Culture and Identity

I am going to try and summarize a complex situation which could apply to others who might be reading my blog.

So a 17 year old got pregnant. A relationship that had lasted almost 2 years had broken up about a year before she got pregnant but they were still ”seeing each other” on and off. He wanted her to terminate, citing that he had a very traumatic childhood and was not ready to bring a child into the world, much less with someone he no longer wanted a relationship with.

She decided against it because she had previous losses and suspected infertility due to PCOS. As soon as she saw her baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound screen, she knew she didn’t have it in her to terminate. That child is now 4 years old and carries the woman’s maiden name.

So the father then shamed her for her decision and told her she would regret it, tried to convince her to “at least put the kid up for adoption so it has a chance at a good life” and she honestly heavily debated doing that as they weren’t the only one to shame her and try to convince her she couldn’t be a good mother. She was very lost, confused and scared but ultimately decided she would keep the baby and try to give it the best life that she could, prepared to do it all on her own.

Before giving birth, she met someone. She had a gut feeling that she was capable of having a healthy relationship with this man. He there for her throughout the pregnancy, cut the umbilical cord and helped name the baby. After getting married to him, she discovered that she was again pregnant. She thought about changing her first daughter’s name but wondered if that was the ethical thing to do because she technically had another parent.

Recently, she reached out to her daughter’s estranged father and discovered that they had both changed exponentially. However, the father still does not think it’s a good idea to have contact with his daughter. He thinks his presence would somehow “mess up” her life because he still has personal issues he needs to work on. Her father is indigenous and this mother doesn’t want her daughter to grow up not knowing half of her lineage. She feels that her daughter is missing out on the rich and beautiful culture that she descends from. She says that he is not a bad person at all.

One commenter said – You are asking the right questions. You’re approaching this with humility and a desire to uphold what is best for your daughter, even if there are “easier” solutions that others are pushing for. Consider allowing her to decide when she is of age, whether she would like to be adopted by her stepdad. Adoption can be a good choice WHEN the adoptee’s needs, desires, and AGENCY are fully recognized and active. It’s as big a choice as marriage (perhaps more so!), and it is a decision that no adult should make for her, especially since she may want to consider tribal affiliation in the future.

Which Was It ?

Recently, more than one woman, as the nuances are parsed out, has come to realize that what they thought of as a miscarriage was actually a type of abortion. Truth is the definition means that both result in a similar outcome.

Medically, an abortion is the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to a viability allowing it to continue living. Many doctors now prefer to refer to this event as a termination rather than an abortion (for obvious reasons). This can happen either spontaneously or it can be induced. Generally, the more spontaneous is referred to as a miscarriage and this can occur even rather late in a pregnancy. When the event is induced, it is referred to as an abortion. Often, when a D&C is performed, medical personnel don’t really know for certain, if an embryo is present. I remember having to have a D&C when I was receiving reproductive assistance between the births of my two sons due to my lining not developing well enough and being asked directly if I was or could be pregnant. Since I was experiencing secondary infertility due to age and had not had any embryos transferred, I could be confident in my answer. With recent laws at some state’s level, this kind of situation could risk legal ramifications for the medical personnel and the woman.

During in vitro fertilization, it is common to fertilize more eggs than will be needed as the goal is to increase the woman’s chances of a successful pregnancy. Those excess fertilized eggs are commonly frozen, disposed of or donated for scientific research (which will then cause their destruction) – none of those choices are thought of as abortion. Some couples, as we did, will donate their frozen embryos to another couple – though in our case – the couple whose effort initially was successful and joyous, ultimately failed to develop after that point. All reproductive assistance patients want their pregnancy to be successful. In my mom’s group, only about half of the woman who started off in the group with us ended up with a pregnancy and ultimately, a child or children (we had quite a few twins and even a set of triplets in our group).

Often tens of thousands of dollars have been invested in the effort. Though this effort may initially appear successful, the pregnancy can still end and a decision must be made to remove those cells and the lining. Technically, this would be defined as an abortion. I read today about one case where a patient was carrying triplets. The pregnancies created by through in vitro fertilization, each implanted but stopped developing at different stages: one at six weeks, one at seven and one at eight. Therefore, none of these embryos were going to be successful in producing a child. Her doctor had to remove that tissue. It is not healthy and serves no purpose in remaining.

There is a kind of miscarriage that will be referred to as a missed abortion. The pregnancy actually ended, even though no symptoms of that had occurred. The contents of the uterus have not been naturally expelled. Sometimes, there may be some brownish discharge. The fact that the embryo has died is often discovered during a routine scan by her OB. The patient will be given Oxytocin, antibiotics and a D&C (a complete uterine evacuation – abortion). This is a situation where new laws could become problematic, especially if this occurs after 6 weeks and a positive indication of pregnancy.

