Ukrainian Twins

Lenny and Moishe

Straight off – I am NOT a fan of surrogacy. There was a mom in my mom’s group who used a surrogate because she was actively undergoing treatment for cancer. I remember the two of us sharing that we were using reproductive assistance for our husbands. She did pass away about the time her boy/girl twins turned 2 years old. After years of trying, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law finally were successful in bringing a son into their lives.

My problem with surrogacy has arisen out of my gaining knowledge about the trauma of separating any baby from the mom in who’s womb the baby gestated. This is detailed in the book The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. Even though my own family has depended upon medical technology to create our sons, I am at least grateful that in our own ignorance, we did one thing right – my sons both grew in my womb and nursed at my breast. I have been able to do something with them that I wasn’t even able to do for my biological, genetic daughter – be in the boy’s lives throughout their childhood.

The Russian war against Ukraine is heartbreaking and difficult to be a witness of. So, a feel good story coming out of that country is welcome. NPR did a follow-up to this story that had more than it’s share of bumps along the way. The genetic, biological father of these twins Alex Spektor was born in Ukraine, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and his family came to the US as Jewish refugees. From experience, I do believe that boys benefit from the genetic, biological mirror of being raised by their father. 

The mother was a surrogate; and therefore, was never intended to parent these babies. His twins were born prematurely to the surrogate mother in Kyiv just as Russia began its war on Ukraine. In a dramatic mission called “Operation Gemini,” the babies and the surrogate were rescued from Ukraine in March. They dodged Russian artillery fire, drove through a snowstorm, and finally arrived at a Polish hospital where Alex met his boys for the first time.

For 2 months, the family was stuck in bureaucratic limbo in Poland. Alex’s wife, Irma had flown to Poland in early March, after the twins had been evacuated. She had stayed in Chicago to get the family’s legal paperwork in order. She arrived late at night and the next morning went straight to the hospital where her twins were. Alex and Irma have spent those 2 months fighting to take their twins home to Chicago.

The hospital said they needed to prove the twin’s paternity in order to discharge the kids. The American embassy said in order for them to get passports for the boys, the parents needed to bring their twins to Warsaw. Eventually officials needed to see the birth certificates and they were still in Ukraine. So, Alex crossed from the Polish city of Rzeszow back over the border to retrieve the documents from the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Finally, the couple and their twins were able to fly home to Chicago. Alex now says his experience with his twins has made him feel closer to the place of his birth. Because of these experiences, friends of the couple in Chicago have created an organization known as the Ukraine TrustChain. They provide medical supplies, baby formula, food and other essentials to people in the war.

Shonda Rhimes – Adoptive Mother

Shonda Rhimes and daughter, Harper

I read that Shonda Rhimes said to Time magazine, “I don’t think anybody has has kids is fully present at work.” She goes on to say “The idea of pretending that we have no other life is some sort of fantasy out of the 1950s, where the little lady stayed at home.” How could someone who’s responsible for at least one small, vulnerable human – responsible in a real way, not in a ’50s-dad way – ever be fully present when that child is out of earshot ? My kind of woman, I wanted to know more, especially when I learned that she adopted her daughters.

We don’t watch commercial TV networks or streaming content and so, I really don’t know anything about Shonda Rhimes work in film (we are stuck in dvd land for the time being). That she is famous or inspiring in general – and she is both – there is still the sticky issue that troubles me the most – separating any baby from the mother who’s womb that baby grew in but it is going to happen and I don’t see adoption ending as a practice any time soon.

Shonda says it was 9/11 that convinced her that she was lacking the experience of motherhood. She says that “Nine months and two days after 9/11, my daughter was born. I named her after Harper Lee. Now I can’t remember what I did with my time before she got here.” Shonda is now mom to three daughters – Harper in 2002, she adopted daughter Emerson in 2012, and welcomed daughter Beckett in 2013 via surrogate. (None of which changes the nature of my own concerns). 

She admits that, “There is no such thing as balance. That I will say right away,” as she told Business Insider in 2017. “If you are a working mother you are often not there as much as you’d like to be. I said this once somewhere, that if I’m standing on set watching some amazing thing being shot, then I am missing my daughter’s science fair. Or if I’m at my daughter’s dance recital, then I miss Sandra Oh’s very last day, and very last scene being shot on Grey’s Anatomy… Those are the trade-offs.”

