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.

The Brave New World

It is a reproductive fact – the egg contributes 50% of a person’s DNA, the sperm contributes 50% of a person’s DNA. For donor conceived children, the mother and/or father who is raising them may or may not be genetically related to them. Often, at least one parent is but in the brave new world of creating human beings utilizing reproductive technology – a child may be raised by a single mother who is not related at all to her child – though she may have carried the child and even breastfed her baby. The truth is that one’s marriage to their child is life-long, though as in the case of divorce, a genetically related parent may not be in their child’s life 24/7 or even throughout the childhood.

I do know of families with donor conceived children for whom the donor was anonymous – this can apply to egg donors as well as sperm donors. Fact is – Anonymity — as a pragmatic matter — can no longer be guaranteed to the donors who contribute to the existence of any donor conceived person. Donor-conceived people have interests all their own. Not all donor-conceived people know about their origin, and many express an interest in knowing more about their donors, including medical and identifying information. In a group of adult donor-conceived offspring from the 256 families that were eligible to receive identifying information, 85 (35%) contacted the clinic for this purpose. Many of those who contacted the clinic did so within the first three years after they turned 18, with the most common motivation to obtain information about their donors, including who they are as a person, their reasons for donation and their medical and health information. Third, recipients have a strong interest in knowing about the health risks their future children may experience based on the medical history of the donor.

Today, a woman writes – I’ve decided to conceive through a known local donor and my own egg. The child will know this man is their biological father. We are planning on meet up at least every 2 weeks from birth and he will receive plenty of pictures. He has also agreed to donate a second time in about 2 years so that my children will be biological siblings. (my note – that is certainly what my husband and I have as sons.) My question is, is there anything I’m overlooking in my excitement that I can do differently for the well-being of the child with this set up?

There are some details that sound like they haven’t been worked out yet. Is this an informal sperm donation or is it being arranged through a bank? Will he be listed on the birth certificate as the child’s father? Have you asked for perspectives from donor conceived people? Do you have a support system to help you raise the baby if he is not planning to be involved financially or practically? Has anything been drawn up legally? If he is not on the birth certificate as the father then he has no responsibility to help, participate or abide by your wishes. Sperm donors are not treated as the father of the child by law. No matter how much you may like and trust him today, things can change. To be clear, I am not against you creating a donor conceived a child. I encourage you to work out the legal details and to really think about the what if‘s no matter how unlikely they may seem now.

One response and some additional questions was this – The most ethical way to do this would be to list him on the birth certificate as the father and actually co-parent with him, not just let the child meet up with him every two weeks. Do you really think that would work out long term ? How would you handle it if the child tells you they want more time with their dad, overnights or to live with their dad or anything at all ?

Then there was this – What about when dad develops a new relationship with a woman who wants him all to herself?? To be with her and their “real” kids? Followed by an example – I actually know someone who was in this exact situation. She did what you are hoping to do, with a man who she thought would be in her child’s life forever. He moved across the country, married a woman who was/is extremely uncomfortable with the situation, they had kids together, and now he hasn’t seen his oldest child in over 2 years.

The woman in the question doesn’t want a romantic relationship and so that brings up another issue – You can forgo a romantic relationship, while also not procreating with a stranger. I do not understand why anyone would have a child with a man you do not know and then give that man access to your child. It takes a level of intimacy to trust someone to father your kid, doesn’t have to be romantic.

Again, more questions – what happens if you do meet somebody and fall in love, and your partner wants to take on the role of “dad” and feels threatened by the child’s relationship with its father ? And mentioned before – What happens if the father meets somebody and falls in love and she feels threatened by it, and tells him she doesn’t want him involved with you and your child ? What happens if he gets a job opportunity that moves him across the country, or even across the world ?

