Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The walking wounded

I have written before about the terrible evil of IVF conception and the grave harm that is done to children when they are manufactured, not begotten. The gravest harm of all occurs when children manufactured in this way are derived from the genetic material of reproductive prostitutes (male or female) who provide their sperm or eggs as commodities (for which they may even be paid) and then walk completely away from any of their own biological children who result from the "use" of their reproductive materials.

It turns out that children conceived via "donor" materials--e.g., by means of reproductive prostitution--aren't exactly thrilled when they find out:

When she was younger, Alana S. used to experiment and tell people her dad died when she was a baby and that she didn’t really ever get to know him. She would get a sincere hug and a heartfelt, “I’m so sorry.” But when she told people the truth of her father’s whereabouts, she got a response mostly filled with confusion.

“When I tell people I’m donor conceived, God, the blank expression on their face,” Alana said. “They’re shocked, they’re paralyzed.”

The reaction propelled her to create AnonymousUs.org, a no-names online story collective for donor-conceived people, their families, donors, and medical professionals. “The goal is for it to be a healing resource, and also I want to find the patterns. I feel like I’m a tile in a big mosaic and I want to see other people’s tiles and get a big picture,” she said.

AnonymousUs.org is part of the growing online presence and increasing visibility of the adult children of anonymous sperm and egg donors—kids who are not quite all right. [...]

Currently, in the United States, you need a license to sell a condo or cut hair in a salon, but not to broker human life. The $3 billion fertility industry goes largely unregulated, offering blank pages to those searching for information where the rest of us are free to access vital statistics of public record. “I’m not a treatment, I’m a person, and those records belong to me,” says Pratten.

Pratten, 28, says the court case was a last resort. “Five years ago, it was like ‘You’re a fringe group with issues,’ ” she says. Now they’re listening. She is petitioning the Supreme Court of British Columbia to preserve and disclose donor records (although she suspects her own may have already been destroyed). She sees the issue as practical and straightforward: “We want the same rights that adopted people have.” (British Columbia has some of the most liberal adoption laws in Canada, where any adoptee who reaches age 18 may access her birth records.) That right exists in only eight states in the U.S.

Why do donor kids--when they reach adulthood--even want to know about some anonymous person who just happened to have provided the genetic material used in manufacturing the child? We've been told by the cheerleaders for the Sexual Revolution that "family" doesn't have anything to do with biology, but instead is a feel-good term for people who choose to be together, whatever their relationship, blood or other. So--aren't donor kids just ungrateful brats, not content with the mother and father or mother and mother or father and father who have raised them?

No, as the new adult donor-child activists are making clear. Like every person, those people manufactured in laboratories via IVF retain the deep, primal need of every human being to know his or her origins, his or her parents. We know that adopted children often struggle with mixed emotions and desires as they confront their birth origins, and that keeping adoption records accessible has helped adopted children with everything from learning their health histories to realizing why, in a family full of popular music devotees, they remain addicted to Chopin or Bach. Nurture may be a big key to a child's life, but it's not the only key; nature provides more than we sometimes realize, and it's profoundly human to need to know our parents.

But having come to understand this with regard to adopted children, why are we so far behind in recognizing the same dynamic at work in children whose father or mother simply provided the raw materials for people-manufacturing before disappearing from the child's life forever?

I think there are many factors involved, but that underneath all of them is our culture's implacable need to believe that there is nothing special at all about natural parenthood, about biological mothers and fathers raising their own children, about intact families forming in the same way families have formed for centuries. Instead, our culture wants to believe in the myth of the 38-year-old career woman who has enjoyed plenty of satisfying sexual relationships and is now ready to be a mother--no permanent father-figure necessary--and who turns to IVF to make her maternal dreams come true; it wants to believe in the myth of the happy blended family who have shed the children's natural father in favor of a new model via the miracle of divorce and remarriage (because, after all, so long as "New Dad" is around to toss a baseball in the evenings he's exactly the same as "Old Dad," right?); it wants to believe in the myth of every married couple having the right to have and raise their 1.5 perfect children, even if there's a problem and a lab has to step in with an assortment of attractive donor material and several thousand dollars worth of IVF treatments to remedy what Mom or Dad can't supply--in other words, it wants to believe that having children is no different than obtaining pets, and that children aren't adversely impacted or harmed in any way by a dizzying merry-go-round of shifting and fading parental figures, all interchangeable, none even remotely important to grounded and peaceful child development, to say nothing of eventual adult well-adjusted happiness.