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.

Somehow Holding It Together

Nicole Kidman and adopted children Isabella and Connor Cruise

A friend brought Nicole Kidman’s motherhood issues to my attention yesterday. She has my sympathy for many reasons, even though she is an adoptive mom and also had her youngest child via a gestational surrogate – neither of which I am supportive of – but I do understand the challenges she has endured.

Given that Tom Cruise does have a daughter with Katie Holmes, I would assume that the infertility issues were mostly on Nicole’s side of things. One can’t really talk about Tom Cruise without Scientology coming up. I have a very dear friend, who once posted the most gorgeous images every single day (even some she created herself) to my other WordPress blog – Gazing in the Mirror. She is deep into Scientology and even inspired me to want to look at it (I even bought some books) but I just really couldn’t get into it. Some of the health aspects were intriguing to me.

As a mother who’s daughter grew up raised by my ex-husband and a step-mother, I know the difficult balancing act required to maintain any kind of relationship at all under those circumstances. In an article from August 2021 posted at LINK> Now To Love – Nicole never gave up on the possibility of reunion with her adopted children, Bella, 28, and Connor, 26, even after suffering further heartache as she missed out on her daughter’s wedding in 2015.

The two young adults still maintain strong ties to their 59-year-old father’s beloved Scientology – the religion that originally took Nicole’s children from her by discouraging contact. The siblings kept their distance from Nicole due to her alleged ex-communication status as an “SP” [Suppressive Person] following her divorce from Tom. Now that they’re technically adults, they are free to make their own choices. Cruse had legal custody of the two adoptees after the divorce.

“Bella sent out an olive branch to Nicole a couple of years ago by using her name in her clothing brand [Bella Kidman Cruise]. “That meant the world to Nicole,” says our source. “She’s shown nothing but respect for those kids, and she kept to the agreement she made with Tom, who took full custody.” “Nicole really went out on a limb talking about them, but it was important for them to know, even in an indirect way, that it wasn’t what she wanted. And it seems it worked.”

As to the gestational surrogacy. The two younger children are shared with Nicole’s husband, country singer Keith Urban. An article about Nicole’s struggle to have children is in this article, LINK> Nicole Kidman’s Fertility Treatments, IVF and Surrogacy. Though there is separation for the child who developed in another woman’s womb, Nicole’s two daughters with Urban a fully genetically related. As a mother who had two sons via egg donor IVF conception, I can understand wanting a second child as a companion to the first one and wanting them to have that common genetic bond.

Kidman has been open about the difficulties she has faced conceiving. During her marriage to Cruise, she suffered a number of miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when the fertilized egg is implanted outside of the womb, resulting in the fetus not surviving. After her marriage to Urban and a year of trying to conceive, thanks to technologically advanced fertility treatments, Kidman was able to become pregnant and give birth in 2008 to her first biological child, Sunday Rose. 

Three years later, in 2011, the couple announced the birth of their second child, who was gestated via a surrogate. Kidman and Urban are the child’s biological parents (her egg and his sperm), the embryo was implanted in the gestational carrier’s uterus. Their second daughter was born on December 28th 2011 in Nashville and given the name Faith Margaret.

Keith Urban, Faith Margaret, Nicole Kidman, Sunday Rose

May the two girls be as happy together as siblings as my two sons are and may Nicole continue to develop an ongoing relationship with Bella and Connor.

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.

Conveying Personhood to Embryos

I am good with the definition above. With the overturning of Roe v Wade, couples who have utilized assisted reproduction to produce embryos now in cryogenic storage are concerned. Therefore, people hoping to conceive with in vitro fertilization are now considering moving their stored embryos to states where abortion is protected.

A handful of states want to use an abortion regulation to define life as beginning at fertilization. This is language that is commonly present in several state abortion bans. Some have gone into effect and others will soon, including in Utah, Texas and Louisiana. Some states want to go further – giving embryos constitutional rights through what are called “personhood” bills, even though most will never become babies. Personhood laws have been proposed but have not yet passed in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Nebraska.

IVF is the other side of the reproductive choice coin. Abortion is a woman’s right to choose ‘no.’ IVF is their right to choose ‘yes.’ Laws that define life as beginning at conception could lead to limitations around how many eggs are fertilized in each IVF cycle and whether the resulting embryos, most of which are often not genetically viable, can be disposed of. It’s standard to retrieve a dozen eggs or more, then fertilize and test them to ensure the one that is implanted in the uterus has the best chance of leading to a healthy pregnancy. If those embryos are considered people from the moment they’re fertilized, disposal could be a crime and doctors could be prosecuted. That would make IVF less successful, more costly and more inaccessible.

