Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thoughts on 3rd Party Reproduction (Donor Sperm/Eggs/Gestational Surrogate)

2014 LFP

What an amazing photo showing the love these parents have for their new baby! A family made possible by a surrogate and donor eggs.

This post is a hard one for me to write because it's about the judgement and stigma of how our family, and families dear to us, came to be. But I feel it's important to acknowledge the reality of how some people view 3rd party reproduction because only when we acknowledge these kinds of views can we help to bring about a more accepting view of what families look like and how they come to be.

I have come to believe that 3rd party reproduction, that is creating a family with the use of donor eggs, donor sperm, a gestational surrogate, or any combination of these, is viewed how adoption once used to be viewed. The general consensus used to be that infant adoptions should be closed and that it should be kept as secret as possible, even from the child himself. It was thought that this was the best solution and that talking about the truth was too painful and traumatic. There was also an aura of shame around not being able to conceive your own children, which continues to this day. People are still very secretive and ashamed of their infertility and it's not talked about like other medical conditions like cancer. Part of this may be because the couple doesn't want well meaning friends and family constantly asking if they're pregnant yet or saying inconsiderate things, but I believe it's also because they are embarrassed and think this means they're not a "real" man or woman. And then they go through the devastation of infertility alone, which is just awful. Shared burdens are always easier to bear.

But going back to adoption, it was eventually recognized that both open adoptions and talking about adoption openly are actually better for all parties concerned. Adopted children usually are curious about their biological roots and open adoption is also beneficial for the biological parents. I imagine not knowing where you came from/where your baby went and having no way of ever finding out is horrible. This is a big reason why we chose an open sperm donor; so our children can find their biological father one day if they so choose to.

People also have this idea that adoption is somehow "better" than using various infertility treatments. They think that there are so many children out there needing a loving home (which is true) and that if you can't conceive on your own you shouldn't be "selfish" and use 3rd party reproduction. What they don't realize is that adoption is incredibly expensive and time consuming, especially if you are wanting to adopt a baby in the US. Sadly, many babies that might be available for adoption are aborted early in the pregnancy and the in the cases where babies are available the birth parents often change their minds after the birth and decide to keep the baby. So there's another level of waiting and possible heartbreak for the parents who have likely been going through infertility already. For same-sex couples and single parents adoption is even more difficult and sometimes impossible. These are some reasons why people may choose 3rd party reproduction over adoption.

I will never forget some of the reactions we got when we told friends and family that we were going to be using a sperm donor instead of spending thousands of dollars we didn't have on IVF or adoption. Most people were very supportive but we did have some negative reactions, such as hinting that the baby wouldn't really be Ryan's and that it was "weird and gross" to use donor sperm. I doubt we would have gotten the same comments if we had chosen to adopt a baby, although in a way Audrey is half-adopted. It's also interesting to see people's reactions now when we tell them that she is not biologically related to Ryan, usually because they've made a comment on similarities between them. They look a bit shocked and awkward, like they don't know what to say. Would they react the same way if we told them she was adopted? I doubt it. Adoption is ok to talk about in polite society but using 3rd party reproduction should be a dirty, shameful secret.

I have also read about how 3rd party reproduction is not ethical because you are denying the chid access to their "father/mother" as if the source of donated gametes was more important than the parent(s) raising them. Would someone ever say that about an adopted child? That they should not have been adopted because they are denied access to their birth parents? Then there's the argument that adoption is ethically ok because those children already exist but in 3rd party reproduction you are playing God and creating a life where there otherwise would not be one. So the baby who was created out of rape or a one night stand is somehow more worthy of a life and loving family than my daughter who was very much loved, wanted, and yes, planned for? That argument would also mean that women should not be charting their cycles or purposely having sex during their fertile times to try to get pregnant; they should be ignorant of their bodies and just let the baby be conceived 'naturally' without any human interference. I truly believe that if Audrey was not meant to be, I would not have gotten pregnant with the donor sperm. God still had a say in her conception. I really believe that this was God's plan for our family.

Sometimes couples going through infertility also are turned off by the idea of using donor gametes because of how society (and they) view it. The show Friends talked about this when Monica and Chandler found out his sperm was incompatible with her body (although if I remember correctly, I'm pretty sure they could have done an IUI or IVF in their situation but they didn't discuss that as a possibility). They were discussing the idea of using donor sperm and had his co-worker (or friend?) over for dinner to see if they liked him which resulted in a comical situation. But at the end of the episode Monica says something about "if I can't have your baby, I want to adopt." Which I totally understand and respect, if people decide that using donor gametes is not for them. I met several couples while going to an infertility support group, Resolve, that held the same view. But I do find it sad in a way. Monica and Chandler, of course, end up adopting baby twins easily with hardly any waiting or other roadblocks. But this is far from reality for most couples in that situation. To my knowledge, all of the couples I met in Resolve are still either trying to get pregnant after failed IVF attempts and/or waiting for their child via adoption. They have been through so much heartbreak while our family has moved on from infertility and have an amazing, beautiful daughter who is the light of our lives and whom Ryan is so bonded and connected to. He could not love her more or feel like she was more his daughter. The genetic details have nothing to do with that for him. Again, not a judgement on what those families decided, but I would love to tell them that third party reproduction is a wonderful option and that biological relations are not everything. Despite what society says to the contrary.

So back to the topic of not telling children the truth of their origins. Back a few decades ago if a heterosexual couple was having trouble conceiving and it was determined that the main problem was the man's sperm the doctor would simply have the woman come in for an insemination, sometimes without even telling her husband/partner that they would be using donor sperm! The couple knew nothing about the donor, the doctor simply picked a donor with similar features to the man. And they never told ANYONE, including the child(ren) the truth! Everyone just assumed that the child(ren) were biologically related to both parents. This just horrifies me. Those children, now grown adults, were purposely lied to their entire lives. They have incorrect medical and family histories. I heard of one family who did this because "it was the right choice for their family." Their children are now grown and have no idea that their father is not biologically related to them. What if some medical situation occurs and they give the care providers incorrect medical information? All because the parents were likely uncomfortable with telling the truth and as the years passed it became harder and harder to have that conversation. Now I bet many people would agree and say that not telling the child, even when they are an adult, is fine. But would they still agree with that choice if the children in question were adopted? Probably not. Why is using donor gametes so different? People (even as children! Children are fully human too!) have a right to correct information about their origins. It's that simple. And studies show, just like adoption, the earlier you start having these conversations the easier it is for the parents to talk about and the less traumatic it is for the child.

So, a pretty controversial post. I didn't even get into the many beautiful and loving families I know that are same-sex couples, which is another topic all on it's own. The stigma those families face, not only as families who used 3rd party reproduction, but also as families who don't conform to the societal norm of heterosexual couples, is astronomical compared to what we have been subjected to. We have the luxury of hiding behind our heterosexuality and could tell everyone that Ryan is Audrey's biological father and no one would question it. But we choose not to hide, because using donor sperm is not a shameful thing! It doesn't mean Ryan is less as a man or father or that we are selfish and unethical. It just means we created our family in a different way than most families are created. And to be a little cliche: we should be embracing our differences and loving our neighbor, not judging them or hating them even if we don't agree with their choices and they are not the choices we would have made.