' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What makes a mother?

Friday, May 1, 2015

What makes a mother?

Unwilling mother Sherri Shepherd
As if we didn't already know, the whole "assisted reproduction" business is a mess, both from a legal and a moral standpoint. The latest escapades are those of Sherri Shepherd who lost her fight not to be a mother and Nick Loeb who is fighting to be a father.

Shepherd, a former co-host on The View, entered into an agreement with her then husband Lamar Sally and Jessica Bartholomew to have Bartholomew carry a child created through Sally's sperm and a donated egg. By the time the baby boy, Lamar Sally, Jr., was born eight months ago, Shepherd had filed for divorce, disclaiming responsibility for the child and refusing to pay support, leaving Bartholomew whose name was on the birth certificate on the hook for thousands of dollars in medical bills. "Not so fast" said a Pennsylvania court. "A deal is a deal. You signed on the dotted line and you're a legal mother, like it or not. Pay up!"

Meanwhile Loeb is suing his ex-fiance Sofia Vergara, the sexy comic who stars in Modern Family, in a California court "to protect the life" of his "unborn children" created with his sperm and her eggs. The two signed an agreement that embryos created could only be brought to term with the consent of both parents. Loeb and Vergara split up and Vergara does not want the eggs hatched (so to speak) while Loeb wants them implanted in a surrogate.

Loeb wants the court to ignore the agreement. He is offering to absolve Vergara of financial responsibility for any resulting children--but he cannot absolve her of any psychological responsibility. As a Catholic, he believes that keeping the eggs frozen is "tantamount to killing them." He also desperately wants to be a father, a condition he has dreamed about for as long as he can remember, and previous relationships did not lead to children. Loeb appears not to have considered the effect on the children, if he prevails, of having a mother who fought in court to keep them from being born. Perhaps he doesn't see the need for a mother, since he was raised by a nanny after his mother largely disappeared from his life when he was a year old and he did not see her again until he was nine.

Loeb, in a New York Times Op-ed yesterday, had already equated the frozen embryos to children, writing his right to force Vergara to be a biological mother had:  "...nothing to do with the rights over one’s own body, and everything to do with a parent’s right to protect the life of his or her unborn child." But there is no child. There are a few small cells held in liquid nitrogen at -320 degrees Fahrenheit. And by trying to grow those cells into children, he is controlling her decision to procreate children or not, and treating her eggs as property that he is entitled to because he wants them, despite their signed contract that the embryos would not be implanted without both parties in agreement.  

Cases of unwilling assisted reproduction partners are resolved by the laws of contract; it is discomforting that the fate of a child or embryo is decided by laws designed to resolve commercial disputes. Other areas of family law, divorce and adoption, give at least some recognition to the notion that children are more than property. These two cases turn the children into property, just as women and children were considered in previous centuries, and are still in some parts of the world.

The media is full of stories about the unfortunate or tragic consequences of creating or attempting to create children artificially: embryos implanted in the wrong women, women impregnated by the wrong sperm, intended parents abandoning disabled infants, mentally unstable or sadistic people becoming parents, protracted custody fights between bio parents and her partner. Fathers of dozens of children have already been the subject of comedies. We wonder if the jokes are lost on the children of said fathers. We understand that many fine people become parents through technology such as in vetro fertilization, or IVF, and even, at times, surrogacy.

It's tempting to argue that commercial surrogacy should be outlawed. Although some surrogates are motivated by the desire to help a deserving couple have a child, others, particularly those in foreign countries are forced into surrogacy by poverty. They sell their bodies, the only thing they have. We recognize that commercial surrogacy in some form will continue. The instinctual and necessary drive to procreate is how the life survives, and if people before who might have been left out of the possibility of procreating can use science to accomplish that, they will. Surrogacy is not going away.

Still there is the sad fact that some of these children born through science--purchased eggs and sperm, the building blocks of human life--will never know where their DNA came from, and to whom they are genetically related. A part of their identity will always be missing.

