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.

Shame

We feel shame when we violate the social norms we believe in. At such moments we feel humiliated, exposed and small and are unable to look another person straight in the eye. We want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame makes us direct our focus inward and view our entire self in a negative light.

I came upon the powerful graphic above yesterday and felt there was more that I could personally say about it. On my Facebook profile page yesterday, I shared – I have owned up to this before. I had an abortion at the age of 23 or so – mid 1970s. I am glad it was safe and legal. I was not being reckless. I was driving an 18-wheeler with a partner. Our dispatcher didn’t get us home to where my pharmacy was in time and I ended up pregnant. Neither he nor his family were the kind of people I would be glad to have been tied to through a child today. At the time, I had breakthrough bleeding. My ex-SIL and ex-BIL had a child with serious birth defects. I just felt the pregnancy was not progressing normally. Also, to be honest – I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support. I’ve never regretted it but pro-Life propaganda has definitely haunted me. In writing this, I searched my memory for all of the reasons why I chose that course of action.

The mothers and women in my family, and to whom I am genetically related, chose other courses of action. Back in the 1930s, the mothers of both of my own parents, chose to carry their pregnancies, spent the first few precious months with their babies, and one way or another lost that first child to adoption. I wrote, and it was true, “I didn’t want to commit my life to 7 more months of going it alone with no financial support.” In some people’s minds I was simply being selfish and I will accept that judgment, though in truth I have no regrets about doing what I did and for the reasons I did it at the time.

Yet, I felt enough shame for having chosen a different path (both of my sisters carried unplanned pregnancies to term but also gave their babies up for adoption) that it was a long time before I admitted to anyone what I did earlier in life. It was my private decision which no one but the circumstances influenced. Maybe influenced in no small measure by the legality and safety of the choice at the time. Only as Roe v Wade has come under increasing opposition have I started sharing my own story of what it was like to have made that choice and my gratitude that I had it available to my own self when I felt I needed that.

The father of my own conception made it clear he would not stand by me if I chose otherwise but I don’t think that was my major motivation. In reflecting on my statement that I would have had to “go it alone” above, I also know my parents supported one of my sisters throughout the pregnancy and then, remarkable to me now that I know more about adoption in general, my own adoptee mom coerced my sister into giving up the baby she wanted to keep and then, encouraged a lie to me that the baby had died. Intuitively, I knew it had not and concocted fantastical stories about what had actually happened to the baby believing it had been stolen and taken into Mexico (my sister had delivered at a hospital in El Paso TX very near the national border). Because of this, my mom finally admitted her truth regarding the whole situation to me.

Many women bear a cross – maybe they suffer their whole lives knowing their child is out there somewhere out of their own reach. Many of these original mothers suffer a secondary infertility and never have another child. Many struggle as single mothers to keep and raise their child. Our society does nothing to help them. My sister actually sought financial support during her pregnancy but was denied it based upon our parents financial condition. It was not my parents seeking financial support but my sister and not in increase my parents financial condition either.

After I divorced the father of my first child, I had to go to work and that meant child care. When one “family style” child care that she loved at first became a tearful battle, I left work to check on her and discovered through the window of a half door, an older child bullying her and no adults in sight. I pulled her out that day. I often had to go to my mother to beg $20 to make it through to payday. She never denied me but financially it was always difficult. At the time I divorced her father, he told me he would never pay me one cent of child support because I would just party with the money. Such a horrible perception he had of my own integrity and ethics. I didn’t want to spend my life in court fighting him for it even though the judge insisted in awarding me $25/mo “in case” I changed my mind and wanted to seek an increase. I never did. Instead, I left my daughter with her paternal grandmother while I tried to build a financial nest egg for the two of us by seeing if I was capable of driving an 18 wheel truck cross-country.

I always intended to return for her and would have never given her to her father to raise but his mother did that. He remarried a woman with a child and then they had a child together. Unintended consequences of financial desperation. And now, in a sense my story has come full circle, my shame – not even listed above – is that I gave up raising my child for financial reasons. Back when she was in day care, I couldn’t hardly answer the pediatrician’s questions, because she was away from me all day. After her father and step-mother raised her, I struggled to find birthday cards for her that reflected the lack of a daily, physical relationship I had with her. There were no role models for an absentee mother back in the mid-1970s, even though the absentee father was a standard reality.

Shame. Oh yes, I am well acquainted with it. As my daughter knows, I have struggled to find peace with not having “stuck it out,” as my own mother said to me that she would have done, to do the right thing by my daughter. It is a work in process. Recently, I reflected on all the things I did right by her in the brief early years she was physically under my care. I told her, I realize that when I was mother to you, I was a good one. And the abortion ? I atoned for it, by giving up my own genetic connection to have two egg donor conceived sons (same donor both times), that my husband might be able to have the children he desired, even as we both realized I had gotten too old to conceive naturally. Even so, they are now almost 18 and 21 years old. They have proven to me that I can “mother” children 24/7 throughout their own childhoods. At least I have no shame in that. I even breastfed both until they were just over 1 year old. I also have the knowledge that I didn’t put adoption trauma onto the fetus I aborted early in that pregnancy.