A woman choosing to donor conceive really needs to seriously think through the situation and there are situations where it does make sense and can be handled well. So just some final thoughts –

Both need to be absolutely certain on how that would work. Couples that intimately know each other can struggle to communicate well enough to co-parent, even within a marriage, and even more so when they live apart. You mentioned the specific of every two weeks having visits but what do you expect the visit to entail? How will you communicate changes in schedule? Are there financial obligations? Would your expectations change if his financial situation changed? What influence would he have on life decisions such as education, religion, place of residence, activities etc. What if someone needs or wants to move? Will you be able to control who else is included in the visits? How will his family be included or excluded? How will you handle inevitable disagreements on important issues? Do you have it legally planned out if something should happen to you and you are unable to parent or pass away? Planning to have full legal custody doesn’t guarantee you will make every decision on your own for the child. Are you financially prepared to confront additional legal barriers? You also mentioned having a sibling in two years which opens a new can of worms so to speak. I have watched so many of my friends struggle to work with someone they once loved navigating these issues. Some no longer recognize the person they chose (it happened) to father their child. Parenthood fundamentally changes people and it does seem you could set you and your child up for tremendous conflict. I think I would have multiple friends and family members write down every potential question they can think of and discuss how you can legally address these questions. I would also set up a prescribed procedure that should be followed when conflict does arise. I hope that is something attorneys can legally require. I’m sure you have thought a lot about what you expect, just be certain all of the potential legal issues are addressed to the best of your ability. In my opinion it would be a mistake to cross bridges when you come to them or rely on the donor to be a benevolent actor.

And just this advice – for your own protection, talk with a lawyer first. I got a free consult with a lawyer with expertise in this area, and decided a sperm bank was a better choice. There are a lot of cases, especially in certain states, where your donor could be considered a father, and could take custody, even with a legal agreement in place. Or could prevent you from moving out of state, etc. Took me awhile to let that dream go, but it was the right choice for me.

And though there aren’t many yet (I have read an essay from one myself who recognized she would not exist otherwise, which I thought a very healthy perspective) here are some Thoughts From A IVF Donor Conceived Person (if you want to read some more from such a person’s perspective). With this one, I thought this was also a healthy perspective – “I have never doubted that I was wanted, I’ve always known I was meant to be here on this earth. My conception wasn’t down to mystical chance, I had purpose and meaning to both sets of my parents from the moment I was conceived in my little Petri dish.”

Personally, as a last word, I can relate to this as I experienced secondary infertility, I was simply too old to conceive naturally any longer, even though I did give birth to a genetically, biologically related child – “Finding that you need assistance in conceiving does not mean you have failed, and it doesn’t mean any child you conceive through assisted reproduction is in any way ‘artificial’ or different from naturally conceived children. I’m proud of both my biological mother and my mother. IVF doesn’t make them any different to other parents, and raising a child that was not her own biological material doesn’t make my mother less of a parent.”

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Ukrainian Twins

Lenny and Moishe

Straight off – I am NOT a fan of surrogacy. There was a mom in my mom’s group who used a surrogate because she was actively undergoing treatment for cancer. I remember the two of us sharing that we were using reproductive assistance for our husbands. She did pass away about the time her boy/girl twins turned 2 years old. After years of trying, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law finally were successful in bringing a son into their lives.

My problem with surrogacy has arisen out of my gaining knowledge about the trauma of separating any baby from the mom in who’s womb the baby gestated. This is detailed in the book The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. Even though my own family has depended upon medical technology to create our sons, I am at least grateful that in our own ignorance, we did one thing right – my sons both grew in my womb and nursed at my breast. I have been able to do something with them that I wasn’t even able to do for my biological, genetic daughter – be in the boy’s lives throughout their childhood.

The Russian war against Ukraine is heartbreaking and difficult to be a witness of. So, a feel good story coming out of that country is welcome. NPR did a follow-up to this story that had more than it’s share of bumps along the way. The genetic, biological father of these twins Alex Spektor was born in Ukraine, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and his family came to the US as Jewish refugees. From experience, I do believe that boys benefit from the genetic, biological mirror of being raised by their father. 

