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.”

Who Is My Mother ?

It is a complicated world we live in.  For many children, one of those complicated things is defining who their mother is.  For decades, since adoption became fashionable, this can be a hard question for a child to answer.  Other children are challenged for other reasons.  When I first told my youngest son his conception story that involves an egg donor, he asked me if she was his mother.  I did my best to explain in age appropriate terms.  At some point, in discussing this reality of my sons’ existence, the older one asked if he was supposed to be grateful.  We answered, no but we are.  When we did 23 and Me and the egg donor was identified as their mother, my youngest son lamented he did not have my genes.  Sometimes reality is complicated.

For an adoptee, this can be a confusing question, especially when the child is very young and the only mother they know is the one that is present with them.  In this modern age, some children have two mothers or in the case of two fathers, may have been born by surrogate.  It is not an easy question for a lot of children to answer.  With divorce being such a common occurrence, many children end up with step mothers.

As the source of nurturing, comforting, sustaining and unconditional love, it is no wonder a child will love their mother.  Yet, for many children defining who the mother is can be confusing.

Even though every human being truly has only one mother, for many children with non-traditional forms of “Mom”, they should NOT have to correct an erroneous identification and say a primary caregiver is not their mom.  This puts the child in too difficult of a situation.  An adult can make it even more confusing for the child by trying to be accurately correct.

With big feelings what’s best is to validate and reflect the child’s feelings, and be a safe person for them to share their thoughts and feelings with.  If you are not the woman who actually carried and birthed that child but are the one who is there for them in that role, day after day, let the child decide what they should call you and deal with the reality that their life is complex.

Stigma Isn’t The Issue

If I had never learned about the trauma of separating a mother from the baby she has carried in her womb, I would have more support for surrogacy.  Because I have learned about this (as part of my own journey coming to terms with all of the adoptions that are part of my immediate family’s experiences) I cannot condone it.

A woman recently posted a very compelling op-ed to The Washington Post about why surrogacy became necessary for her.  First of all, she does have a child.  She writes that she is a genetic carrier of HY-restricting HLA class II alleles and goes on to explain that this means her son’s Y chromosome lingers and attacks all subsequent pregnancies. In essence, she had this small genetic component and she gave birth to a boy.  From then on, her odds of successfully carrying another child became slim to none. Her husband and she found they could create an embryo, but her body could not carry it. So the couple started down the rabbit hole of surrogacy.

My own sister-in-law did eventually become a parent by surrogacy.  I am happy for my brother-in-law that he has a son.  I also know there is a deep subconscious issue that they are unlikely aware of.  In our family, we were not supportive of this couple becoming parents because the woman always was a basketcase full of all kinds of psychotropic drugs.  They also acted as though creating a child was simply creating another possession and intended to have a nanny after the baby was born.  And they did but she didn’t last long and my brother-in-law has ended up the primary caregiver for this young boy.

A developing fetus is constantly bonding with the mother in who’s womb the infant is growing.  That bonding process continues after birth for months/years into the young child’s life.  The case described in this op-ed is of a surrogate who is carrying twins for this couple.  There is a definite bond between twins and multiples.  Maybe that will help but will not entirely remove the wounds of losing their gestational mother.

One can argue that genes matter and I know this.  I assume the soon to be parents do have a genetic connection to these twins based on other details in the op-ed.  However, there is more to this situation than genes alone.

I do not wish any child to be stigmatized because of the details of their conception.  I have a lot of personal compassion for that issue.  This woman admits that surrogacy is more political than she realized but I know she still doesn’t realize the full import of their choice.  She admits to knowing that there is an array of advocates trying to end surrogacy on a national level.  I understand why.

Questioning A Choice

There was a woman in my mom’s group that I became close to.  We were all undergoing assisted reproductive methods of varying degrees and gave birth to our children during a four month period in 2004.

This woman was not typical in our group.  She was actively being treated for cancer and used a surrogate to conceive and birth the boy/girl twins she left as a legacy for her husband.  She was anxious about having to wear a head covering to hide her hair loss in the delivery room.