Actually Birth Mother Fits

Me and my Sons in 2009

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic recently and having learned that today is National Sons Day, I decided it was appropriate for me to just go ahead and write about my thoughts.

In adoption circles, “birth mother” is no longer the preferred term for a woman who gives up her child to be adopted by strangers never to see that child again. These women increasingly prefer first or natural mother for their role in their birthed children’s lives. For many, some kind of reunion takes place after the child has reached an age of maturity. Such reunions are becoming common place. Some are happy and others are heart-breaking.

When I embarked on my journey to discover my own genetic roots back in 2017, I really didn’t know much about adoption. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world for me and my sisters because both of our parents were adopted. They really had almost no idea of where they came from and varied from one to the other regarding how they felt about the situation. Now I know what my parents didn’t know the day they died, I know who their parents were and a bit about each one of them.

Back in 1998, when my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, he surprised me with the announcement that he wanted to become a father after all. I had become a mother in 1973 within my first marriage. He had always been glad I had been there, done that, no pressure on him. Now he was instigating the unthinkable and it proved to be almost undoable as well. We tried all of the advice and used ovulation predictors but could not achieve success. A nurse practitioner in my GPs office referred me to her own OBGYN who delivered the good and bad news to us. I had an egg developing that would prove to be my very last. He gave me a shot of something or other to give it a boost but to no avail. At that same initial meeting he told us there was another way for us to become parents – donor eggs.

We found our donor and everything was simply agreements between the three of us. The first son was the only successful pregnancy out of 4 that the doctor tried to assist that year. We had no idea he had so little experience. We also never anticipated that inexpensive DNA testing would come along or prove so popular and accessible. While still in the maternity ward, recovering from a necessary c-section due to me being positive for hepC to prevent transmission to my baby, my husband was already saying – “Let’s do it again.” We had some leftover embryos and tried that but it failed.

We weren’t certain our previous donor would agree to “do it again” but to our undying gratitude she did and we were by then at a very experienced clinic in Las Vegas with a doctor who’s reputation for success was very reassuring and we did – succeed. We now have two sons that are fully genetic and biological siblings and they are wonderfully close and appreciative of each other. Each one has some of my husband’s traits but each one is also very individualistic. The older one has an artist’s soul and has gifted us with many dvds starring himself and his brother as reminders of their childhood days. The younger one turns out to have a genius IQ and a natural aptitude for composing music and takes to all things computer oriented like a fish in water.

Thankfully, we never hid the boys method of conception from them but we never made a big deal about it either. We have visited with the donor on more than one occasion but distance and financial constraints have prevented us from getting together for quite a few years now. Enter Facebook. Thanks to social media I remain in contact with her and the events that take place with her and my son’s half siblings born to her. I show my sons photos of them when appropriate.

One day, I discovered she was doing 23 and Me. I had also done that DNA testing as had my daughter and my nephew and assorted relatives from my original grandparents that I have since made contact with. So that year, I gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit. Then with the older son turning 18, I gifted him with a kit and decided to go ahead and gift the younger one as well, so that all was reconnected on a genetic basis. This also allowed us to reiterate the boy’s conception stories to them now that they were mature enough to understand them fully.

So, this brings a unique circumstance into all of our lives. At 23 and Me, the egg donor is shown as the boys “mother”. Neither myself nor my daughter nor any other genetic relatives of mine are shown as related to my sons. Only the younger one has expressed any sadness that we are not genetically related but the truth is, they simply would not exist nor be who they are any other way and they have a happy life as near as I am able to judge that. We have a happy family as well. Generally, I’m not very public about this because I don’t want people to be cruel to my sons but it is the truth and I am able and willing to face that. The egg donor is available now to each boy privately via the messaging system at 23 and Me, if the boys want that, and I’ve told them both she is willing to receive any contact they wish to initiate. She has always shown a caring perspective about them, while understanding with phenomenal clarity about her limited role in their lives.

So where does that leave me as their mother ? Birth mother fits pretty well because by golly I carried each boy in my womb for 9 months and they each nursed at my breast for just over a year. We have never been separated as mother and child such as occurs in adoption. I am the only “mother” they have ever known and I love hearing them refer to me as “mom”. We are very close, I do believe, though the older one is now 20 and forging a bit of independence. We did not fully foresee all of the ramifications of our decision to conceive them at the time we made that decision – we were not inclined to adopt someone else’s baby – and so, we used the only method available to us and I am grateful we were successful because from what I know only about half of all couples who try this method are successful.

