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?

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I wondered what the next super-higher-order multiple birth might be. Would someone top 8? Ever get to 9? 10? Would anyone ever be “eating for 12” as DH and I joked when my own betas were sky-high? Now I have an answer.

At least the woman pregnant with 12 babies is in Tunisia and the media coverage might not be as crazy as it has been for Octomom (or Octomum as the Brits apparently call her).

Stop giving the rest of us a bad name!

This week’s Perfect Moment is more of a process than a single moment.

I’m a geek in many ways, but I’m not especially a Star Wars geek. I like Star Wars as much as any girl born in the 70s — well maybe just slightly more. After all, I own Star Wars Monopoly, and on years when we celebrate Christmas, there’s a Boba Fett ornament on the tree. Some of the following information is common knowledge or available through careful movie viewing, but some requires deep backstory research.

Although it contains universal (ha ha) themes like finding your niche, connecting to others, and searching for truth, Star Wars doesn’t have storylines that particularly resonate with most people. Your arch-enemy turns out to be your father? That person with whom you have a strangely strong connection turns out to be your twin? The murder of your adoptive parents is engineered by your biological father (who is the stepbrother of your adoptive father) and carried out by clones who once fought alongside your mentor? Not so universal.

I’ve always been aware, in a casual sense, that there are adoption themes in the story, and the boy-girl twin connection was been brought to my attention by more than one friend when we announced our babies’ sexes, but it was only last week as I watched all 6 movies on TV that the extent of the ALI themes has really emerged for me.

Boy-Girl Twins
Everyone with a passing awareness of Star Wars knows that Luke and Leia are boy-girl twins, separated at birth.

Only a few people know, since it’s part of the Star Wars universe outside the movies, that Leia and Han Solo later become parents of “Jedi twins” Jacen and Jaina. (It’s not as cute as it sounds — Jacen eventually turns evil and Jaina has to kill him.)

When we announced that we are having boy-girl twins, our normally geeky friends said, “Luke and Leia!” and our extra-geeky friend said, “Jedi twins! Jacen and Jaina!”

Adoption
It’s a key plot point that when Luke and Leia are separated at birth, they are each adopted.

Kin adoption: Luke is adopted by his uncle Owen and aunt Beru. Owen is the step-brother of Luke’s father Anakin. Luke is aware that they are his aunt and uncle, but he is told that both of his parents have died, when in fact his father is alive but is a threat to Luke’s survival.

Open adoption and closed adoption: Leia is adopted by Prince Bail Prestor Organa and his wife Breha. In Revenge of the Sith, Prince Organa says that he and his wife have “always talked of adopting a baby girl.” This is open adoption in one sense — the Organas are aware of their daughter’s origins and knew both of her birth parents. But, it’s closed adoption for the rest of the triad. It is not open for the birth parents because the birth mother dies in childbirth and does not know the fate of her children, and the birth father does not know of Leia’s existence because he was not aware of the twin pregnancy. (What, they can fly through space at light speed but they don’t have ultrasound?) It’s also not open for the adoptee because although she knows she was adopted, she does not know the identities of her birth parents nor the existence of her twin brother.

There are also informal adoption themes, with many references to people being “like a son” or “like a father” as part of a mentoring relationship.

Reproductive Technologies
The stormtroopers are clones of Jengo Fett, genetically modified for accelerated growth and docility (except for one unmodified clone, whom Jengo kept to raise as a son, and who later went on to become my Christmas ornament). Although most of us don’t deal directly with issues of cloning or genetic modification, there are a lot of debates right now about genetic selection and modification, particularly as they relate to reproductive technologies. The media (and public at large?) seems pretty freaked out about human cloning.

Infertility and Pregnancy Loss
This is the part that I didn’t learn until this week, because it requires delving into the Wookiepedia (yes, that’s what it’s called). The Organas had “always talked of adopting a baby girl” because they were infertile, and had lost at least two pregnancies. Breha was told that another pregnancy could kill her. A couple of years pass before Leia enters their lives.

The full quote from Prince Organa when he agrees to adopt Leia: “We’ve always talked of adopting a baby girl. She will be loved with us.” Now, his statement resonates so much more.

Perfect Moments
We already knew that people dealt with adoption, loss, and infertility everywhere on earth, but it turns out that these themes are also prevalent in a galaxy far far away.


