That Pesky Biological Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is much more in the linked article.

One Huge Lifelong Question

Certainly, my mom yearned to find her original mother and I believe that both of my original grandmothers wished to find their children (both of my parents were adoptees), surrendered to adoption, once again in their lifetimes. It did not happen. All of these 6 people died without ever finding one another again.

Sharing today some excerpts from a blog by Linda Hoye titled “Where Is She? An Adoptee’s Lifelong Question.

Where is she?

No more the sound of her familiar heartbeat that lulled me to sleep and that my own synchronized with. Instead, a cacophony of strange voices and hospital sounds startles my newborn senses. Unfamiliar arms lower me into an isolette. I am alone and don’t know where I begin or end. Someone props something on a pillow beside me and touches my lips with a rubber nipple. Substitutionary sustenance. I drink. I sleep.

Then, one day, I’m dressed and wrapped and put into the arms of someone who smells of something other than this strange and lonely place. She is gentle and holds me so close I can feel her heartbeat. Days and weeks pass. I drink and sleep and grow used to her and learn to relax when she holds me while I drink from a rubber nipple until I’m milk drunk and fall asleep in her arms. But I don’t stop wondering.

Where is she?

On another day, after I’ve grown accustomed to the cuddling and playing and the belly laughs she draws from me, she is no longer there when I wake up. Instead, I look up into the soft misty eyes of another woman. The smile on her round face looks like love. She caresses my cheek and holds me so close I can hear her heartbeat. This happened with the other one too. I wonder where she is and how long this one will stay. There’s another face beside hers—a man—looking down at me and smiling too. But still, the bigger question remains:

Where is she?

A half-century later I kneel at her grave and place my hands flat on the ground. Oh, here she is. But, by now I’m too late.

And this was me too – at least at the graves of my maternal, biological, genetic relatives. Too late too meet any of them in person. Hopefully, my words as I sat down at their graves and uttered my words were heard by them in whatever that place is that they have gone. Someday, may I also visit my paternal relatives graves.

Caught In The Middle

Some circumstances in life are just plain hard to judge. I understand the point of view of this adoptive mother, even so, where is the compassionate middle ground. I haven’t decided. Here is one adoptive mother’s point of view –

I had to discuss with my son’s biological mom that there are boundaries and if she wanted to be involved in any way then she needed to understand them and honor them. My son is MY son, not hers. We came up with a special name that we refer to her as. Never mom. Also we discussed social media. She is never to address him as her son. He is not her son. She is to call him by his given name. I understand that biological moms have to deal with the emotional aspect but so do the adoptive moms. She is no longer his mother. A mother is far more than giving birth. A mother raises you and puts you first. I am very close with his biological mom. I have a great relationship with her for my son’s sake and it was a surrender. She was not forced in any way. But she is not his mother any longer. I am. I accept her role in his life as a special person who loves him. But I am his mother, not her. And she understands and respects that. She is thankful that I allow her to be a part of our family. I didn’t take his mom away from him. She took her role as mom away from herself including by making bad choices and choosing drugs over parenting. I’m his mom and will always be. She will always be a special person in his life but never his mom. Advice to other adoptive moms – set boundaries and don’t let biological moms walk all over you. Let them know their role in the family now.

The person who revealed this mindset commented – I find this very sad and very controlling. What if the child decided one day to call his birth mom “mom” ? She can’t call him her son ? This is sad. Birth parents grieve too. They hurt too. Even parents from foster care. They grieve. They lost their child. I wish we can offer empathy to birth parents especially from foster care instead of looking down on them and using innocent children to hurt them and the child.

I do feel that putting a child in the middle of this situation isn’t fair to the child. The same kind of thing happens very often in divorce. I remember trying to walk that difficult middle ground. “You still have a mother who loves you. And you still have a father who loves you. But we are not going to all live together anymore.” Life is complicated enough. So how to simplify the situation suggested above ?

I do agree with this perspective – “I’m sure the only reason the biological mother agrees with this is so she can have something to do with her son. There is a difference between a ‘mom’ and a ‘mother’ but it is ultimately up to the child to decide how to view each one of these women. Not the biological mom or the adoptive mom.” These two should not be playing their own issues off with the child caught in the middle.

