A Modern Family Wedding

I know I am terribly far behind in comments and I do promise to get to them soon.   I just seem to be hopelessly pressed for time.   In any event, I found this little tidbit and I hope it might appease some of you while I get myself back on track. 

I’m a big fan of the NYT weddings/celebrations section which appears every Sunday in the Style section.   This past week there was this entry.   Steven Fuchs and Brian Lancaster were to be married this past Sunday afternoon.  (I hope it all went off without a hitch.)   They’ve been together 26 years.   Here’s the detail that caught my eye: 

And now Mr. Lancaster and Mr. Fuchs have two children of their own, 6-year-old Anna and 4-year-old William, who are to attend the wedding along with their surrogate mothers.

Obviously the surrogate mothers play significant social roles in the life of this family.    (The wedding is in the family’s home, so it’s probably not enormous.)   Equally obviously, there are no secrets here.  

There’s much that interests me about this.   I think the most common vision of surrogacy is one where the surrogate performs her function and then moves on.   She doesn’t play a role in the family’s life once the child is born.  Indeed, I’ve read that her presence can create friction with an intended parent mother who might feel more threatened by the surrogate.   (I’m not saying this is the most common experience, only that it is the prevalent image.)    Certainly in globalized surrogacy, where there never is much of a relationship between surrogate and intended parent, there is no vision of an ongoing family life that include all parties. 

The erasure of the surrogate is something that bothers me, although I don’t think I’ve focused on it much recently.   There’s much discussion here  on the blog of the importance of knowing the identify of and/or maintaining contact with a gamete donor.   How could you not say the same for the surrogate, be she genetically related (a “traditional surrogate”) or not (a gestational surrogate”)? 

I know the answer to that–for some the surrogate is little more than a baby-sitter and, just as baby-sitters come and go, so it is with surrogates.   But this has always troubled me–the equation of nine months of pregnancy with baby-sitting.  

I find myself thinking, too, of the recent post about contracts and control.   As I noted there, it’s not hard to see that some IPs at least might want to exert quite a bit of control over their surrogates.    While this strikes me as problematic (and I’m still working on that thread, and I know there are comments waiting for me to read them), it also seems to me indicative of the importance of the surrogate’s role.   If she were akin to a babysitter, would we care what she ate?  Whether she put henna in her hair?   Or what sports she participated in?  

Given all this complexity it seems a wonderful thing that the surrogate mother’s were there for the Fuchs/Lancaster wedding.  It speaks of the place they have within the family and it makes me appreciate the flexibility and forthrightness of this household.  Mazel tov to all concerned!

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6 responses to “A Modern Family Wedding

  1. “There’s much discussion here on the blog of the importance of knowing the identify of and/or maintaining contact with a gamete donor. How could you not say the same for the surrogate?”

    Because the importance of pregnancy wanes with time, while the importance of genetics grows with time.

    This being said, I think as far as the child’s feelings is concerned it is likely that two trumps one. We’ve yet to see any research children conceived by egg donation so this is speculative.
    I speculate that two trumps one, meaning the combination of being raised a social mother who is also a gestational carrier renders the egg donor less significant.
    I would say the same thing for being raised by a social mother who is also a genetic parent- this renders the gestational carrier insignificant.
    As for being raised by social mother (ie an adoptive parent). We already know that the biological mother is often very important to adoptees.
    But what if, instead of 2:1 we have 1:1:1? that is the social parent, the genetic parent and the gestational carrier are 3 different people? that will leave people with a sense of confusion and undefined.
    In this situation, when the children are young, they are likely to latch on to the closest female caregiver. This could be the social mother. Or in the above case, it turns out to be the gestational carrier. That might be enough when they are young but I don’t think so when they get older.

    • I’m really interested in your statement that the importance of pregnancy wanes with time while the importance of genetics grows. There’s so much to think about there.

      What does it mean that the importance of genetics grows over time? Your genetic make-up is pretty well fixed from the moment of conception. Of course, manifestations of your genetic makeup appear over time. (You might have a genetic predisposition for male-pattern baldness, say, but you won’t know it for a while.) So one thing it could mean is that you will find more and more manifestions of your genetics as time goes on–more and more things that were always determined, even if you didn’t know it.

