Archives: Motherhood

From South Africa: ‘Single moms not saving’

07.24.2012 8:15 PM

More than half of South Africa’s single mothers are not saving for their retirement.

The new Old Mutual savings investment monitor showed 55 percent of single mothers were putting money aside for their children’s education instead.

Only 28 percent indicated that they were saving for their old age.

Old Mutual’s Jaco Gouws said: “About half of them are not receiving any financial support from their children’s fathers. Even though they are trying their best to make ends meet, when they are saving, they are actually saving for their children and not for themselves.”

Gouws said mothers saved for their children’s education in the hope that their kids look after them when they’re older.

“Though a very selfless act, they are putting themselves at risk for the own financial future. They’re also depending very heavily on their children.”


07.20.2012 3:39 PM

A harrowing story by a former egg donor, posted today at the Anonymous Us project.

I grew up in foster care and aged out at 18 without ever having a family. I was a good kid, talented in the arts and academics. I worked hard with the hope that a family would want me. I was never adopted so needless to say I’ve been desperate to be a part of a family my entire life.

I was never paid for my eggs. I gave my eggs away. A few years ago, I gave my eggs to good friends with the naive belief that this was a way for me to be part of a family–and I would even have a genetic connection! I was promised that I would always be part of the family and the child’s life. I was told that I was “always meant to be part of their family and that their family never felt complete until I came along.” I wanted to give my friends what I never had–a family. I thought, “When would I ever have a chance to make such a huge difference in someone’s life again?” And I would be part of a family too. How could I not do it? I was so eager for love and had no one looking out for my best interests which made me easily exploited, even if unintentionally.

I took Follistim, Menopur, and Lupron. The doctors assured me there were no long term side effects from egg donation. The only risk was OHSS which only happened in 1% they said. Knowing what it’s like to yearn for family, I went through with the egg donation for my friends. I had to take some genetic tests for diseases, health tests, and a counseling session over the phone. The counseling session was about my life history and how the egg donation might affect my friends. It was never about my psychological needs. I produced an unreal 47 eggs. At first I felt pride in that. Now that I know better, I am angry that the doctors risked my health and allowed twice the normal amount of eggs normally produced by donors to develop and allowed my ovaries to stretch beyond safe levels. I was so uncomfortable. I looked pregnant. I had to hold up my distended abdomen just to walk during the last few days before the retrieval…

[six months later] Finally I went to see my doctor who ran tests and found that my hormone levels were “all over the place.” He referred me to a specialist who told me I had what seemed like PCOS and then I was referred to an endocrinologist. I will be on drugs to control my hormones for the rest of my life. I still go months without a period. My mental health continues to be an issue and is very much linked to my hormones. My ovaries have remained enlarged and I will most likely never be able to conceive naturally, if at all. much more

‘It’s worse to be raised by a single mother, even if you’re not poor.’

07.20.2012 10:06 AM

A new piece in Slate by Brad Wilcox:

…The retreat from marriage in America, a retreat that Roiphe seems keen to defend, has led to “diverging destinies” for children from less-educated and college-educated homes. Children from poor and working-class homes are now doubly disadvantaged by their parents’ economic meager resources and by the fact that their parents often break up. By contrast, children from more-educated and affluent homes are doubly advantaged by their parents’ substantial economic resources and by the fact that their parents usually get and stay married.

 Surely a progressive like Roiphe should be concerned about all this, rather than dismissing the recent New York Times news story on the marriage divide in America as a “puritanical and alarmist rumination on the decline of the American family.” Since when is it puritanical and alarmist in progressive circles to raise the red flag about a major driver of social and economic inequality?

‘Marriage leads to children – gay marriage leads to surrogacy’

07.19.2012 11:15 AM

Michael Cook, editor of BioEdge, writing in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

…In heterosexual relationships, the birth rate rises when couples are married. One would expect similar dynamics to apply to same-sex couples. For lesbian couples, this is not a huge problem; all they need is a sperm donor. But male couples need surrogate mothers.

Where  will these women come from?