Couples are worried that their embryos could be held hostage by abortion legislation and that they would then be unable to move them out of state. They are worried their state will force them to have another child even though they feel their family is complete. They are worried about getting pregnant at all and miscarrying – will they be able to receive the care they need?

The bottom line is this – losing choice means losing the autonomy to dictate one’s own future. 

Much of the content for today’s blog came by way of this article – “IVF may be in jeopardy in states where embryos are granted personhood” by Chabeli Carranza and Jennifer Gerson in The Guardian.

CODE PINK

I once read a book titled The Foundling. It is the true story of a man who discovered that he had been kidnapped as a baby. Yet, his quest to find out who he really is shook up the genealogy industry, his own family and set in motion the second longest cold case in US history. It started in 1964, when a woman pretending to be a nurse kidnapped an infant boy named Paul Fronczak from a Chicago hospital.

Two years later, police found a boy abandoned outside a variety store in New Jersey. The FBI tracked down Dora Fronczak, the kidnapped infant’s mother, and she identified the abandoned boy as her son. The family spent the next fifty years believing they were whole again. Paul had long suspected however that he was not that infant.

So, not too long ago, Paul took a DNA test after the birth of his first child, Emma Faith. The test revealed that he definitely was not Paul Fronczak. From that moment on, Paul wanted to find the man whose life he had been living, as well as discover who abandoned him and why.

Now in 2022, hospitals take the situation very seriously and have drills and procedures known as Code Pink.

Recently Jesenea Miron, who is 23 years old, walked into the Riverside University Health System – Medical Center in California. She was allegedly posing as a newly-hired nurse. Miron was able to gain access to a medical unit where newborn infants were present. She then entered a patient’s room and identified herself as a nurse. The Code Pink procedures worked and she is now in custody.

There was a case in 1998, when Gloria Williams walked into a Florida hospital dressed as a nurse. She walked out with a newborn named was Kamiyah Mobley. Williams raised Mobley for 18 years as her own daughter in South Carolina after renaming her Alexis Kelli Manigo.

In the event of a suspected or actual abduction, “Code Pink” is announced loudly over the hospital system if the infant is less than 12 months of age. As more information is developed, up-dated announcements are made. When an infant is suspected or confirmed to be missing, the employee who made the discovery notifies the hospital’s Security Control Center by calling 911.

Out of 325 cases of infant abduction over the past five decades, nearly all of the cases involve a female abductor. In analyzing those abductions, not only do many abductors use similar tactics to steal babies, like dressing as a nurse. Nearly all abductors fit a similar profile. Many women who steal babies do so in a desperate attempt to keep a boyfriend or husband they fear may leave them, if they don’t have a child to bind them together. They are usually of child-bearing age and some may already have children at home. They may pretend to be pregnant, they may have recently lost a baby due to a miscarriage or they suffer from infertility which prevents them from becoming pregnant themselves.

Hanger Baby

My sister is a hanger baby. My mother was terrified of giving birth after then seven children. When she was pregnant for my sister, she tried to abort her using a hanger. It was one of those secrets of the family.

My sister was born normal but as she grew, she was more street smart than book smart. My mother favored her terribly because of the guilt in what she had attempted to do. She thought she made her stupid.

My mother had three nervous breakdowns, suffered with debilitating alcoholism, and we lived in incredible poverty our whole lives. The only pride we were afforded was knowing we our father was a good catholic who used that at every turn to borrow money using his ten children as collateral.

There were little joyful experiences in my childhood. One friend asked me once to think of my happiest moment when I was a child. I have a photographic memory but could not think of one happy experience. I am sure there were some, but they were usually times that were devoid of trauma, so they were happy in comparison.

I was cursed on my birth by my mother. She delivered me in a drunken stupor.. She hung on to the doorway frame of the wall when they tried to take her to deliver me. She just screamed how much she hated me. I lived my life in galvanized numbness. I don’t think I have been able to fully shake it. I was well in my twenties before I realized that some parents love their children.

People always say they are speaking for the unborn. But they are not. They are speaking for their religious bias. They are speaking for a conditioning to bring babies into the world for some kind of political numbers game. The unborn would be better off if they landed in a place of love for them. It worked out well for my sister being born because of my mother’s guilt, she had an advantage in life.. I was not so lucky.

Every child has the right to be loved. I did not have to endure such a loveless existence. As I grew, I have had many memories bleed through about my past lives. It was not a thing that was in my belief system and yet the memories bled through.