While I may not have been fully aware of all the effects of our decision, having these two boys has been a tremendous gift. When my genetic, biological daughter was only 3 years old, I was forced by financial hardship to allow her to be raised by her dad, who subsequently remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had yet another daughter. My daughter has half and step siblings in a yours mine and ours family. I was unable to give her a family life during her childhood and by the time I married this husband she was well along into high school. Never-the-less we are as close as most mothers and daughters may be but without very much childhood history, which I recognize I have lost and can never regain.

I considered myself a failure as a mother and though I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the years, I still do feel that way in regard to my lack of mothering her. I failed her and the effects have been somewhat similar to what adoptees experience within her own life. I am grateful she doesn’t hate me for it. She seems to understand the situation I found myself in at the time. What these boys have given me is proof that I am not a failure as a mother and for that I will always be grateful. It is my hope my sons will always be grateful for the life they have. Some donor conceived persons struggle with their reality. I understand this now, though I didn’t know then what I know now about so many of the messy complications of life.

Carmen Martinez Jover

Here my newfound values related to all things adoption and foster care bump up against my decidedly new age tendencies and personal experience.  It’s always about the bunnies in my household.  Though these bunnies have human hands.  Oh my.  That part is a travesty.

The adoption group I am a part of does not appreciate Carmen Martinez Jover because of her books on adoption.  One adoptee writes – “My thoughts to you Carmen Martinez Jover: I did not chose this, I did not want this, I reject this, fuck adoption!”  This is tough ground.  I am not an adoptee but I know too much now to ever dismiss the feelings and trauma an adoptee experiences in being separated from the mother in whose womb they grew.

Her books seek to explain adoption to adopted children.  She and I also share an interest in past lives.  The manuscript I have in process is actually about reincarnation and being given a mission to deliver a message in a Syrian refugee camp.

As a matter of fact, her theory is that adoption occurs by the choice of the child’s soul.  This is hard because we really can only theorize about consciousness before physical life.  However, due to my own personal beliefs, I find it difficult to criticize her on that point.  I see this belief structure as being about empowerment, not fault finding.

Here’s one quote –

“The soul is with its soul group, then goes and visits the Elders who give the soul advice on how to be happy when it’s born. The soul is then shown glimpse of possible lives and chooses the parents it wants. Understanding that it cannot be born in a conventional way and is born in another woman’s womb and with the help of adoption lives happily with its chosen parents.”

I do realize that such thinking is not for everyone.  Jover has experienced infertility firsthand and is a fan of Dr Bruce Lipton, who I once met in person and also deeply appreciate.

What I do know about adoption has led me to feel that, of all the options for addressing infertility, egg donation is the kindest to the child.  That is my lived experience thus far.  My obstetrician suggested it to my husband and I when an attempt to jumpstart my very last egg failed.

I would not call it a fully informed decision based on what I know now.  Both of my sons know as much as they are interested in as teenagers about their conception and we are fortunate because the egg donor for each of them was the same woman.  There is some sadness in my youngest son that he doesn’t have any of my genes, though my emotions and the foods I ate throughout his pregnancy contributed to the body his soul inhabits.  My sons would not be who they are otherwise.  This is the bottom line truth.

There is some adjustment needed in my own feelings and emotions as we have all done 23 and Me.  My grown daughter (who is biological to me and my first husband and thus carrying our genes) is also there at 23 and Me.  I see her shown accurately as my daughter.  That feels good.  But I do not see my sons.  The woman who donated her eggs also has a 23 and Me DNA result account and she is shown as their mother.  Genetically, that is the truth that I can’t deny.

This is the world modern medical science has made possible.  I loved my pregnancies with both sons.  I loved breastfeeding them each for over a year.  I love that I have been here for them from day one and will continue to be in their lives until I die (hopefully, before either of my boys).  It means a lot to me to have mothered them because I have faulted myself for being a horrible mother.  Due to poverty and my ex refusing to pay child support, my daughter ended up living with him.  He remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had a daughter.  This gave my daughter a family with two sisters, the same family structure I grew up within.

I paid a steep price for not raising her, I lost so much and know it, and I continue to pay a price for the choices I made as a young adult.  Though I have a good relationship with my daughter now, her childhood wasn’t as good as I once believed but I didn’t know the truth then.  Just like once upon a time I didn’t know anything about adoption.  Just like I never saw inexpensive DNA tests changing everything for donor conceived children.  I do still believe in eternal souls.  I do believe there is much more to this thing called Life than any one person can know or understand.  Only the “All That Is” intelligence can know that.  Some people call that God.  I am good with whatever anyone wants to call what I have discovered for myself somehow exists.