Unless the law of supply and demand is repealed, the answer is: where wombs are cheapest. At the moment, this is India, where surrogate motherhood has become a $2.3 billion  industry, with the enthusiastic encouragement of some state governments.  A recent investigation by the London Sunday Telegraph found there were only 100 surrogacies in Britain last year, but 1000 in India for British clients. The proportion in Australia is likely to be the same.

There are no official statistics, but it appears gay couples account for a substantial chunk of the overseas market. So will the legalisation of same-sex marriage lead to even more surrogate mothers in India? BioEdge, the bioethics newsletter  I edit,  emailed IVF clinics in India and the US  asking whether they were preparing for a rising demand for surrogate mothers.

The answer was a resounding yes. Our survey is far from  scientific, let alone comprehensive, but it suggests that  poor women in developing or economically depressed countries will be recruited to service gay couples.

“The main reason patients travel from abroad to India is for excellent personal care, expertise and a lot of savings on the treatment costs,” says Dr Samundi  Sankari, of Srushti Fertility Research Centre in Chennai. “The costs that they pay here is almost one-fifth the costs they pay for surrogacy in US and Europe.” He gets a lot of inquiries from gay couples in the US and Israel.  Is he preparing for an increase in demand? “Definitely, yes.”

Dr Samit Sekhar, of the Kiran Infertility Centre, in Hyderabad, also forecast an increase. He said a ”sizeable number” of the centre’s clients were gay.  ”We have seen an increase in the number of gay couples and single men approaching our clinic as soon as legitimacy to their public union is granted in their respective states or country.”

There was one dissenting voice. A  spokeswoman for Dr Shivani Sachdev Gour, of Surrogacy Centre India, Megan Sainsbury, rebuked BioEdge for its inquiry. “We are not preparing for an expansion of services for gay couples. Why would you ask this?” However, most of the contented parents featured on  Sachdev Gour’s  blog last month are gay.

Indian IVF clinics say surrogate mothers are adequately compensated. But it can be a dangerous job, and the contracts  they sign are weighted heavily in favour of the commissioning parents. A surrogate mother in Ahmedabad collapsed and died in May, shortly before she was due. The client took the baby and her family was given only $18,000.

The award-winning British/Indian novelist and journalist Kishwar Desai deals with the surrogacy industry in her latest novel, Origins of Love.  She told The Guardian: “There are hospitals where women are kept for the whole nine months while they carry someone else’s child. There are good stories, where the surrogate is well looked after, but I would like to make people aware of the sheer exploitation of it, the fact that these women are extremely poor. They are carrying someone’s child for two or three thousand pounds [$3000 to $4500]. They may do this three or four times. They may be forced to have a caesarean.”

A leading US infertility doctor,  Jeffrey Steinberg, who runs the Fertility Institutes in Las Vegas and Los Angeles,  told BioEdge he got a surge of inquiries whenever a jurisdiction legalised gay marriage. At the moment he uses only carefully screened American surrogates, but he is thinking of outsourcing their jobs to Mexico.

Supporters of same-sex marriage must recognise they face a serious moral dilemma. Cheap wombs  might bring gay men the happiness of being the father of a child of their own. But the cost of that happiness is often borne by poor and uneducated women.


07.18.2012 12:29 PM

(Reuters) – Doctors in Chhattisgarh performed hysterectomies on poor village women without a valid medical reason in order to claim money from a national insurance scheme, the state’s health minister said on Wednesday

A recent Thomson Reuters TrustLaw poll, based on parameters such as quality of health services, education levels and the threat of sexual violence, ranked India as the worst country to be a woman in the G20 group of nations.

All the more reason to question why on earth a good society would tolerate sending its affluent would-be parents to India to rent wombs of poor village women and buy eggs off of girls.

‘This Child’s View of Single Motherhood’

07.18.2012 11:57 AM

At Slate, Katie Roiphe responded to the Jason DeParle’s NYT piece on Sunday. Michael Brenden Dougherty has an excellent response to Roiphe, titled “This Child’s View of Single Motherhood“:

Over the weekend, the New York Times unveiled a huge article examining how single motherhood entails tremendous financial struggle and diminished opportunities for children of fatherless homes. It causes and exacerbates America’s growing inequality.

In response, Slate’s Katie Roiphe, asks the Times to stop, just stop.

