This was a week of firsts. I swam a mile in just under 40 minutes, had a maple and brown sugar back scrub, and wrote an article about midlife crisis. As far as I can tell the first two firsts have no bearing on the latter, but who knows. You’re actually supposed to call it a “midlife transition” because “crisis” is too derogatory and not exactly empowering. It’s reactive instead of perceptive. You’d think that selecting donor sperm and sticking giant needles oozing with powerful fertility drugs into your thigh for a year would send you into a midlife transition, but I guess I was too singularly focused on pregnancy to lose any sense of control. Now that the kids are almost four and two, I’m just like any other middle aged Mom, with a slight twist. I’m going to try and get the article published in the next few weeks. I think it’s good, but I may be too close to it to have a legitimate opinion. If Huffington Post and Salon aren’t interested, and I lose patience (as usual), I’ll post it here for my dear D List Blog readers.
Robotic Romney’s VP pick, Paul Ryan, has been in the news this week for both amusing (strange!) and disturbing (utterly unsurprising) reasons. Many people were astonished and bemused by Ryan’s iPod selections, which include Rage Against the Machine. It’s one of my husband’s favorite bands of the last 20 years, and he and Paul Ryan could not be more diametrically opposed on every possible issue. Tom Morello wrote a beyond fantastic retort, when he said Ryan “is the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.”
Paul Ryan’s views on “personhood” have also been widely discussed, particularly his recent co-sponsorship of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a federal bill that defines personhood as legally beginning at fertilization. In other words, a 2-cell embryo (technically not an actual embryo but a zygote) has the same rights as you and I. Several news outlets have interpreted Ryan’s stance on personhood to inherently include, by logical extension, one opposing IVF. Mother Jones’ perspective is “Ryan Sponsored Abortion Bill That Would Make Romney’s Kids Criminals – The VP candidate pushed an anti-abortion bill that would outlaw IVF – which Mitt Romney’s children used.” And, even Canada’s Nation Post questioned: “Would Paul Ryan’s anti-abortion, anti-IVF bill criminalize Mitt Romney’s son?”
It’s a fair assessment, given that the proposed law would make IVF exponentially more complex and traumatic than it already is. As many have pointed out, the law would call into question the entire premise of a typical IVF cycle: stimulating the ovaries in an attempt to procure many more eggs than required, in the hope that some will fertilize and become viable enough to transfer into the uterus. If every 2-cell zygote is a person, then this has significant implications for what you can and cannot do with them, such as discarding, donating, or freezing.
Not so fast, pronounce the blowhards over at Family Scholars. They have their own unique interpretation: that Paul Ryan, in his efforts to outlaw abortion entirely, has spawned some unfortunate and unintended legal ramifications for the one in eight couples that face infertility.
It’s irresponsible to speculate that this is an intentional attempt on the part of Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans to make the lives of couples who are unable to conceive without assistance for whatever reason even more difficult. … Perhaps, this is merely legal “fallout” from a desperate attempt to recriminalize abortion and contraception.”
When I get really fed up with our almost four-year-old daughter – who can be as inflexible as a 2 by 8 wood plank – I have a slightly ugly penchant for saying “are you kidding me right now?” But I don’t feel even mildly apologetic or inappropriate when I want to say to Paul Ryan and his apologists at Family Scholars and elsewhere, “are you fxxking kidding me right now?”
The prospective VP who thinks abortion should be outlawed, even in instances of rape or incest, doesn’t think that any form of assisted reproductive technology should be outlawed? And what, do you suppose, are his views on donor conception? I don’t think he needs to spell it out. It’s an extremely reasonable assumption that he’s in lockstep with Family Scholars, Jennifer Lahl and her bogus Center for Bioethics and Culture, and all the other judgementalists. Ryan claims to like Rage Against the Machine’s sound, but not the lyrics. It’s akin to liking the existence of an embryo, but not how conceived, if by IVF. Liking the existence of it, but nothing of the substance, the history, or the human dilemmas.
Are you kidding me? This is who could be President? He scares me more than Sarah Palin. I can’t believe it’s happening again, but it feels like it may be time to start resurrecting the back up plan to move back to the UK. At least there, the most extreme institutionalized views are pretty much to the left of Obama.
