I was 26 the first time I got pregnant. I am glad to report that this kid is now a National Merit Finalist despite the fact that I threw back a few before I found out he was on his way. I had not been trying. In fact, I was using a diaphragm. Here the word “using” actually means “I owned one.” So infertility is not something I have ever faced personally, but even at 26 it was something I feared.
The possibility that I could not have children of my own lurked in the back of my mind although I had no medical conditions that might have predicted any such problems. Watching friends go through infertility is especially heartbreaking as I am fully aware it could have been me. The thought of any child in the world growing up without a family is also heart breaking. You’d think it would be simple to match these groups of people together, but the adoption process is far from easy. If you are single, for example, or a gay couple, there are places where it is almost impossible.
Instead of focusing on the intricacies of adoption, however, we as a society have chosen to turn to technology to produce biological children that carry familial DNA in cases where the back seat of a car (or the front seat if it’s a Buick) just isn’t going to cut it. I am not going to chastise people who choose this option over adoption because I honestly don’t know how I would have felt about it if I were faced with the choices given to them by the asshole God of Infertility. I think it is only after I became a mother and had my own biological children that I came to understand I love them because they are my children, not because my DNA is in them, but in spite of that. I love them for all the crazy things they do and for the things they are good at and for the things they are not so good at and because they are kind and when they are not as kind as I’d like them to be. Sure it’s cute that my younger one has my dimples, but it’s not why I love him. I love them for who they are, and they are not me. They are not even half me. They are 100% them. It is only because I understand this now that I know that I could love a child that is not related to me. I don’t think I knew this in my 20’s. And I’m not proud of it.
I know some happy families that have come together through IVF. The United States was once so threatened by this technology that the research was banned. Now it’s a multi-million-dollar industry. Despite the regular destruction of embryos, the pro-lifers generally leave you alone if you are producing pretty white middle class babies. I think those of us who insist we want a baby who looks like us have to face the grim reality of the racism implied in this desire. It’s also white baby lust that is largely driving the surrogacy industry, and I think that’s enough to make me uncomfortable.
I’m having some trouble wrapping my brain around surrogacy. I heard this great podcast on NPR recently about a gay Israeli couple who purchased eggs from the Ukraine (this is where you get cheap white eggs) that were then fertilized by their sperm and implanted into Indian women who due to legal stuff had to live in Pakistan for the duration of their pregnancies. These men were not able to legally adopt or hire a surrogate in their own country due to their sexuality. This story is more successful than most because it resulted in three babies. Three! One surrogate delivered twins and the other a singleton. But despite the great deal of money the men spent on this process, they were distraught to find out later that the women who were paid by the agency did not receive as much cold hard cash as they had been led to believe. It was still a good bit of money to these women, however. Life-changing money. Enough to raise the standard of living of the children they already had.
I think a woman should have the right to provide a greatly needed service for a price. But it’s tricky. There should probably be lawyers involved. Better lawyers than this Californian woman had. She is 47 years old and is pregnant with triplets. Three! And she is convinced the man whose sperm was used to fertilize Ukrainian (cheap white) eggs and then rent her womb is a completely unfit father.
If the fact that this single man who lives in his parents’ basement ordered himself a white male (the embryos were selected for sex before implantation) baby does not give you pause, perhaps the fact that he is having trouble coughing up the money needed to cover a high-risk-woman-over-forty-having-triplets-what-could-go-wrong type pregnancy probably should. If that’s not bad enough, since he never ordered THREE babies, he asked the surrogate to selectively abort one. It turns out this woman already has triplets of her own, so the fact that this might happen again when she was implanted with THREE! embryos even though many doctors refuse to implant more than one at a time might have occurred to her. It did not occur to the sperm donor, however, even though he assured the surrogate in an email that he would be happy to take care of as many babies as she produced, and there was a $6000 bonus in the contract for multiples. But he didn’t mean THREE or a high-risk pregnancy or any of the other things that can unexpectedly happen when you are a parent.
It turns out that the contract also stated he had the right to request multiple fetuses were selectively reduced, but the surrogate refused, saying she was against abortion. She even offered to keep the third baby, but the donor refused, asking her instead to put him up for adoption. All three babies will certainly be preemies and are likely to have health problems.
Now he’s threatening to sue for breach of contract, and she isn’t sure she’s willing to hand any of them over to him. This is a man who after all, asked if she could maybe not visit the doctor so often as it was costing him too much money. Meanwhile, she has developed gestational diabetes and can no longer work. The babies are yet to be born, a selective reduction is no longer possible (the surrogate has passed the time period at which abortion is legal), and the lawyers are hashing it out.
This mess may have been avoidable if the surrogate had understood her contract and the medical risks involved, if a doctor had thought through implanting 3 embryos into a woman who was already at high risk for complications due to her age, if the sperm donor had been screened more thoroughly (he was subjected only to a criminal background check), if it had been more important to him to give a child a home than to create a clone….
Maybe our legal system just needs to catch up to the technology that creates on-demand babies. Or maybe we as a global community just need to love the children we have. Even the ones that don’t look Ukrainian.