Out in the world today, we have a lot of adults who are the walking wounded, the injured and suffering survivors of adult frivolity and carelessness. The children of divorce have been speaking out about their suffering; the children of the never-married are beginning to have a few things to say, too; and now the children manufactured yet deprived, by the decisions of one or two people, of knowing at least one of their own biological parents are beginning to give voice to their pain as well. The truth of the matter is that children do care. Their longing to be with their own fathers and their own mothers is deep, and lasting, and real. And no matter how much our culture thinks it can reshape the family at will and by the selfish whims of spoiled adults, it is always the children who will suffer the most from these whimsical decisions.


Roger said...

I'm "New Dad."

Not all of us are around because we were traded up to just because someone wanted a new model.

When "Old Dad" abused Mom, she got rid of him.

I'm here for these two boys now. I'm here for my two daughters in this (my first and only) marriage as well.

I'll be happy to tell you my story if you want.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I find the entire notion of feeling somehow "different" because your genetic material came from someone other than who you were raised by a bit artificial.

A friend of mine's niece (not created by IVF) was presented with a minor quandary when the biological father she hadn't seen since babyhood, who had abused her mother, showed up at her wedding and wanted to walk her down the aisle. She took command immediately, said there was to be no discussion, her step-father raised her, he was going to walk her down the aisle. (She referred to him by name, not status, but its none of my business to post names here.)

I am also uncomfortable with IVF, but not because of some haunting question over identity. There is a higher rate of birth defects -- probably because the natural process weeds out at least some of the more broken genes. I've never been a woman, and never expect to be one, but the idea of carrying a baby for nine months, then turning it over to the "owner" seems wierd.

I sympathize with married couples who want a baby and find themselves infertile. However, the desire of an adult to "have a baby" is secondary to the best interests of the child. That goes for gay couples too. I know they are sincere, but they are not the best option for any child. They are, on the other hand, a much better option than bouncing around foster care, which is often the real world alternative.

Red Cardigan said...

I knew the minute I posted this I'd get people telling me that divorce and remarriage was good, great, and wonderful because of abusive situations, and that the kiddies were totally glad to kick the biological parent out the door and live happily ever after without their actual dads or moms.

It is, after all, what always happened when I would say anything against divorce at Rod Dreher's old blog (in the comments, anyway). Suddenly you would get the impression that nobody in America gets divorced except for battered women.

Sadly, battered women--who have my deep sympathy--are often the last ones to give up on a marriage. The overwhelming majority of divorces in America happen because one spouse just got tired of the marriage (often because he/she had already met spouse #2...or 3, as the case might be).

And statistically that spouse is more likely to be female than male--just FWIW.

I've talked to plenty of children of divorce, though, who say startlingly similar things and have faced surprisingly similar issues. They hated the divorce, they still feel betrayed, they struggle to have a good relationship with their parents, they have a hard time forming relationships or fearing that their own marriages won't become poisoned by the toxic realities they grew up with, and so on and so forth.

But divorce is America's favorite sacred cow, and it is appalling and shameful that so many Christians accept it so unquestioningly--to the point that in some Christian denominations it's almost a given that a girl will get her first messy mistake of a marriage out of the way before settling down with a good man.

That, however, needs its own post.

Amy said...

As an adult adoptee, I totally get this, and also often get the "brush off" of my emotions and logical two-step that you find already happening.

L. said...

"... it is always the children who will suffer the most from these whimsical decisions."

The children also owe their very existence to "these whimsical decisions."

Better that they not have been born at all? Some might disagree.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Curious though, you mentioned adoption records. The Catholic Church often fights against the opening of adoption records from the past, against the wishes of many children who were adopted.

Anonymous said...

By the way, don't back down on divorce. Not that you would : )

Charlotte said...

Oh boy, do I have something to say.

Siaryls and L, unless you are adopted (or manufactured) you will NEVER understand.

kkollwitz said...