Unbelievable But True

Trying to find a word for it, I think, sort of like having your own orphanage, but the children are not orphans. Certainly, the babies are cared for but one really wonders if this is a healthy situation to grow up in. Let us be considerate and call it an experimental family.

24 yr old, Kristina Ozturk and her millionaire husband Galip, who is 57, live in Batumi, Georgia (the former Soviet country, not the state in America) and have in effect created this situation intentionally by paying surrogates to carry through pregnancy and deliver through birth 21 babies for them. Their babies are Mustafa, 19 months; Mariam, 18 months; Ayrin, 18 months; Alisa, 18 months; Hasan, 17 months; Judi, 17 months; Harper, 16 months; Teresa, 16 months; Huseyin, 16 months and Anna, 15 months. The youngest kids are Isabella, 15 months; Ismail, 14 months; Mehmet, 14 months; Ahmet, 14 months; Ali, 13 months; Kristina, 13 months; Sara, one; Lokman, one; Galip, 11 months; Olivia, nine months and Judy, three months.

In order to care for so many babies, they employ 16 live-in nannies. The nannies work a rolling schedule of four days on, two days off and all live-in, with bedrooms near the kids. They also have their own kitchen where they can order food. During the day, a specific nanny is responsible for a specific child. But during the week the nannies change.

Kristina’s daughter Victoria, age six, from a previous relationship, and one of Galip’s nine older children, also live with the family making it 23 children under one roof.

Doing the math – that’s less than $10,000 paid to each surrogate. The amount paid to her 16 nannies is a living wage for 1 nanny in California. I am thinking that is is exploitation and on more than one level.

You can read the complete story and see some additional photos in I’m a Mom to 21 Babies in the New York Post.

Someone else did some background research. Not a pretty story and possibly a case of sex trafficking.

Christina had her first child at the age of 16 in Russia. Her parents split when she was little, her mother is very poor and had a small apartment that is not well heated, and she does not get along well with her step father figure. When she turned 18, she was flown to Batumi (likely by an agency that works in trafficking women but publicly she has stated that she took herself on this “vacation”).

Within 24 hours of making this trip, she met her now-husband, and the love bombing started hard. On Instagram, this trip was recorded as swimming with dolphins, having elaborate dinners on balconies, having personalized fireworks shows for just her. In actuality: Galip Ozturk is a known criminal and murderer, and was already plotting something far more nefarious. He wants 100 children. He arranged for Christina to go to a fertility clinic within these first few days of meeting her in person. Here they performed invasive tests as well as bloodwork to check her hormones and egg reserves. Within 3 months she started her first IVF cycle to withdraw eggs. Christina has no control of what happens to these eggs. She has gone through 4 cycles (and likely it has been speculated, a 5th) and has created 22-30+ embryos PER CYCLE. For an average family, one cycle with 30 embryos would be more than enough.

Christina has publicly stated she has no part in the surrogacy process. Galip and the agency (or agencies) that he works with arrange for transfer day(s) and choose the number of embryo(s) to be transferred. She has publicly stated that many times she has not known there were more pregnant women until Galip told her to meet them at the hospital at birth. At first, she was told they would have 5 children with surrogates because she told Galip she thought she could only handle 5 at a time.

There are more than 21 children- and at LEAST two that are currently in the NICU that she seemingly is not allowed to post about, as these posts are taken down quickly. It is unclear if they have lost children in the NICU after birth, or if children with disabilities are not included in this count. Many people have theorized that Galip will only allow healthy children home.

Christina’s daughter (prior to having an influx of surrogacy children) was initially allowed to live with them in the house and after hitting 10+ kids, was sent to a boarding school. It seemed to many this was “temporary” for Christina, but that she was lied to (again) and more surrogate children started to appear. Her oldest no longer lives in the same country as her and also has no contact with her family in Russia unless on a vacation with Christina and Galip.

