Fertility/Infertility for Couples and Change Over Time

There are several lively conversations currently going on in the comments.  I’m not at all sure I can sustain all of them.  But having spent some time revisiting the post on social infertility I wanted to consolidate some of the thoughts I’ve had and move them here.  (After a while I find it very difficult to read through the comments.  It just gets to be too many indents, etc.)

This particular thread of conversation started with some musings of mine about “social infertility.”   This is a term that has gained currency only fairly recently.   I would guess (though I do not know) that forty years ago it was unknown.    And I can see why the emergence of the term would be linked to the development of assisted reproductive technology as an industry/commercial enterprise.

There’s more to be said about that, no doubt, but there’s a different line I want to follow for the moment.    I want to think about infertility in couples as opposed to in individuals.  

You could say that all individuals are infertile–if what you mean is that they cannot, by themselves, have kids.   Individuals always need some other component–sperm, say.   For some individuals that is all they need–and these are people who might be described as “socially infertile”–because their infertility is solely a result of their social position.    Other people might need medical intervention in addition to whatever component they lack and some people, of course, couldn’t have kids even with currently available interventions.

But how to think about couples?   Or do we even think about couples (as such) at all?  After all, couples are just two individuals and so you can always say the correct unit of analysis is the individual.  And perhaps, from a medical point of view, this makes sense.   I think lots of people in the comments have suggested that thinking about infertility only makes sense on an individual level.

I, however, am really starting to have my doubts.    First off, there’s a really important comment by Tess noting (with citation) that 1/3 of couple infertility is attributable to subfertility in both people. I take this to mean that it is the combination of A and B that is infertile, while if we re-matched A and B with new people neither might be infertile.

This, it seems to me, focuses us on what our expectations are of couples where one person is infertile.  And I think (as several of you have pointed out) that this has changed over time.  Once upon a time (I’ll just be vague about when) if a couple didn’t have kids they had three options.   One was adoption.  One was to remain childless.   One was to split up, with the fertile member of the couple going off to have kids with some other fertile person.

I’m confident these were often very difficult choices and that many couples made each of the choices.   I suspect (though I don’t really know) that splitting up because of childlessness was somewhat socially acceptable, given the other available options.    (I say this even though infertility was NOT a ground for divorce in the US.   I suspect I am open to challenge here.)

Today there are four options.   The three above plus ART–which encompasses an array of possibilities including third-party gametes, surrogates and IVF.    Given this new option, many couples that could not have children now can have children–though in many instances the children may not be genetically related to both members of the couple.    And I think it is fairly clear that many couples with infertility issues at least explore the ART option.

It seems clear to me that the use of ART–at least some forms of ART–has become widely accepted.   (I do not mean to say it is uncontroversial and obviously different techniques are more and less controversial, as you can see from discussions here.)   This might be in part because the ART industry has marketed itself successfully.   There are doubtless other reasons, too.    For the moment, I don’t know that the “why” matters.

Whatever the reason, I think the wider acceptance (and availability) of ART has changed how we think of infertility.  I think it is less acceptable for a person to leave a couple just because there are some fertility issues.  Instead, the wider expectation is that the person will stay around while the couple tries to find a path through ART that ends with a child.  In other words, I think some (and probably many or most) couples where at least one person has fertility issues who once might have split up now stay together and try to use ART.   And when they do that, it is, I think most of us would say that the couple that is dealing with infertility.

Using ART–really any form of ART–is stressful and demanding.  And in any good/well-functioning couple even if only one person is directly involved in the physical process, the other is deeply enmeshed, too.   There’s something about our cultural and romantic ideal of coupledom that determines this, I think.   The fertile partner goes on the journey with the subfertile one–and that’s how we (as a society generally) want it to be.

I’m not saying this isn’t complicated and fraught with all sorts of internal issues and tensions.   But I think, in a very real way, it is fair to say that couples are infertile and have to confront fertility issues.    The positions of the individual within the couple may be different, but they confront he issues together.   And at that point, I’m not sure it matters very much whether we call the infertility social or not.