“The [NYT] piece, in tender, gloomy detail, compares the slatternly home of the single mother, all struggle and chaos, to the orderly, promising, more affluent home of her boss, who is married. The moralizing portrait that emerges is not surprising: The single mother and her children have a terrible life, and the married mother and her children have a great one.”

Roiphe is exaggerating. (“Slatternly?” Really?) Her response is harsh and nit-picky. It ignores the raft of social science data and indicts the Times for classism and moralism. She pretends that the Times is describing the single-mother as slutty. “The New York Times is recycling truly retrograde and ugly moral judgements,” Roiphe writes…

I don’t think either the Times in its obsession with socio-economic status, or Roiphe in her rearguard defense of the sexual revolution grasp with the subject at hand. And I can’t pretend to write the whole book on it here, but there are some things only a child of a single-mother could tell you about single motherhood…

As a single mother, helping to take care of her parents and her son, [my mother] wasn’t in a position to make men be courtly with her. So she stopped trying. That was the sexual revolution for her. Men willing to sleep with her, but not willing to build a family.

By financial and emotional necessity, she became wrapped in a co-dependent relationship with her parents, who relied on her in their last years. And after they died and I became a teenager, our relationship in turn became more co-dependent as well. She tried being my friend as a teenager. But as I went on to college and beyond I was her entire immediate family. And as I was trying to fly the nest, she needed my presence more than I could give it. I thought she might die when I told her I was moving to Washington D.C. and she would have to make do without me, at least during the work-week.

Obviously all the social science the Times presents in its article point to a basic truth: broken homes divide and scatter resources. My father, not a U.S. citizen, sent over some money when I was a child, but it didn’t seem like much. They were never married and eventually he had his own household to look after, so there were no obligations to her specifically. He started sending money to me directly when I was a teenager.

Not having a father around meant I took on more student debt than I would have otherwise. It meant I would be recalled from college to do things around the house on the weekend, or I would come home just to make sure she was alright and make sure she spent time with someone. Instead of her helping me start life financially, I was helping her manage her mortgage payment, or paying for a new water-heater. I was happy to do so when I could. Though I often wondered where her actual inabilities were real, or when they were manufactured (even unconsciously) to bond me with her, even in hardships. In other single-mother households I knew, things functioned much less smoothly.

Helping her meant diminished resources for starting my own family when it came time. It also meant that there was no one else to manage things when she became sick and died last year.

My young childhood and adolescence (maybe my whole life) was wrapped up in searching for substitute father figures: uncles, neighbors, teachers, professors, priests, even God. I know I’m not alone in this. This state of life makes one especially vulnerable to peers and to predators. I survived just fine, others in similar situations don’t. more

Feminism and Maiden Names–Who Am I??

07.16.2012 12:23 PM

I haven’t thought about my name in quite some time and of late I find myself thinking about it a lot.  I live in a new community so in part I am introducing myself often and it’s made me think anew of how a name ties us to our identity while simultaneously masking and revealing who we are.

I thought of this first when I donned my name tag at our new church community.  I am married to the pastor so most people know who I am so I didn’t really need to wear a name tag but as someone new I assumed it would be helpful, but only confusion followed.  Let me first say, that I kept my name when I married.  I’m not a celebrity so it’s not like I use my married name privately and my maiden name professionally.  I just have one name; the name I was born with and the one I’ll die with.

But in the receiving line at church I had more than one person stare at my name tag and then squint at my face and say, “Well, I thought you were his wife?”

I’d reply, “I am.” They would then look at me in total consternation that either I picked up the wrong name tag or that the office messed up my name tag.  So, I would follow up with, “I kept my maiden name.”  More confusion.

The confusion threw me.  I started to wonder, is keeping one’s maiden name in marriage no longer a straight forward and highly public way to say that I AM a FEMINIST?  (Side note: keeping your maiden name or changing it is of course not the only way to express your feminism, it’s just the most radical and public way I could think of to do so more than a decade ago.)  Do I need to launch into my stump speech?  “I kept my maiden name as way to show that I am an equal partner in marriage who is desirable and worthy in and of myself, who is loved and supported by a partner who is not threatened by my unique strength and purpose in the universe.  A female changing her name in marriage has historically been a way of showing that ownership of a woman’s existence has changed from a father’s hands to a husband’s, and I won’t stand for that.  Just as I wear a ring to make public the covenant of marriage I entered and live in, keeping my name was the only way I could think of to publicly hold on to myself.  I am woman, hear me ROAR!!”  Sadly, that manifesto was too wordy for the receiving line at church.

