Hello everyone! Elizabeth has kindly offered me a guest blogging spot here on Family Scholars. I think there’s great value in people with widely differing views about family issues engaging each other directly, and I appreciate the opportunity to be part of that here.
Some background on me and my reasons for writing:
Even on the night of my first date with my now-partner back in 2003, we each talked about our desire to have children. As we told each other the obligatory stories of our upbringing and how we had ended up in New York City, we talked about the kind of parenting we had had and the kind of parents we hoped we might become.
My partner was born and raised in northwest Iowa. His mother, pregnant at a young age, married his father briefly in order that she could live in a conservative community as a divorced mother rather than as a single one. His father was present during a couple of short periods later in his childhood, but his current whereabouts are unknown, and my partner has no interest in finding him. I was born in Tennessee, the youngest of three kids, but my mother died shortly after my birth. Soon after, my father married a widow with two children whose husband had died around the same time. I grew up knowing this blended family as my family. These two backgrounds, along with our adult lives as gay men, in which we created support systems for ourselves that were largely filled with people we weren’t biologically related to, strongly affected how we came to think about the word “family.”
After two years of dating, my partner and I solemnized our commitment (we called it getting married) and moved from our small apartment to a house in the suburbs. It wasn’t long before we began thinking about how to start our family. We had heard of surrogacy, and liked the idea behind it, but only began studying it after attending a regional gay families conference and speaking to some other same-sex couples in our small town who had young children born with the help of an egg donor and a surrogate.
In the end, we chose surrogacy because we wanted our children to have a biological connection with one of us, and vice-versa. We wanted our connection with our children to begin with conception, and continue through pregnancy and birth. We had friends who had adopted children, but their experiences didn’t speak to us in the way that those of our friends who went through surrogacy did.
Within a few months of selecting a lawyer, a clinic, and an egg donor agency, we were faced with choices about a donor and a surrogate. As we progressed through the process, we experienced the surreal mix of commercialization and intimacy that runs throughout the fertility business. We eventually spoke to three women who were interested in being a surrogate for us before we found someone we clicked with and wanted to work with. Our egg donor search was shorter. After we read our donor’s profile, and went through the subsequent information gathering and checking process, we felt certain that she was the person we wanted to be the genetic mother of our kid(s).
It took over two years from when we began in earnest until the day our twins were born. In that time, we dealt with not only our surrogate and her family, but our egg donor’s agent, our surrogate’s GP and ob/gyn, both women’s lawyers, the fertility clinic, and the out-of-town hospital where the births took place. It was complicated, stressful, expensive, and, at times, uncertain. In between the many practical considerations, there was sometimes the glint of half-buried moral issues that we could see and would discuss by ourselves late at night. Despite all that, and just as most heterosexual couples describe, the birth and its aftermath, the plunge into total responsibility for these two young lives, was and continues to be, one of the most humbling and spiritual experiences of our lives.
Our kids are now 2 ½ years old. My partner and I are Daddy and Papa. They have friends who have a Momma and a Mommy, and they’re also learning that many kids have a mommy and a daddy. Over time, of course, they will learn that actually most kids have a mommy and a daddy. We talk about different kinds of families and we read to them about families in very simple terms in children’s books that we have. Using someone else’s terminology, we are “normalizing” their experience. We will be raising them with no secrets about any of the circumstances of their birth, though. The stories about their origin that we tell them will let them know that people we call family may or may not be biologically related. These stories are a stepping stone from the stories we were told as we grew up, stories that reflected our parents’ histories, values, and judgments, just as our stories reflect ours. Everyone’s family story is such a compendium that evolves over generations. There is no one family story.
We know a lot about our egg donor, even though we’ve never met her in person. We will tell them about her over time, and they will have the option to contact her when we think they are old enough to make that decision. We still talk with our surrogate and her family every few months, and have seen her a few times since the twins’ birth. We’ve remained friends with her and expect that to continue.
I’ve heard the statement that being without one biological parent leaves an ontological hole. I don’t think anyone, or any kind of parent, can prevent their children from facing the basic ontological crises that are fundamental to human life. Those crises come in different forms and at different points in life for different people. I don’t even aspire to prevent them for our kids. What I hope to do is equip them to shoulder those challenges, through empathy, modeling, Jewish education, and simple honesty. I hope to avoid the lies and deception that I often see described by donor-conceived people in how their families communicated with them. Biology matters, and knowing the truth about it in your life is vital.
I have two goals in posting here. One is that I’d like to try and find common ground between those of us who have children through gamete donation and/or surrogacy, and those who view the industry as unethical and its users as complicit. The other is that I’d like to be the best father that I can, and one way I can do that is to help in the examination of what it means to be donor-conceived – unknowing participants, like my children, in this new frontier. How do we integrate their truths into the fabric of all of our lives? What do the new and increasing possibilities of technical reproduction mean for all of us? I want to think about how best to mold these new technologies to our human requirements, ethics, and needs, and live with the changes associated with what looks to be their ongoing presence.