Thoughtful Thursday: Qualifications

December 17, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday

The recent case of a surrogate reclaiming the twins she’d carried from the intended parents, wonderfully summarized and analyzed by Kym at I’m A Smart One and Mel at Stirrup Queens, raises an issue that applies to all of us.

Should there be qualifications to become a parent?

Fertiles have no screening process; their only qualification is having heterosexual sex. Almost half of pregnancies are unplanned, and a fair number of those are unwanted. It’s not that the bar is set low for the average person in becoming a parent; there is no bar.

In contrast, the bar is set very high for adoptive parents. Most adoptions require an extensive screening process detailing of every aspect of their lives. Of course there are good and bad adoptive parents, as with anything, but the amount of effort, time, and thought required weeds plenty of people out (and sometimes, people are weeded out who shouldn’t be).

Intended parents through surrogacy, as we have learned recently, have an inconsistent vetting process. Many, but not all, must undergo evaluations similar to those in the adoption process.

The screening process for infertiles varies. For those early in the infertility process, getting a prescription from a gynecologist for Clomid is often no more involved than obtaining birth control. As people move up the ladder of interventions, there is a self-selection process in terms of finances and drive. Some clinics require psychological evaluations for IVF or donor gametes, but many don’t — I never had an evaluation or counseling of any kind for IVF. Ultimately, for those who don’t achieve pregnancy quickly, it’s the process itself that does the true weeding: anyone who isn’t fully committed to parenting just isn’t going to stick it out for years of treatments. Of course, being motivated to parent doesn’t guarantee quality of parenting, but I’d bet money that the average infertile becomes a better parent than the average fertile. We have time to mature as individuals, time to think about what we want to do as parents, time to back out if we change our minds about becoming parents.

Reproduction is generally considered a basic human right. Even if you’ll be a terrible parent, you have a right to have a baby and become a terrible parent, as long as you can do it on your own without help. It makes perfect sense to me that processes like adoption, donor gametes, and surrogacy, which bring complications in dealing with the other adults involved as well as eventually with the child, should involve some screening, or at least education. It does not make sense to me that conditions like treatable mental illness or chronic physical illness should disqualify a person from parenting only when they employ alternative family-building methods and not for the rest of the population.

As for the financial side, I’ve heard the criticism (always from highly fertile people, undoubtedly) that people who can’t afford the adoption process or ART don’t have the money to parent. This is nuts. How many people become parents because they can’t afford condoms or The Pill? How many babies are conceived because two young people can’t afford to go see a movie so they spend the evening doin’ it? Personally, we have limited money to parent now specifically because we spent so much to get pregnant.

It wouldn’t be a bad thing if everyone had better educations about parenting before having children, if all prospective parents had to evaluate their own readiness, or if all babies were conceived only after the parents mindfully decided to bring that child into the world. We don’t live in that world. Instead, we live in a world where loving parents jump through years of hoops and many years’ salary to have children, only to have those children snatched away because of laws that don’t approve of their choices; where same-sex couples in some states aren’t allowed to adopt and the children they might have adopted spend their entire childhoods in the foster system; where people end up with higher-order multiples because they needed to maximize their chance of conceiving on each self-pay cycle; where the adoption process can take so long that a couple in their 30s becomes a couple in their 40s and therefore ineligible to adopt from that agency; where anonymous internet commenters, New York Times reporters, and nosy nellies in the supermarket see fit to judge others’ methods of family building.

We live in a world where there are no qualifications for a teenager to get knocked up and give birth to her baby at the prom and leave it in a dumpster, but it requires tens of thousands of dollars, years, and evaluation by a team of professionals for loving adults to try to adopt that baby — and even then, they might not be judged to be qualified.

Should there be qualifications to become a parent?

19 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Qualifications”

  1. jill Says:

    Well, after having watched “Pregnant and In Jail” and “Pregnant and Addicted” last night on a certain three-lettered channel, I want to stand up on a chair and scream “YES!” to your question.

    But the more rational me knows that were anything like that to be implemented it would just spiral out of control.

    While I can understand the reason behind extensive requirements to adopt, it’s completely insane to me that adoption costs so much. My husband and I could easily support a child (or two or three) on our salary; however, we would probably be unable to adopt without going into massive debt. That just doesn’t make any sense.

  2. manapan Says:

    Great post! This issue has driven me bonkers for quite some time. I used to work at a group home for adults with developmental disabilities that seemed to encourage the people supported to have their own children with no consideration given to those children’s quality of life.

    If their family’s religion of choice forbade birth control, even in cases where the person had neither been to church nor seen their family in many years, then the agency doctors wouldn’t prescribe birth control.