The mother was a surrogate; and therefore, was never intended to parent these babies. His twins were born prematurely to the surrogate mother in Kyiv just as Russia began its war on Ukraine. In a dramatic mission called “Operation Gemini,” the babies and the surrogate were rescued from Ukraine in March. They dodged Russian artillery fire, drove through a snowstorm, and finally arrived at a Polish hospital where Alex met his boys for the first time.

For 2 months, the family was stuck in bureaucratic limbo in Poland. Alex’s wife, Irma had flown to Poland in early March, after the twins had been evacuated. She had stayed in Chicago to get the family’s legal paperwork in order. She arrived late at night and the next morning went straight to the hospital where her twins were. Alex and Irma have spent those 2 months fighting to take their twins home to Chicago.

The hospital said they needed to prove the twin’s paternity in order to discharge the kids. The American embassy said in order for them to get passports for the boys, the parents needed to bring their twins to Warsaw. Eventually officials needed to see the birth certificates and they were still in Ukraine. So, Alex crossed from the Polish city of Rzeszow back over the border to retrieve the documents from the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Finally, the couple and their twins were able to fly home to Chicago. Alex now says his experience with his twins has made him feel closer to the place of his birth. Because of these experiences, friends of the couple in Chicago have created an organization known as the Ukraine TrustChain. They provide medical supplies, baby formula, food and other essentials to people in the war.

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.

Being Infertile While Black

I actually learned about the book in my image while reading another woman’s story of the disappointments and heartbreak of going through failure after failure after failure in assisted reproduction cycles. The essay’s author mentions Emily Bernard’s book Black is the Body, in which she describes her own reproductive struggles, and how she felt like a failure for not being able to conceive. No matter how much she tried, she could not conceive (she ended up adopting). And though my blog today is not about that book, so often, one thing leads to another and there I find adoption. Infertility is a common thread that very often leads to adoption. In my all things adoption group they often counsel women to confront their grief related to infertility before adopting. An adopted child will never be the child you could not conceive naturally and not coming to grips with that will bring a problematic relationship with your adopted child who regardless may never feel like they were good enough to meet your expectations even if you did not go through infertility first.

You can read Edna Bonhomme‘s entire essay in The Guardian about her experience of infertility in search of Black Motherhood. “For women from Black, working-class families like mine, to have children – countering the forces that tried to destroy us – can be a powerful political act.” That perspective really made sense to me but was one I would have never considered, if I had not read Edna’s essay. I will share some other excerpts I jotted down.

“Infertility damages mental health in many ways, and the clinical depression and anxiety disorders that occur after failed IVF attempts can have long term negative consequences. Some people offered unwanted counsel: ‘Why don’t you adopt?’ I had to accept that some people will never get pregnant, no matter how hard they try. (As a writer) It is more challenging to tell a story about fertility treatment that ends in childlessness.”

“One friend and confidante, who struggled for nearly 10 years to conceive, told me how she had been ready to adopt right before she became pregnant. I have to rationalize that my body, like all bodies, is complex, and there is no simple answer for why I cannot get pregnant. In the closing lines of a story such as this, one might assume the denouement brings a child: it doesn’t. Unfortunately, it ends here.”

I had expected this essay to end in an adoption but another thing I often read in my all things adoption group is not everyone has to have children. It would appear that is where Edna ended up – in an acceptance of nature as it is for her Black body.

A Christmas To Remember

Angela Turbeville hugs one of the six children, all siblings,
that she and her husband Elliott adopted Monday in Columbus Georgia

Sharing a story from Georgia Public Broadcasting. It is not perfect (having their original parents able to care for and raise them) but it is the best possible outcome for these siblings, allowing them to grow up together with each other.

Her wish list for Christmas includes items typical of a 10-year-old girl, such as a cooking set and fake nails. But at the bottom, in larger letters, is a request:

Get adopted.

That wish not only came true for the girl Monday, but Angela and Elliott Turbeville of Columbus also adopted five of her brothers — all in a joyful surprise. The Turbevilles surprised the children on December 20th with the news they would be going to court that afternoon to finalize the adoption. The Turbevilles creatively broke the news to the six children, ages 7-14, at their Green Island Hills home this week, before the two-year effort to go from foster to adoptive parents culminated in a courtroom.

