Is Infertility A Disability ?

Sunshine, Angel, Rainbow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Genders Drive Adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoptee Anger

Adoptee anger by Kyleigh Elisa

What one adoptee has to say about her own from Kyleigh shares about Adoptee Anger posted in Intercountry Adoptee Voices. Kyleigh was adopted from Colombia and brought to the USA.

I am angry for sure. I feel like my anger ebbs and flows. Like, some days I’m just ready to burst and others, it’s a slow burn deep down.

When I was first given permission to be angry about my adoption about a decade ago by a therapist, it was like a volcano that erupted inside of me and I couldn’t stop it for months. Back then it was more about always feeling unacceptable. Feeling like I hated how I was different in a sea of white people. That no-one close ever really acknowledged the pain inside me due to adoption. That I was made to feel like I was an exotic commodity, while also being told, “No, you’re just like us. You’re just our Kyleigh”. I feel like that was some kind of unintentional gaslighting trying to make me feel accepted, but it had the opposite effect.

Since then I let my anger out more regularly and I don’t drink to dull the pain like I used to. I am definitely still angry though and I hate being adopted. I hate colonialism. I hate white supremacy. I hate the patriarchy. I am afraid of religious organizations that allow people to justify it all. I believe all these things contribute to why we are all adopted.

Billowing anger by Kyleigh Elisa

I just start thinking about it all and the anger billows. It’s a thought path I have to force myself to interrupt because it does not help me. While I think it’s good to be aware that stuff exists, I also cannot allow it to deteriorate my mental health. So I research and try to give back to our community and participate in adoptee organizations – this reminds me that I’m not alone.

Remembering I’m not alone helps a lot. Taking gradual steps to reclaim pieces of my culture that were taken from me helps too. It’s scary while I try to get back what was lost, and that’s upsetting at times, but in the end I reap the rewards accepting each little piece back to me, as it’s mine to rightfully hold.

The Disappointments

I can only be grateful at the good fortune I have experienced in becoming whole. Whole in the sense that after over 60 years of life, I finally know who my original grandparents were and have some contact with their genetic descendants.

It doesn’t go that well for everyone touched by adoption. It certainly did not go that way for my own mom. She so yearned to let her own original mom know that she was okay, to connect with her. When she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, she was denied on a technicality based upon a lack of effort on their part to determine the status of her father (who had been dead for 30 years by that time). My mom was heartbroken to learn her original mother had died. Finally, in 2017, I paid the fee I was asked to pay and got the entire file. It is a shame my mom was denied this for it would have brought her so much peace.

So today, there is this story from an adoptee – She had received her original birth certificate and was applying to receive her entire case file. It seems there is a no contact order from her original mom. The adoptee intends to respect that wish. The original mother was informed that her child was looking for her. She was asked if she wanted to provide any additional information. The answer was, no, not at this time, keep the file open. But 5 years later, the original mother placed a no contact on the file. This is, of course, a huge disappointment.

Another with such a disappointment – 20 yrs ago my biological mom did the same thing when I wanted my file. I recently found her via Ancestry. I have had communications with 2 of the 6 half siblings but not her. She will be 90 next month. I continue to pray she has a change of heart. Having a connection with her siblings is wonderful but only my biological mom can truly provide me with the information that my heart years for regarding the 1st chapter of my life.

In my case, my biological mom’s “secret” was exposed to my half siblings about 20 yrs ago. Turns out her sister had had a little too much to drink and told her nieces and nephew (who are my half siblings) at a family gathering, about me (secrets do have this tendency to out themselves). The half siblings never mentioned it to my biological mom because they were uncertain her husband knew of my existence. They knew nothing else though, not even my sex. They did not want to cause her marital problems. Her spouse passed away around the time I found her via Ancestry. That was almost 2 yrs ago now. I have met one of my half siblings in person. There are a total of 5 daughters and one son that are my half siblings. A couple of the girls are supposedly working on our mom to let go of the shame of being an unwed mother. I have no real way of knowing if that is true or if they are protecting her due to her age, trying to be respectful of this situation. I know the son is adamantly against troubling her with it. He lives with her, which makes it even tougher to have a breakthrough. Thus I may never know…

