We have placed our embryos for adoption, a process that officially ended the transit phase last week (so really, I shouldn't call them "ours" anymore). Many people cringe at the term "embryo adoption." There is a split with people in terms of calling this process embryo adoption versus embryo donation, and the split occurs down the line of Personhood.
Personhood is the belief that life begins at conception, and that this life should be given the legal, ethical, and moral protections under the law as any other fully formed human. According to the organization Personhood USA, the Personhood movement is defined as "a movement working to respect the God-given right to life by recognizing all human beings as persons who are 'created in the image of God' from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions." Basically, once fertilization occurs, what you have is a human being with rights. Many states have introduced Personhood legislation, and all attempts, except laws in Kansas and Missouri (which fall under the umbrella of the US Constitution which does not ban abortion because Roe v. Wade is in place) have been voted down.
One goal of Personhood is that abortion would be criminalized, however it has other consequences as well. If a fertilized egg is a person with full legal rights and protections, then certain contraceptive options (the ones that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting) would be banned, IVF would be banned (who wants to take control of a lab full of "people" with legal rights? If an embryo fails to grow is the clinic liable for its "murder?" If, like in legislation introduced in Georgia, miscarriage is treated as a murder, what about failed cycles and miscarriages resulting from IVF?), embryonic stem cell research would be banned, and so on.
This is where things get sticky. I am not a fan of Personhood, globally applied. I fall under the category of Pro Choice. It doesn't mean I love the idea of abortions. It means that I feel that those are very personal decisions that should be made between a woman and her healthcare provider. Because I am Pro Choice, I am not behind Personhood. Personhood limits women's bodies and makes them a legal entity. While IVF did not work for me, I was glad it was an option. Under Personhood it would not be. Under Personhood I would be the perpetrator of 27 tiny deaths, the result of failed cycles and my two more palpable losses.
But, we have these embryos, and the option that was most appealing to us was the Snowflakes program of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, a program that is steeped in Personhood, refers to the embryos as "pre-born children" and has adopting parents do a homestudy as if they are adopting a fully-formed child. The reality is, the actual contract for an embryo adoption falls under property law. Embryos are considered personal property and not potential children available for adoption because... Personhood is not a thing supported by the law.
How can I be against Personhood and for Snowflakes? Why am I willing to call it Embryo Adoption and not Donation? In my mind, donation is anonymous. It is a giving away without any expectation of information. It is an option that was available to us, but we wanted to know. Adoption is an agreement between two families to transfer the parenthood of these potential children from one couple to another, with the expectation of contact (for us, letters and pictures until 18 at a minimum), and the ability to know what happened and to choose the family the embryos go to. Maybe the two are truly synonymous, but Embryo Adoption brings up in people undeniable connections to Personhood -- you can't adopt something that's not a person (rescue animals and sections of highway are so NOT the same thing), so if embryos are adopted, they must be people, and what a slippery slope that is.
For us, we believe that THESE SPECIFIC embryos are potential children, children we personally couldn't bring into being. Because I have the glories of choice, I can choose to consider these embryos potential life without designating ALL embryos in that way. For me, each embryo that didn't become a pregnancy was a loss, a tiny death of potential. But that doesn't mean that I need EVERYONE to feel that way. I would feel differently if I hadn't carefully created these embryos on purpose, out of love and an overwhelming desire for family, embryos that were certainly wanted. I can believe that my embryos are potential children but not think a woman choosing abortion is committing murder. It's her choice. It is ending a potential, I don't think
This is why I had a difficult time initially with the contract for our embryo adoption. I felt like an idiot, because we had been sent a blank contract before we signed on and we had sort of skimmed it, and we missed two sets of verbiage that became problematic when it was time to sign. When we started the process with Snowflakes, I had a long conversation with an intake specialist, where I discussed my concerns with the Personhood aspect of the program, and that it is a very Christian organization and that we ourselves are not religious. I was told, "The Christian part of our name is about who WE are, not who our clients are. It says more about us than it does about you, and we respect your differences." WELL. It's not every day that happens, and I was really impressed with the openness that Snowflakes shared regarding their beliefs versus their clients' beliefs. That went a long way with both how we felt about going down this sticky road of Personhood-rife embryo adoption AND the fact that we preferred a couple that was on the more liberal side of religion if at all -- we wanted people who weren't fundamentally religious to raise "our" embryos. We felt like we wanted the children resulting from all this to believe that it's okay to be gay, that other beliefs are valuable and have something to teach, that evolution is a real thing, that being with other people who think differently than you is a good thing (I'm not saying that these things are exclusive from religion, just that many fundamentalist groups would not mesh well with our beliefs). And we were given that opportunity, no questions asked. I was super impressed with Snowflakes making good on their assertion that they would support our wishes even if they weren't necessarily in line with their own beliefs system.
