Athletes, Motherhood and Lesbians Using Donor Eggs

This story is from yesterday’s New York Times–from Sports Monday, to be more precise.   There’s a few reasons why I thought it was worthy of note, even if it isn’t earth-shattering. 

The story is part of a series about women athletes and how they manage pregnancy and child-rearing.   It’s an interesting topic.  

The process of pregnancy is one that disrupts the kind of physical training required of  top-flight athletes.   Further, in many sports, the years of athletic prime coincide with prime child-bearing years.   This obviously necessitates some difficult choices for female athletes.   At the risk of stating the obvious, the same is not the case for male athletes.    Hence, the focus of the series. 

The series, though,  is not only about pregnancy, but also about child-rearing.    It may be that child-rearing, too, is disruptive of athletic careers–both take a lot of time and focus.  But there’s no biological reason why these issues would be different for male and female athletes.   To the extent the choices facing male and female athletes are different, the difference illustrates the social/cultural difference between being a mother and being a father.   Additionally, male professional athletes have integrated parenthood into their lives for many years.   Female professional athletes, being a newer breed, are just establishing these roles.  

But this particular article is interesting for a couple of other reasons.   First, the focus of the story is a lesbian family–two women raising children together.   What’s remarkable about that is precisely how unremarkable that is.    It is important to the story only because Gigi Fernandez and Jane Geddes were barred from adoption because they were lesbians.  (Florida does not permit adoption by lesbians and gay men, though this ban is under attack in the courts.)   It’s the inability to adopt that lead the women to the use of ART.  

Which brings me to the final interesting point:   It turned out that Fernandez and Geddes needed to use eggs from a third-party.   While lesbians couples seeking to have children obviously need sperm from a third-party, it’s usual for the eggs to come from one of the two women.    But this wasn’t possible here.   And so this is what I think is a relatively unusual case of lesbians using an egg donor.

This is also an instance in which I think it is fair to describe the person as an egg donor rather than an egg provider:  Monika Kosc was a friend of the women and offered them her eggs.   Using those eggs and donor sperm, Fernandez become pregnant via IVF.   Twins were born in April, 2009.  

Since Monika Kosc was and is a friend, she continues to play a role in the lives of the children conceived using her eggs.  She’s a frequent visitor to Fernandez and Geddes’ home and answers to the name of “Auntie.”  

Since the twins are only one-and-a-half I doubt anyone’s talked to them about the configuration of their family.    Obviously lots of questions lie ahead.   Will they know their auntie is genetically related to them?   What and when will they learn about source of the sperm?    Fernandez and Geddes will find their way through the maze of questions one step at a time.

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20 responses to “Athletes, Motherhood and Lesbians Using Donor Eggs

  1. Well its no surprise that I don’t like what the two women did, nor is it surprising that the sexual orientation of the women is irrelevant to the reasons I don’t like it. But that is the morality issue I try not to base arguments on.
    Their situation does however illustrate my point about unrelated people obtaining consent of the parents before taking custody and attempting to raise a child that belongs to other people. Monika Kosc consented to 1) reproduce herself with a male that is unknown to her (which is her right) 2) consented to allow her unborn offspring to be gestated outside her body in the body of a dear friend (which is her right) 3) consented to allow her child to be raised by the surrogate and her lesbian partner (which is also her right). The sperm provider 1) consentend to reproduce himself with a woman that is unknown to him (which is his right) 2) consented to allow his child to be raised by parties unknown to him (which is his right).
    I think what is missing that would leave the couple in a stronger position is post birth waivers of parental rights by the male and female that conceived this child for the couple to raise – as it stands there are probably signed waivers of parental rights but they were signed prior to birth of their child. Also what is missing is that the arrangement is not transparent on official documents like the birth certificate that bothers me immensely because if the couple were shady unethical types they could lie and say that the woman who gave birth was the mother leading the child and the rest of the world to believe that they were in fact related to eachother. If their Auntie has other children those will be the babies brothers and sisters and they will hopefully be raised as such rather than as mere cousins. The issue of their father and his children who are the childs brothers and sisters may or may not remain a mystery for ever. Being that family reunions are the love of my life I hope that is not the case and that they all find one another some day.
    I’ll say this for Gay or Lesbian couples using ART – the likelyhood that they will lie is less because of the biological impossibility of both women being related to the child as its parents – I love that. What I don’t like is that the documentation in this instance does not identify the child’s real mother (I know you hate it when I say that ) all the records are screwed up for ever and it will forever appear that a woman who did reproduce did not and a women who did not reproduce did. That sucks for the kid and for the center for disease control and for anyone trying to put together a family tree in 100 years. Its a lie. That is not transparent despite the fact that this particular family will no doubt be very transparent.