Perfect Moment
It’s your last day to vote for always-inspirational Lori from Weebles Wobblog for the Most Inspiring Blog Award.

I have always found my husband adorable. But on this Perfect Moment Monday, he was adorable for being an infertility veteran.

We were watching the Daily Show interview with Mike Huckabee that occurred a week and a half ago (I fell behind on my viewing when I was out of town). Throughout the interview, we had to pause the TiVo at least a dozen times to make points to each other (and at one point, high-five each other). We are even more bizarre behind closed doors than people imagine.

Anyway… Jon asked Huckabee his opinion of IVF — fascinating and bloggable in its own right — and Huckabee clearly had no idea what he was talking about and repeatedly tried to cram the question into something that would fit his talking points. Jon started explaining about infertility and IVF, saying that sperm and egg are combined outside the body, then the embryo is implanted…

“Transferred!” my husband yelled at the television.

I have been in love with this man for a decade and a half, yet he still finds ways to blow me away with his fabulousness.


Perfect Moment
There’s still time to vote for Perfect Moment Maven Lori from Weebles Wobblog for the Most Inspiring Blog Award — have you voted today?

Desperate Measures

March 25, 2009

I was so sidetracked by yesterday’s ultrasound that I didn’t get a chance to talk about Monday night’s episode of 24.

For those who watch it on delayed TiVo like I do, don’t worry, there are no spoilers about the plot. The only spoiler is about a particular stand-alone scene.

DH rightly points out that one expects to see the occasional mention of infertility on shows like ER that have a medical focus or are “for chicks” (or both, as he would argue for ER). One does not expect infertility to come up on a thriller show like 24.

We were both taken aback during this week’s episode — much pausing and rewinding ensued. A very minor character was first depicted on the phone with his very pregnant wife, who is carrying twin girls. Later, that characters ends up explaining to Jack Bauer that he agreed to be in cahoots with bad guys because he and his wife had been trying to conceive for three years, and that the treatments had been so expensive and “not one penny” had been covered by health insurance.

Infertile victory! A little political message sneaks in for the masses.

It’s probably not ideal that the guy was depicted doing shady stuff, but it also conveys the desperation of infertility. C’mon, I know that plenty of you have thought of doing something desperate to pay for IF treatments. Anyone want to fess up?

Show and Tell: Jaded

January 19, 2009

Three orders of business.

#1. The Meds Fairy! I have most of a 900 IU pen of Gonal-F (probably about 700 IU worth) left over from IVF #2 that just ended. I won’t be starting the next IVF for a couple of months, and the pen is supposed to be used within a month of being opened. Since I paid out of pocket for all of my meds they are extra precious, and I don’t want them to go to waste. It would be even better if I could save another self-payer a few hundred dollars. Please, if you can use some Gonal-F in the next couple of weeks (or know someone else who can), leave a comment or email me.

#2. Update on the IVF storyline on ER: the first time I can remember seeing subcutaneous FSH injections incorporated into daily life on television. This episode also illustrated the way that the meds make you a complete maniac, alternately bitchy then fragile — something most of us know all too well. Good stuff.

#3. Show and Tell! During my trip to Asia in the fall, I insisted on a detour to a Jade Market. Not for jewelry (okay, I did also buy some jewelry), but for fertility talismans. Also because I thought it would be cool to go to a Jade Market.

There were several dozen stands. A few were simply a table covered with a sheet (often an amusing sheet like Snoopy rather than a tasteful plain sheet); untold riches lay under the sheet, but you had to get a special sit-down. Most stands had hundreds of items on display. Some had particular specialties, but others had a wide range of jade offerings. Here’s an example of a typical jewelry-oriented stand.

Jade Market

Ahead of time, I’d done my research and determined that traditional fertility symbols included dragons, bunnies, and double fish. Dragons allegedly benefit male fertility, and are recommended regardless of whether problems are male factor or female factor (the ancient Chinese seemed be more cognizant of potential problems in either partner than many other cultures).The rabbit is a fertility symbol for obvious reasons — even though we all know that more sex does not necessarily mean more babies. Fish represent fertility because they have hundreds of babies.

Dragons were plentiful. I chose a red one for maximum power. He now lives on my husband’s nightstand.