I was still pondering my feminist identity when our three old ran up to be held by me.  As I shuttled him around on my hip, he suddenly stopped me and pointed to my name tag.  “Why it no say, M-O-M?”  I then launched into my explanation that MOM is a relational term that applies only to him and to his siblings and although I find it quite endearing that to them A-M-Y will always be spelled M-O-M, having that term on a name tag is not needed for them and not helpful to strangers for whom I have no desire to mother.  He of course, looked at me kindly and opaquely as three-year-olds are wont to do and repeated the question, “Why it no say M-O-M?”

Lord have mercy, I thought.  This name tag is confusing to the people who don’t know me AND to the people who do!  WHO AM I ANYWAY?!?

I thought of this experience as a I read Slate’s recent review of Caitlin Moran’s soon to be released in the US book, How to Be A Woman, a memoir of her journey as a feminist where she ponders what it means to be one in today’s world.

“It’s always been seen as this binary thing with women,” Moran explained.  “You’re either going to be rock ‘n’ roll or you’re going to be a housewife.  It’s either cupcakes or crack.  I wanted both.  And I got it.”  She paused. “Well, not the crack…”  Moran’s oldest daughter…clamored into the kitchen, dressed in a school uniform of a gray skirt, white blouse, and maroon sweater, searching for her copy of The Hunger Games.  “I’ll tell you,” Moran said after the girl left, “the greatest luxury is to not make your kids as worried as you were.  I would rather my daughters be unexceptional but happy.  Though the thing is, that they are exceptional and happy.”

It sounds like an interesting read, although I wonder what it means that all writing today seems to be memoir.  I’m tired of memoirs.  Over the years, I have read my fair share of memoirs, which for the most part, when written by interesting people are interesting.  But in end of life care the majority of reading material has become memoir-dominated where people either write memoirs as they die, memoirs of their practice as a nurse or doctor of people who die, or memoirs of being a caregiver and griever of someone who has died.  Many of these memoirs are good and interesting though I take issue when they cross over from description to presecription, but what does it mean that we live in the age of the memoir?  Have we come to the point where the only truth we can speak is our own?  Is writing a memoir a way of hiding from critique since we can always defend ourselves by saying, “Well, it’s my experience?”  How do we sort out the task of telling personal story as prophetically claiming oppressed voices (think Liberation theology, the Palestinian D’Hesha dance project, Womanist theology….) and simply blogging?  (Yes, I see the irony that I write about my personal experiences and yet question the act…)

Story and name and private and public choices all seem tied up together to me and I am left with lots of questions to ponder.  How do we allow our names to reflect who we are in relationship, be that marriage or parenthood, and who we are as individuals?  What does the practice of changing one’s name in marriage mean today?  It did occur to me that for my homosexual friends who change their name or hyphenate them in marriage, that change is now a prophetic act that challenges the inherent heterosexual assumptions of the marriage rite.  What about for heterosexual couples?  In a day and age of increasing cohabitation, is it now more radical to CHANGE one’s name?  In the past few weeks I have filled out countless camp, school and doctor’s forms; all those necessary forms that follow a move.  And every time I write down my name and my husband’s I realize that most people reading the form will presume NOT that I am feminist, but that we are divorced.  I find that I have to say, “We are married, live in the same house.”   How sad that having different last names in marriage is no longer a progressive sign of gender equality but a socially accepted and presumed sign of broken relationship.

In the end, I wonder ultimately about how our choices that are reflected in public identity and name endure.  I first thought about the public and enduring choice of keeping my name in the cemetery.  I have spent a good deal of time in cemeteries and looking at grave markers I realized that one day, my children, grandchildren, and great-children will visit our graves and they will have to explain why my last name is different from their father/grandfather/great-grandfather’s.  I hope that that occasion will be an opportunity for them to talk about gender and how the relationship between us was one of strength and equality and that keeping my name was a way of publicly acknowledging that belief and holding myself accountable to it.  I, of course, will have no control over what story they tell, but I hope that my life and choices speak for themselves and are merely reflected in my name.