65 responses to “Fertility/Infertility for Couples and Change Over Time

  1. DI has been practiced since at least 1884 in the US. Usually, this came about when OB GYNs suggested that the man be tested. For far too long it was assumed that the woman was the infertile person. DI was not marketed but happened as a result of a male factor infertility diagnosis within a private consultation. The couple were instructed not to speak about it to others or disclose to the child, in common with adoption attitudes for many decades. It was only with the advent of AIDs and the need to quarantine frozen sperm, that sperm banks began to market it, after a medical journal aroung 1983 or so (either JAMA or NEJM) indicated that sperm could carry the HIV virus. That limited DI to medical schools and the first few sperm banks, who had the technology for freezing sperm and for better male testing. It virtually eliminated the use of fresh sperm which had been freely available to almost any small town doctor. With a sudden drop in donors, competitive marketing among sperm banks began. I think that was when the idea of couples being infertile came into usage.

    I keep bringing up the analogy with adoption simply because the social dynamics of infertility and the practice of non-disclosure has the same effects on families. The impact of a particular choice betwen adoption and DI made little difference because of this factor. How a child came into a family was not important if the child was never told. In the era of secrecy, up to the 1970s, both forms created family dynamics based on both sexes having a sense of embarassment about their infertility, a social problem for them. Potential adoptive mothers often pretended to be pregnant to appear like other normal mothers. With DI, the selling point was that the mother did not have to pretend, they could experience pregancy, be genetically connected, and have an assurance that the child would have “better breeding” and not be from some parents whose health and traits would be questionable. No one would need know was common advice from DI doctors. I find it a bit reprehensible that they would emphasize this and echo the social stigma of infertility.

  2. was shame about infertility the only reason not to disclose? was there no concern that the child might one day reject them in favor of its biological relatives? or concern for the child that it might not be accepted by extended family, not being biologically related?

    • or even perhaps a misguided concern for the child- to spare it the angst of wondering?

      • My parent's donor is my father

        I do not believe that shame about infertility was the only reason. That would be one small factor, the others are more practical. The angst of wondering is not a misguided concern, it’s pretty huge when one cannot provide answers. Possibly not being accepted by extended family, not being biologically related, also a very real and practical concern. It’s already been proven that many social fathers actually were distant towards their “donor” children. It makes sense that his biological family might feel the same and feel resentment towards the wife. Not wanting to disrupt the day to day family, childhood experiences and not wanting to disrupt the disconnected biological father and his life, “real family” also very practical and real concerns….as well as not wanting to put the child in a position of knowing that their social father is not their bio-father without confusing the child as to why half of his or her biological family is somehow shameful for that child to miss, wonder about. Not wanting the child to feel rejected by their bio-father/family – very real concerns. The “script” didn’t exist back then. I do fear that the “script” might continue to disenfranchise that child’s ability to feel no shame in any possible feelings of confusion and loss.

        • Well how can the child not feel a sense of inadequacy when the mother would have preferred the child to be someone else’s son or daughter? Since they are not someone else’s lets just everyone do a good job of pretending so Mom gets to live in her fantasy bubble where everything worked out just the way she wanted.

    • Yeah I’m with Ki here. I think they were not so much hiding their medical problems as they were hiding the fact that the child they were raising was not theirs.

  3. My parent's donor is my father

    There is much we can learn from the adoption community. This is a great piece to start with “You Can call Me Anti Adoption If You Must” written by a “birth mother” or as I would simply call her, the mother.

    The most poignant quote for me was this:
    “”Please, Claud, promise us, if you ever do search for Max, if he finds you, please do not say that you have no regrets. For us, the adopted, that means that you did not miss him in your life and that will hurt his feelings”

    • I don’t think adoption and donation is similarly situated in terms of the experience of the woman.

      Giving birth has been attached to the identity of motherhood. It appears that egg donors do not tend not to see themselves as mothers because they do not experience the pregnancy and birth.

      The identity of fatherhood is constructed differently in modern society. Whereas female donors do not take on the identity of “mother,” Male donors do tend to identify themselves as the “father.”

      • My parent's donor is my father

        True, but in the offspring’s eye there is always the possibility that their father (genetic) matters – which is why I shared that particular quote from the article. That doesn’t work with “the script” though. That is where the conflict lays. Also, “egg donors”, “gestational surrogates” and “traditional surrogates” all fall under the “donor” (“third party reproduction”) umbrella as well.