Someone else disagreed and I do see this point as well – No difference between a mother and mom to me. I have two moms and two mothers. Same difference. It’s not confusing. I see no reason to distinguish a difference or set them apart.

And in fact, this is a valid point – If it wasn’t for the biological mom, the adoptive mom wouldn’t even have her son in the first place. I don’t give a damn if the biological mother’s rights where legally severed, she is still his mom at the end of the day and always will be the woman who gave birth to him.

I am still seeking what I sense is an important middle ground. I understand the need for the adoptive mother to be the final say in most of what happens in this child’s life, to maintain her parental authority to make decisions – at least for a minor child. Yet, emotions and feelings are less clear. I believe that most children actually are capable of keeping the two women in a separate yet proper perspective. My heart tells me that is the truth.

What I am sensing is a possessiveness, an ownership of one person over the love of another person, by putting the magical role of motherhood into the middle of this situation. As the divorced mother of a daughter who’s step-mother married her father and so, the two of them raised my daughter, I already understand what a difficult balancing act these situations are. I did attempt to put my daughter’s feelings and interests ahead of my own. My daughter and I have discussed how similar her childhood was to that of someone who was adopted.

Family Preservation

I am a huge fan of prioritizing family preservation. Today’s blog is courtesy of a comment by Ferera Swan along with the graphic image I share.

Sometimes there’s an assumption that advocating for family preservation means “forcing a mother to parent” when that’s not what it means at all. Family preservation means keeping a baby in their families of origin even when a mother is unable or unwilling to parent.

There is plenty of available research and shared lived experiences to support that permanently separating a baby from their mother causes lifelong trauma. Extending that separation to maternal and paternal family members compounds that trauma. Adoptees also often grow up without genetic mirroring and in racial/ethnic isolation, fundamental factors that contribute to mental/emotional health and development.

Biological relationships are the birthright of every human being and should be prioritized and preserved over the interests of others.

Mother/child separation, if necessary for whatever reason, should never be a permanent decision made for the child (unless made by the child) and reunification should always be the first priority.

In the event a mother does not wish to parent, all efforts to keep the child within their families of origin should be made.

Adoptees are at least 4x more likely to attempt suicide than those who remain with their biological families. Please listen.

#adopteevoices #adopteerights 

It’s Not Better, Only Different

Today’s story

I don’t have a bad adoption story. But, it was hard, really hard, because I always missed my mother. Then, I relinquished my daughter at age 19, the exact same age my mother was when she relinquished me.

Just recently, after a lifetime of searching, I located my mother. It was beautiful and painful and healing and heartbreaking all at the same time, because we fit. And, she’s a lovely, kind, intelligent, woman of faith. She would’ve been a wonderful mother! 

To realize this is devastating. I was told it was a “better life” when, in reality, it would’ve just been different. I missed her every day. I spent the first 45 years of my life believing adoption was something brave and beautiful, even when it separated me from my mother and then again later from my own daughter. I realized the decisions that were made FOR me as an infant, and, even worse, the decisions I made FOR my daughter were, in fact, a tragic mistake. We were told it was a “selfless decision”; that my mother ‘loved me so much” she gave me away.

Love=Abandonment

You can read the entire essay here – Dear Adoption, I’m Trying to Unravel the Mess You Made

Epigenetics and Abandonment Issues

An adult adopted woman wrote – My biological daughter is 30, married with 1 child and she is struggling so much with similarities to abandonment issues that I had all my life. Her self esteem is very low, she does not feel she’s worthy of her husband, sees him as being the better person as a father and in their relationship a better husband than she is a wife. I see her trying to sabotage her relationship which reminds me of myself doing the same because I always thought people would leave me because I’m not good enough. I had to leave them first (I find this remark interesting because I am the child of 2 adoptees and I have always been the one to leave a romantic relationship) or make them leave me to prove my point to myself. She has no abandonment experiences. She’s always been loved and cherished by her father and I. I am thinking it’s epigenetics like you’ve talked about.