I realize that this post has been a bit rambling, but I wonder what others are reading or thinking about concerning marriage, names, being a feminist in today’s world?

Her Daughters, or Theirs?

07.16.2012 9:00 AM

From a review, in Smithsonian magazine, of the book Marie Curie and Her Daughters:

“As Emling [the author of the biography] writes, ‘Marie’s research always took precedence,’ and ‘Eve, in particular, came close to neglect when her girls were quite little.” Still there seemed to be no shortage of love among the three women, especially once Marie’s husband, Pierre, died….

Her sacrifices on behalf of science, Emling seems to say, were worth it; her daughters thrived, after all, and the world, because of Curie’s tenacity and ingenuity, became a less mysterious place.”

A couple of things here.

First, the review frames this new book as though it’s mostly about how Marie Curie reconciled her family life with her scientific career. I doubt any books have been written that explore how Pierre, also a scientist and the girls’ father, reconciled his family life with his scientific career.

Indeed, the onus of Eve’s alleged closeness to “neglect” is placed primarily upon Marie and her scientific career. For, rather than referring to Pierre as Eve’s father, or a co-parent with Marie who could have assisted in staving off their child’s neglect, he is referred to as “Marie’s husband.” As though he played no role of import in bringing her into the world and raising her.

Opponents of same-sex marriage and supporters of the so-called “traditional family” talk a lot about the importance of every child having a mother and a father but the narrative I cite that burdens solely women with the responsibilities of child-rearing, which is pretty pervasive, says pretty loudly that fathers actually aren’t all that important to kids.

What’s most important, this narratives likewise suggests, are husbands- breadwinners- as though a man’s most important contribution to a family are monetary. At the same time, it’s also obvious that the “breadwinner” role can be filled  by someone of any gender. And, putting those two thoughts together seems to cause many men distress these days. (But don’t worry, they will blame feminism for this, rather than the purveyors of the narratives telling them that their only value to their families is their paycheck.)

Secondly, going back to the book review, notice how Curie’s sacrifices, involving pursuing her professional ambitions, are said to seem “worth it” only because her daughters turned out okay and she won 2 Nobel prizes.

No pressure ladies! LOLZ.

I mean, really. Whether or not a man’s child-rearing sacrifices seem “worth it” is just not something I’ve often seen said about men.

Just file this one away in the Women Can’t Win series.

‘Regulated exploitation is still exploitation — using young women as egg farms for affluent westerners wanting children.’

07.13.2012 7:17 PM

The Center for Bioethics and Culture, led by Jennifer Lahl, from whose Facebook feed I got this earlier story, has a press release today on emerging facts around the case of a 17 year old Indian teenager who died as a result of egg donation.

News is just breaking in India about Sushma Pandey, a 17-year-old young woman who died in 2010, two days after her third “egg donation.”  Her death is being attributed to the procedures used to extract eggs from healthy, desirable young females like Ms. Pandey.  These eggs are often resold to affluent westerners for use in commercial production of their children.  Her post-mortem report states she had “one abrasion, four contusions and a blood clot in the head, plus six injection marks” as well as “congestion in the ovaries and uterus.”  The possible cause of her death was listed as shock due to multiple injuries.

This most recent exposure of the daily exploitation of females offers yet another wake up call to the truth of the real, repeat, and often lethal harms of invasive egg removal procedures, which masquerade under the lie of donation.  These transactions are anything but “donations” as young females — nearly children themselves — all over the world, desperately fall prey to offers of money like those made to Ms. Pandey.

Calls for regulation by physicians in India will do nothing to protect young women who seek to “donate” their eggs because they are in desperate need of money.  Regulated exploitation is still exploitation — using young women as egg farms for affluent westerners wanting children. more

See for more.

Can Women Have it All?

06.26.2012 9:32 AM

Suzanne Venker responds  to last week’s Atlantic cover story in this essay, “Ms. Slaughter Still Doesn’t Get It.”