        • Please, Claud, promise us, if you ever do search for Max, if he finds you, please do not say that you have no regrets. For us, the adopted, that means that you did not miss him in your life and that will hurt his feelings”

          I don’t think I quite understand your last comment. Claudia feels that she lost her son to adoption. She didn’t feel she had a choice. She also sees Max as her son, whom she lost.

          The point I was getting at is that an egg donor is not likely to feel this way — especially if she doesn’t see herself as a mother.

          It is a drastically different experience then a woman who gives birth and unwillingly relinquishes under economic or family pressure. This woman is much more likely to feel trauma, regret and grief.

          This is a key difference between these two experiences. Birthmothers may be traumatized, especially if they felt they had no choice in their relinquishment. This trauma and grief informs how they feel about the adopted child.

          But donor women don’t have that same experience of lack of choice over relinquishment and the subsequent trauma. They don’t feel grief about forcible relinquishment and that is a huge difference in experience.

          • My parent's donor is my father

            That quote was not about the mother but about how her genetic offspring might feel if they search and find her. I’m identifying as a so called “donor conceived” person whose father was supposed to be nothing more than a “mere sperm donor”. But he matters to me and my children, he’s my father our children’s grandfather. He connects us with my siblings, my children’s aunts, uncles and cousins, my grandparents, my children’s grandparents etc.. The “script” would tell me that we shouldn’t care, we should be grateful just to be alive and have someone who loved and raised us, he was nothing more than just a mere source of dna. A nice guy. A happy helper. I’m not, we are not, they are not, he is not something that these “scripts” can reduce to such dehumanizing terms and make go away. Father’s matter. Mother’s matter.

            • Isn’t your father who ever you think he is? I’m not sure where this “script” comes from that you’re taking about, but individuals develop their own understandings of kinship and support system. The people who raised you (do you acknowledge them as parents?) might have suggested how to think of your lineage, but as an adult it’s your right and obligation to form your own opinions about your situation. But I would think the only people with vested interest in your understandings of family would be your own family and close friends.

              Regarding Claudia and her firstborn son — A person conceived by donor eggs may be disappointed if he/she has expectations that her/his donor will see herself in a way similar to how Claudia sees her firstborn.

              Women who donate eggs are much less likely to see themselves as mothers. Women tend not to identify as mothers unless they carry the child. In contrast, Claudia gave birth to Max. She very much wanted to keep Max and raise him herself. She did not want to relinquish. She felt forced by circumstances to give up her newborn child.

              I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect a woman who acts as a donor to have the same emotional response as Claudia. She has undergone a completely different experience.

              You may have a particular conception of the identity and experience of motherhood. But recent surveys suggest that your understandings of motherhood is not be shared by women who act as egg donors. You can’t force family.

              • that could be true Tess, but isn’t that part of the problem with “collaborative reproduction” (aba’s term)? The confusion and muddling of kinship and what relationship who has to whom?

                • Ki Sarita,

                  I think we differ that challenging traditional family forms is a generalized problem. Do these new forms of reproduction radically challenge definitions of family? As does gay marriage, no-fault divorce, and the ERA?

                  Oh, yes. Make no mistake about it — Phillis Schlafly was right.

                  Gender, sexual, and reproductive equality radically confronts and offers the possibility of re-shaping conceptions of kinship. It offers a radical challenge to the paternal and patrilineal bio-normative nuclear and extended family.

                  But we differ on the question: is this a problem?

                  • My apologies. I should not post before morning coffee. Too many spelling mistakes.

                    It’s “Phillis Schlafly.”

                  • how can confusion and muddling be unproblematic?
                    how many people in distress does it take to convince one that something is problematic?

                  • “how can confusion and muddling be unproblematic?”

                    You are assuming that experience is universal. (I don’t know if you’re speaking to gay adoption or donor or what — but the point is the same — this is an assumption.

                    But speaking very generally — I don’t find befuddlement or confusion to be an inherently problematic state for the human condition. This can be a temporary point of growth or the result of curiosity and questions.

                    “how many people in distress does it take to convince one that something is problematic?”

                    Well, I’ll tell you something honestly. I do not understand why people would expect me to abandon the need for hard data and the scientific method because of a few examples of personal stories.

                    I’m thinking about working on an aspect of this subject for a future project. There is a real issue with a lack of studies that are informed by statistics on donor issues. I haven’t even found one that I can call a proper study.