I said I wouldn’t tell cute stories about the kids. But I never promised not to post videos. Actually I’ve been summertime slacking off and not focusing so much on writing. I am, spiritually, a proud torchbearer for Gen X slackers at heart. Not that I’m making excuses. As my dear friend Jill reminded me, I’m a few short weeks into not working after 20 straight years of employment, punctuated by double-time in graduate school and patching ceilings.
Back to the video. This was taken a couple of days ago on a rainy retro afternoon spent introducing music from my youth to the kids. Although in truth anything from before the kids were born I now classify as my youth, as they are catapulting me into middle age faster than our son can fill a diaper genie. Our daughter loves to replay the “silly daddy” video, and I’m struck by the abundance of family footage she’ll always have, compared to the three photos and one audio file we have of the donor. Twenty-first century technology has allowed us to capture moments that transport into the iCloud while we make a cup of tea, then share with family, Facebook or a blog in a couple more clicks of the phone. And if we put any effort into weeding, organizing and preserving footage (nerdy librarian reference) then our kids will have an unbelievably rich archive of family life and love.
Fantastic technological progress has also given us IVF, ICSI and embryo freezing, but for donor-conceived families the footage remains starkly lopsided. Most of my posts seem to end with a sentence beginning with “hopefully”, because I don’t know what the hell is going to happen, but, hopefully, the kids will see that we were, and are, just a normal family with a silly daddy who loves them.
I recently spoke at length with Olivia Montuschi, co-founder of the UK-based Donor Conception Network (DCN). They are working on a new booklet for ‘Telling and Talking” about donor conception with family and friends. Olivia reminded me of a funny anecdote from their “Telling and Talking: 0 – 7 years” booklet, which recounts how one mother told and talked about donor conception. She suggested to friends that they listen in to her guest appearance on a radio show, and then discussed her story very publicly, and neatly, in one fell swoop. The modern version of this, I suppose, is writing about it on a blog.
We spoke for little over an hour, but I could have happily stayed on the phone all day. It was that same sense of connection that I felt when I had the opportunity to talk to Wendy Kramer, Donor Sibling Registry co-founder. These amazing women have such a depth of personal experience, in addition to years spent working with donor conception (DC) families. Without meaning to sound like a gushy DC groupie, I will always remember our first conversations. It was a dose of therapy, a shot of realism, and an intellectual workout, all wrapped up in a soft security blanket. Like talking to your big sister or a favorite cousin. There’s something about these women, and certainly something about this topic. The experience of donor conception can be profoundly isolating, but the flip side is getting to connect with women like Olivia and Wendy.
In some ways I felt like a bit of a fraud talking to Olivia about the “telling and talking” experience. The fact is I’ve had it easy compared to most straight parents of DC children. My family doesn’t judge. My husband’s family loves the kids to pieces. Our friends are progressive. My husband is cool. I used to think we were like a lesbian couple because we always knew we couldn’t conceive kids together and would need a donor. Now I feel like a lesbian couple, more because we live in a supportive bubble and I’ve had to move past caring what anyone thinks anyway. Especially after the blunt force of vicious comments posted in response to my Motherlode article. There’s something strangely liberating about having your words misconstrued, misjudged and maligned. You just stop giving a shit.
I also find myself seeing things increasingly in black and white terms. You’d think it would be the opposite given the emotional nuances of donor conception. And maybe that will change over time. But Olivia asked me what I thought about dealing with people who are critical or unsupportive. The nuanced side of me wanted desperately to reach for some complex string of empathetic considerations. Instead, however, I found myself thinking and saying, quite bluntly, “get rid of them.” And I meant it. Easier said than done, especially if it’s a brother, a close friend, or parent. But if a friend or family member proves unable or unwilling to accept donor conception then you wouldn’t want him or her around your kid anyway. It’s actually a perfectly fine justification for estrangement. Not that estrangement is to be lauded as a general principal, but we all know people who don’t talk to family, and it’s probably not because of donor conception. It’s that they had a falling out over something, or they don’t get along, or they think the other is weird. I know people estranged from a brother, a father, a sister, a daughter. It happens all the time, and I don’t think that parents who have created their family through donor conception have to adhere to some higher standard. If someone in your life doesn’t agree with such a significant life choice, then give him or her the boot. And, perhaps along with the boot, give them some of the literature from Donor Conception Network and Donor Sibling Registry. That way, their online comments might be a little more nuanced and a little less preconceived.