In Israel where surrogacy is illegal for gays or single parents, a thriving business has grown up arranging births for them. A recent birth went like this: The sperm came from Israel; it was flown to Thailand, where it fertilized the egg of a South African egg donor. Then it was implanted in an Indian woman in Nepal. In this case, the child was born prematurely around the time of the recent earthquake. The baby survived, as did three others in Nepal who were born with similar back stories.

Instead of making surrogacy illegal, we need stronger laws which focus on the well-being of the children to be born. Of utmost importance is granting the child the right to learn the full identity of his biological parents. Laws should require the intended parents fit to be parents. Those who donate eggs should be made to be fully aware of the health risks, and they are great; those who donate eggs or sperm should be made to be fully aware of the psychological impact of knowing they may have a child "out there," as well as the impact of the genealogical bewilderment of any child they might create with their sperm or egg. There is already a growing movement of children born of outsider sperm trying to find and connect with their biological fathers or any siblings.

Finally, those seeking children through purchased eggs or sperm must be fully informed about the psychological difference of raising children who are not biologically related to them.

Science has made it possible for people who previously would not have been able to have children to do so, and that genie is not going back in the bottle. But society must proceed with all caution to avoid situations such as the Sherri Shepherd one. She may pay child support all her life for an intemperate decision involving the DNA of a former partner, but she will never be a mother in any sense of the word. Little Lamar Sally will in fact be a motherless child, knowing that his biological mother helped create him for the money and his legal mother wants nothing to do with him. Vergara might be absolved of all financial considerations involving children that might result from her eggs, but her child will be motherless as well. Creating a child whose mother does not want him to satisfy the emotional needs and religious beliefs of the father is simply cruel.--jane and lorraine
Sherri Shepherd Shaken By Legal Bombshell
Riben: The Sherri Shepherd Case: One More Reason to Ban Commercial Surrogacy
Sofia Vergara's Ex-Fiance: Our Frozen Embryos Have a Right to Live
Israeli Dads Welcome Surrogate-Born Baby in Nepal on Earthquake Day
Baby M - Wikipedia

Assisted Reproduction ignores the best interests of the child
Botched embryo garner sympathy; Birthmothers? Fugheddaboutit
Embryo 'adoption' just creeps us out
Creating children without full identity is a crime against humanity
Even in 'modern families' the need to know biological heritage
Thailand's booming business in surrogacy is an ethical swamp
Exploiting first mothers: then and now
Surrogacy: The American Way

Lethal Secrets
by Annette Baran and Rueben Pannor
"Lethal Secrets" takes a long-range view of donor insemination by interviewing donor offspring, donors and parents years after the fact. Taking a hard look at the ramifications of secrecy and donor insemination is not the norm, nor is advocating for openness. Many, if not most, doctors, patients and sperm banks continue to advocate for secrecy, blithely ignoring the psychological dangers of this widespread practice. Baran and Pannor are ahead of their time. They support donor insemination, yet argue persuasively for openness: not only is it every child's right to know the truth of his or her genetic heritage, it is healthier for the parents and the donors, as well. If you are considering using donor insemination or even donor egg to have a child, this book is invaluable. I only wish the authors would write a book specifically about the psychological aspects of using donor egg."--Amazon reviewer


  1. This makes me sick because like so much else in adoption and ART it is really NOT about the child. Of course, the old standby "I love my child just as much as any male and female biological parents love their child" will be trotted out. But I can tell you, I would have HATED to learn that my mother took money just to create me.

    As an adoptee, it boggles my mind to think of being made from one female body part from this country, a male body part from another country and then carried to term by a surrogate in another country whom I may or may not have any genetic relationship to, and then being given to strangers to be raised in yet another country. It makes my head spin. How can people be so callous and insensitive that they would do this to a child? Are they really just that SELFISH?

    There are children in this world who really do need homes and who are already here. Why can't these children be given a home first? I have no problem with gay adoption when a child truly needs a home and the couple are the best possible parents for that child. But for people to go out of there way at great expense while simultaneously exploiting those in poor circumstances to purposely create children with no biological relationship to their parents disturbs me tremendously.