Our children and grandchildren are shaped by the genes they inherit from us, but new research is revealing that experiences of hardship or violence can leave their mark too. Unlike most inherited conditions, this was not caused by mutations to the genetic code itself. Instead, the researchers were investigating a much more obscure type of inheritance: how events in someone’s lifetime can change the way their DNA is expressed, and how that change can be passed on to the next generation.

This is the process of epigenetics, where the readability, or expression, of genes is modified without changing the DNA code itself. Tiny chemical tags are added to or removed from our DNA in response to changes in the environment in which we are living. These tags turn genes on or off, offering a way of adapting to changing conditions without inflicting a more permanent shift in our genomes.

If these epigenetic changes acquired during life can indeed also be passed on to later generations, the implications would be huge. Your experiences during your lifetime – particularly traumatic ones – would have a very real impact on your family for generations to come. There are a growing number of studies that support the idea that the effects of trauma can reverberate down the generations through epigenetics.

A lot of epigenetic research requires a proof by elimination and looking at what may be the most consistent explanation. Many of the times when trauma is thought to have echoed down the generations via epigenetics in humans are linked to the darkest moments in the ancestor’s personal history. The idea that the effect of a traumatic experience might be passed from a parent to their offspring is still regarded as controversial by many people.

The consequences of passing down the effects of trauma are huge, even if they are subtly altered between generations. It would change the way we view how our lives in the context of our parents’ experience, influencing our physiology and even our mental health. Knowing that the consequences of our own actions and experiences now could affect the lives of our children – even long before they might be conceived – could put a very different spin on how we choose to live. Despite picking up these echoes of trauma down the generations, there is a big stumbling block with research into epigenetic inheritance: no one is sure how it happens. 

A recent paper has revealed strong evidence that RNA (rather than DNA) may play a role in how the effects of trauma can be inherited. Researchers examined how trauma early in life could be passed on by taking mouse pups away from their mothers right after birth. The model is quite unique. It mimics the effects on dislocated families, or the abuse, neglect and emotional damage that you sometimes see in people. Different lengths of RNA molecules were linked to different behavioral patterns: smaller RNA molecules were linked to showing signs of despair.

The science of epigenetic inheritance of the effects of trauma is still in its early stages. It is suggested that if humans inherit trauma in similar ways to the mammal experiments, the effect on our DNA could be undone using techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy. That there is a malleability to the system. Healing the effects of trauma in our lifetimes could put a stop to it echoing further down the generations.

More about the research and results are described in this article – Can the legacy of trauma be passed down the generations?

Silenced Women

When I saw this graphic, it went straight to my heart like an arrow. My grandmothers, forced by circumstances to give up their first born, and in two cases only child (which includes a grandfather who never was given the benefit to know he had a son), to go on with their lives as though nothing happened.

I don’t think I’ll ever truly 100% get over it and I probably should not because adoption is still a thing that drives mothers and their babies apart. I now have an unflinching awareness of what it means to be adopted.

At almost 70 years old now, having to live through a full 6 decades before I knew the truths of my origins, I do fell as though I was born to re-connect the broken threads of my family’s beginnings, that I have somehow managed to fulfill my destiny in having been born at all.

In learning about my family’s ancestors, I also discovered what a miracle it was that in the mid-1950s, I was not given up for adoption, with my parents forced to suffer the same fate their own parents encountered. My teenage mother and my father only having just started on his university studies – both interrupted when I decided to take up residence in my mother’s womb.

My grandparents could not tell their own stories of loss that hurts for a lifetime because no one would have been sympathetic regarding their plight but for adult adoptees today, there is a growing awareness of the trauma and pain of being cut off from one’s roots and some are even choosing to attempt parenting when they had thought to give up their child and they are finding a lot of support in society all around them.

May the reform of attitudes continue to take over the dominant narrative that adoption saves babies and children from a worse fate.

Exploitation

I’m reading this morning about the surrogacy baby factories in India in the current issue of Time magazine. I personally know of more than one family who has acquired their child using surrogacy. I’m not a fan. Learning about the in utero mother baby bond has done it for me. Separating the baby from its gestational mother creates trauma in the child.