When they awoke Monday morning, the kids got ready for school like usual. Outside, relatives started arriving for the surprise that would keep the children from going to school that day. Isabella, one of the Turbeville’s biological children and a Columbus State University student, brought 120 donuts. Elliott emerged from the garage to greet her. Then he took out his phone and started recording the scene as Isabella walked to the front door.

When one of the children opened the door, the others followed and saw on the front lawn a sign the Turbevilles had arranged to be put up overnight.

IT’S ADOPTION DAY

Wide-eyed and mouths agape, the kids soaked in the significance. One of them asked, “We’re adopted?” Angela answered, “Today, we’re going to court to be adopted.” The children shouted, “Yaaaaaaaaay!” After the bevy of family hugs, the 13-year-old boy sasid, “Coming right before Christmas, this is like the perfect time. … I’m just amazed and excited because we’ve been waiting for this a long time.”

Being adopted, instead of fostered, strengthens the sense of security the children feel. We’ve been through a lot of stuff that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Our parents should have taken care of us. But now, we have these parents that actually take care of us and feed us every day.” He smiled and continued, “They put me in my place when I’m in trouble.” Then he paused and added, “They just do everything right.” He noted the frustration the siblings shared when they were split in different foster homes and the gratitude they have for the Turbevilles to adopt them all together. “This is really rare,” he said. “They took this chance getting all of us. I thank them — and I thank God — for this.”

Seeing the children revel in the surprise, Angela said, “I’m just happy the day is finally here and that everybody will have the same last name.” Angela reflected on the legal hurdles they had to leap over to reach this moment, and emphasized that they still are working to adopt the seventh sibling. “I feel like I’m almost at the end of a marathon,” she said. Elliott said he was holding back his emotions until the adoption would be finalized later that day. “I’m just happy to see how surprised they were and how happy they are,” he said.

The family rode downtown in a chauffeured party bus for the adoption hearing in a 10th-floor courtroom at the Government Center, with Superior Court Judge Maureen Gottfried presiding. About two dozen relatives and friends were in the gallery.

“This is just a really, really, happy, happy day,” Gottfried told them. “I’m so glad that all of y’all are here to celebrate because this is really a celebration of a bad situation turning great.” About 10 minutes later, after Tom Tebeau, the Turbevilles’ lawyer, presented his clients and their case to the court, Gottfried approved the adoption. “These kids,” Gottfried said, “y’all are getting what you deserve as children, to be able to be raised in a happy house and taken care of, loving each other, loving your parents and just having everything be great. So I’m very thrilled to be able to sign off on all these.”

Angela and Elliott are relieved the legal process delivered the result they sought. “It’s a dream come true to be able to adopt children,” Angela said. “I hate it that they were in foster care, but at least we get to give them a good life. … They’re safe, and they’re happy, and we’re their parents.”

The back story – Angela is a former elementary school teacher and tutor. Elliott is an associate director at Pratt & Whitney. Both are in their 40s. After raising three biological children, their bodies wouldn’t allow them to have more kids, but their hearts and minds yearned for them. They considered other options, such as in vitro fertilization, but fostering and eventually adoption better fit their mindset. They became certified ​foster parents in 2019.

“There’s just thousands of kids in that need,” Elliott said. “So we figured, instead of going through all of that with her body and trying to make more of our own, why not just help kids already out there and need help?” That October, they received a call from Hope Foster Care, the child placing agency of the Methodist Home for Children & Youth: Would they foster four siblings? They figured they had raised three children, so this would be just one more. Then Angela was noticed one of the boys has the same birthdate of Elliott’s deceased mother. It was like a sign to her that this was the right thing to do. Elliott said, “She likes those coincidences.” I am like that too – my mom called these Godincidences.