                    I’ve found some surveys. And these surveys are very problematic. They are self-selecting and do not even attempt to employ statistics.

                    My partner has a background in stats. I’ve been talking to him about this subject & my future project plans. Last night he said something interesting, “any data scientist will tell you that anecdotes are not data.”

                    I’ve been struck by the fact that no one seems to notice this lack of hard data. Personal stories, collected in a self-selecting (not a statistically correct) manner, are used to justify changes in policy and to make ethical determinations about other people’s families. Yet, some commenters expect people to accept anecdotes as if they are data.

                    Why are statistics important? Because I can name several reasons why Alana Newman (to give one example) may be psychologically or emotionally damaged (or whatever we want to call her emotional state – she does not appear to be confused) that do not have anything to do with her being born through donor conception.

                    How do I know her experience is representative? I do not.

                    (Just as an aside — studies have shown that people are notoriously bad at accurate self-diagnosis. Yet, I am expected to take a couple of personal examples and self-evaluations as representative of the experience of thousands of people? And I am expected to do so with absolutely no statistical studies? I would like some hard data.)

                    Do I know donor conception did not cause trauma to Alana? No, I do not. But I certainly cannot take her experience as representative — although she clearly wishes for the public to do so. But anyone versed in the scientific method could tell you that she is suggesting a simple hypothesis. But several other hypotheses could explain her trauma. And these hypotheses are not hard to figure out, as her social father treated her in a reprehensible way. How do I know the trauma did not derive from that messed-up relationship? (That relationship sounds traumatic to me.) How do I know that she wouldn’t have grown up happy and healthy if she was raised by, say, two married men who loved her?

                    I do not mean to suggest she wouldn’t be curious about her genetic mother — but trauma is something that is completely different from curiosity. Open-donor ID is available, and anonymity versus non-anonymity is yet a different question, which also calls out for statistical studies.

                    Furthermore, someone like Alana Newman is funded by politically oriented groups who have specific goals. Do you understand why her data probably isn’t going to be representative — especially if she’s being promoted for political reasons? In any case, again, not only is she self-selected, her personal stories may be tainted because she is being funded and published by these groups. I certainly cannot trust her life to be an accurate representative experience.

                    Right — I’ll get off my soapbox about statistics and proper studies now. I’ll just end with – utilizing proper statistical methods is necessary if one wishes to create data that is useful.

                  • “I’ve been struck by the fact that no one seems to notice this lack of hard data. Personal stories, collected in a self-selecting (not a statistically correct) manner, are used to justify changes in policy and to make ethical determinations about other people’s families. Yet, some commenters expect people to accept anecdotes as if they are data.

                    “Why are statistics important? Because I can name several reasons why Alana Newman (to give one example) may be psychologically or emotionally damaged (or whatever we want to call her emotional state – she does not appear to be confused) that do not have anything to do with her being born through donor conception.”

                    I have noticed for thirty years that there is a lack of hard data and that almost all surveys, including my own, are self-selecting. I don’t rely on sociological data about DI since we cannot possibly collect enough of it, given the lack of knowledge about DI adults who have never been told or don’t speak out in public. So what?

                    Aside: Alana is curious about her unknown father. She knows her mother.

                    Changes in policy are more often justified by enough people saying that there is a social problem with that policy based on many other arguments such as ethics, justice, and even a plethora of anecdotes. Change comes from “moral entrepeneurs” who can generate enough concern among the general public. Trends towards opennness with respect to ART have been tremendous, though not enough, simply by so many people seeing that the ASRM is an ossified organization that does not respond to the people they serve. Statistical data did not play a part in this change of attittude. Sites like Donor Sibling Registry have created a critical mass of pressure for the end of anonymity, simply by DI parents, DI adults, and donors who have bypassed the barriers of ASRM policy through sharing donor numbers and giving themselves access to each other. The media have contributed persuasive dialog as well.

                    How many people speaking out does it take to recognize a social problem? To answer Ki sarita: surprisingly few. It is a matter of powerful rhetoric, multiple life stories, and open minds of listeners. Even a small percentage, who may not represent the majority of their cohorts, are enough to make a claim to a right or to persuade enough people to make a change. Did Frederick Douglas have to claim to represent all voiceless slaves in order to inspire enough people to end slavery? He did not need uncollectible data. Maybe 85% of all slaves were perfectly fine with brutal masters.