    Here's a link to another article in The Washington Post.


    And here's the information on an article about Sherri Shepherd where she states emphatically that she will feel every bit the mother of her son carried by the surrogate, even though she has no bio-relationship with the boy. But then again, don't they all say that?

    People Magazine, September 29, 2014, pg.31

    1. Actually, there's more emphasis on biological relationship than one might think. Just to counteract the notion that these are all spare parts--the sperm comes from the dads-to-be (one of them). Even Jewish surrogacy laws for straights mandate that the sperm come from the actual father, not a donor father. Similarly, the surrogate must not be genetically related to either party.

      Jewish ancestry will trump everything for these kids and they will be biologically connected to one dad. Apparently, this is so important in Israeli culture—as is the very act of raising kids—that the LGBT community has been less concerned with marriage rights than it has with surrogacy and adoption.

    2. In Jewish law, a child is considered Jewish if the natural mother is Jewish. In the United States where there is Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, only Reform temples consider a child Jewish if either of the parents is Jewish and the child is being raised as a Jew. That is why Ivanka Trump had to convert to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner so that there children would be Jewish.

      My understanding was that Israel follows the laws of what we here in the U.S. consider Orthodox Judaism. Wouldn't a child with only a Jewish father have to be converted to be considered a Jew in Israel?

    3. Yes, there is a ceremony that is performed.

      I found this additional info on surrgacy in Israel: The embryo can be created through the intended mother’s egg and intended father’s sperm using IVF. If the intended mother’s ova are not viable, an embryo can be created from a donated egg and the intended father’s sperm.

    4. More Jews than not of very stripe believe that for the child to be born Jewish, the mother --not the father--must be Jewish. I know of a couple relationships where the woman converted to meet that requirement, whether they were Reform on not. If the mother does not convert, the child must perform the same ritual of converting at some point to be considered truly Jewish. But those rules may not apply to all and all may not care.

    5. Yes, Jewish religion is matrilineal; if your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish no matter who your father is. I am Catholic married to a Jew, my children are not considered Jewish and if they wanted to be, they would have to convert just like someone with no Jewish ancestry. All my kids are agnostics, although raised Catholic, and the two who are married married agnostic Christian girls, so the matter never came up.

  2. Here is a section of the story that Robin left the link to:

    'Tammuz, an international surrogacy agency based in Israel, facilitated the births of 15 of the 26 Israeli babies evacuated by the Israeli government from Kathmandu this week. In the past eight years, it has assisted about 400 couples, 80 percent of them gay, to have children this way. The agency also works with couples from the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia.

    "Roy Youldos, the agency’s marketing and business development manager, said 80 surrogate mothers in different stages of pregnancy are still in Nepal, waiting to give birth for foreign couples. All the mothers are Indian nationals, but they spend their pregnancies in Kathmandu. Youldos said all survived the earthquake."

    Yes, Robin, it makes me ill too.

  3. as for Shepherd, I am across this:

    Shepherd previously offered Sally a one-time $100,000 payment and $3,000 in monthly child support, even though she changed her mind about the baby, however, he reportedly declined as he wanted more.

    Under the terms of their alleged "ironclad prenup," Sally waived all rights to collect spousal support from Shepherd and her $100,000 offer is said to be more than he is entitled to under the agreement.

    "Lamar rejected the offer, and countered that he wanted $10,000 in child support, which Sherri thinks is ridiculous and absolutely won't pay. At this point, the divorce isn't likely to settle without a trial, which Sherri is more than willing to have," a source previously told RadarOnline.com.

    The $10,000 must mean a monthly payment.

    ... The ruling comes more than two months after the estranged couple's surrogate spoke out against the actress. Jessica Bartholomew, a 23-year-old waitress and single mom, was reportedly paid $30,000 by the pair to be their gestational surrogate and conceived the baby using Sally's sperm but not Shepherd's egg.

