I found myself infuriated as I read on, unable to quit, as the writer Melissa Thernstrom takes us through her several failed trials at IVF in her late thirties and ultimately delves into the decision to have babies in a way that her body, at 41, can not. Infuriating because she sees the objections to egg-donor/surrogacy as only a reaction to the fact that it is a new way to create children:
"I read articles and court decisions and took notes on the arguments, but in the end they mainly seemed to boil down to the fact that it is new. Because of the central social importance of the family, changes that affect it are often initially condemned as strange, unnatural, evil or dangerous. Using anesthesia in childbirth was controversial after anesthesia's invention. Had not God condemned Eve to bring forth children in pain? Birth control was once condemned, but it is now widely accepted. Once outlawed, abortion is now legal and supported by a majority of Americans within certain limits."Thernstrom goes on to talk about how reproductive technology fills an important need for gay couples and the women who suffer from upper-middle class infertility, or eight percent of the women between 40 and 44 who identify themselves as involuntarily childless.
But what is different about actually making people who will have a different relationship to their personal history (or lack of) than the rest of us made the old-fashioned, time-tested way, and the means that prevents those people from being born. Because, you see, creating babies from someone's eggs and someone else's sperm (in this case, that of her husband) is different, quite different from NOT creating a human being at all. Reproductive technology is creating humans who will be related to their past less fully than the rest of us, and we have no way of knowing what this means for the future world order. This is science fiction played out today. I kept thinking of Gattaca, that movie in which Ethan Hawke, a genetically inferior man, assumes the identity of a superior one in order to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.
Yet deep into the essay she hits upon something that I have been thinking about a lot lately: destiny. Was I, along with all the other first mothers in the world who grieve for their lost children, destined to have babies that were meant for other people to raise? Were those people destined from the beginning to be their parents? For first/birth mothers, this is an appalling thought. What kind of karma destined us to be gestational carriers of our own flesh and blood for someone else? And yet, that is where we have ended up. Thernstrom says this:
"The brain’s ability to rewrite — to destinize, as it were — the birth story and turn a barn into a manger is so powerful that Plan B, all its unsexiness notwithstanding, became the best plan, because Plan B created the children that we have and are convinced we had to have."Years ago, when I first became involved in working to change adoption as we know it today, to work to repeal every single law that closed us off from our children after we relinquished them, I felt that it was my destiny to be just that person. To write, for instance, Birthmark, published in 1979, the first memoir to tell a birth mother's story, and subject myself to the kinds of slings and arrows that came my way, and they were plenty. I remember hearing how the movie director Ben Gazarra pounded the table in anger and rage when Birthmark came up at a dinner party at which he, and friends of mine, were present. I remember the people like Larry King who wouldn't even discuss the subject of a first mother out of the closet because, as they explained to the publisher's publicist, they were "adoptive parents." Case closed. I remember when another writer at a party told me quietly that he knew people who would like to kill me--his neighbors, "adoptive parents." Of course, he expected I would understand. And I remember reading newspaper headlines about myself--that woman who wrote "that book"--that made me wince.
And was all this my destiny? I said to myself: This happened, I can write about this and let people know how we feel, and I can take this grief (that's not actually the word I said in my mind), this is my destiny. But today, no matter how I get my mind around that, no matter how many intellectual trails I go down, I am having an harder time with that idea. This is where I have ended up, and it has become my fate to be this person. Now I have to try to fill the shoes of the person I want to be. Sometimes I'd like to walk away and pull the metaphorical blanket over my eyes and forget the rest. Yet here I am.
I think it would be easier if I believed, if I had a strong belief, in a God. Gaia. Hera. The Mayan Sun God. God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, like I learned in Catholic school.
But I don't.
I don't believe in a concept of a God sitting up there in a big chair directing traffic, and deciding this is the Plan for sinners like me, and yet I do believe in certain things: synchronicity, the confluence of events and circumstances that are way more than mere chance because sometimes, sometimes, they pile up like leaves in the fall. I feel that way about my relationship with the daughter of my first love, Jennifer, because there are so many connections and similarities and names and places that a reasonable way to accommodate them is not sufficient without thinking that surely there is some method to this madness. The similarities between my daughter and myself, and my granddaughters and myself, are expected and do not surprise me, they are the result of our shared DNA.
It's the ones that are not expected that have led to me to question that there is sort of order in this world of ours. Astrology and the I-Ching holds some appeal for me. Both are like religion, in many ways, because you either believe there is something to them, or you write it off as hogwash. Your choice.
But destiny: is it our minds, like Thernstrom says, that wrap themselves around Plan B (I am a woman who gave up a child for adoption, a woman who works for adoption reform) that makes us feel as if we are living out our destiny? Given my druthers, I'd go back and rewrite mine in a minute, if I could. I'd have married the boy from the next town and had a daughter or a son whom we kept. I'd be Jennifer's real mother, not her alternative universe mother, only she wouldn't be quite the same Jennifer. Of course, that's not what happened, I did not marry her father. Instead, I've been married to a good man for three decades now and he and I look upon the twists and turns of our lives that occurred for us to be in the same room at the same time and ready for a lasting relationship...and that seems like destiny too.
It's when we hear adoptive parents say they feel the children they adopt were "meant for them" in some cosmic way that internally we blow a gasket. NO! We think, that baby was meant for me! And only terrible circumstance channeled him or her to you! But don't you dare say that baby was "meant for you." It's why we all felt so much rage at Scott Simon's careless title: Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other. No, we think, it was sheer chance that gave you the children from China you have; sheer chance that gave any of our babies to the people, good and bad, who ended up raising them; sheer chance.
And thinking about that brings us back to our own roles in this scenario of babies and mothers. We mothers of the lost children did have sex; sex at an inopportune (or opportune, depending on your point of view) time of the month; and we did get pregnant; we were not able or willing at the time to keep our babies; and all of us have had to live with that sorrowful twist of fate. Destiny? Or sheer meaningless chance, like the way, standing in front of a display case in grocery store, we choose one carton of eggs over another?
I'm just rambling here today. No big conclusions about destiny or how Plan B became our fate, our karma, our destiny. Certainly I can not fathom the final, conclusive answer that satisfies our need to make sense of our lives. What's coming to mind now is that trite saying about making lemonade from the lemons handed us.
Trite though it may be, but maybe there's something there. All I know is that tonight working for adoption reform, working until every last f*&!ing state in the Union, in the world, does not have closed records for adoptees or birth/first mothers feels like my destiny, whether I like it or not. It is what is. --lorraine