Another person shared this – “My grandfather is a vile person, however we found my mom’s adopted sibling three years ago and mom has now met every family member but him. I would personally reach out to others. I’ve loved getting to know my aunt.” I can relate to this. Getting to know my truly biological/genetic family has meant every thing to having a fully formed sense of self. I believe my maternal grandmother’s father was cruel – not to take in my grandmother and mom – which forced her exploitation by Georgia Tann. I wonder often, did he ever regret that ? I’ll never know but I have been told that just as I expected – he was a hard man.

Here is another “no contact” but finding other relatives story – My husband is also adopted (I’m adopted). He found his mom and she asked him to never contact her again. He was devastated. But he reached out and found his uncle, who absolutely does want a relationship. He’s found other family members, as well. I’m sad about it, too. His adoptive mom died when he was a teenager, so I never got to meet her. I’d like to meet his biological mom. She has a grandson now. But she doesn’t want to meet him either. That’s her choice. There really is not much we can do about that.

Finally, this sad outcome – My mom will never talk to me because her sense of reality is horribly off. My half brother and aunt do talk to me though! It’s the greatest gift I could have hoped for – after she started pretending I was dead.

Adoptees should have the human right to know about their own self. This really should supersede an original parent’s desire for no contact. She can have privacy (no contact) but should not be allowed anonymity. As an adoptee, you are entitled to know about your genetic makeup and medical history. We all should be.

Sadly, Many women live and die without ever shedding any of the oppression of the patriarchy. As you can imagine they’re more likely to be married to men who are committed to it, abusive, and demeaning. You don’t have to abide and can do anything you like – I would just suggest to a disappointed adoptee – it’s not a rejection of you – even if it feels that way.

However, knowing it in your mind and feeling it in your heart can be 2 very different things. I believe with all my heart, if these afflicted persons could overcome those feelings, they would personally be better off.

Women’s Rights

The topic of abortion and it’s intersectionality with adoption comes up often in adoption groups as it does in religious groups, especially those that are strong anti-abortion.  Because every baby that isn’t aborted is a potential baby for sale to someone, usually a couple, who can afford to buy the baby.  And money is always involved.

Throughout history, men have made decisions about what a woman is allowed to do.  It goes back to biblical texts that support a patriarchy.  Most women of at least a certain mature age have spent a great deal of their life dealing with men who feel an entitlement to a woman’s body in one manner or another.  And throughout history, men have impregnated woman with no sense of responsibility for any conceptions that occur afterwards.

Abortion often comes up in conjunction with infertility.  Infertility has EVERYTHING to do with adoption. Abortion is also a topic discussed in a pro-choice adoption community group. Hopeful adoptive parents use their infertility to complain about abortion.

The most enlightened point of view is just because I can’t have kids, doesn’t mean another woman can’t decide whats best for her body, mind and soul.  I will always defend a woman’s rights – not just to determine whether to carry a pregnancy to term but for equal pay, for the right to be respected when she refuses to have sex with a man and to be free of the violence of domestic abuse.

In response to someone clearly pro-Life in my adoption group, one woman wrote – I am an adoptive parent who had fertility issues. While I would never choose abortion for myself, I will never judge a woman who does. That’s not my job. I leave all judgement to God.

As someone who had an abortion, that I still think actually was the right choice for my own self and for my male partner at the time, it is not an easy thing to live with.  It’s not “God” who judges me, but my own self, and I have reflected on it deeply many many times.  The pro-Life narrative that one can’t avoid doesn’t help with the paradox of believing in a human life developing in the womb and still making the decision that the life is not what is best for one’s self given one’s personal circumstances.

One woman wrote – I’ve been struggling with infertility for three years. It sucks. But I’m still very pro-choice. My struggle to get pregnant will never mean anyone else should be forced to go through a pregnancy.