But then we received the contract to review and sign, and it had this wording in it:
"The embryos are pre-born children who are endowed by God with unique characteristics and are entitled to the rights and protections accorded all children, legally and morally."
"The parties believe that human life is created by God at the time of conception, whether in vivo or in vitro."
Um, WHAT? I was a little taken aback, because I really didn't feel like either of these sentences had any legal merit to being in the contract, and were just a way to insert Personhood beliefs into the process. I wanted the entire second sentence gone, because it had no bearing on our decision to transfer ownership (relinquish parental rights) to the receiving (adopting) couple. We weren't going to sign something we didn't believe. I don't globally believe that, and the statement added nothing to the adoption agreement itself. The first one was trickier, because it was preceded by a sentence defining "the embryos" as "the embryos being transferred," and so I didn't mind some of the verbiage as it applied to THESE SPECIFIC EMBRYOS, but we wanted the legal piece out of there, the rights out of there, and the God part out of there.
I called Snowflakes, and went through everything with their contracts specialist. I am just continually impressed with how Snowflakes works with people who do not share their beliefs. It was kind of funny, because the specialist said that she knew we'd want to change some of the wording and expected my call but had to send the boilerplate contract over. She took the entire second sentence out, and whittled the first one down to something I was okay with. The term "pre-born children" was taken out here, but occurs elsewhere in the contract, and I was okay with that (especially since it refers to these SPECIFIC embryos), especially when it was explained that they wanted the contract to resemble an adoption contract rather than a property transfer contract, and so that's how they refer to the embryos. Potato, potahto.
I still feel like it is hard to explain how someone who will staunchly defend the right of other women to obtain abortions can put so much stock in tiny embryonic cell clusters. How even our 1-day embryos are being "adopted," and I mourned every failed cycle for the potential that was lost, the children I could envision but not bring into reality. It's a hard place to be, philosophically. My amazing therapist (who I've managed to FaceTime with since she moved away) wisely said, "I think that's the DEFINITION of choice." And it's true -- I can choose what's right for me, and someone else can choose what's right for them, and I am not forcing my beliefs on anyone else. I feel differently about things since going through our infertility journey, but it doesn't change my Pro-Choice stance. I am hoping to adopt, but I do not consider women who choose to have an abortion rather than go through a full-term pregnancy for the sake of adoption horribly selfish or see their abortions as potential babies that are lost to me. They are not actually related, in my mind. That would be like wanting to ban sex education and access to contraception so that there would be a greater pool of unplanned pregnancies that could result in a placement. It seems kind of loopy, to me anyway. I greatly appreciate the women who choose adoption for themselves, but also respect it as one (incredibly difficult) choice out of many (incredibly difficult) choices.
When we started our journey to have a family, I didn't realize how much I'd have to think on ethical issues relating to when life begins and the rights of embryos. I mean, we signed all the paperwork about what would happen to embryos if one or both of us died, and had hypothetical conversations, but as a couple who never had frozens at the beginning it seemed insane that we'd ever have "excess" embryos to worry about. But we did in the end, and I am ever so grateful that programs like Snowflakes exist. I am happy that OUR SPECIFIC embryos can find a home with another family, that they will get a chance to truly be, as to me they are little bundles of potential. I can't honestly say when I think life truly begins. I don't think that I personally could put a global statement out there and say definitively in every circumstance. I listened to an NPR program that had a salon-type discussion on abortion from half pro-choice people and half pro-life people, and it was a very, very respectful discussion involving listening on both sides. One woman's thoughts stuck with me. She said (paraphrased as my memory isn't quite THAT good), "We can't pretend it's not ending a life. Abortion is ending a life. It would have become something, and now it's not. Before I had a miscarriage, I pretended it wasn't a life, it was just a bundle of cells, nothing more. But then I couldn't have it both ways. I couldn't say for me it was life because I wanted it, and for someone else it wasn't. I can absolutely believe in a woman's right to choose and still acknowledge that abortion ends a life."
There is no easy conclusion to draw from all this. I loved the salon because it was people respectfully discussing a hot-button topic without getting nasty, and truly listening to all perspectives. I hope to have that same spirit in the comments here. If you disagree with me, I would absolutely love to hear your (respectful) thoughts. Embryo adoption is a beautiful choice, a way to give our embryos a chance to become people, to have a family, to get to experience this beautiful mess of life. But man, does it make you think on all the politics and ethical questions that wend their twisty way through all of the options in family building.