August 20, 2007

The baby is so wanted that it must be really mine

By chance I noticed that this blog recently had the honor of being discussed on another blog. The blog "Right v. Easy," which is written by a woman who is raising the biological son of her cousin (conceived via her cousin's egg donation), discusses on her website how this blog has been on her mind for quite some time.

To which I say, that's great. The intent of this blog is to get people thinking about a perspective that they may not have encountered much. The rights of children in assisted reproduction continue to be far too marginalized in the field of reproductive technologies. The entire industry is focused on the desires of the customers (the intended parents) rather than on the rights or needs of the merchandise (the children, who are often not yet conceived when the transactions take place).

Anna from "Right v. Easy" is of course disturbed by the things she has read here. The typical arguments again rear their head:

1. The accusation of hate - this website is full of "vitriol".

In other words, I exhibit animus against people who use these technologies. How can I prove that I don't "hate" just because I disagree? Anyone is free to come to whatever conclusion they want about what I think. All I can say is, I of course have great sympathy for those who deal with infertility, or with whatever compels them to consider assisted reproduction. These are never easy situations. Most commonly they are extremely difficult life choices that involve deep emotions of grief and loss, among others. For many people, reproductive technologies offer the only hope of ever having a biological child - that's a huge thing to give up.

As much compassion as I feel for those who suffer with these difficult life choices however, I still can't blindly condone any and all actions they hereby decide to take in order to assuage their own grief and to heal their wounds. Pain doesn't make all things right. Just because you hurt, it doesn't give you the free pass to trample over other people to heal yourself. Some things are wrong and they stay wrong, regardless of why they are done or who does them.

Just because I can't have children, that doesn't give me the right to other people's children. I can't just go to my neighbour, who has 7 kids, and take one of hers. And what if she were to offer me one of her kids just because I don't have one? Should I take it? No, I can't do that. The kid, standing there staring at me with it's big blue eyes, has a right to its own mother, and she can't just pack up the kid's little suitcase and ship it off next door because she feels bad for me, the neighbour who has no kids. The fact is, even the mother doesn't have the right to give her kids to other people like that - because they are people too, not things, so they have rights of their own.

And yet, that's exactly what is happening today. Kind people who feel compassionate for the childless are trying to make them feel better by giving them their own children - before they are even born. The child still stares up at me with its big blue eyes, but this time, it has no chance to have its real mom, because she was out of the picture before it was ever born.

2. The "Most Wanted and Loved Child" argument

The gold standard of the fertility industry. Everything is okay because it was done "in the name of love". It's okay to make a biological orphan, as long as the baby is loved and wanted so, so, so, so, very much. Love and desire make up for AAAaaaaall the wrongs of the world.

If only this were so. But the donor-conceived children themselves (those ungrateful little grubs) say something different. Lots of them are saying that being loved and wanted was not enough. Having lots of fluffy toys and cake and things and things was not enough! These kids are aching to be loved and wanted by their biological parents, not by random, unrelated infertile people!

Having doubts about that? Look at adoptees. How many adoptees were loved and wanted? Probably just as many as donor-conceived children. Their infertile parents went through YEARS of adoption hassles and red tape to get these adoptive kids. Yes, they were wanted! Yes, they had their little scrapbooks and love and love and mountains of things! Their parents gave them everything, EVERYTHING. And yet, these kids still shut themselves in their large rooms, go on their brand new laptops and click on Facebook and send out plaintive little messages searching for their real biological parents. Why do they do it? Because biology matters, whether you believe it or not. Because being loved by random, unrelated strangers is NOT the same as being loved by people whose faces resemble yours, who have your genes and you have theirs, who understand you and who connect with you on a deep, instinctive, primeval level that we can't express in words.

No, love from just anyone is not all that matters. No, being wanted by just anyone is not all that matters. Other things matter too: like seeing your own face in your mother's face. Like knowing that you have your artistic talent from your father, and that you can develop it into something great because he did. Like being proud of your heritage and identifying with the heros in your family's past and present. Like having a feeling of belonging when you play with your own brothers and sisters, whose likenesses and differences reassure you that you are normal and yet unique.

Anyway, love and desire are feelings that are famously here today and gone tomorrow. How many people have fallen out of love? How many people have changed their mind about something that they really, really wanted at one time? Love and desire are not the most stable basis for a timeless relationship. The only sure thing is biology, which cannot be altered. Biology begets love in a way that desire itself cannot. Biology begets unconditional love that is based on immutable relationship - parents love their children, who contain parts of themselves - forever, no questions asked. It's instinctive, it's primeval, it's animalistic - but it's real, and it works, and it has worked for millennia. Whereas the love of strangers is never fully unconditional, because it is based on choice - and choice is based on desire, on a feeling that can go away. There is no underlying bedrock of immutability - indeed, even legal relationships can be changed.

3. The specific case of illness avoidance

Anna did not use egg donation due to infertility. She did it to save her future child from a terrible illness, and she paid a terrible cost for it - she gave up her own fertility, and chose not to have her own biological child. Her motivation was noble, and I sympathize with her difficult choices. She did indeed give up much, in order to spare her future child an awful existence.

And yet, I still believe that her actions went too far. She was free to choose not to have children. However, her concern for having a healthy child, and her decision to give up her own children, still did not entitle her to other people's children.

As the situation stands now, Anna paid a great price for her decision not to have an unhealthy child: she had no biological child of her own. However, she also made someone else share the cost of her decision. Her son has also paid a price: because he was chosen to be the healthy child, he has had to give up his own biological mother. So (biologically speaking) while Anna is childless, he is motherless.

Only time will tell what Anna's son thinks of this arrangement. It cannot be assumed, although he is wanted and loved by Anna, that he will be A-OK with being given up by his biological mother - and it is his right, as Anna will surely admit, to think whatever he wants, to seek out his biological mother in the future, and even to call her "mom" if he so chooses. This kind of right to his biological parents is a natural right, and no one can take this right away from him, only violate it (until he becomes an adult and can reclaim it for himself).

Do you think that donor-conceived children don't do these things? I invite you to read the latest post from the website of Umbillicly Challenged, who at 20 years old finally packed her suitcases and took off to meet her real, biological mother for the first time. She left her protesting "social" parents behind, even as they left umpteen messages on her cell phone. Her description of what she experienced when she met her real mother is worth the read.


Anonymous said...

You're completely right Veronica. Please keep up the good work exposing the tragedies behind donor-conception.

-- Tom

Anonymous said...

You are so far off base - who gives you the right to tell other women how and why they should have children? It is a medical miracle that infertile people are able to give birth to children.

Anonymous said...

Biology begets love in a way that desire itself cannot. Biology begets unconditional love that is based on immutable relationship - parents love their children, who contain parts of themselves - forever, no questions asked. It's instinctive, it's primeval, it's animalistic - but it's real, and it works, and it has worked for millennia.

You are way off. Here in the UK our entire adoption system is based on the EXACT opposite - that unfortunately your so-called real mothers and fathers neglect, abuse, starve, beat, sexually interfere with their own BIOLOGICAL children. Sometimes social services don't get there in time, and the children are even killed by their own fabulous, biological, far superior families.

You are very, very wrong, and thousands of 'biological' children would testify to that.

Anonymous said...

Of course sometimes biological relationships sometimes breakdown, or indeed are broken from the beginning.

That's no reason to break kinship ties deliberately.