Dragon

Rabbits were also plentiful at the Jade Market, since they (along with dragons) are among the twelve Chinese zodiac signs. I chose purple because, uh, I like purple. This little bunny lives on my nightstand, to achieve feng shui balance — since there’s a dragon on his side of the bed, I needed something on my side too.

Bunny

Finally, I had to find the double fish. This was quite a challenge. Most stands didn’t have any; a few had double fish that were quite ugly, with giant open fishy mouths. One was very nice but was a couple hundred dollars — a bargain, actually, considering that it was several hundred years old, but not what I was looking for.

At last, I found this little necklace. I wear it occasionally, always hidden under my shirt, but the day of my egg retrieval for IVF #2, I kept it close at hand. While driving to the retrieval, I had the cord wrapped around my hand while driving. Then, during the retrieval, because I would be wearing only a hospital gown and my striped socks, I made DH keep the fish necklace in his pocket until everything was over.

Fish

Here are all of them together, accompanied by our old pal Wonder Woman Pez, for scale.

Scale

The funny part is that I don’t actually believe in good luck charms — we’ll talk more about that on Thoughtful Thursday. But I sought these out for two reasons:

  1. I thought it would be a great blog entry.
  2. Although I don’t believe in them, they can’t hurt. Seriously, I can use all the luck I can find.

In honor of Delurking Week, I’m going to donate money to a specific charity (more on that next week) for each comment. Regular comments from beloved existing readers get $1; comments from soon-to-be-beloved delurkers get $2. C’mon, spend my money! To make commenting extra easy, you can answer the following question:

Do you have a good luck charm (either in general, or specific to fertility)?

Go see what the rest of the class brought to Show and Tell.

I haven’t heard anything in the IF blogosphere about the most recent episode of ER. I think I may be the only person who’s still watching after all these years.

Ladies, time to set your TiVo’s — and not just because John Stamos is hunky.

Outspoken stirrup queen Angela Bassett is a regular cast member this year as the new Chief of Emergency Medicine. Her character is fair but tough; the prickly exterior turns out to result from her grief after the death of her young son several years earlier (one flashback episode heartbreakingly portrays his death). It has offered an unusually nuanced portrayal of the loss of a child.

But this past week, the loss storyline became an IF storyline! (Perfect Moment #1)

She and her husband decide that it’s time to rebuild their family. Following one failed cycle with charting (!!) and timed intercourse, Basset’s character considers her advanced maternal age and immediately consults the Chief of Obstetrics (who, frankly, is not the person I would approach for fertility issues — I would go straight to an RE, but the OB is a recurring character). The OB tells her that her estradiol and prolactin are fine, but that her FSH is elevated. I’ve never heard all of the IF lingo in such detail on television before, with acronyms and terms tossed around casually just like on our blogs.

The obstetrician tells her that the odds for IVF with her own eggs approach zero, and that many fertility clinics won’t even attempt IVF on someone with those FSH levels. She lays out alternative options: “adoption, surrogacy, egg donation.”

A realistic portrayal of odds and options! I was shocked. My husband kept exclaiming, “Blog! Blog!”

Bassett’s character decides to take one shot at IVF with her own eggs and then pursue the other options.

As with the second season of Mad Men, I am so excited to see what happens next. This is the last season of the show, so there isn’t a huge amount of time to go through an extended portrayal of multiple routes to family-building, but there is time for her to do an IVF cycle or two.

Perfect Moment #2: What’s particularly exciting about this for me is that Angela Bassett and her husband Courtney B. Vance (who also plays her character’s husband on the show) have talked openly about their 7-year battle with infertility and successful use of a gestational surrogate, resulting in boy-girl twins. It is so gratifying that not only has she been forthcoming about the difficulties she encountered bringing her children into being, but she is drawing on her experiences to bring an intelligent, informed infertility storyline to a network television show.

About 6 or 7 years ago, I saw Angela Bassett in person. I’d always found her to be somewhat pretty on the movie screen, but in person she was absolutely stunning. And, if I do the math, she must have been dealing with infertility at the time I saw her — despite that, she had an aura that drew the eyes of everyone in the room. Many people didn’t even recognize her at first, but just had to keep staring at this unknown woman with magnetic beauty.

She seems to have dealt with her infertility better than I have been dealing lately. Hundreds of turned heads is not what I get when I walk into a room. Most days, I can’t even manage to put on actual pants.

Perfect MomentHead to Weebles Wobblog to see more Perfect Moments.