  4. Lorraine & Jane: Each of the men in this article wants child support plain and simple.

  5. Lorraine, I'm noticing that you are highlighting lots of current issues in adoption and ART before the release of your book. I also think it's wise to acknowledge that surrogacy is here to stay, and adoption reform would be seen as unreasonably reactionary if it just threw up its hands at emerging family forms and said NO to anything except children born to and kept by biological mothers and fathers.

    As an example of how fast this is moving--so fast, really, that we cannot imagine it--see this article in which it is predicted that 2-father babies may be a reality in as little as two years. The research, a collaborative effort by Cambridge University and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, focuses on stem cells as building blocks. Kind of overturns so many of our notions of sex, sexuality, and parenthood. I realize lots of people aren't comfortable with this, but this is where it's going.


    1. Single women creating and raising children without fathers is causing the break down of society, crime, poverty, you name it according to conservatives. The problems of African Americans in particular can be laid to the feet of these wanton women doing what comes naturally. Just ask George Will.

      Meanwhile, zillions of dollars are spent on research to allow a child to be created by two men and raised without a mother. This is considered a societal advance, overturning our notions of sex, sexuality, and parenthood.

      Oh tempora, o mores!

    2. Hey, at first I thought you were serious in Para 1! Thanks for the irony. You are right. It does induce some spinning of head.

    3. The whole subject makes my head spin, unimaginable complications.

    4. Well Jess, meet one you call an ''unreasonable reactionary''. The way it was designed and created to be is the only way it should be. The rest of this is sick!

      Jess says, ".........and adoption reform would be seen as unreasonably reactionary if it just threw up its hands at emerging family forms and said NO to anything except children born to and kept by biological mothers and fathers."

      Yes Jess, by all means ...foul and offensive, let's leave the door open to all ways to procure children from others, let's leave the door open to acquire children ANY way we possibly can regardless of whether it is ethical or moral or no matter what it costs the child or the parents of that child, let's allow children to be taken and or made in any way this world can dream up, regardless of the costs to others, or what's right, so all that can pay, can play mommy and daddy. It's sickening. See, it's really and truly not about "the best interest of the child'' it's about how to get a child, by whatever means.

      When people use diminishing language such as "biological'' to describe mothers and fathers... well, that is what makes it so very easy to - diminish and dismiss the importance of mothers and fathers and makes it so easy for others to see taking/getting children from them (in whatever manner, child or egg or sperm) as NO BIG DEAL.
      It is a big deal though.... just ask the children (the sons and daughters). Then ask the parents whose children you acquired, how big a deal it is.

      Someday this will end.

    5. "Someday this will end."

      I'm sorry to say, I think you're on the wrong side of history.

    6. Time will tell. Until then, I will hope.

    7. Not too sure what you are hoping for, Cindy. The Apocalypse and Last Judgement? If you are hoping for human nature to change and people not to seek profit where it can be made, or abuse power, chances are slim to none.No, Cindy, whether we like it or not assisted reproduction and adoption will not end. The best we can do as several people and the original post have stated, is to work to make both alternate ways to become parents as ethical and non-exploitive as possible. Neither option is going away, and assisted reproduction will continue to expand to things we cannot even imagine now. It needs to be closely monitored, regulated, and controlled and much of the profit motive and secrecy removed, Saying it is all sick and not as "ordained" does nothing to fix real-life problems or encourage feasible reforms, nor does hoping it will go away.

  6. First, they are not "embryos" the little cell clusters that are created and that are creating this mess are "zygotes" - and, frankly, not every zygote becomes a baby. Second, EW! Rent-a-womb should be illegal! No matter how you slice it, when you carry a baby in your body, you become something very important to that baby. It doesn't matter whose egg or sperm made it - yours is the smell, taste, and sound that they learn to trust.

    OMG - what next, Cyteen? (Book reference).

    1. My husband and i went thru IVF and we even tried having a baby with an egg donor. So I'm privy to some of the words used to sell the various options. Basically, they gotcha coming in, they gotcha going out, same amount. If you cannot carry a baby, then have your eggs extracted and have another woman carry the zygote cum baby for you - genetically it will always be your child. If your eggs are no longer viable, use a donor's, because, eggs are basically blank slates and it is the carrying of the child that shapes the personality of the baby so much more. DNA is simply raw material and nothing more. Those are the scripts. So the argument against one becomes an argument in favor of the other :).

