This past Tuesday, I was reading the Midday Open Thread when I came across this gem:
These people are sick:And I thought to myself, “Well, huh: Somebody at Daily Kos just called me sick.”
Conservative Christians have long joined hands to oppose abortion, often following the lead of the Roman Catholic Church. But evangelicals are leading the charge in adopting embryos, and encouraging people who have stockpiles of frozen embryos to make them available for adoption.
They could, of course, adopt actual children who need actual families and actual homes. If they actually cared about children. But it's so much easier to make an empty, symbolic point about the sacredness of test tubes, isn't it?
See, my wife and I actually have an eight-month-old daughter who came to us via "embryo adoption,” which from the other side is called “embryo donation” — a process by which a frozen embryo created by Couple A (or Couple A plus Egg Donor B and/or Sperm Donor C) is donated to Couple D or Single Mom E. From there, the embryo is implanted in the “adoptive” mom-to-be’s uterus. With luck, she then becomes pregnant and carries the embryo/fetus/baby to term, just like normal.
My wife and I also have an almost four-year-old son who came to us via traditional adoption when he was three days old. We adopted our son after trying for several years to have biological children — a process fraught with great sadness and, since we needed the help of reproductive medicine, great expense. When that route failed and we decided to adopt, we used all of what little savings we had left (and then some) to do so — but happily, 'cause our son is a wonderful, wonderful kid.
When he was two years old, our little man told us he wanted a brother or sister. The old-fashioned, biological route wasn't open to us. The traditional adoption route was also closed, because we just didn't have a spare $30,000 sitting around. (Did you know adoptions cost that much? They do. And often more.) After much research, we learned about a very under-the-radar embryo donation program. We applied and were accepted, and after a short time my wife went in to the clinic, where a team thawed a donated embryo, checked its health, and implanted it in my wife’s lady parts. Nine months later, she birthed our own little bundle of test-tube-baby joy, and our son had the little sibling he’d asked for.
“Adopting” an embryo had three great benefits for us:
1. My wife got to carry a child, which is something she'd been truly mourning not being able to do. (Did you know infertile women, even those who have been able to adopt, often have overwhelming feelings of loss at not having been able to carry a child? They do. That’s why many go through years of infertility treatments, just to have a shot at what most people take for granted as a basic human right.)
2. The cost of being impregnated with a donated embryo was between one sixth and one tenth the cost of a traditional adoption. I know it’s terrible to introduce the concept of “cost” when talking about your children, but when you’re a couple that’s not able to reproduce in the traditional way, for whatever reason, it’s a stark reality. Nobody is out there just giving kids away. Getting them is a long, difficult slog that drains your bank account and leeches away your morale bit by bit as the months drag by — because (did you know?) adoptions sometimes take years to arrange. We know one couple that waited four years before they were matched with a child. Imagine that.
3. The medical costs of pregnancy and childbirth were covered by our insurance, and, just as important, my wife was able to take paid disability leave after the baby was born — something she had not been able to do after our son came to us via traditional adoption. In order to spend time with him, she’d had to take all her vacation time, then go right back to work or lose pay. See, when employers don’t offer true maternity leave, most new moms can still arrange some time off via disability leave — to recover, physically, from the “disability” of pregnancy and childbirth and (incidentally, unspoken but vital) to care for and bond with her new baby. However, this option isn't available to adoptive moms. When an un-pregnant woman announces one day that she now has a child via adoption, her options are more limited — in our case, to taking unpaid FMLA leave, which was a nice Catch 22 considering that we’d just drained our bank account and gone into debt to pay for our son’s adoption. My wife could still technically take time off . . . but then we wouldn’t be able to pay our mortgage. Ah, capitalism. In our second go at parenthood, embryo adoption and the resultant pregnancy and childbirth allowed my wife to take six weeks of paid disability leave (using the insurance she’d been paying into for years), then as much unpaid FMLA leave as we could afford.
I'll add that the embryo we received had been donated by an anonymous couple who had also been through a long, difficult, and similarly expensive quest to have children. Once they did, they made the frozen embryos that were left over from the process available to people who were in the same situation they'd been in. It was a wonderful thing for them to do — and they had to pay for it, incidentally: The clinic charged them an annual fee to keep the embryos in their cryo state, until they were "adopted." Not a day goes by that I don't send a little karmic thanks out to those folks, because I have a beautiful daughter due to their generosity.
Summation: While I'm fully on board with lambasting religious wingnuts for their wingnuttery, especially when they're wingnuts of the "talk the talk without walking the walk" variety, good and otherwise thoughtful and intelligent liberals/progressives really need to consider the full scope of possible situations that led a couple to choose embryo “adoption” before using the word "sick" to describe them — to describe me. People in our situation hear the phrase "Why don't you just adopt?" an awful lot, and it's not only rude (walk a mile in my shoes, man) but doesn't take into account how difficult adoption actually is, psychologically, financially, and in terms of how little support adoptive families get from a system set up around traditional reproduction. Just be a little sensitive, OK? We weren’t able to simply have sex and get pregnant, but we’re still just like you. The fact that we want to have children, just like you, doesn’t make us “sick,” it makes us “human” — even if we’ve traded dictionary-definition “reproduction” of ourselves and our DNA for something else: the chance to love a child and bring it up in the world, teaching it what’s right and wrong and hoping that our liberal, tree-hugger, live-and-let-live, holding-these-truths-to-be-self-evident views rub off. Which, in a way, is also the purpose of this diary, ‘cause for people who are supposedly in favor of broadening the tent and embracing the under-represented, progressives can sometimes be just as insensitive as those on the other side of the aisle.