Christina regularly states that Galip is not happy with her sharing the number of children that they have, and she has expressed some confusion as to whether the children are all genetically related to her or if some of these children are infant adoptees to “help friends”. All in all: Christina was trafficked into this situation, and was coerced into this lifestyle without much input of her own. There is likely a LARGE incentive to keep up with this life now as she has very few other alternatives. Not only are these her children- but her oldest child is not in her direct care either and may be being kept from her.

I Admit I Am Old School

This not the first time it has come up. I am doing my best to recognize changing norms and find a good level of acceptance within my self. For one thing, among those changing norms is a recognition of the trauma that every adoptee experiences. Another is same sex couples and the frequent desire of these couples to go beyond marriage to parenting. There I do struggle with having grown up with a certain kind of mindset that believes optimal for children growing up is having both a male and female role model. I am also realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. We have several single mothers in my mom’s group. Some chose to enter into pregnancy without a male partner and some became widows after their children were born. In both cases the children do seem to be thriving and I am a witness to that fact.

Today the question was asked in my all things adoption group – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption? I didn’t know about it until I saw that. So I went looking and see that this male same sex couple is at least enlightened enough to have been seeking “a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice”. Yet, we are talking about an infant it would appear. I once had a discussion with a friend who was good friends with a male same sex couple who was raising a little girl who they had via a surrogate. I expressed my reservations about that situation honestly. I have less concern about a female same sex couple where one contributes the egg and the other carries the pregnancy. There is still the issue of the child being donor conceived and how some sperm donors have fathered a multitude of genetically related children.

I am glad my boys have their father as a male role model. I am glad they have me as a female role model. There are a lot of gender issues in our modern society. There is toxic male culture but my boys are home schooled so they aren’t exposed to very much of that in their daily life. It’s enough that they have witnessed me have to push back on some of that at home. Thankfully, my husband is for the most part respectful, appreciative and considerate of me. With over 30 years of marriage completed, there are bound to be moments that aren’t sterling.

In these days of gender equality, marriage equality and equal employment opportunities, it might seem odd to even contemplate discussing the topic of a male parent versus a female parent. Undoubtedly many well-adjusted children are raised in single gender families making the equality of parenting question seem out-dated and narrow-minded. I do understand this.

However, there are a number of ‘experts’ who agree that the influence of both a female and a male are vital for proper child development. This diversity give the child a broader, richer experience of interactions. I found an article that shares the perspectives of Dr Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School who notes that females and males parent very differently.

If you are at all interested, you can read about his perspectives in this article – Do Children Need a Male and Female Parent? “Need” is probably too strong a concept given the realities. I would say in a perfect world . . . but this isn’t . . . is it ? So adoptions still continue to happen today. They probably always will but reforms in the practice are still possible and adoptees are leading the charge to make reforms possible – keeping genetic and identity information intact – even after an adoption.

Strong male/female influences can be created through other family members such as an aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother. In an imperfect world this is a reasonable alternative method of supplying male or female role models in single sex households.

(M)otherhood

As I was reading a review of this book, it struck me that these are issues that come up frequently in my all things adoption group. I am also personally familiar with secondary infertility and abortion. Looks like a good read. Here is the review by Viv Groskop in The Guardian titled – Motherhood: A Manifesto; (M)otherhood; The Motherhood Complex review – calling time on the cult of the perfect parent. Yes, she reviews 3 books, I’m only highlighting one here – (M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal. You can read about the other two at that link.

In (M)otherhood, behavioral scientist Pragya Agarwal wonders if a book questioning the parental self and society’s attitudes to that self needs to define itself either as memoir or as political writing: “Does it really have to sit in a box?” Here is proof that it really doesn’t: this is an exhilarating, genre-defying read. Unsurprisingly, coming from the author of Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, Dr Agarwal is especially concerned with issues of identity, which makes this a thoughtful, anthropological journey. What does it mean to want to be a mother? What will others assume about you if you choose that – and if you don’t? What do these assumptions tell us about who we are as a society?

She frequently wonders about the role of the judgmental words we use around female bodies. She is told she has an “incompetent” or “inhospitable” uterus. She writes movingly of the ambiguities of motherhood, secondary infertility (being unable to conceive after giving birth in the past), surrogacy and her personal experience of abortion as a single mother: “A contradiction: I was a mother, but I couldn’t be a mother. Not then.”