      Love the Cyteen reference.

  7. We have written just about on every subject you can think of related to adoption and we always have turned to the news for ideas. It is true that while I am concentrating on my book, I have used parts of it for blogs, as Hole is my Heart is memoir with Facts and Commentaries spread throughout.

  8. As we say in the post....Nick Loeb doesn't want any money from Vegara and is willing to exonerate her from any finanical responsibility. . He states that he will take on the full cost of "bringing them to term" (aka: surrogacy) and raising them and will have Vegara declared the egg donor if she wishes.

    They already had two female embryos implanted in surrogates apparently. though he doesn't say that but Vegara has said that she didn't want to have the children herself. One didn't take; the other, the surrogate miscarried.

    Modern Family indeed.

    Let us celebrate the daughter that Prince William and Kate had last night. Born the normal way.

  9. Robin is correct: in Israel, and in non-Reform segments of American Jewish communities, a child with a Jewish father only must undergo conversion in order to be considered Jewish. This is less complicated a procedure for a newborn than for an adult, requiring circumcision for boys, and for both sexes, immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath) according to Jewish law. Not to worry, an adult (usually the father) securely holds the baby, and he or she isn't underwater long!

    From what I know, if the source of the egg is not known--from a paid anonymous donor, or from a woman who is not certifiably Jewish--the conversion process would be mandatory for a child that is intended to be raised as a Jew. Without it, he or she later cannot undergo a bar or bat mitzvah, be married as a Jew, etc.

  10. Both of these situations are ethical minefields to be sure.
    But as a side note .. regarding the worry that children from donors will ever know their true origins.. that is increasingly UNlikely due to DNA testing. in other countries it may be a different story but in the US it is getting ever more popular. I have personally witnessed MANY adoptees find their birth parents through DNA testing. This will only increase as the databases of people who have tested increase. Combined with public records, it is very doable.

  11. I need to clarify why the term "biological mother" is not offensive to me as it is to some. We all should be free to use the term that works for us, and nobody should force others to use a term for themselves they find uncomfortable. For many this is "first mother", for some it is "birthmother", for others it is just "mother" with never a qualifier. All of those work for me, as well as "biological mother, and I take no offense at any of them, and use them interchangeably. If only one works for you, do use it. We should all be able to define ourselves, not be cowed by political correctness nor try to shame others for using a different term.

    I accept the term "biological mother" because what links me to my surrendered son is biology, a fact that cannot be erased by adoption nor refuted by what anyone wants to believe. Biology is why my son writes like me: both his awful handwriting and clear, funny, and passionate writing style. Biology is why we both have such a kinship and affinity with cats. That strongly runs in my family. Biology is why we share some physical and emotional strengths and weaknesses, and why he has my eyes and his biological father's profile and love of science.

    To me, the biological connection is not cold and clinical. devoid of emotion or demeaning. It is the living, breathing blood tie, the connection that will endure when we are all long gone. It is the unbreakable thread of life. Even years ago when CUB preferred "birthmother" over "biological mother", it really did not matter that much to me, nor does the current dismissal of "birthmother" as the proper term.

    I do not mean to upset or demean any mother by the terms I use, nor would I ever tell another mother what to call herself. We put our own internal meanings on many words that sometimes do not coincide with the intent of the person using the term, and the conversation gets derailed. I think we all should have a right to explain our intent rather than have others make assumptions about our words and put a derogatory meaning on them.

  12. Readers may have noticed that I have gone back to using "natural mother" somewhat in writing and in general that is what I am using in Hole in my Heart, and I explain why at the beginning of the book since language is so frigging loaded. I have never been fully comfortable with birth mother, or even "first mother"--I chose that for the blog title because it was alliterative and easy to remember. I added [Birth Mother] because of the search engine would pick up the words for people searching for information about us.