It came to pass that she died when the twins were about two years old.  The couple bought a house directly across the street from the one the twins lived in to buffer them from some of the most distressing aspects of her dying.

It is fair to ask – What does it mean to create new life when one parent is dying?

The reality is that there are countless parents who don’t live to see their children grow up, but most of those tales involve unforeseen tragedy.  Among my own acquaintances two other women have died of the complications of cancer after giving birth to children that are left to their husbands to raise.

In the face of a certain ending, some couples chose to create a beginning.  The number of people who confront this exact extraordinary convergence of birth and death is small enough that no one knows precisely how many are out there.  There are outliers facing terminal illness who have forged ahead with plans to have children.

Perhaps I know more of them than most people do.  Because of my own circumstances of conception and the circumstances of my parents’ conceptions that ended their parental relationships by their becoming adopted, I have developed a different philosophical view that also does not deny a woman’s right to choose.

That right is very broad in my own perspective – not only to choose to conceive by whatever method is available to any individual woman but to choose not to carry a pregnancy she doesn’t want to invest herself in.  It is a brave new world and the rules are changing.

A Perspective On Infertility

One of the hardest, most heartbreaking experiences that can come at a woman as she eases out of her thirties is to discover that she cannot have a baby.  The protagonist in this novel is Costanza Ansaldo, a half-Italian and half-American translator, who has traveled to Italy one summer to restart her life a year after the death of her husband, the famous writer Morton Sarnoff.  She is turning forty and has made an uncertain peace with both her grief and her childlessness.  Visiting the pensione in Florence where she spent many happy times as a girl, she meets Andrew Weissman, an acutely sensitive seventeen-year-old, and his father, Henry Weissman, a charismatic New York physician who specializes in—as it happens—reproductive medicine.  These encounters change the way Costanza thinks about herself—and, eventually, her future.

For readers unfamiliar with the experience of assisted reproduction, Michael Frank’s novel is an eye-opener. The ethics-straining extremes highlight the dire need to balance power between women and men.  The novel is a stunning reveal of the harrowing gauntlet infertile women go through to conceive. This is an intricate and dynamic examination of familial ties: both what strengthens them and what can tear them apart.

Scientific breakthroughs have caused the legal meaning of family to become detached from its genetic definition. The complicated family unit that ultimately forms is built on uncharted ground. When fertility treatments fail to produce a baby, adoption or surrogacy are often the next step in a family’s effort to form itself.  Both of these take a baby bonded in utero with someone else and place the infant in the lives of strangers.

Adoptionland

There is a game similar to Candyland that I became abundantly aware of as I expanded my own understandings about the impacts of adoption.

There is an overly romanticized and idealistic love affair going on with adoption that brings to mind unicorns, rainbows and puffy hearts. In Adoptionland, clouds are made of spun sugar and the roads are lined with red licorice – nothing bad every happens in Adoptionland. All of the adopted children feel nothing but gratitude and their only goal in life is to make adoptive parents dreams come true.

The truth is that is marketing bunk.  Follow the money applies here as it does in many other situations.  The goal of the game is to take a newborn baby from its mother and give it to complete strangers who have enough money to pay for the baby.  The game has been so entrenched that this selling and buying of babies has been legalized and hidden as fees, etc.

For many adoptees, adoption is an extremely complicated experience rife with confusion and mystery – mostly because the adoption industry doesn’t respect adoptees nor seek to serve their needs.

It may seem unbelievable but there really are people out there fighting against the restoration of an adoptee’s right to obtain her own, factual, birth certificate.

There are adoptive parents who relegate the original parents of the child they are so privileged to be raising into the role of “birth parent” only – like their only role in the life of their child was to give birth to that child – so they could adopt it. Much like a surrogate mother in some reproductive situations.

Some adoption agencies charge higher fees for white newborn babies but much less for black infants.  There are states who work to make open adoptions unenforceable.

All of these unbelievable but true aspects of adoption are totally acceptable with most of the people in our adoption-focused culture.  One has to intentionally seek to inform themselves to begin to understand the truth.