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.

Reversal

Sadie & Jarvis, with Godparents, Kennedy & Brandon and kids

I have written before about the special challenges that adoptees of a different race face when placed with a different race of adoptive parents. In the past, this has usually meant Black and Asian children placed with white adoptive parents. In a somewhat recent development, Black couples are adopting white children as shown in my photo above. I was made aware of this couple today.

For most of my life, I really did not have much of a racial identity. True, my skin was unmistakably white. I grew up on the border with Mexico and so my environmental was predominantly Hispanic. My parents were both adoptees with no more than a minimal knowledge of who they might have been before adoption. I used to say I was an Albino African because really I couldn’t prove otherwise and neither could anyone else. I honestly suspected 25% Black, 25% Hispanic and the rest White for much of my adulthood. Now that I know something that my parents never knew – something about the people who conceived my parents and gave their genetic heritage to us all – I know that I have 25% Danish, a lot of Scottish and Irish, quite a bit English. These are the real realities and it is a gift I never expected for over 60 years of my life to receive. Yeah, it matters.

This story has an interesting twist. After agreeing to foster a newborn, actually premature, baby boy they named Ezra. After agreeing to foster, the birth parents deciding to surrender their son to this couple for adoption. Next, the Sampsons chose a new and somewhat surprising path that I am also familiar with – embryo donation. This allowed Sadie to experience pregnancy. Their twin daughters were named Journee and Destinee and they are also white. Their family motto has become, “Families don’t have to match.” 

Because I am familiar with reproductive medicine, I know the difficult next stage – what to do with leftover embryos ? We allowed ours to be adopted. It was all arranged online independently but the couple did hire a lawyer. I never questioned their race nor did the thought cross my mind. Clearly, it was not a predominant concern of my own at the time. Sadly for that couple, the process did not result in a pregnancy and live birth.

White supremacists worry a lot about the dilution of the white race. It is a fact of modern life that the races are mixing. Interracial marriage, the children born to such unions and adoption are all – let us hope – leading to a better understanding that human beings are more alike than different. That peace and harmony on this planet may be the eventual result. The only real question remaining is the issue of adoptee trauma and that many donor conceived persons also have issues with how they were conceived. It is a tricky path to walk but some brave souls are stepping out ahead of the rest of society. With a better understanding of psychological impacts, it may be possible to avoid some of the worst of the worst outcomes. I do hope over time that proves true.