    If the person said they wanted to have a baby, the agency would discontinue the prescription if the person had one. Even in cases where the person was unable to live autonomously and had money coming in only through SSI, or had several children already in state custody. And the staff had to “encourage their hopes and dreams”; no rational discussion of the situation was allowed. As the director said to me when I questioned their policies, “Yeah, most of their kids suffer from mental retardation, often worse than their parents because of the poor prenatal conditions. [They also had the right to drink and smoke during pregnancy if they so chose.] But someone will adopt them! A child is a child to a desperate family, right?”

    I hate voicing my opinion on this matter, because I always sound like some eugenics freak. But you know what? If you are capable of raising your child, go for it! And congrats! Mental illness in remission, as was the case in the surrogacy article? Great! In fact, you probably could teach a child a lot about not stigmatizing those with mental illness. Chronic physical or mental illness? If you have supports in place, you can manage and possibly even thrive. Financial woes? Welfare is in place for a reason, and I wish you the best. I kind of feel like I set the bar pretty low for qualifications to parent. (As I should, considering that my husband and I both have a diagnosed mental illness and still want to be parents. :))

    But if you’re not even capable of taking care of yourself? If you have a criminal record of child abuse? Where are the qualifications?

  3. calliope Says:

    I had an ever so brief “screening” at my clinic when I began fertility treatments. Basically it was more a, “are you sure you know what you are getting into” talk. Which I found offensive and frustrating. But I have friends that have had to endure more just to be seen by a clinic. (this is specifically for single women wanting to build a family on their own)

    I will never understand why adoption costs so much, nor will I ever understand why adoption isn’t an available option for all people that want to parent (single people and same sex couples)

  4. Michele Says:

    You need a license to drive a car; too bad there isnt some sort of “so you want to be a parent” course that everyone takes…

  5. Eva Says:

    I see it a very similar way – going through any waiting period (infertility, financial reasons, etc.) to “be allowed” a child will probably make you a better parent. Or at least somebody who thought longer about having a child and prepares better.

    So it seems to make sense – if there is screening done, do it on the families that were surprised by their pregnancies.

    HOWEVER – the main reason why this should or can not be done is I think the decision regarding who would get the authority to conduct the screening. The churches, the government, psychologists ? Coming from Germany this makes me think that you would not want to have such a parent screening process in place in former East Germany 30 years ago. It was bad enough that they would take away your children if you were judged a political outcast. Or think about the China one-child policy where the government also meddles in the reproductive right of parents.

    In short: no screening. On the adoption side: yes, it is necessary to have some screening. Not because the parents will be “worse” (as I said above, they will very likely be more qualified than many others), but because the children are placed in this family by the government or another insitutional body. It would make sense however, if those institutions review their processes to judge if this is in the best interest of the children, which should be the ultimate guide.

    Long answer…

  6. a Says:

    If there were qualifications to be a parent, the amount of children available to adopt would drop – only orphans, I guess.

    This is clearly an area that would be impossible to regulate, regardless. Income does not always affect parenting ability. Maturity level of the parent is not necessarily based on age. Plus, you can’t really sterilize people until you determine that they’re qualified to become parents. Parents have been unable to prevent their children from having sex for years. The government would be no more successful.

    I do understand why a psychological evaluation would be necessary for IVF – it is traumatic. It shouldn’t have anything to do with parenting. It should be more like the psych eval they give to cops to see if they can handle the job.

    Adoption, on the other hand, is placing the child of (most likely) a stranger into the hands of someone else. Making it cheap and easy would just open the door for pedophiles or other sickos. So, sure, make it expensive for that reason – not to line the lawyers’ pockets. Then maybe you could get some sort of state credit for college or something.

    I do think that the health classes that they make kids take in high school, where they have to drag a fake baby around, might be a little helpful. I wonder if there are any stats regarding the success of those programs.

  7. When I lived in the States I volunteered for a while at a youth shelter, where many of the girls who lived there were either pregnant or had a baby, while I was struggling with IF. That was very hard for me (and the girls didn’t understand why I didn’t have children) and partly because of that I didn’t last long as a volunteer…

    I could and still can get very angry and upset about the unjust situations you described so eloquently in your post. Better sex education, insurance-covered birth control, etc., might solve part of the problem of unwanted pregnancies. I wish the adoption process wouldn’t be so harsh, but I also realize screening is necessary – don’t have enough knowledge about it to say something more intelligent.

    But to answer your question: NO. Even though it’s not fair, asking for qualifications is not an ethical solution in my opinion and will probably only make things worse in the end.

  8. bestlight Says:

    There was a Facebook phenomenon that went through a couple of months ago. It said something like, “If you think that nobody should ever get sick or die because they can’t afford health care, put this as your status today.”

    Well, DUH. Nobody should get sick. Nobody should die or watch a loved one die.

    And nobody should be poor. And nobody should be thrust into parenting when not ready. And nobody who has aching empty arms should have difficulty bearing a child. And nobody should have to prove themselves parental material.

