the help of reproductive assistance at 47 and 50 informs that perspective.

Moira writes – “Any relationship that does not ‘work out’ – which is to say, does not get a woman pregnant by a man committed to helping her raise their offspring – brings her closer to her expiration date. At the stroke of midnight, our eggs turn into dust.” Close to the truth that I found out for myself.

Female life came to be defined in terms of motherhood, or the failure to become a mother. The story of the biological clock is a story about science and sexism. It illustrates the ways that assumptions about gender can shape the priorities for scientific research, and scientific discoveries can be deployed to serve sexist ends. We are used to thinking about metaphors like “the biological clock” as if they were not metaphors at all, but simply neutral descriptions of facts about the human body. Yet, if we examine where the term came from, and how it came to be used, it becomes clear that the idea of the biological clock has as much to do with culture as with nature. And its cultural role was to counteract the effects of women’s liberation.

As a beneficiary of the woman’s movement of my mother’s generation and before, I had been granted the mandate to be a “super” woman – keep a marriage together and have children, while working full time and going to college part time to earn a degree. As for myself, I failed miserably. Ended up divorced, my daughter ended up being raised by her dad and step-mother, and I never got the college degree. Struggled financially all the time, until I met my second husband who stabilized my life with a business he owned that I could help manage and contribute directly to our financial support. We live in a paid for home in a beautiful, peaceful forest.

The psychologist Jean Twenge has pointed out that “millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment.” Another problematic element of data on fertility is that, in general, the information we have comes from patients who visit doctors because they are experiencing fertility problems. As a result, it is difficult to assess what is going on with the population as a whole. How many couples are not conceiving because they do not want to? How many are using contraception? It is nearly impossible to control for all these variables.

Though I mention that woman should be able to conceive at an advanced age as men can, there is also some truth that they too have biological clocks that affect their ability to reproduce. Male fertility also declines with age. Since the 1980s, a large and growing body of research has shown that sperm counts, and quality, diminish over the years. The children of older fathers have much higher risk of autism and other complications than those of younger ones do. Often “old sperm” simply flail and perish around an egg they are trying to fertilize.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, of couples seeking treatment for subfertility in the United States, 40% discover that the problem is being caused by the “female factor”, 40% of the time it is the “male factor”, and 20% of the time they cannot tell. Women and men are found to experience fertility problems at roughly equal rates.

What does all of this have to do with adoption ? Infertility is one of the main drivers of couples deciding to adopt. Certainly not the only one. Population concerns have been one. Religious imperatives to convert and educate the heathen masses to increase the number of Christians has certainly been on. A misguided belief that there are ALL these millions of children (“orphans”) with no family to love them is certainly a common one.

There is much more in the linked article.