Both India and Africa are hot beds in the trade of women’s bodies to create babies for their intended families. There is also surrogacy in the United States. Always it is a matter of poverty and money.

One poor woman writes – she went to the clinic to live out her pregnancy because she was worried that being pregnant while divorced would subject her to malicious rumors. “If I tell anyone, they think that I am going to give away my own child. They don’t understand that I am simply giving my womb on rent.” Still, as far as that baby in her womb is concerned – it IS her own child.

I do have sympathy and compassion for the poor women who turn to surrogacy as their only method of creating revenue. This is a difficult situation. Without a doubt, commercial surrogacy takes advantage of low income women. I do not believe that making only Altruistic Surrogacy legal is the answer as it does not address the poverty that drives woman to provide their wombs in service to prospective parents. It will likely only drive the practice underground. A 9 month long commitment is a huge demand on any woman’s life.

Legal protection is needed – for both the surrogates and the intended parents. There needs to be medical insurance for the surrogates and a minimum amount of compensation for the time they are devoting. Don’t get me wrong – I still do not favor surrogacy. However, I am being realistic about the financial circumstances that drive a woman to agree to this. Banning the procedure will not work any better than it has worked for banning alcohol or illicit drugs. One needs to look at the source of what is motivating the behavior – poverty and desperation.

Sital Kalantry is a clinical professor at Cornell Law School and has written extensively about surrogacy. She worries about the lack of informed consent and notes that many of the women are unable to read the contracts, which are written in English, and they sign them using a thumbprint. The clinic highlighted in the Time magazine article has a C-Section rate of 70%. It probably is safer for the fetus than a vaginal birth but it is definitely more convenient for the doctor (your blog author raises her hand that she has had 2 C-Sections – these were said to avoid transmission of the hepC virus she co-exists with). And it is more convenient for the intended parents because they know when to pick up their baby.

A ban on commercial surrogacy in India will only send the practice underground. The conditions for the surrogates will be worse and it will still be in effect unregulated. Underground the surrogates will have no protections whatsoever. An example is China – despite commercial surrogacy being banned there – it is estimated that more than 10,000 children a year are still being born through that process.

You can read the entire Time magazine article here – India’s Ban on Commercial Surrogacy.

The Silencing of the Moms

St Patrick’s is often a joyous celebration with parades and lots of beer, the wearing of the green and Irish blessings. Today’s blog is not about that side of being Irish. Caelainn Hogan explored the history and legacy of the mother and baby homes in her book, “Republic of Shame“. Today’s blog shares heavily from a review of her book.

Folktales are powerful because of their purpose: they teach moral through warning. This is what could befall you, they say, this is what happens to badly behaved girls. The S Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature itemizes the following categories: Girl carefully guarded from suitors; Girl carefully guarded by mother; Girl carefully guarded by father; Girl carefully guarded from suitors by hag. All four motifs are attributed to several mythologies including those that are Irish. But the last one, “Girl carefully guarded from suitors by hag” is specifically Irish.

The mother and baby homes of Ireland were run by nuns associated with the Catholic Church. These were the depositories for women pregnant out of wedlock. Some of the homes were laundries, some were repurposed workhouses from the famine, and a surprising number actually survived into the early 1990s.  This sad history has enough gravesites, unnamed dead and persecuted women to honestly qualify as a most horrifying folktale.

Even in this modern time, women who gave birth in these homes continue trying to locate the children taken from them and some adults who survived the horrors are still searching for their birth mothers. And as recently as December 2020, the Irish government voted to keep the archives of the mother and baby homes locked for another 30 years, leaving hundreds of people without answers, which in some cases means never having a true answer to their identity.

Hogan wrote her book as a personal quest to investigate the homes and make an issue of two of the system’s most disturbing motifs: silence and female virtue. The author says – “My generation’s perspective is that the mother and baby homes are a thing of the past, but it has an ongoing impact. I was born in 1988, a year after illegitimacy was abolished in Ireland. I spoke to a friend’s mother who was sent to a mother and baby home, also in 1988. That alternative, that could have been my mother’s life. That had quite a deep impact on me.” I understand. In learning about my own family’s origins, I realized what was a miracle to me – that my unwed mother was not sent away to have and give me up for adoption.