All these moments are seamlessly interwoven with statistics, quotes and scientific evidence to clever narrative effect: the personal and the universal aspects of motherhood are illuminated as interchangeable in a way that is reminiscent of Olivia Laing’s writing on loneliness or the body. The science writer Angela Saini sums up (M)otherhood perfectly in her cover quote as “a step towards a literature that acknowledges the breadth and the variety of the parenting experience and its cultural meanings”. The whole thing adds up to the most thoughtful, empathic and inspiring science of the self. (Not that I can see Waterstones – a bookstore in the UK – adopting this as a shelf category. But perhaps it should.)

The reviewer ends with these thoughts – Overall this trio represents a side-eye question: “Haven’t we all had enough of trying so hard?” As Eliane Glaser points out in Motherhood: A Manifesto, many of the current stereotypes of mothers “symbolize our failure to improve the experience of motherhood.” See TV’s Motherland, books like Why Mummy Drinks and endless “hilarious” jokes about wine o’clock: “The only suggestion we can offer is to just drink through it.” Melissa Hogenboom’s conclusion in The Motherhood Complex? We are so obsessed with being “perfect parents” that we set ourselves up for failure. Better to be “selfish” (actually, sensible) and leave children to their own devices more often. I’ll drink to that.

What does this have to do with adoption ? If we can address what drives EVERY woman to believe she needs to have children, we can lower the demand by infertile women for other women’s babies and perhaps address the core issue of providing financial support and encouragement for mothers to keep and raise their own children. So yeah, it IS relevant.

Together Together

So, I just learned about this movie today. The movie has a 92% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It is defined as a comedy and I did LOL at some moments in the youtube movie trailer. The short summary of the movie’s plot is this – A young loner becomes a surrogate mother for a single, middle-aged man who wants a child. Their unexpected relationship soon challenges their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

I do have feelings about surrogacy and have know of some surrogate pregnancies. Since learning so much about baby’s bonding with the mother who is carrying them in her womb, I am honestly not in favor of it. I do know of one case of a woman’s mother being the surrogate for her daughter who could not carry to term. I am okay with that situation, especially because “grandma” will be in that baby’s life.

According to a Roger Ebert review – You go into (the movie) thinking you know what you’re getting into, and feeling impatient or dismissive as a result, because the movie conspicuously makes choices that seem intended to announce which boxes it’s about to check off. Then it keeps confounding you—in a way that’s understated rather than show-offy—until you have to accept it on its own terms. It’s the perfect storytelling tactic for a movie about a surrogate mother and her patron, a divorced man 20 years her senior. The main characters don’t fully appreciate each other until they quit trying to categorize their relationship and let it be whatever it’s going to be, while trying not obsess over what’ll happen once the baby is born. 

As it turns out, this is not the kind of film where the leads overcome social obstacles and live happily every after as husband and wife. In fact, it turns out to be a rare film about two characters you’ve never seen in a movie. They initially seem cut from middling romantic comedy cloth.  Matt and Anna quickly disclose shared feelings of loneliness and aloneness (different concepts) and talk about their troubled pasts. 

Matt’s marriage collapsed but he decided to have a kid anyway, using his own sperm and a donated egg. Anna got pregnant in college, gave the baby up for adoption, and earned the double-ire of her parents, who considered her a failure both for having an unplanned pregnancy and not keeping the kid. As with any donor conception, it’s complicated. Money is involved. Just don’t expect an ending that answers the question: Now what ?

But then – What’s Love Got To Do With It ? Just for fun . . . .

Chosen ? Special ? Really ?

In my adoption group, one woman wrote –

How are adoptees “chosen” and “special” and “soooo wanted” when hopeful adoptive parents would literally pick ANY baby under the sun?

Partially prompted by A Million Little Things when their adoption agency offers a replacement baby the *same day* they learn the natural mom they had bought decided to parent.