A pregnancy is a long term commitment – 9 months – which is almost an entire year.  It impacts one’s ability to live their life according to their own trajectory.  If a woman carries the baby to term and then given it up for adoption, the impacts of that decision last a lifetime for the woman and for her child – and they are not happy impacts, even in the best of circumstances.  Like any horrific trauma, both may learn to live with it.  When a woman chooses an abortion, it is not the preferred choice, which would have been not to become pregnant to begin with.  In my case, work that kept me away from my pharmacy, meant I was late beginning that month’s birth control.

I also support society coming to the financial and emotion aid of any woman who carries a baby to term and wants to parent that child.  That is the intersection point where the trauma of mother and child separations could be prevented.  If one’s belief is in God, then perhaps the best perspective for a pro-Life woman dealing with infertility is that God chose not to make them a parent.  Acceptance, in other words.

 

Choosing to Remain Child-Free

A conversation that came into my awareness this morning went like this –

I have a friend who recently underwent a procedure that will permanently sterilize her at 21 because she is certain she wants to be childfree.

Recently laws have passed that allow drs to deny this based on “good conscience”. It was already difficult enough to get it done.

What I’m surprised about is the different comments I have heard on this being said and the amount of uneducated people…

Some of the comments I’ve seen/heard –

“What about all the infertile women? You would never do that if you knew how many infertile women wanted babies!!”

“I can’t believe you would do that. What if you marry a man who wants children?”

“Sterilization should be illegal when there’s so many desperate good families hoping to adopt a newborn baby!”

Tell me – Why this is problematic ?

(I know why…I’m ready to protest it. I’m tired of laws going backwards. I’ve spent 2 years fighting with insurance over my own body just to have surgery because I’m at an extremely high risk for life threatening pregnancies.)

My body is not a political opinion nor is it my job or another woman’s job to be an incubator to push babies out for you because you’re infertile.

One woman shared – On Mother’s Day at my job I was asked if I have kids. I said no and I never want kids. Everyone acted like I’d just said something so heinous. One co-worker told me I should have babies and sell them. Like WTF ?!

She added –  it really pisses me off how many stories I’ve heard about women who want to get this procedure and can’t because doctors say they need to have at least one kid already, they need a man’s approval, and/or they’re too young. Meanwhile, women have to put up with the side effects of birth control methods. It’s really belittling of women to think they can’t make these decisions for themselves. And misogynistic to leave it up to the husband to give his approval for the procedure. Or to not do it because there’s no male significant other to ask for permission. Like women can’t have their own bodily autonomy. As if we’re just possessions for men and only have value as breeders (a term that Georgia Tann used – dehumanizing).

One woman put it rather simply – If you don’t want children, you don’t marry someone who does. That’s basic compatibility.

Then there was this woman’s personal story –  My older sister, now 40, still looks for a doctor to do a sterilization for her. She has never wanted a baby and asked at her first gyn appointment, when she was about 13, when she could have a sterilization. She never once wavered but it looks like she will never receive her desired treatment, because every doctor she asks, thinks she might change her mind. This so f***s me off! It’s her body, her decision, her money. Why does nobody give a f**k, when a man has a vasectomy??? Even childless men seem to be allowed to have one without questioning. That’s so biased.

My personal perspective ?  It is our body, given to us to utilize however we want to while alive on this Earth.  Every person’s decision should be honored as long as it is within legal boundaries – that includes abortion, sterilization, divorce, etc.

Rights Over Women’s Bodies

Margaret Atwood has a new book out, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale set into a time 15 years later.

As we are seeing in today’s government, “Rules are for other people.” Last night we watched the 1984 movie version of the book 1984. I didn’t remember that it was that grim. Hard to watch. And with the image of Trump’s rallies today, the large audiences, their anger and their lockstep with one another was chilling and much more scary than the last time we watched this movie. I actually read the book in high school English and don’t remember it as being so frightening.