    But we don’t live in a world of shoulds. I think managing the feast and famine of parenting is part of the human condition. There are many of these! Another is the differing ramifications of a pregnancy on a male and on a female, and the relative freedom each experiences.

    How a culture deals with both issues, I think, is one of the challenges of being human and being part of a community. There is not a human resolution to this issue, other than enlightenment, non-judgment and moving toward unity. THAT’s a whole ‘nother blog post!

    That’s my long answer. My short answer is No.

  9. ana Says:

    Wow this is a tough one. As others have stated above, much as I’d love to say YES!!! (i work in the healthcare field with children…I have seen it all people) I can see the ethical quandaries we could easily get into when a third party starts to oversee the right to parent. I feel that the only qualification should be that the people involved know what they are getting into (i.e. basic knowledge & average level of intelligence) and WANTED the child—this could probably be determined by a questionaire or interview but I’m not sure how it would be enforced. Sterilization? Abortion? This gets into very shaky ground.

    What also scares me is thinking about who would determine what the qualifications should be. Certainly, if I ruled the world, I would love to set these rules, but since I don’t, I don’t know who I would trust to make these decisions. How would they change based on the politics of the day? As unfair as it is for someone with a treatable medical/psychological illness to be unable to adopt, what if it is decided that people in these situations should not be able have a child in ANY way? I’m saying it could get worse. If we go and outlaw teenage parents, what if over 40 is outlawed as well? What kind of income requirements would be put in place? I’ve known plenty of people who have children during graduate education with help from loans, family, etc… to get them through the temporary period of poverty & now are earning more than enough to care for their children—would they have been forced to wait, and possibly lose their fertile years, until they could “qualify”?

  10. Oh, I am SO mad at you for asking this question, b/c I have so much to say but so little time. But let’s see if I can get my points out quickly.

    1) I almost sent you that surrogacy article. In fact, it’s in my inbox, waiting to be sent.

    2) I’m so glad you covered this topic. I wanted to write something, but you know… time. So frustrating.

    3) If I thought it would be administered fairly, I totally would vote for some basic requirements for becoming a parent.

    4) As a lover of sci-fi, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of everyone being put on birth control until they formally decide to have children on their own. Now that would pretty much solve 99% of parenting problems right there.

    5) The NYT article was interesting, in that it made me wonder about something else entirely as someone who has been through therapy for anxiety and depression issues. Just when can your past mental issues be declared null and void. If something can’t remain on your credit report for more than 7 years, should we be able to use a person’s past mental illness against her if she hasn’t had an episode in 10 years?

    6) In some ways, I think having been through therapy has helped me as a mother, b/c I’m more diligent about my mental well-being that your average person. I think even people w/o grief issues would benefit from general therapy as knowing how to communicate with your partner, how to calm yourself down when you’re feeling overwhelmed, how to manage your anger, and how to ask for help when you need it are life skills that would benefit just about everyone. A friend’s parent had a program that she was trying to pitch at a federal level. It was basically weekly group therapy sessions at inner-city schools, and you’d be shocked about the results she was getting. But this is way off subject, so back to the main point.

    7) Are you sure you weren’t screened? My doctor did an informal screening, asked a few questions, and made a few observations like, “good health, smart, seems to be in good mental health, well-groomed, etc.”

    8) I do think there needs to be a general set of guidelines set up for surrogates, so that no one gets hurt or loses money.

    9) What did you think of the old man who adopted the twins? I found it a little bit creepy. And I do wonder if there shouldn’t be an age limit on surrogacy. Though I know that age is a huge, controversial issue in the IVF community.

    10) In the end, though, my answer to your question is No. I just don’t think we’re advanced enough as a society to put forth qualifications that would fair and unbiased.

    One last point. The more science advances, the more really murky questions like this will come up. When do you think the government will step in. Right now, it seems like most pols are ignoring the issues, and I can’t blame them as the issues are so complicated and will only become more so.

  11. Elana Kahn Says:

    Yes I do. That way teenage girls too young to legally have sex won’t all of a sudden be thrust into motherhood, have abortions or be forced to give their child up for adoption. I think that there should be a required course (with the doll that acts like a baby and won’t stop crying until you put a key in its back to “soothe” it, etc.) And you need to pass the course with at least a 90%, pass a surprise drug test and then be allowed to have a baby. At that point getting pregnant should be automatic. 😀 Flip the switch the month you wanna get knocked up and hey, what do you know, BFP. 🙂

  12. dragondreamermom Says:

    No, because qualifications to be a parent would mean government control interference involvement in deciding who can be parents and that thought TERRIFIES me.