Cultivating a Sexual Ethic from Conception to Birth

06.20.2012 5:54 PM

Few scenes are more tragic to imagine than a father walking out of a hospital alone with his newborn infant because the mother has died in childbirth. Perhaps this is the family’s first baby, or perhaps there are other little ones waiting for their mother at home with hand-drawn ‘welcome home’ signs. Either situation holds unimaginable anguish and loss. Today I spent time looking at these family’s private photos, photos of the mother with her child before her death. It was sad to realize that they were the lucky ones; most mothers who die from childbirth never hold their babies.

A woman giving birth in the United States today is twice as likely as her mother was to die from childbirth.

And that’s a conservative estimate. The statistics on file for maternal mortality rates (which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have sheepishly admitted could be missing up to two-thirds of the actual deaths) have escalated so drastically that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both issued reports within the last year demanding national recognition that American maternal mortality rates are a violation of human rights.

The head scientist in the reproductive health division of CDCP has also pointed out that “maternal deaths are the tip of the iceberg…It is important to consider the women who get very, very sick and do not die, because for every woman who dies, there are fifty who are very ill, suffering significant complications of pregnancy, labor and delivery.”

Compared to other developed nations, the U.S. spends twice as much per birth than any other nation (not a huge surprise there) but is out ranked in safety by the same nations. Even countries like Kuwait and South Korea have figured out how to keep more mothers alive than we have. While other nations are improving their care, the U.S. is one of just 23 countries that are burying more mothers this year than the year before.

But to rank the U.S. against other developed nations is a categorization of nation’s mortality rates that (unbelievably) skews the statistics in our favor. If we were to put all the nations on the chart the truth would be even more shocking. The World Health Organization has proven that “the vast majority of maternal deaths occur in developing countries.” Maybe Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had it right when they went to Sub-Saharan Namibia to give birth.

The fact that undeveloped countries have better mortality rates is actually a clue to the solution. It tips us off that American maternal mortality rates aren’t caused by a lack of spending or modern technology. Nations, both developing and modern, where mothers and babies live and don’t die, are nations that balance their use of technology with a cultural respect for birth as a human experience that extends beyond the physical and medical realms to include the spiritual and emotional needs of the woman. The lack in our birth care is an impoverished understanding of birth that doesn’t acknowledge the full range of needs that must be met for a naturally healthy birth.
I realize it doesn’t seem first apparent (or even reasonable) to claim that there is a connection between women’s physical deaths and their unmet emotional, environmental, and relational needs. I will make a medical case for this claim, but to get us thinking along different lines, consider first the effect of environment on other physical processes of the body. How much effect does the environment and need for privacy have on someone’s ability to have a bowel movement? That’s a purely physical, biological process. How could environment affect the process? Experience tells us it does. But to find a true comparison with birth we’d still have to add a psychosomatic, emotional, and spiritual dynamic. With these added considerations it is more apt to compare the needs of a birthing mother to the needs of a person deep in the throes of the sexual experience. I might garner some sympathy from the men if they could imagine sexually performing—publically. Or for women who have not given birth, to imagine trying to reach climax in the same situation. Read More

‘Why do single mothers still consider themselves as being single mothers when in a relationship?’

06.19.2012 2:21 PM

Asks “Joel” at Yahoo Answers.

What about you, FamilyScholars readers? Have you noticed this?

‘Georgia King is “an easy-bake oven” for gay couple that wants a child in this NBC fall comedy’

06.19.2012 2:08 PM

“The New Normal” is one of NBC’s half-hour comedy pickups for the 2012-13 season. It is “Glee” and “American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy’s first foray into a half-hour comedy and stars Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells as a gay couple that wants to have a child. Georgia King is Goldie, a single mom who wants to give her daughter Shania (Bebe Wood) a better life, so she agrees to be the surrogate for the couple. Her grandmother (Ellen Barkin) isn’t quite as excited about the endeavor.

We do not pump out babies. We are not easy-bake ovens.

When ‘Surrogates’ Die

06.11.2012 6:11 PM

Kishwar Desai writing at the Guardian (UK):

Premila Vaghela, a poor 30-year-old surrogate mother [in India], died last month, while reportedly waiting for a routine examination at a hospital in Ahmedabad. The news was barely covered by the media – after all, she had completed the task she had been contracted for, and the eight-month-old foetus meant for an American “commissioning” parent survived.