      Viewed in this way, I wonder if it will remain true? I mean, if we can manipulate genes so that male pattern baldness genes, say, can be fixed then maybe genetics doesn’t matter more as time goes on.

      But the statement could also be meant on a totally different level: That it becomes more and more important to us, on a psychological level, to know about our genetic history. Obviously this is true for some people, but is it true generally? Do we know? And if it is true, do we care WHY it is true? What I mean is do we care whether it is true because we live in an age where people set great store in genetics or whether it is true in some more essentitial, less socially-constructed, sense.

      I think you can ask the same set of questions about the pregnancy side of the equation. I won’t go on at length about that here–I find it hard to read long comments. But I will remember the point and think some more about it.

  2. marilynn huff

    As I said in my comment to your other recent post about the Kentucky decision to call the father the father – we know my opinion already and it no longer makes for a conversation that sustains my attention.

    I want to talk about stuff I’d normally ignore. Above you talk about the IP’s attempting to control the behavior of these women durring their pregnancies since they intend to take the baby from her and raise it without her involvement. I think your point might be “You might not be a baby sitter if ….you eat beans and the kid knees you in the ribs” or “you might not be a babysitter if….babysitting causes you to equate laughter with peeing yourself.” I think your right.

    You’ll notice I did not mention whether the woman was carrying her own child or not. I think your right that carrying a child is a real big deal; premature births and cognitive delays can be tied to what the woman put into her body while she was pregnant, whether or not she caught a sickness or communicable disease while pregnant, whether she got enough rest and exercise whether her pregnancy was well received and supported by the people she lived and worked with or not.

    So I do think the identity of the woman who gives birth to a child is important to record because it is germain if you want to diagnose the origin of health or psychological problems that child has over the course of its lifetime. The woman who carries the child should not be erased from the history books, which is what many IPs would like to do. That bothers me. Again I’m suggesting that the woman who carries and delivers the child have her name written down somehow on the child’s birth record regardless whether or not the child is her offspring because the info on the birth record is a health record for everyone named on it except for the doctors. That information is sent to CDC in washington and becomes the basis for statistics that we like to quote, statistics that are the basis of medical research that reduce infant mortality and birth defects. Its important stuff and when they ask questions about the mother, currently the questions have to do with both genetic history and behavior during pregnancy and other things like education, marital status, ethnicity, employment, annual income, number of previous pregnancies, live births and I could go on but you get the idea.

    Naming only the IP as mother gives a wholy inaccurate understanding of the origin of any physical or cognitive problems the child will have over the course of its lifetime. To give only the name of the woman who gave birth as the mother will end up giving false statistical results. Fertility rates can’t be accurately tabulated if the women giving birth are not the same women as the women who conceived. Right now on the CDC website it appears that fertility for married white women drops off in their 30’s but goes way up off the charts in their 40’s and 50’s, when really they are not the mothers of those children in terms of human reproduction which is the universally understood common definition of mother since its the type of mother that every human most assuredly has. Playing games with assigning that title to women who neither conceived or gave birth based upon post-birth care-giving intention is rather short-sighted by the courts as is naming the woman who gives birth as mother overlooking the woman who conceived, whose identity will always be the most medically important in the diagnosis of any conditions the child may have. Also the diagnosis of any conditions in the child will likewise be relevant to the mother as it is usually an indication that she and her other family members carry the gene for some problem they were not even aware of. So regardless of anyones behavior or intentions to raise the child conceived, gestated and delivered, ignoring the vital roll genetics and gestation both play in the development of a child when identifying the mother at birth is a recipe for disaster if you think about the number of children born this way and what all those wrong records do to the statistics that medical research is based upon.
    I think the CDC needs to come up with a new BC long form that point blank asks if the woman who delivered the baby conceived the baby and come up with some sort of a duel format where the family medical history, marital status, education, ethnicity, anual salary, employment, education, number of previous pregnancies, number of live births, drug and alcohol use, nutrition, sleep and excercise habits can be documented for the woman who conceived as well as for the woman who gestated and delivered the baby. Both their names are relevant to the child to some extent or another throughout the child’s life and should not be omitted from the child’s formal birth record because that is the place the child relies on to be accurate if the people raising him fail to disclose the truth.