One of my adopted children, now 19, is pretty obsessed with finding out not only who her mother was, but also her vaguely-remembered sister.

Genetics matter plenty to her.

kkollwitz said...

The gap between knowledge and wisdom seems to widen every year.

kkollwitz said...

Re the Church keeping records closed:

Speaking as an adopting parent, one reason we would not adopt an American child that we did not trust the government to maintain our family's privacy from our children's birth parents.

Nârwen said...

kkollwitz :

I have friends who adopted from abroad - they said that was an important factor for them too. (Their case was a bit different, in that they adopted a pair of blood sisters, (ages 3 and 9) so the kids got to keep that biological tie.)

Maureen said...

We've adopted twice and expect questions about origins from our children. Who wouldn't want to know at least something about where they come from? With adoption, at least since Roe v. Wade, the child can presume they were loved by their birthmom enough to have chosen life for them. While this doesn't answer why they chose adoption over parenting it does give adopted children more than anonymous sperm/egg donation gives to those children.
We all go through questioning who we are at points in our lives, how much more must adopted children wonder, and donor childen even more.

Maureen said...

One of our reasons for adopting domestically was so that our children, should they desire when older, can find out more about their biological family/reasons for adoption. I imagine it will fill us with worry about the potential for hurt or disappointment for our kids should they seek more info than we have, but it's their life story and they have a right to it if possible.

L. said...

Ah...this exactly is why I resolved to stay away from "issues" blogs for a while. Okay, dipping my toes back in, anyway, here goes:

Charlotte, I am not claiming to understand the pain of any adoptee who longs to be with/know about biological parents.

I am only saying that I know lots of people created on "whims" -- some of them sinful whims and some quite natural -- and I am glad they're all here, every one of them. This doesn't mean they don't suffer, as my own children certainly do.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

Oh, L. I knew you'd be back as soon as I read this post. Trust me, those of us born after 1972 are very much aware that our very existence today is due to the many whimsical decisions of our parents and that existence could also have been erased by the whimsical decision to abort us in the womb. That's why so many of us despise the free wheeling, "do what makes you happy" mentality that people like our parents and you, as you've made it seem here, choose to worship at the altar of.

And Roger, even the Catholic Church allows for divorce under the circumstances of abuse and most likely, given evidence of real abuse (not just the "he didn't love me enough to buy me roses or she didn't fold my socks the way I like them" kind of abuse that people who can't admit to sharing a part in the blame claim) most truly abusive marriages will even be annulled. But don't think that means the children escape without scars that you might not even be aware of yet. Stories like the one Siarlys shared are the exception, not the norm. And even though he presented the story with the appearance of a "happy ending", divorce and remarriage is the gift that keeps on taking.

What about when that bride has a child who looks like biological grandpa and is a constant reminder of her genetic connection? Or, even worse, a personality trait that reminds her of him? Or when biological dad gets to be an old man, when he is not longer so brash and bold, but pitiable and weak? And he wants to be a part of her life in some small way and she feels sorry for him because now, as a parent herself, and not a stubborn young bride, she sees that a parent's love is indescribably complex and that people can change, or at least, can try. How will her mom take that decision? What about step-dad? What I have written is just as much fiction as the happily-ever-after ending when divorce and remarriage are a part of your life. There won't be a minute when that decision won't affect, in some way, the life of the children damaged in the wake even when they grow up. She calls her mom to complain about a little bit of marriage tension or strife? "Why Dear... there is always divorce. It worked for me and your father" or "Darling, you know I tried to make it work with your dad. Sometimes, there is no other way! You have to take care of yourself!" Like I said, it's the gift that keeps on taking!

I know this post wasn't about divorce and remarriage, but I agree with Erin. Too many people have worshiped at the altar of this sacred cow to be able to look at it objectively.

kkollwitz said...

Narwen, we adopted a brother and sister.

Bathilda said...

Siarlys: I think it would be much weirder to give my own bio child away after carrying him/her than to give away a child without my own DNA, if I were to be a surrogate. (which I won't, because I puke WAY too much to be pregnant for someone else!) I'm just saying.

