Continuing on our fertility journey with donor eggs has been eye-opening. There are so many little pitfalls, so many things that you never thought you would need to consider or think about or wonder about how you'd explain things to your very young children when inevitably they ask you how they came into the world. One of these things is the question... what kind of mom am I?
In the world of third party reproduction and adoption, this can be a sticking point. Because, like it or not, some day a child (maybe yours, maybe not) or an unwitting adult will ask the question, "Who's the real mom?" This idea of a "real mom" is so bizarre to me. It's still all very fresh and raw, and so I may have gotten a little preachy in my Reading class when a student was explaining that his character in his book was adopted and that his "real parents" died in an influenza epidemic but his adoptive mom was a fancypants doctor. Was the adoptive mom a "fake mom," I asked? What do you mean by "real parents?" I may have said something along the lines of, "His adopted parents were 'real parents' -- parents are who love you, who raise you, not necessarily who made you. Some people just have a lot of parents, you know? Like some people have stepparents and birthparents and parent-parents and some people are raised by their grandparents, but it's all REAL family." The rambling made me realize that Lupron had entered the classroom and the discussion was veering off topic into dangerous waters that could end with tears, probably mine. But then, THEN, THE SAME DAY, I was discussing The Giver in English and we were talking about how families are made in that fictional world. Family units are carefully put together by the Chief Elders who review applications and make careful matches and each successful pairing receives one boy and one girl (not necessarily in that order) when they are considered Ones, in December, regardless of when they were born the previous year. The babies are Products that are "manufactured" in the Birthing Centers, by Birthmothers. My kids wanted to know about the Birthfathers, and I explained there weren't any, not in the traditional sense. (Of course I've read Son, the conclusion to The Giver quad, and this is from the perspective of a Birthmother in the Community, so now I know the ins and outs of the Insemination. Also, I am not crazy, these capital letters all come from the book.) And yes, I realize that these books are quite possibly the WORST things to read during my own highly technological Baby Making Process. So how to explain that through medical technology you can make a baby without any intimacy, and that's what they did in the book? (Actually just like that, with tremendous self-control not to add in any of the tidbits I kno from experience that are so not appropriate for 14 year olds, and without mentioning a Sperm Bank.) So now we have Birthmothers, and then the Family Units, and then one of my students said, "Now I know why families would be willing to report their children for Transgressions--they're all adopted so they don't love them as much." WHAT THE WHAT??? I was flabbergasted. I said, "actually, in our world [ideally of course] I think adopted children are MOST loved because they are chosen, they are waited for, they are especially wanted." Of course in The Giver, children are bestowed like items and everyone's hormones (except the Birthmothers' by necessity) are suppressed so that there is no love, no feeling, and everything is done to comply with the rules of the Community. So it's sort of true, the way the families are put together isn't conducive to love and loyalty, but the fact that this student had equated adoption with less love was troubling.
These themes are interesting to me, because they bring out in people their feelings on family building (mine included). I am not adopting, but I am also not using my genetic material. My embryos are created in a lab, but I never consider it "manufacturing" a baby and at no time is this impersonal. I am not adopting those eggs, as those eggs are a vital ingredient but they do nothing until they are mixed with Bryce's sperm and start dividing. And then they're not babylings until they actually implant. I love my embryos, but to me, they aren't babylings until they have attached to me and are starting to grow and establish themselves. There is a progression--eggs to embryos to embies (the "embryo babies" that are transferred but don't always make it, in my case rarely make it) to babylings to baby. I think to me when I can see something on an ultrasound, it's a baby and not a babyling any longer. It is concrete and not metaphysical, detectable by blood levels only.
Anyway, while these donated eggs are precious, they are an anonymous gift. I hate, hate, hate when the media decides to refer to donated eggs as "a commodity" and that "there is a market for eggs," something I heard from NPR no less when they were interviewing a woman who had frozen her eggs for future use as this is no longer experimental. My eggs are special; they are not a commodity. They are a gift. And even though my donor is compensated, it is for time lost from work and the hard work of stimming and producing a boatload more eggs than is natural (and I feel for her, really I do, because I was highly uncomfortable during stimming and will not miss it a whit). This compensation is not more or less due to her background/career/college degree/health profile, or the number of eggs she has retrieved. It is not a commodity, it is a compensated gift. And her role is super important as a gift giver.
But, she does not get labeled with anything "mom." I am the mom. I am the biological mom, because I grow that baby. That baby would be nothing without the nourishment of my blood and fine uterine home. That baby goes from a bundle of cells to something with eyes and fingers and toes inside me. I am not the genetic mom, at least not the one who provided the material, but I help provide the instructions. And I am definitely the birth mother. The only thing I can't provide is those eggs. I am so, so grateful to the angel out there who is providing that precious gift, and we wouldn't become parents without her, but I bristle a little at any labeling that includes the word "mother" in relation to her. Even though technically you could refer to her as the genetic mother, but I don't even like that because of all the changes that occur as a result of my influence. Just as an FYI, donors release any possible parental rights from the get-go. There isn't a Lifetime Movie in the making here where my donor comes to the door seeking her progeny. She won't know where my door is, and vice versa. And she agreed to this arrangement knowing that it all stops at the egg retrieval for her. She will be notified if we were successful, but at no time will our babies be considered hers. Could we go to the Lilac Festival some day and unwittingly pass her and could she see our babies and think that they could be hers genetically? Maybe, but highly unlikely.
Isn't all this sticky? I never, ever, ever in a million years imagined that I would be here, thinking about all of this. All the implications and what ifs and what happens if my child wants to know about his/her donor. I have a piece of paper with information, and not a lot of information at that. I can share what I have, and describe her as an amazing person who gave such an important gift. I worry that in the throes of teenage hotheadedness my child will scream at me, "You're not even my REAL mom!" How will that feel when the answer to that is complicated? I will have pictures of me pregnant, of the fetus in my belly, swimming in black and white static. I could (but won't) have graphic, gory pictures of the birth to prove that yes, I am your real mother (fruit of my loins but not my ovaries, I guess). But is that what makes a "real mother," the birthing? I don't think so. I know wonderful mothers who were never pregnant with their children, who are most definitely "real mothers." What about mothers via surrogate? In that case, the embryo is genetically both parents but the "grower" is the gestational carrier. If I am so adamant about my role as a carrier, the importance of that transfer and internal growth, how do people feel who have gone the way of your eggs but someone else's uterus? That's a different third-party relationship, because you are intimately involved from the outside in your baby's progress. But then is the carrier the birth mother then? Does the genetic mother role take precedence then? Does it matter?
I guess the real question is, why do we need to label all these things? There is just mother, and father (or mother and mother, father and father), and family units that are made from love and dedication and perseverance, whether the same people are providing genetics or carrying or providing a wonderful home once all that process has been completed somewhere else, maybe in an entirely different country. There is just family, however extended you decide it will be. Not to be cheesy, but I really do believe it's love that creates a family. There's no such thing as a "fake" mom or dad. So please quit using the phrase "real mom" or "real parents" when they're all real. It's up to each of us to very personally define what the roles are of all the people who come together to make these very special families possible, understanding that without these third party people these beautiful babies wouldn't exist. We will be the parents because we will be raising our babies, giving them the love and security they need and teaching them all about how families are made with love. And a lot of different ingredients.