    In my mind of course the woman who conceives should be listed as the mother, the authority to allow others to assume an additional parental roll or replace her in hers, needs to rest first with her and nobody else. I believe this is necessary in order to protect women from loosing custody of their offspring if their eggs are misappropriated without their permission. They should have to give their express permission in advance that someone who gestates and delivers their genetic child would be allowed to raise the child and be granted parental authority. Or for another person to be granted parental authority. The woman whose body was reproduced should be the the very first person in a well recorded chain of custody, when custody of a child is subject to the changing of hands. That way medical information is accurate and consent is obtained all the way around.

    Its the attitude of “its nobody’s business” that leads people to want to make it appear that there is a biological and or gestational relationship where there is not one. Who has custody of a child during its formative years should not be the guiding principal when recording the names of a child’s parents on its medical records – the first one being the birth record. Its the IPs that think biological is somehow better or they are playing into the hands of those that do think biological is better which honestly must end up telling the child people will think your wierd if they knew the truth so we let them think your our offspring so you won’t feel different from the other kids.

    Anyway when the IPs are so heavily invested in controlling the behavior of the woman carrying the child they want to raise, yet simultaneously move to strike her existence from the record it says to me that she is very important and they wish that they were as important to the baby as she is.

    I can’t get all twisted up about the feelings of people who are paying for these services though I’m empathetic because I obviously struggled with fertility problems, I had so many miscarriages and lost my sweet little boy hours after he was born. I want to see the Fed’s require States to get the names of these women written down or more and more kids will not only be flying blind with absent information they’ll be headed totally the wrong way with information that has nothing to do with who they are.

    What do you think about that, about the need to record these women’s identities as “people of interest” I think is the phrase you always use. Also do you think women should have authority over the reproduction of their own genes and have a choice as to allowing someone else to raise her offspring?

  3. Ki sarita
    2 trumps one is very interesting to me. The best a woman can do in pregnancy is to do no harm. I don’t think chilren will be interested in meeting a gestational carrier because there is no biological relationship and her family is not the child’s family.

  4. There’s an assumption that having one’s mother around is automatically better than not. I am not so sure. Seems that having one’s mother around, who does’t love you or acknowledge you as her child, is quite a complicated situation.

  5. Ki
    I was thinking about the best possible spin for the kids. Now if these women are gestational carriers, then there is little issue – I don’t see it as psychologically harmful to be handed off by a woman in that situation because she did not make you and you are not actually a member of her family any bond that might develop is emotional but they are not relevant to one another the way the actual mother is even if she had a big roll in their early development.
    If these folks have taken to twisting the English language to diminish Maternal Authority to diminish real motherhood based on who happens to have legal parental rights then they are kidding themselves about what is going on which is fine, they just should be prepared that when speaking to the outside world it simply won’t be interpreted the way they want it too, I mean I can stand there and tell the person I’m talking to that my friends refer to the color red as blue and when i use the term blue i could mean blue or red, I want you to not be able to differerntiate between the two. Whoever I am talking to is still going to translate my litttle private language into real english. They might play along to humor me but I have not changed reality.
    Of course the children will have a difficult time processing the whole thing because they’ll see the mother meets all the criteria for mother like everyone else has but they’ll be told she is not a mother because she is not raising them and does not think of them as her children, she lacks parental authority. Seems like its almost better to say that “your mother just was not emotionally and financially up to the task of raising a child at that time in her life, but I was up to the task and so was my partner so she agreed to let the two of us raise you, its not that she does not love you its that she thought you would do better being raised in a home where the adults have a stable relationship rather than us trying to split custody and have you travel back and forth.” In all that I’m probably getting close to a lie, but not so close to a lie as trying to say that their mother is not their mother.

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