The author says, “I wanted to show my experience of coming to terms with this alarmingly recent past and understanding how it continues to impact lives, to admit to my own ignorance even when it affected people I knew, to realize there were institutions around the corner from the house where I grew up that I never knew about, a system built on secrecy but all around us still.”

Adoption law in Ireland still protects the anonymity of the mother—which means many people don’t have access to their birth information – purely because they were born out of wedlock.  Adoption rights are an equality issue. There is still a culture of silence around adoption in Ireland, especially when it comes to adoptees accessing their own information. Ireland’s adoption laws were always intended to keep adoption details as secret as possible. It’s hypocrisy that these laws are represented as protecting the privacy rights of the mothers. The author found that almost every woman she spoke to, who had her child taken from her for adoption, who was sent to these institutions, they have only ever wanted information and answers. These are women who have spent years searching for their children. 

There is much more at the link to the review/interview, if you want to continue reading about this issue as your method of acknowledging all things Irish today.

When Circumstances Change

Expectant mothers considering a surrender of their not yet born child to adoption who end up in my all things adoption group are often counseled “don’t choose a permanent solution to what is actually a temporary situation.” Case in point, in today’s story.

So a woman had a baby when she was 19 years old. She surrendered him to adoption because she felt that she could not support herself and so by extension, could not support a child either.

5 years have passed and the original mother recently graduated from college. Throughout his young life, the adoptive mother has allowed the boy and his original mother to have contact with one another.

In a definitely misguided perspective, the adoptive mother encouraged her adoptive son to think of his original mother as a cousin or a friend. The complication here is this is a kinship adoption. The original mom is the adoptive mom’s cousin. 

Well, his original mother can now support herself. At the moment, she wants MORE contact with her son and for him to stay with her a few nights a week.

The adoptive mother is a stay at home mom and she claims her concern is that his original mother would utilize day care for him and only spend time with him at night.

The original mother and adoptive mother are now at opposite ends – the adoptive mother claims that if the original mother loved him so much, she would not have given him up 5 years ago.

The original mother claims it is cruel of the adoptive mother to refuse her request for a few nights a week with her son.

When the original mother brought up her financial struggles at the time the boy was born, the adoptive mother came back with “You don’t get to abandon your child and then decide you want him back 5 years later. I am his mother now.”

The original mother believes, given time, the two of them will bond with one another again and he will begin to think of her as his mother also. It has been proven that children are able to comprehend of more than one woman as being equally both of his mothers.

Now, the adoptive mother has threatened the original mother saying – “If you continue trying to steal him from me, I will stop letting you see him at all.” The reality is – the original mother can not legally undo a finalized adoption – so it is not possible for her to physically steal the child back from the adoptive mother.

One can certainly agree with the concern about putting him in daycare but this “stealing” language is very destructive. No one “owns” their own biological child, much less someone else’s child who one has adopted. He should be allowed to bond with his mom as often as he wants. The child should set any boundaries regarding the rebuilding of a disrupted mother child relationship.

There really has to be another way to satisfy both women. The original mother could pick her son up for the evening and drop him back off with the adoptive mother before work. Rigidity often prevents viable solutions to sticky issues from being considered. Always, the child’s best interests and well-being should be what governs decisions.

The truth is, the original mother did not abandon her child but was doing her best to do what was best for her baby at the time. Unfortunately, whether conscious of it or not, every adoptee has an abandonment wound. Because their original mother did leave them. Pure and simple. Understanding adult complications is not possible until a person is mature and living the realities of life’s hardships themselves.

The honest truth is that visits for the original mother and her child will promote a connection that is critical for the child after having been relinquished. Seeing that no harm comes of it would ease the mind of the adoptive parent. This is a situation in which a professional therapist acting as an intermediary might head off some horrific results. The child will grow up eventually and will know the truth. Better to keep things harmonious during his childhood.