That week, they learned the four children had three siblings in a foster home 2-3 hours away. After a period of Saturday visits over the next few months, Hope Foster Care asked whether the Turbevilles would take in the other three siblings as well. They agreed, but Angela asked for 30 days to get the house ready. That meant rearranging rooms and buying bunkbeds. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic started in spring 2020 and the Turbervilles hunkered down in their house with their seven foster children. “Luckily, I was a schoolteacher, so I did homeschool,” Angela said.

That gave Angela time to help the children who were below grade level catch up. “The oldest boy is now almost at grade level (eighth grade) in most subjects,” he said. “He came to me on a kindergarten/first-grade reading level 2½ years ago.” Now, all the children in school are on the honor roll. “They’re smart,” Angela said. “They understand where they came from. They understand where they are. … Their mom was a foster child, so we’re trying to break that cycle. My goal is to get them educated, keep them out of jail and be productive citizens.”

When the seventh-grade boy came home last month with a gift card for having the highest math test score in his grade, he told Angela he wanted to use it for the family to buy groceries for Thanksgiving. “That was a big deal for him,” she said.

The Turbevilles gained the children’s trust by striking the fine balance between providing them a structured yet compassionate home, where promises are kept, Elliott said. “A lot of it is routine and being open and honest and setting clear expectations and just making them feel safe,” he said. “… They came from an environment that they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.”

The children had been asking the Turbevilles for two years to adopt them, Angela said. This past spring, the Turbevilles learned the juvenile court in Floyd County had terminated the parental rights of the biological mother and fathers for the six oldest siblings, allowing them to start the adoption process. In addition to taking on a new last name, some of the children also chose to change their first name or middle name to something connected to the Turbeville family.

“It’s just confirmation that we’ve doing the right thing for these kids,” Elliott said. “… Every kid deserves a chance. … There’s just so much angst and bad stuff out there. If we can carve out a little area and make them better, make us better as a result and let them go out and make the world a better place as well, I know that sounds kind of cheeky, but it’s just the general idea of doing something good instead of just sitting back and watching all the bad happen.”

The timing of the adoption process culminating five days before Christmas is a coincidence, the Turbevilles said — but a delightful one. “It’s a Christmas to remember,” Elliott said.

Their caseworker, Caytlin Merritt of Hope Foster Care, called this case remarkable. She praised the Turbevilles for their patience with the children and for being fierce advocates when it comes to “going above and beyond” to fulfill their needs. “Not only have they welcomed these kids into their home and love them, but now they’re opening their hearts to them forever. That’s a huge commitment and sacrifice on their part, and they have just been all-in from day one. … It’s just a joy and a pleasure to have been a witness to that and support them.”

Beyond the number of children the Turbevilles adopted, what makes their case even more special, Merritt said, is their willingness to take in older children and keep siblings together. “There are not many foster homes currently able to take more than two children at a time and even fewer that are willing to take in teens,” Merritt said. “This means that siblings are often separated and may be placed in different counties, sometimes hours from each other. We want to do everything we can to keep teens in foster families, not group homes, and to keep sibling groups together.​”

Finding Empathy

Gabrielle Union, daughter Kaavia
and husband Dwayne Wade

I will admit that I have become generally against surrogacy as part of my own journey to understand adoption as it has manifested in my own family. However, in reading Gabrielle Union’s beautifully written essay in Time magazine – Hard Truths – I ended up feeling a definite empathy for her situation and believe the outcome to have been perfect for the situation.

Within my spiritual philosophy it is believed, as also is stated in Hindu Scripture, that “Mind, being impelled by a desire to create, performs the work of creation by giving form to Itself.” Some of my ability to empathize may have also arisen from experiencing secondary infertility in attempting to conceive my oldest son. I believe that Assisted Reproduction is a knowledge granted to man by Mind and so, many children are today being created using these medical techniques. This is a fact of modern life.

Gabrielle suffers from adenomyosis in which endometrial tissue exists within and grows into the uterine wall. Adenomyosis occurs most often late in the childbearing years. So in reading the Time magazine article I found poignant her experience of multiple miscarriages and various medical interventions in her many attempts to conceive. Many women then turn to adoption and it is often noted that the infertility itself must be dealt with in therapy before even considering adoption because an adopted child will never be that child you would have conceived and carried through a pregnancy to birth.