As far as "Catholic Annulment" goes, I'm pretty sure it's given if you have the right money. meaning it's green and in the right amount. Maybe not for reasons such as misfolding socks, but certainly for other reasons that don't include abuse.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

And so, once again, we are all all over the map. Kollwitz even takes both sides of the argument at once, arguing that it is important for adopted or manufactured children to find their roots, and that the Kollwitz's adopted out of country so THEIR adopted children would never be able to find out.

Aren't human beings an ornery bunch of opinionated, self-centered characters? And so DIFFERENT from each other.

L. said...

Well, ALL of us, everyone of us, we are all here because of decisions made by those who came before us -- whimsical or otherwise. (And you know, those of us born far before 1972 survived abortion, too -- we just survived illegal abortions.

I won't waste any space elaborating on my sexual beliefs (again) so everyone can have fun tearing them down. The only point I want to make is, I am glad everyone is here, however they got here -- whether they're the result of rape, of out-of-wedlock sex, or of IVF treatments/surrogacy.

And maybe, if nothing else, we should be careful of how we speak of people's parents? I honestly wouldn't mind if someone called me a "reproductive prositute" -- I would laugh, since I have called myself that -- but I wonder how it would make it my kids feel? Is it okay to call an illegitmate kid a bastard, or tell the child of a surrogate that his bio mom was a "prostitute?"

Is there a way to denigrate just the process itself, without futher wounding the children concieved through the process? This is a thought worth considering (even if you don't happen to like the views of the person putting it foward here).

Red Cardigan said...

L., I've written before that saying IVF is evil isn't saying the children are somehow lesser beings. After all, rape is evil. Yet children born because of rape are intrinsically worthy children of God, like the rest of us.

But would you have me say, of a child conceived in rape, that her father was an "unwelcome and forceful sperm donor" instead of calling him a rapist? Does calling him a rapist fail to describe the situation accurately? Does it make the child less worthy of being alive?

To me, "reproductive prostitute" is simply a descriptive term for someone who sells his or her genetic material or rents her womb space in order to manufacture a child for someone else. I think it's an accurate term--better than some of the others out there. Even "donor" seems insulting: it is possible to donate organs, but is it really possible to donate half a child?

Anonymous said...

"But divorce is America's favorite sacred cow, and it is appalling and shameful that so many Christians accept it so unquestioningly--to the point that in some Christian denominations it's almost a given that a girl will get her first messy mistake of a marriage out of the way before settling down with a good man."

Hence the popular term "trainer marriage."


Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm here because, after three years of marriage, my parents decided it was a good time for my mother to stop taking the pill. Every child in my family was an intentional child.

Anonymous said...

My children are "intentional" too. I love telling them that we decided to have them, and they love hearing it. IVF children might be some of the most intentional children in the world! It is not an easy road to go down. In our family, we exercise free will, and that includes when to have children. I'm glad that they can feel special and wanted rather than a mistake, or a "whoops", or whatever euphemisms people like to call accidental children born within a marriage. How sad for them. Just to clarify, I'm not talking about adopted kids. They get to feel chosen, which is even cooler.

Maureen said...

Being #10, I don't think I was actually "planned" but I know I was welcomed and loved. It comes down to an attitude that all children are blessings, not something earned, deserved or to which we have a right.

bearing said...

Most people -- certainly including me -- have done some bad things, sometimes REALLY bad things, out of which came the most amazing blessings. Unadulterated goods, springing forth from our own evil actions.

Sometimes I think the problem "why do good things happen to bad people like me" is even more difficult to grapple with than the more common question, "why do bad things happen to good people."

The challenge is to look back on those bad actions and, rather than say "I know it was bad but I'm glad I did it because such-and-such wouldn't have happened if I didn't," say: "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever." Repent, and be thankful. So thankful.

Of course, many of the blessings that would not be here, were it not for bad decisions and downright evil acts, are people. The consequences of an act snowball so rapidly that undoubtedly each one of us owes our existence to some act of evil, sometime in the past.

These kids are no different. Our society can repent of its acceptance of IVF, wombs-for-rent, eggs and sperm sold for cash -- and look with awe and gratitude on the signs of God's mercy that are the children He has permitted to emerge from these arrangements.

May all these children see God's mercy and boundless love in their very lives.