    Brining me to something interesting I thought of on the bus on my ride to work – Transparent TRANS-PARENT. There is something there. I don’t know what yet.

  2. You made some great points here. Specially regarding the unclear legal and official situation, there is a lot that needs to be improved about current standard practice.

  3. I think many a family tree has been skewed over the centuries because the stated father was not the bio-father. I suppose most folks would argue that after a few generations, does it really matter? I say ask the adult child if it matters to them.

    • It use to be impossible to say for sure if someone was or was not the mother or father of a baby when it was born. In the end the best anyone could do was record what they were told after making sure the information at least met a few baseline criteria. Record keepers could not say for certain whether the woman named on a certificate was the mother any more than they could say for certain that the man named was father? The underpinning of black or gray market adoption was/is that people can say they witnessed a woman give birth when she did not. Not every baby is born at home.

      While its true that people could submit falsified DNA tests to county recorders collecting DNA evidence of maternity and paternity before the certificate was issued would really ensure that the recorder was doing everything possible to flush out false or misleading statements on birth records.

  4. Good point marilynn on transparency when it comes to the genetic links. For some, it is very AP-PARENT!

    • Ok – digging through several highly respected on line dictionaries and Etymology Dictionaries
      Trans – meaning passage through (like transatlantic, transport)
      Parent – meaning source, origin, creator,

      So more than just “see-thru” it means a person passes right through the origin or source.

      How freaking apt is that?

  5. “Fernandez and Geddes will find their way through the maze of questions one step at a time.”

    I would emend that statement to “Fernandez, Geddes, Kosk, and the twins, will find their way…”

    This is not trivial. The way you worded it, Julie, is symptomatic of the approach of the ART industry and its supporters- it is so strongly geared to catering to the consumer that it forgets the perspective of the others involved.

    • You’ve a fair point here–there are other people with interests involved here. I could have been clearer here.

      But ultimately I think I’d stand by my formulation for this reason: because Fernandez and Geddes are the parents of the twins, they bear the obligation of considering the interests and finding the way forward. As far as the twins go, this is no different than the regular task of parents to figure out what is right for their kids–it’s just a specific set of decisions in that frame. In time the twins will come to make their own decisions, but that’s far in the future. In the meantime, it’s Fernandez and Geddes who will make the decisions about their lives.

      It appears to me that they are also taking Kosk’s interests into account, and of course, that often isn’t the case where there are third-party gametes. (I’m not sure if this is because the ART industry is strongly geared to catering to the consumer.)

      • I do not agree. Parents can make rules and regulations for their children but they can not give them their thoughts and feelings (though they CAN succeed in driving the children’s feelings underground). Children develop their own relationships beginning from a very young age, from before they are able to articulate it.

        • I agree that parents cannot give children their thoughts and feelings. (I just wrote that in response to a comment of yours on another post, too.) But surely parents influence their children’s feelings. I’m sure it’s a complicated interaction. Sometimes children react away from their parents and there are other influences (culture, both large and local, for example).

          All that said, parents do face a whole set of choices about how to present issues around third-party gametes to their children, how to frame them, discuss them and so on. The decisions parents make about these points will influence their children. So while parents cannot give their children thoughts and feelings they do play a part–and to my mind an important part–in shaping the environment within which children develop thoughts and feelings. It’s best to be conscious about that. Ideally parents probably should also attend to other influences on their children’s developing pscyhes as well.

  6. I’ve now read the associated article. They seem like charming people. You’ll note that their friend very specifically chose to reproduce herself and allow her friends to raise her offspring, that is a woman who believed in her heart that she had checked the people out and trusted them with her child. She chose not to raise her children herself. Ok she has that right. Its a bummer about the Dad. I wish they had a friend who could have done the same thing Monika did. Yes its unconventional, but Monika’s child will never feel irrellevant or unimportant knowing that her mother did not just randomly give her up to some stranger to pay off her student loans. I think women have the right to reproduce with whomever they want and can choose not to raise the resulting offspring that does not mean it isnt careless with regard to the mental health of their children

  7. It is not so simple marilyn. We don’t know how they will feel growing up and we don’t know how they would have felt in another situation.