                    Other factors play in making change. The ASRM has consistently relied on the practice of anonymity. The recent advent of DNA genealogical web sites and the ability of many members of DSR to find connections have made anonymity a doomed policy. If I am able to identify, through Family Tree DNA, the person whose sperm helped create me almost exactly 69 years ago, despite all the roadblocks put in place, why do I need any other data than my own DNA results to defeat anonymity on a personal level? I didn’t have to persuade a majority of Congress to do that.

                    Some people dismiss anecdotes as unimportant in social change and say they want hard data. Those who require data are often the same people who prevent such data from being collected – the ASRM, for example. Don’t dismiss the power of personal narratives as merely anecdotal.They are more often the catalyst for change than some sociological study of mere data. Perhaps some sociologist should study whether studies are more effective than stories. Even fiction like “Catch 22” moves more people than some proper scientific study of war data.

                  • “So what?”
                    What is the problem with statistically inaccurate anecdotes?
                    It is not persuasive evidence.

                    Let’s take an example. Say you want to argue, oh, that abortion causes long-lasting trauma.

                    I can read a lot of anecdotal stories of women talking about how early abortion causes long-lasting emotional trauma from politically oriented web-sites.

                    I can even find websites that tell me that early abortion causes cancer.

                    What does it mean? Well, in statistical terms it means nothing. Interesting, but not persuasive.

                    RE: Alana
                    I find Alana’s story fascinating from a psychological perspective. Unfortunately, I also find it unpersuasive that it means anything significant about donor conception. Considering the circumstances of her personal story, I’d think it’s obvious why it’s unpersuasive.

                    An aside — In terms of moral authority — I’d suggest that Alana as spokesperson is not likely to rally people to the cause. She ain’t Frederick Douglass. Douglass supported a radical form of equality and capacious citizenship rights. He not only supported citizenship rights for African Americans, he advocated for women’s suffrage as early as 1848. Alana, in contrast, does not fight for equality for all people. She actively works against gay marriage. She also writes inflammatory articles about gay families.

                    “Pay attention, gay folks. There is seems to be a quiet war going on against our rights to be surrogate parents.” (Alvin McEwen, Oct 8, 2012. on his website & Huffington Post) regarding Alana’s infamous article about gay men as predators. She’d already made Edroso awarded Alana second-place in Roy Edroso’s Village Voice’s “10 Best Rightblog Rants of 2010.”

                    With the suggestion of these sorts of politics tainting the debate, why wouldn’t I want evidence?

                  • My parent's donor is my father

                    Tess, the donor conceived community really does not have any leaders. We all come from very different backgrounds and have all kinds of opinions about the practice and politics. Bill Cordray, is probably the closest we have to a leader who brings us all together. (although I know that is probably not a role that he went looking for or evens wants) One thing the community does all agree on is the need for more openness, honesty and identity disclosure as well as practical industry regulations. Some don’t think this is enough. Some are against the practice all together but realize that the toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube so compromise is necessary. The donor conceived community cannot make any change happen without the parenting groups, we are trying to all work together to bring more public awareness for change.

                  • “Tess, the donor conceived community really does not have any leaders.”

                    I haven’t come to any final determination. I have only begun to consider the research problem. But, I have noticed that Alana Newman (S.) wrote and was a close associate of Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Center for Children and Families at the Institute for American Values. David Blankenhorn was also associated with this outfit and they all wrote on Family Scholars.org. Blankenhorn is well known. He testified against gay marriage at California’s Prop 8 trial, and after much blow-back, said that he changed his mind about gay marriage.

                    Olivia Pratten (the BC donor activist) has also written at Family Scholars.org. Elizabeth Marquardt was one of the researchers of the study “My Daddy’s Name is Donor.” Marquardt is very much against gay marriage and she does not seem to understand or be concerned with the equal rights problems (taxes, citizenship, spousal medical) issues that come with the inability to marry.

                    Several well known individuals, who are activists in the anti-3rd party-reproduction community, are also tied to or actively working against equal rights for gays. Newman just recently was working against a California bill that would give equal rights to non-heterosexuals in fertility treatments. (There have been problems with discrimination in receiving treatment because people are not married or heterosexual.)