The Handmaid’s Tale is equally frightening in a society with an increasingly conservative Supreme Court. Margaret Atwood says of her new book, The Testaments, that “one of my models for that was 1984 itself, which does not end with Winston Smith about to be shot in the back of the head, but it ends with an essay on Newspeak written in the past tense in standard English — which means that the world of 1984 ended.”

“George Orwell did that very deliberately. He doesn’t tell us how it ends, but he gives us the signal that it has ended … So it may not surprise you to know that I was pretty interested in double agents and people working from inside totalitarian regimes, against those regimes, when I was writing this new book.”

In non-patriarchal societies women are valued.  Not so much in patriarchies, where men rule and men are valued over women — whether you’re talking present-day America or the world circa BCE.  Think we’ve progressed beyond that ?

Oklahoma Representative Justin Henry has made an argument that women are mere incubators. He has been seeking to put forward legislation that would give men more rights than women over women’s bodies.  Men produce the live seed, women simply hold that potential life in their wombs.

We aren’t there yet baby and the outcome for children in The Handmaid’s Tale is not much different than the multitude of adoption stories.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf ?

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

I’m not thinking of the famous movie but of the author.  Like my grandmothers, she lost her own mother at a young age.  I was encouraged to read her book “To The Lighthouse” by Jean Houston when I attended a week long Salon at her home in Ashland Oregon.  There is an element of her personal story to speaks to that loss of a mother.

Virginia Woolf was concerned about the injustice of patriarchal domination of women, the horrors of incest, the consequence of a social system which places no value on educating women and the astonishing liberation of moving from acceptance of a Victorian sentimental notion of marriage to easy and tolerant attitudes toward sexuality.

She was a genius at conveying inner experience.  At age 25, she wrote a set of reminiscences for her sister’s child, though it is actually a memoir of her childhood and adolescence.  In it, she sets out to convey how the death of her mother when she was twelve affected the family.

Shortly after her mother’s death, Woolf became violently emotionally ill – hearing voices, physically violent, racked by physical pain, unable to sleep or rest. Neither her half brother’s forced physical intimacy or her bout of insanity – form any part of the story of her coming of age.

In “A Sketch of the Past” (written when Woolf was 60 yrs old) she speaks more directly.  Her stepbrother’s abuse gave her such a fear of male sexuality that she had another breakdown and was in a nursing home for a long spell.

Finally, she retrieved her self-confidence enough to take up her writing career, and even marry, though she remained sexually frigid.  Woolf went on to write some of the strongest feminist fiction and nonfiction to be produced in the twentieth century.  She became an icon of the liberated female consciousness – sensitive, ironic, detached, capable of profound human insight because she embodied the androgynous blending of reason and intuition.

Woolf would have insisted that human affairs are much more complex than the confessional autobiography suggests.

Nonconformity

Is it in the interest of the state, the family, or the child
to remove it from its own mother’s custody
if her only crime is nonconformity?
Whose interests are being served?
Since a mother loses her rights not by mothering poorly
but by violating patriarchal rules for women,
then ‘parent’s rights’ are but a subterfuge for men’s rights,
such as they are. ~ Phyllis Chesler, 1986 from The Baby Scoop Era

My father’s mother was unwed.  She gave birth to him in a Salvation Army home in Ocean Beach, California in 1935.  They released them, still together, after 6 weeks.  But unable to make a go of it without any familial support, they agreed to hire her and moved them still together to El Paso, Texas.  There, she was eventually convinced to give him up for adoption for his own welfare.

When I got lucky and discovered who his paternal father was, I was shocked when his step-granddaughter, branded my grandmother “a Scarlet”.  He was a married man, married to an old woman almost 30 years his senior.  He was a Danish immigrant not yet naturalized (though he would become a citizen in due time).

I was a bit angry about her assertion.  I doubt my grandmother knew he was married at the time she was first seeing him but he certainly did.  And as the self-reliant woman she was, she handled it the best she could.