A Civil Discussion About Civil Marriage? (Yes, mostly.)

06.08.2012 11:54 AM

I had the privilege of sitting in on the conversation between Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino last night (ably facilitated by David Blankenhorn) at the Center for Public Conversation. (There was wine! Perhaps that helps explain why the conversation was so civil?) I just want to toss a few thoughts at you — after I briefly introduce myself. (Here’s a slightly more self-aggrandizing bio.)

I’m a law professor who teaches Family Law, a writer (for law journals, but also for publications that people actually read, like Slate, and for a couple of blogs). I’m especially interested in civil unions, and am working on a book about what they might mean in the long-term. Meanwhile, I’m under contract (with co-author Carrie Stone) to write “Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies” (under the lash; the complete manuscript is due next month). I met Elizabeth Marquardt in April in Chicago when I was speaking about the effect of opposite-sex civil unions (they exist in Illinois!), and that led to this stint. I’m excited to be here, and await your comments over the next couple months. I will be mostly be writing about civil unions. Not today, though!

Back to the event: Corvino and I used to be site-mates (is that a word? it is now…) at the late, lamented We’d even briefly discussed teaming up to do a column together just before the site shut down last year. We’ve kept in touch, so when he invited me to this event, I was excited to attend. It was nice to actually meet him in person, and it was also good to meet…Maggie Gallagher.

Gallagher and I had exchanged emails several years ago (in what I’d describe as a mostly collegial way), and we’d engaged each other across the blogosphere on her position on civil unions (you can follow the back-and-forth here, if you have too much time today), but we’d never officially met (even though we were both panelists at a marriage symposium last year). So we did. And we had a nice conversation. Really. This wasn’t the side of her that I’ve often seen on cable news shows, where I’ve often given consideration to whether I can afford the new television I’d need after hurling any handy object at the screen.

We talked a bit about the book (“Debating Same-Sex Marriage”), but quite a bit more about our families — well, OK,  mostly about mine, because her story (and, I’d venture, a not-small part of her decades-long marriage crusade) is by now well-known. (Single mother who learned, the hard way, about the fact that sex and procreation can’t be separated and about the need to provide social and legal support for marriages, so that fathers stay.)

My situation poses perhaps the hardest case for her traditionalist position. One strategy she uses in the book to defend against the argument that allowing same-sex marriages would be good for the children of those marriages is to minimize the number of children being raised in what she thinks are “qualifying” situations (not the children of remarried parents, for example). But I’m one of the “qualifiers”: my partner and I adopted twin girls from the Philadelphia dependency system, but only after fostering them from infancy until they were two years old. It’s hard to see a good argument for denying us the kind of legal and social stability that would support our children, and, really, Gallagher doesn’t try to deny that our kids might be better off were marriage available to us. But she thinks the costs (to society) greatly outweigh the benefits.

I have a couple of responses to this.

First, for someone who claims that her principal argument against marriage equality is non-consequentialist (same-sex marriages are intrinsically “a lie” and are “unjust”), her willingness to go hammer-and-tongs into this kind of utilitarian argument is striking. And hers is a peculiar kind of utilitarianism, because it weighs actual harm to existing families (like mine and many thousands of others) against the speculative, long-term harm she fears (and explains, quite well, in the book) to the institution of marriage if same-sex couples are given the keys to that kingdom.

Second, I must say, in fairness, that one of the three core arguments she makes against marriage equality is the best one I’ve seen. Not successful from my point of view, but at least coherent and worthy of serious discussion. I’m going to do a fuller book review soon, so this is just a taste of that review. Here, as I see them, are her three central points:

  • Marriage “means” the union of a man and a woman, in much the same way that “mother” means “the person who bears the child with her body.” So when we try to change these kinds of definitions, we’re paltering with language. There’s so much wrong with this argument that my brain is frozen, paralyzed by too many devastating rejoinders. Stay tuned for the book review to read in amazement as they unfold.
  • If marriage equality comes to town, then opponents will have to get out by sundown, or be shot (throught) by the accusation of bigotry. For about sixty-eight reasons, I find this argument both offensive and weak. It should never again appear in print, be spoken, or be the subject of interpretative dance (although the issue of how to accommodate religious and other conscience beliefs is a real one, as I discussed in a series of posts you can find here).
  • By restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman, society sends a number of mutually reinforcing messages — all of which are important to the maintenance of civil society: Sex makes babies; sex and procreation can’t be reliably separated; mothers and fathers matter. She fears that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have a long-term, slow-drip effect on these messages, and that the cost is just too high to bear.