  13. Cat Says:

    I think people should have to get a license to be a parent. I also think that anyone who has gone through IF treatments should be able to skip a big chunk of the adoption hoop-jumping. Yes, I know both are completely unrealistic, but a girl can dream. Honestly though, given the yahoos we have in Washington these days, I’d never ever want them to be in charge of regulating something like this.

  14. ^WiseGuy^ Says:

    Should there be qualifications to become a parent?

    What an interesting question! Over the course of my beginning to seriously document my own journey through Infertility, there have been several occasions where I have questioned my own desire to become a parent, and I have often also investigated if the only reason I want to do it is because everybody else is doing it, and that if I am married, I should be at it anyways.

    Am I qualified to become a parent? Can I give a roof to my kid? Medical Care? Education? Love? If I had a lot of love to give, and no money at all, would I still be qualified at it?

    I see malnourished kids falling out in hordes from huts that can’t guarantee them physical/financial/medical security. I feel bad. What do I not have?

    I have a case in point. The press reported a case of a woman committed to a mental asylum who was raped by a staff, and had applied for medical termination of her pregnancy. The case was heard and the woman was not given the permission to go ahead. She was told that she would birth the baby, and the baby would be given to a State shelter for rearing up.

    I want to take a part of your sentence: ‘being motivated to parent doesn’t guarantee quality of parenting’. Last year there was a sensational murder case of a teenager who was found dead in her own bedroom. The case is still unsolved. The parents are doctors, and the father is the prime suspect. The teenager was an IVF kid. She was an only kid born to her parents after 11 years of marriage!

    I am not really sure of what moral high-ground I have to really judge somebody’s eligibility for parenthood, but I think that infertility has offered me a chance to firm up about what a lot of people take for granted, and get away with.

    Aptitude/Aspiration/Attitude: I wish some miraculous formula exists… I am not too sure if there can be objective parameters of the parenthood.

    As far as screening for adoption is concerned, I would like the paperwork and scrutiny to be strong, but a really less time-consuming system.

  15. Photogrl Says:

    Very thought-evoking post.

    Obviously, we can’t have guidelines on who can parent for the fertile society…it would be an invasion of “big brother”.

    It’s SO frustrating, though, when you realize what everyone who struggles, or wants to adopt goes through.

    And it hurts to ask why…

  16. staciet Says:

    My impulse is to say hell yes we should have qualifications to become a parent. I see the results of bad parenting on a regular basis at work.


    My rational self knows that a nonbiased way to regulate said qualifications would be impossible. Plus, I would hate to inflict the pain of not being able to have children on someone else. It isn’t something I’d wish on anyone.

  17. strongblonde Says:

    this is something that i think about a lot. it’s easy for me to think about, b/c all i have to do is compare myself to my sister. she’s a breeder, but should have had some type of lessons before being allowed to conceive. when we just saw her for thanksgiving she continually threatened to beat her child with a wooden spoon, yelled at my other sister about how i needed to “learn how to pump so i could go out in public”, and punished her 2 year old for going #2 in his diaper. i totally don’t get it. part of me likes to think that her behavior is a product of her environment. she has moved to a southern state and lives in the country in a very backwards town (imo). i surely would never threaten to beat my kids with anything! i think that if someone would have talked with her about her parenting style BEFORE kids, she wouldn’t have guessed that she would be this way. maybe she would have? i don’t know. but anyway, my point is that sometimes this type of parenting or behavior can’t be caught before hand.

    regarding infertiles: something i was always afraid about while i was pregnant: what type of parent would i be. i was convinced that i would be overly worried and very high strung. let’s be honest. anyone would have bet money on that if they knew me. i am a very A+ personality, and during IF treatments i was always very anxious, wanted to know the result, charted all of my findings to compare cycles, etc…until the last one. at the end i just kind of gave up. and i finally got pregnant. and during pregnancy i had no control over things. i think those two things changed the type of parent i became as well…

    my point? i wish there could be some type of qualifications to be a parent. BUT i think that people’s parenting styles are a moving target. some of the things that i thought i would never do (co-sleeping) i am doing, and some of the things that i thought i would do (dress my kids in “clothes” everyday) i just can’t….and i never would have guessed it before hand!

  18. Jules Says:

    In theory I wish there were. In practice, just doesn’t seem it would work (who would be the decision maker / what guidelines, etc.) There are several scenes I have witnessed thinking “they should be not be parents” and it’s always bothersome. Not sure the best way to fix such issues – better parenting classes / sex ed but not everyone would take them.

    While I understand the screening process for adoption and such, it doesn’t seem right that only certain people are evaulated at length while “fertiles” have nothing of the sort.

  19. birdless Says:

    I’m late in commenting because I have not been around the blogosphere lately, and I’m just now getting caught up. (Sorry.) But I did have to comment on this one because it is just such a great post! I wish this could be published somewhere that all women could read it and think about what you said. Oprah should contact you. 😉

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