My objection to surrogacy is my awareness of how the developing fetus begins bonding with the gestational mother during pregnancy. Gabrielle writes of her awareness of this disconnect with clarity – “the question lingers in my mind: I will always wonder if Kaav would love me more if I had carried her. Would our bond be even tighter? I will never know . . .” She goes on to admit that when she met her daughter, they met “as strangers, the sound of my voice and my heartbeat foreign to her. It’s a pain that has dimmed but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough.” She ends her essay with “If I am telling the fullness of our stories, of our three lives together, I must tell the truths I live with.” It seems healthy and realistic to my own understandings.

As the mother of donor conceived sons, I can understand the complex feelings. I can remember distinctly feeling less entitlement to my sons than my husband since it was his sperm that created them. I am also aware of adoptee trauma from that separation from their natural mother. Both of my parents were with their natural mothers for some months before they were surrendered for adoption. I think I see this issue in a couple of photos I have managed to obtain from their early years.

My mom held by a nurse from the orphanage she had been left in for “temporary care,” while my grandmother tried to get on her feet. My mom appears to be looking at
her mother in this photo.
I notice this expression on my baby dad’s face.
I wonder if my grandmother was there and was
he puzzling about her presence ? I can’t know
but it has caused me to ponder.

I will add that Union’s surrogate was of a different race. Another issue with surrogates is that they often become emotionally attached to the baby growing in them. Gabrielle describes her surrogate and the surrogate’s husband as “free spirit” people. She says at the time she met her surrogate in person, “The first thing I noticed was a nose ring. Oh, I thought, she’s a cool-ass white girl.” The surrogate wasn’t bothered at all – there was an excitement to her voice when she said, “This is such a trip. I have your book on hold at four different libraries.” She must have been referring to Gabrielle’s first collection of essays, We’re Going to Need More Wine, which sparked powerful conversations by examining topics such as power, color, gender, feminism, and fame through her stories.

Carrie Thornton, Dey Street’s (the publisher) VP and Editorial Director says of the new book, You Got Anything Stronger?, that it is “a book that tugs at the heart, feels relatable, and . . . you see her for exactly who she is. . . ” I would agree having read this story.

Surrogacy Controversy

I know of more than one family who used a surrogate to build their family. Because I do believe in the mother/child bond beginning and developed during pregnancy, I do have concerns about separating this infant after birth from their mother. With changing perspectives on LGBTQ rights, some an now arguing that having a female mother is not really important. Certainly, there are cases of maternal abuse where a child may have been better off without that mother. I won’t argue that specific point.

So without getting into those hot button issues, I wanted to know about any reasons that surrogacy might be considered controversial.

I go into this at a website that could be biased – American Surrogacy. With that awareness, I still read their perspective.

As my graphic illustrates, there is more than one type of surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy is the most common type of surrogacy today, in which the surrogate has no genetic relationship to the baby she carries. The other type is Traditional surrogacy which is considered rare in modern times. In this type, the surrogate’s own egg is fertilized using sperm from an intended father or donor via IVF or intrauterine insemination in a lab.

Surrogacy can also be categorized by the financial arrangements made between the intended parents and surrogate. This is known as Compensated surrogacy in which the surrogate is compensated for her time, energy, sacrifice and participation in the surrogacy process. Something similar happens in Egg Donation where the egg donor is compensated for similar reasons. In Altruistic surrogacy the surrogate is not paid a base compensation beyond reimbursement of her medical and legal expenses.

There is no shortage of people ready to point out reasons why surrogacy is “bad” or “wrong.” However, when examining the arguments against surrogacy, it’s important to keep in mind the various types of surrogacy; not all of these arguments will apply to every type of surrogacy completed today.