I’ll leave you with a story that nicely drives home my overall point, links the struggles of the infertile with one of the major rights issues of our times, and gives you yet another reason to loathe Mitt Romney . . .
In 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to obtain marriage licenses in the state, but then-Governor Romney, then as now, had endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Plaintiffs to the supreme court case repeatedly asked for a meeting with Romney to discuss the issue, then resorted to showing up at his offices and staging a press conference, a tactic that finally got them a sit-down. Plaintiff and lesbian mom Julie Goodridge was one of the participants, and her story had been widely covered in the national media — particularly the part where her former partner had been denied hospital visitation privileges following the birth of their daughter.
Here’s what unfolded toward the end of the meeting:
“I looked him in the eye as we were leaving,” recalls Goodridge. “And I said, ‘Governor Romney, tell me — what would you suggest I say to my 8 year-old daughter about why her mommy and her ma can’t get married because you, the governor of her state, are going to block our marriage?’”“Your adopted daughter,” said Romney to Goodridge, who was in fact — and famously so — her daughter’s biological mom. The estimable blog Stirrup Queens had much to say on this point:
His response, according to Goodridge: “I don’t really care what you tell your adopted daughter. Why don’t you just tell her the same thing you’ve been telling her the last eight years.”
The adjective was wholly unnecessary, and in its glaring extraneousness, it feels inserted as a statement. . . . Goodridge [who was reduced to tears by the exchange] was upset that the details of her daughter’s life were completely rewritten by an adjective, but — to me — these recorded moments speak to something so much greater: the way the general public views assisted family building.Myself, my wife, our adopted son, and our adopted former-test-tube-embryo baby daughter all thank you for your attention. Now go get out the vote.
We are a generation that more than any other generation is charting a new path through assisted family building, and we’re doing this with only a flimsy framework of support and research in place. . . . [W]e do this because it is the way we reach parenthood if we want to reach parenthood; the traditional doors to parenthood closed to us either due to physical limitations or circumstance. I am speaking about myself, and I am speaking about you. I am speaking about the millions upon millions of people around the world who cannot build their family without assistance . . .
This is about humanity; about asking for a tiny corner of understanding in the general world where family building comes easy. . . . Overcoming the limits of biology is hard enough; we don’t need to add insensitivity to the burden.
1:33 PM PT: First, thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, and recommending. Some follow-ups based on the comments:
1. Regarding those people who noted that the right’s interest in pushing embryo adoption is part of their overall attempt to limit reproductive rights, I mostly agree. I’m completely opposed to that agenda. I was just pointing out that not all people who do embryo adoptions are sick right-wing nutjobs.
2. I don’t pretend to understand the right-wing mind (groupmind?), but I’m fairly sure few if any people are adopting embryos with the intention of keeping the little proto-tykes in their test tubes, giving them a place at the daily dinner table, and setting a little non-birth-day cake out in front of them once a year. Embryo adoption is, by definition, what my wife and I did: receive a donated embryo with the intention of becoming pregnant, bringing the fetus/child to term, then raising it, worrying about it, getting mad at its poor choice of friends and tattoos, then sending it to college and hoping everything works out.
3. I’m not sure whether to be amused or depressed by the commenters who seem to assume that my children are white, or that my wife and I looked for white babies so they’d “look like us.” Y’see, I’m black. Actually, no, that’s not true, BUT IT COULD BE. What, do only white people write diaries on Daily Kos? Un-huh. This is a multiracial site. Getting back to the storyline (and absolute truth), I actually am a lily-white Irish-American, but my kids are not. Our son is African-American, and our daughter is Persian-American. When my wife and I began arranging our embryo adoption, we specifically asked the clinic not to match us with a lily-white embryo, because we didn’t want to people to look at our family and single out our son as “the adopted one.” That seemed unnecessarily marginalizing. One commenter above pointed out that most embryos available for donation/adoption are probably white because the pool of Americans seeking help with fertility is largely white, and I think that’s probably true, or largely true. The clinic we used has hundreds of embryos available for donation/adoption, but only a small percentage are non-lily-white.
Thanks again for the comments, and the discussion. And congrats to all those adoptive parents who commented — and of course to the non-adoptive parents, ‘cause I’m not about to treat you bio-parents any differently than I treat my own people. Oh and hell, you non-parents get some congrats too. C’mon, gimme a hug.
2:58 PM PT: Another quick update: I may be wrong here (and please, if I am, can someone offer some evidence? Links?), but some of the comments betray what I think is a major misperception.
The original open thread said "evangelicals are leading the charge in adopting embryos, and encouraging people who have stockpiles of frozen embryos to make them available for adoption." A number of people seem to believe that those evangelicals are just adopting the embryo as is, with no intention of growing it into a child. That, I'm pretty sure, is false. What they're doing is encouraging people not to destroy unwanted embryos, but instead to make them available to people who want to use them to become pregnant. And hey, bully for them. I think that's great, and it's worked out wonderfully for me and my wife.
I certainly don't buy into the whole "embryos are people too" (personhood) thing, which those evangelicals probably do, but in general (removing it from the larger anti-choice agenda) you could think of this like "creation care": If evangelicals want to encourage (not mandate) people to donate their stockpiles of frozen embryos (or, re creation care, be more responsible for the environment), what's wrong with that? Some commenters will say making embryos available means people won't adopt kids who are already born, but that's like saying men won't date brunettes if there are more blondes around. Of course they will. It's a personal choice you make, based on your abilities and needs.