I only watched one episode. The natural mom decides to keep her baby, hopeful adoptive parents are upset, next thing the adoption agency calls saying another woman is in labor and they got “bumped to the front of the line” which sounds like a McDonald’s drive-through lane that dispenses babies. Thankfully, the woman says no… for that episode…

This same woman goes on to explain –

I’m French and was relinquished at birth. I went to an orphanage, for 2 months the birth mom has the right to come back for her baby, and nothing can happen, then legal initiates. I was legally free around 6 months by then they put me in a family that had paid $0 (adoption is always free) and vetted by social services for months.

Now they provide even more help for birth moms to parent, so the number of babies like me is only 700 per year, which discourages adoption as a way around fertility. That would be around 3,500 babies for the whole US, 50 per state.

And instead of foster homes we have a paid social worker taking kids in his home with a stipend on top of salary going to the kid’s needs. It doesn’t prevent hopeful adoptive parents from shopping for a kid abroad and is far from perfect but there is no commercialization of domestic babies, and even surrogacy is illegal.

An adoptive parent shared her perspective –

I am an adoptive parent that is still constantly learning and working through my own insecurities, I believe it all stems from the “meant to be” or “God’s plan” narrative that many/most adoptive parents feed into.

Like any disrupted match (in the eyes of the adoptive parent) is just not the child God has waiting for you. The one that worked out was the one all along. When one really thinks about it, it’s like the adoptee stated – any baby will do and becomes “chosen”. This group has helped me see the issues and concerns with this way of thinking. I am still always reading and learning though.

Another adoptee added –

As an adoptee I never felt chosen or special I felt sadness and confusion. When we were forced to adopt our foster baby we didn’t do any celebration and we didn’t announce it on Facebook etc. we didn’t start a Go Fund Me or beg for money on TikTok or share his journey. Only immediate family know.

Thank god it’s an open adoption and for the first year it was much like a divorced couple but the last year since his mom got married and has a new baby, visits and time with her have been less and less – at her request. My hope is once she settles into a new normal, she will spend more time with him. But I’ve never used those words with him.

And this came from South Africa –

I totally agree an adopted child should never be burdened with the “chosen”, “special” etc narrative. I had a domestic infant adoption with a private social worker. At the time I adopted, I tried to make sure I did NOT “choose” a specific child. The first child I was matched with luckily went home with his aunt. I was so happy for that child.

I was then matched with a different child, and again I tried to keep my heart from attaching to this specific child, in case his parents were able to parent. I was trying to keep in mind that what is best for the child is their family. I felt I was trying to offer a home for a child who needed it, and not attach and try to hold on to a child that could go to their family.

So many hopeful adoptive parents mourn the parents changing their mind – but surely that is the ideal situation.

Finally, this question – what birth mother actually doesn’t “want” her baby?

And this response – they exist but they are FEW and FAR between. The narrative of the droves and droves of unwanted babies in the US that are languishing away for help really burns me. (And I was one of those few, actual unwanted babies).

So what do adoptees actually feel ? We are not chosen. Quite the opposite. We’re discarded.

Assisted Reproduction

Breanna Lockwood with mother Julie Loving

The 51-year-old woman served as the gestational carrier for her daughter and son-in-law and gave birth to her granddaughter. The newborn, named Briar Juliette Lockwood, is the first child for Lockwood and her husband, Aaron, who are the baby’s biological parents.

These kinds of stories based upon the miracles of assisted reproduction, always raise opinions. Among those who have dived deep into such issues this is considered, for the baby herself, probably one of the best possibilities that such medical capabilities produce.

I had my daughter at the age of 19 in all ways conventional. That marriage ended. I remarried and after 10 years of marriage, my husband informed me over Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant that he had changed his mind and actually did want to become a father.

It was too late for me. I sorrowed he had married such an old woman. Then, medical science made it possible for us. I carried, birthed and breastfed 2 sons thanks to the gift of another woman’s eggs. I gave birth at 47 and 50. There are times it comes fully upon me how old I’ll be (70) when my youngest is 20. However, my husband has been every bit the awesome father I thought he would be. Because of financial circumstances, my daughter did not live with me past the age of 3 but was raised by her father and step-mother. It was my second chance to prove to my own self that I wasn’t a failure as a mother.