If I had past lives, then I know I have future lives. I have the knowing that all of who I am doesn’t depend on this one lifetime. Nor does it with any fetus. I have had sessions with clients who brushed people’s lives by being their miscarried baby. It was all the interaction they needed to complete the transaction between parent and child.

What I have endured, I would not inflict on an innocent baby. There is the starving, being poor, being unloved and trying to thrive through incredible dysfunction. It is not something I think of everyday but the trauma of being a “have not” in a world of “haves” is the most cruel fate you can thrust on a baby. It would be different if it was merely a material thing. A mother’s love can help a child through any disadvantage. But without the love between a mother and child, the fate of both seems an unnecessary fate.

I know everyone who says they are pro life think they have the most scrupulous vantage point. But if they lived the life of a loveless baby, they may be much more agreeable to allowing there to be a choice. Perhaps they can trust Love to make the best choice for each soul and take their discretion out of the equation.

~ this personal experience was shared my Facebook friend – Jen Ward. Her website is – Jenuinehealing.com

Michele Tafoya Pro-Choice Adoptive Mom

Michele Tafoya with son, Tyler and daughter, Olivia

Michele Tafoya was on the panel discussion for Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday night when she admitted to two details about herself. She is pro-Choice and she adopted her daughter from Columbia. She said she was grateful Olivia’s mother had not aborted her. The panel discussion on abortion was honest, diverse and varied, though remaining pro-Choice throughout.

Today, I learned that Michele and I share some things in common. We both discovered the female age factor while trying to conceive. Her husband, Mark Vandersall, is seven years younger. She says after the second miscarriage, “I remember apologizing to my husband, because I felt responsible. I’m seven years older than he is, so I felt like my age was a factor. And it was — the science will tell you. There are biological reasons for it, and it’s as simple as that.” I remember crying at my wedding site, regretting that my husband married such an old woman that when he wanted children, it was no longer possible for me.

At Michele’s suggestion, the couple pursued infertility treatment, and in vitro fertilization. Tafoya managed one good embryo during the first in vitro process. Incredibly, the embryo split and the couple was excited to be expecting identical twins. Then she lost the twins. The heartbreak was devastating for both her and her husband. So, in the spring of 2005, they began exploring donor eggs.

I have a friend in St Louis who had a similar experience as Tafoya of receiving the surprise news of a positive pregnancy after I sent her to see my own Gynecologist. I remember her having me rub her pregnant belly when I was trying to conceive our second son “for luck.” I guess it worked. Her son is right in the middle age between my two sons.

While in Hawaii on business, Michele felt overly exhausted. When she returned home to Minnesota from her trip, she took a pregnancy test. It was positive. Later that year, Tafoya and her husband welcomed a miracle, their baby boy. The pair decided they wanted to have more children and so adopted an infant girl from Colombia. This Mother’s Day her son is 16 and her daughter is 12. 

 

Baby Remains In Mother

No matter what happens to separate you, your baby becomes a physical part of you always. I find this knowledge beautiful.

While pregnant, the cells of the baby migrate into the mother’s bloodstream and then, circle back into the baby. It’s called “fetal-maternal microchimerism” – the presence of a small number of cells that are genetically proven to have originated in another individual. Not directly originating in the mother.

For 41 weeks during pregnancy, these cells circulate and move, backwards and forwards. After a baby is born, many of these cells will stay in the mother’s body, leaving a permanent imprint in the mother’s tissues, bones, brain, and skin. Every child a mother has will leave it’s imprint in her body.

Studies have shown, cells from a fetus could be still found in a mother’s brain, even 18 years after the baby was no longer present in her. Even if a pregnancy doesn’t go to term or the mother has an abortion, these cells are still present in her bloodstream.

A mother’s body is designed to protect her developing baby, regardless of the physical cost to her personally. This effect goes both ways, the baby’s cells help repair the mother, while the mother’s body builds the baby. If a mother’s heart is injured, fetal cells rush in and change into different types of cells to assist in mending her heart. It is known that sometimes a mother’s illness will vanish during pregnancy.

This is all part of nature’s plan that allows a baby to develop safely and survive.

And those crazy cravings you have while pregnant ? What were you nutritionally deficient in, to make your baby cause you to want to eat that ? I had gestational diabetes with my two late-life pregnancies. The fetus was craving sugar and that made it difficult to control my blood glucose. I found it surprising how the body inside my body could take over control.

So, if you have intuitively felt your child, even when they are not physically present, that is because they are still in you. Science has found this much proof that this is a reality. A mother carries remnants of her child within her for years, maybe forever, after they are no longer within the mother’s body.