One argument is that a woman is “selling” something intimate as a physical service. As explicitly noted in my graphic – many critics of surrogacy argue that intended parents who “use” surrogates are interested only in their reproductive ability. The practice is seen as womb renting, especially when the woman carrying the pregnancy is in a financially disadvantageous position to the intended parents. This is also an argument used against egg donation. Some argue against it for religious reasons – Many religions emphasize the importance of a husband and wife conceiving naturally on their own. For this reason, any kind of assisted reproduction is sometimes viewed as going against religious beliefs.

Regarding the compensation argument – it is noted that – a significant commitment of time and personal care is required of a surrogate.  There are protections in place to ensure vulnerable women are not forced into surrogacy in the United States. If a surrogacy professional is enlisted, these do require a woman to be able to support their own self and if relevant, their family, without state assistance before being allowed to be a surrogate. Surrogacy professionals work closely with intended parents and surrogates to ensure the rights and interests of both are protected and any legal risks have been eliminated.

Given my own personal perspectives on bonding in utero – this site caught my attention too.

The Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women. The intended parents may not feel the degree of control with a surrogate carrying their baby. Surrogacy can also bring unexpected challenges for the surrogate mothers. The female body experiences numerous changes when pregnant, both physical and mental, thanks or no thanks to the hormones that bring about the miracle of life. So, like any mother, surrogate moms bond with a child in their wombs often experience emotional pain when detached from that child after birth—even if they knew and intended all along to give up the child to the intended parents. 

Surrogate moms face increased pregnancy risks if they are carrying multiple embryos, which is often the case in order to ensure success. Multiple births come with an increased risk of Caesarian sections and longer hospital stays.

A report conducted by the University of Cambridge and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry received some buzz after suggesting surrogate children face increased emotional risks. Researchers found that children who were not gestationally carried by the mother who ended up raising them faced increased psychological adjustment difficulties including depression. As I have personally suspected, similar to babies whenever, whyever, they are separated from the mother who gestated them.

What Would The Answer Be ?

Why is it, when adoption comes up, that there are a majority of adoptive parents who will say “Well, what was I supposed to do…just accept that I couldn’t have a baby?” What do you want an adoptee’s answer to you to be ? Just take someone else’s kid ? I get that people want children, but is it another person’s job to supply a child for you ?

Life is not fair. If you didn’t complete your degree, do you say – what am I supposed to do ? Would other people tell you to just go and take someone else’s degree off the wall ? Why isn’t it your job, to give all of the money you have, to the people who are poor ? Or leave your current job, so someone who is unemployed can have it instead ? Would you take your dream home and give it someone who is homeless to live in ? How about that fancy car ? Should you hand the keys over to someone without one ?

Sometimes, life requires us to accept something that is true but that we sincerely don’t want to be part of our reality. Certainly, modern medical science does have some solutions that allow previously infertile women to conceive a child using assisted reproductive techniques. Not only is adoption in the process of being reconsidered and reformed but the medical approaches are as well. Not only are adoptee searches all the rage these days – and many of those searches have successful outcomes with the photos from these reunions making my own heart happy when I see them – but people who were conceived using donor sperm or donor eggs (or both) are discovering that the anonymity that was once standard, leaves them with the same black hole of genetic identity and lost familial medical history that adoptees in closed adoptions have been contending with since the beginning of adoption, which adoptees started pushing back against as early as the 1990s. Now donor conceived persons are pushing back against similar issues.

What sometimes gets lost in these conversations is that people are not inanimate objects like a university degree, employment, a person’s acquired wealth (whether by inheritance or hard work) or the home they bought to live in, the car that transports them wherever they want to go. Actually considering the reality that a child is not a commodity. In their desperate attempt to acquire a child to fill their own unfilled need, the humanity of that child and their birth mother is sometimes lost. That reality that these are human beings with feelings and emotions needs to be carefully reconsidered. You won’t die if you never have a child but you could utterly ruin two other lives in the process of taking someone else’s child – the birth mother’s and the adoptee’s lives – for the remainder of their personal lifetimes. Yes, reunions do relieve some of that long-held sorrow but you cannot recover or make up for the time or relationship development that was lost in the interim.

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.