    We do not know that they would have felt abandoned and discarded had she been a stranger (the evidence we have of such feelings only comes from offspring of sperm donors), and we don’t know that now that they do have a relationship with her, they will not regard her even more as a mother who abandoned them (as I’ve read about, in a story of an open adoption)

    We just don’t know.

    • I guess the ones that are mad are the loudest and since I help reunite families for free, I sure hear a lot from the ones who feel abandoned even if they are terribly polite and PC about it – which children of anonymous fathers tend to be overly politically correct and understanding – bubbling over with gratitude to their “donors” for the “gift” and explaining that its not that they are looking for (or opposite direction) want to be a father (because those needs are met by others)…blah blah. Ultimately I’m like look I’m not going to help you if you keep calling your father “your donor” if anything he’s your mother’s donor – you are his kid, decendent whatever no different than anyone else on the planet you just don’t happen to know eachother – you are just as much his kid as any he raised in his own home, thats a fact. It took a whole year to get the girl from Oprah to see that I don’t think she wanted to hurt her mother’s feelings but now that everyone knows eachother she and her brother they call him by his first name but refer to eachother as “his children” “my father _____””my son, my daughter”. But they don’t address him as “Daddy”.

      I think the ones who are happy about having anonymous fathers should start a website so they can be counted.

    • No I actually think those kids are far better off in this senario, than had their mother been anonymous and paid. I’m boiling down the parts of ART that I think are wrong: Parent’s can’t really “sell” their children because they do not own them, they are merely responsible for caring for them until they are adults. I do believe that parent’s have a right to seek out someone else to perform those responsibilities for them. But they don’t have the right to sell someone the right to change the identity of the child. They can’t sell the child out of their family and into someone elses – I think it should be illegal to conspire to conceal the true origin of a child from the public record so that the child appears to have decended from another family – that is a violation of human rights. So I do think a child born has a right to know the names of or at least DNA ID numbers of the people who conceived him and that this information is vital to the public’s health and well fare and needs to be recorded accurately. I don’t think that people who pay to be allowed to raise another person’s offspring should have any legal right to conceal the origin of that child from the public record or from the child in order to protect what they perceive to be their right to privacy. The right to privacy should not include the right to lie about the true origin of another human being. That is “baby selling” part that should be illegal.

    • As you say, it is impossible to say how the kids will ultimately feel about all this. But I’m quite optimistic. If the kids’ questions can be openly discussed, if Kosk is around as well to describe her own intentions, I think it’s quite likely that all will be fine.

      I know that some people conceived with third party gametes are pained by that. I know that other people conceived with third party gametes are not pained in the least. It seems like at this point it might be worth focussing on why there are such different reactions. I don’t know that anyone has studied this. But in an entirely unscientific and intuitive way, I’d guess that the ability of the relevant adults to be honest and reassuring to their children is probably a good start.

  8. I think the most we can say is that the three adults have chosen to bring up these children within a set of complex relationships, whose course is not yet known.

  9. (actually four adults, although one of them is so far from the picture as to make him almost invisible. Invisble, but not necessarily insignificant…)

  10. I agree that we do not know how the child conceived this way will feel. However, I do think it is safe to say the child will always wonder about the “invisible but not necessarily insignificant” person whose gametes where used to create them. To deny that would, in my opinion, be akin to putting one’s head in the sand. I agree with marilynn that transparency will help mitigate some of these feelings a child will have but not entirely resolve them. That is not to say that the child will become dysfunctional since we all have unresolved feelings we live with. Its just an acknowledgment of those feelings. We at least owe that to the child.

    • I wouldn’t advocate the head-in-sand approach. (I cannot imagine anyone ever really does, once you put it like that. It’s a rather absurd strategy for ostriches (and I don’t think one they actually engage in.)) I agree that honesty is critical with children.

      But how would we know it is “safe to say that the child will always wonder” about the gamete provider. I don’t consider this to be self-evident. Is this a statement of fact taht is a subject for scientific inquiry–I mean, could it be proven or disproven? Or is this a statement of belief that one either accepts or not?

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