    As I have written before, sometimes I prefer "biological mother" these days because as Maryanne says, it is very clear about what it is.

    But the language is so loaded I set off a firestorm last week on Facebook when I quoted the words on the cover of Birthmark that are the most quoted words from the book, and posted it with a link to an adoptee's blog about not liking "positive adoption language" herself. Another adoptee got very incensed by this part of the quote:

    "I had a baby and I gave her away.
    But I am a mother."

    She objects that I say I am a mother. Quotes scripture, says I am not a mother and since she is a mother, my using that language "demeans" her. Many people piped in and she is still responding 170 comments later.

    I finally said that argument about her being demeaned was like the people who object to gay marriage because it demeans their straight marriage. I feel like taking the whole thing down but it is ... instructive.

    1. Oops, I forgot to include the old term "natural mother" in my list of words we who have surrendered a child call ourselves, and it is a perfectly good and well-understood term. I can see why Lo prefers it. I used it too at times, but find it ironic that when we were called "natural mothers" back in the day even on legal papers, we were still treated as not worthy to raise our children.

      Lo, of course you are a mother, we all are, and semantics cannot alter reality and make us not a mother. Same with adoptive mothers, they are a mother too, in the psychological sense. Neither should cancel out the other. And that whole "who is real?" issue never gets resolved when each side insists they are the only real mom. Too bad someone came after you for this on Facebook.

      When you get into assisted reproduction my head spins as to who is what...egg donor mother, gestational mother, contract mother...it is like "who's on first?" for those old enough to remember the classic Abbot and Costello routine about baseball.

    2. "I finally said that argument about her being demeaned was like the people who object to gay marriage because it demeans their straight marriage."

      Think that is a really good analogy. Never thought of it but I see the linkage totally.

      I like "original mother" because it has "origins" in it. But I call people what they want to be called.

    3. I wonder what people think of the terms 'Mother of origin' and 'Mother by adoption'? Both of these feel quite respectful to me, but then I am seeing it all from my perspective.

    4. Those terms sound fine to me.

  13. Maryanne, I cover the points above in the forward to Hole in my Heart. I wrote a whole draft with "first" and "birth" mother used alternately and it sounded stilted and found that the language does offend many natural mothers (and Florence Fisher, BTW) and so I said, screw it, I'm going back to what feels natural and writing natural mother where I had to write something for clarity is what I did. The people who are going to get offended because I used the old language--natural mother--and not read the book because of that weren't going to read it anyway. So....WTF.

  14. And you have given me the idea for what I am posting next=-and very soon.

  15. Nick Loeb doesn't even blink when insisting that the eggs be implanted in a surrogate. It has clearly not occurred to him that there is another human being involved there, besides himself, Ms. Vergara or the future children. Mr. Loeb is not concerned with the surrogate's well-being, he simply wants her to exist in order to carry his babies to term.

    I am incredibly troubled by the exploitation of surrogate mothers. Places like India and Thailand are turning poor women into breeding mules. And many of these women grieve deeply for the children they are ultimately forced to part with.

  16. It's disturbing to read the phrase "instead of making surrogacy illegal…" We would never say something like "instead of making slavery illegal…" I'm not sure how the exploitation of others for personal gain does not seem to be worth a discussion of ethics or morals.

    What has been intriguing to me as I've researched adoption these past 11 years or so (I am an adult adoptee rematriated to his place of birth) is how much it seems that as soon as surrogacy hits some matching price point compared to adoption, then adoption will be seen as passé, and thrown to the side: the "second choice" we know it to be.

    There's much to be said about the use of surrogacy within fascist societies, and how much its current practice maps onto this. The practice of surrogacy in Israel is doubly exploitative, since it is premised on shifting the population against a displaced and dispossessed people.

    An article I wrote for Dissident Voice, "Adoption, Surrogacy, and Birthright", might be of further interest:

  17. Steve and Daniel, I'm really glad for your posts. Understanding the wider context in which adoption happens is imperative to understanding adoption.



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