This last argument is the only one that has any traction with me, even if I ultimately found it unpersuasive . You’ll have to read the upcoming review to find out why, but for now let me say that I think society is capable of more complex messaging than Gallagher allows, that people understand that different factual situations call for different solutions, and that expanding the definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples is in fact more consonant with our contemporary understanding of the institution anyway (and that the broader understanding is an advance).

Am I usually this wordy? Unfortunately, yes. But typically I do a better job of reining myself in. Let’s see how well I manage myself here!

Where was your editor?

06.06.2012 8:26 PM

Human evolutionary biologist Daniel E. Lieberman’s opinion piece in the NYT on how we’re primed to like sugar–and what, if anything, we should do in the way of policy to respond to an abundance of the stuff nowadays–was fine, but I really, really dislike it when women’s birthing of children is referred to as “pump[ing] out babies.”

‘N.J. surrogacy bill would allow women to be paid as ‘carriers”

05.30.2012 1:30 PM

Kathy Sloan, a board member of the National Organization for Women and that group’s representative to the United Nations, who has testified against surrogacy, said Tuesday she feared New Jersey would follow other states in allowing uncapped payments of expenses to carriers.

In theory, that should cover living expenses, but in reality it amounts to payments from rich couples to poor women, Sloan said.

Surrogacy turns a seemingly private transaction into de facto abusive employment practices — because it exploits women’s poverty and subordinate status in this country and around the world,” Sloan said.

The Grief of Kinship Care

05.29.2012 11:03 AM

This article from Idaho caught my eye and left me with a heavy heart.  So thankful that children have kin from which to receive care, but saddened that the number of those children continues to grow.  I was thankful that the author highlights how we grieve the roles we wish we could play but that circumstances remove.

“According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report, in Idaho, an estimated 7,000 children are currently in kinship care, up 100 percent from a decade ago. Almost 400 children are in kinship foster care homes, representing almost 30 percent of foster children in Idaho.

As the amount of children placed with relatives other than their parents grows, caregivers face several challenges when it comes to providing basic needs. For example, caregivers tend to be older, single, unemployed and on a limited income. Obtaining legal authority for health and educational decisions can be costly and sometimes it requires parents to sue their children for sole custody for the grandchild.

“There’s a lot of grieving involved when grandparents become parents,” said Deb Latttin, a local resource and service navigator for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “You’re grieving the loss of your child because you’re usually going up against your child in court. You’re also dealing with the loss of being a grandparent.”  Read more…

’20 years later, it turns out Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown and unmarried moms’

05.27.2012 3:20 PM

Isabel Sawhill writing at the Washington Post:

…Twenty years later, Quayle’s words seem less controversial than prophetic. The number of single parents in America has increased dramatically: The proportion of children born outside marriage has risen from roughly 30 percent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2009. For women under age 30, more than half of babies are born out of wedlock. A lifestyle once associated with poverty has become mainstream. The only group of parents for whom marriage continues to be the norm is the college-educated. more


05.23.2012 10:04 AM

Rise is a magazine “by and for parents affected by the child welfare system,” at least some of whom seem to  have grown up in it themselves.

At the NYT Motherlode blog, guest blogger Ilka Perez, who writes for Rise, offers the piece, “What’s Worse Than Being a Single Mother?”

Now, I see that I am part of a generational trend. Yes, single motherhood is up. But since the 1990s, domestic violence rates have been going down. Like many young women in my community, I was raised with two minds. From a young age, I learned how to change my nephew’s diapers; school came second. I also learned that domestic violence was normal: painful but expected. When my girlfriends and I talked about our boyfriends, getting hit was just part of our story.

Among fascinating back issues is one on Parenting from Prison.