Both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption. In the short 3 years that I have been able to learn who all my original grandparents were (something my own parents died not knowing), I have been in this group and read so many books and while I do not think surrogacy is a good idea due to mother/child bonding in the womb and the separation that occurs after birth, I have known of two couples that did choose that route to becoming parents. It really isn’t my business but I do have concerns.

While our method of becoming parents is not perfect, we’ve always been honest with our sons about their conception. They are connected to the egg donor via 23 and Me and have met her more than once. She lives far away and so the relationships are not close. I am grateful I had the opportunity to parent, even so late in life.

Little Fires Everywhere

Just in time for Mother’s Day, I finished reading Celeste Ng’s book.  I don’t think any author could do a better job of weaving in EVERY topic I’ve ever spent writing a blog about in this effort.  She manages to address transracial adoption, abandonment, infertility, surrogacy and abortion before the book is completed.  Race and class underline all the characters and how they interact with each other.

I spent the last few days unable to attend to my own research for my own manuscript in process because I was so very engrossed in this story and could not stop reading.

I will try not to spoil it because you should read it for yourself.  I learned about it through an adoption group I belong to and not because of the book per se but because of the TV series.  I don’t know how close that series was able to stay to the book but I don’t get commercial TV here.

It is a  story about mothers and today we celebrate Mother’s Day.  These women’s stories interweave and clash in different, sometimes shocking, sometimes deeply moving ways. At the heart of the drama is a court case trying to resolve the difficult question of who “deserves” to be a mother.  I would say there is no such thing as “deserving” to be a mother.  One either is or one is not.

The author has friends who’ve conceived easily, who’ve struggled to conceive, who’ve adopted or gone through invasive IVF procedures or used surrogates, or who’ve decided not to conceive. Ng says – “The main constant seems to be judgment. Motherhood seems to be a no-win battle: however you decide to do (or not do) it.”

She continues, “Someone’s going to be criticizing you. You went to too great lengths trying to conceive. You didn’t go to great enough lengths. You had the baby too young. You should have kept the baby even though you were young. You shouldn’t have waited so long to try to have a baby. You’re a too involved mother. You’re not involved enough because you let your child play on the playground alone.”

“It never ends.” And I personally know ALL of that is true.

Ng concludes her thoughts with this insight – “We give women less information about their bodies and reproduction, less control over their bodies, and less support during and after pregnancy – and then we criticize them fiercely for whatever they end up doing.”

Celeste Ng writes in such a skillful manner that I feel humbled in my own attempts in comparison.  I cannot recommend her book enough to do it’s brilliance justice but do – read it – if you have not already.

 

Surrogacy Is A Separation

I have known of two cases of surrogacy directly.  Both utilized donor eggs.  One was a mother who was being treated for cancer.  She did die when the twins were about 2 years old and the father, who was directly their genetic father, remarried.  The other one is a family member.  The wife takes a lot of drugs to manage her mental health issues.  They had a lot of failures but did eventually succeed and the little boy is now 5 year old and I am happy for my brother in law that he could be a father.

I didn’t question the practice at all until I began to discover my own genetic roots (both of my parents were adopted).  As part of that journey, I began to learn a lot of things about infant development. No matter how you spin it, babies are being separated from the woman they’ve shared a home with for 9 months. The woman whose body nurtured and cradled them. They know her scent, her heartbeat. That’s who they know. And they are born and handed to someone who smells different, some stranger they don’t know.

There have also been cases where a surrogate mother became so bonded with the infant in her womb that it took a court case to separate them and contracts between a couple and a surrogate are much more explicit now about what is being done and for whom.

It hasn’t been all that long since The Handmaid’s Tale was making current news and the forcing of women to complete a pregnancy they don’t want for the purpose of handing their baby over to a prospective adoptive couple, often with undertones of evangelical Christianity seeking to convert the world to their philosophies, is very real even now.

One woman commenting on this situation admitted, “I seriously considered being a gestational carrier (their baby in my body, not my biological child) and when I learned about adoption trauma I knew I could never do it. How awful to take a baby from their only life connection. It’s cruel. It only serves to gratify the adults’ needs.”