                    I was surprised to find all of these ties — between those people who would deny equal rights to gays and the donor activists.

                    Further surprises — Jennifer Lahl’s documentary “eggspoitation” — I recently discovered that Lahl is the president and on the board of directors for the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. She’s also associated with the Witherspoon Institute. Again- part of this conservative anti-gay marriage network.

                    I would have thought there was a possibility for an alliance between donor created activists and gay rights activists. I could see the possibility of working on anti-anonymous issues, for example. Both groups are likely to be part of untraditional family structures.

                    But, interestingly enough, this alliance seems unlikely to occur, as the well-published donor activists seem attracted to the anti-gay conservative religious organizations.

                  • My parent's donor is my father

                    Well, that’s a lot to unbundle. The IAV was a non-partisan group of ppl with various POV’s on the marriage debate and family issues. You will see a list of bloggers from all viewpoints and backgrounds. You cannot draw any conclusions about any bloggers participation and position based on David Blankenhorn’s postion on marriage. David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt have both since publicly come out in favor of gay marriage. Alana was and is only advocating on behalf of the importance of biological mother’s father’s family and children as well as human dignity concerns involved with collaborative reproduction and how this effects out larger culture and society. She is obviously against the practice, all of her commentary has only been in relation, rooted to her primary advocacy. The marriage debate does overlap but none of this involves having anti-gay motivations.Jennifer Lahl’s advocacy is multi faceted and worth consideration. Again, non of this involves having anti-gay motivations. There is no conspiracy against same sex attracted people. All of this debate is rooted in reproduction and human dignity concerns and how these practices effect our society and culture.

                  • If you have a link to Marquardt’s reversal, I would appreciate it. I’m looking at stuff on the internet from March 2013 that is quoting her warning of group marriage, ect., if same sex marriage is legalized.

                    Marquardt’s rhetoric as of 2012 is much less empathetic to equal rights, especially when compared to Blankenhorn.

                    I’m not wiling to tolerate anti-gay, anti-equal rights rhetoric and I’m not willing to tolerate institutions or think tanks that actively support unequal laws. But I will attempt to reserve judgement until I get more information.

                  • glad you brought up abortion Tess. I have experience with abortion both as a health provider and a patient. I am firmly pro abortion rights. But personally, I do have lasting trauma from abortion. Do I say abortion causes lasting trauma? No. What I say is abortion CAN cause lasting trauma. There’s a difference there.
                    I remain fully pro-abortion rights. I personally went into it knowing the potentially traumatic effects and made an informed decision. I also know that many women do not have my experience at all.
                    But what that means, is that while I can make such a decision for myself, I should be very, very cautious about reccommending the same course of action for someone else.
                    I don’t know any donor conceived persons (who have told me about it- one person who i suspect). I do have a number of friends who have had very neglectful fathers. Not one of them thinks they would be better off if they didn’t know who he was. Is that hard data? no. does it invalidate the observation? no.
                    Regarding Elizabeth Marquardt: her study is highly biased, specifically in the selection process. Many of the people surveyed and quoted are already known anti DI advocates. It is also flawed in the conclusions it draws from its own data, specifically regarding willing-to-be-known donors, which it has no data about.
                    The question then, in the absence of data, is are you willing to approve of what amounts to be a huge social experiment? And are you willing to volunteer your offspring to be part of that experiment. (not you personally- the generic you.)
                    Some, like Rebecca, are pretty confident in the outcome, and have answered that question YES. I wish rebecca all the best, and commend her for taking certain safeguards to minimize the potential for harm.
                    Some of us are not so sure.
                    Last but not least, your insistence that you will not hear any opinion from anyone that is against gay marriage is highly unscientific, for all your insistence on bias free, scientific conclusions.

                  • My parent's donor is my father

                    Ki Sarita wrote: “Regarding Elizabeth Marquardt: her study is highly biased, specifically in the selection process. Many of the people surveyed and quoted are already known anti DI advocates. ”
                    The data gathering itself was not biased or self selective. A few activists viewpoints were mentioned in Elizabeth’s write up on the data. She also drew conclusions from the data which she provides for everyone to review to draw their own conclusions. In fact others did just that.

                  • “My Parent”,

                    That particular study doesn’t attempt to use statistics. It is, essentially a unscientific survey. The people studied were self-selecting.

                    I have examined the study, and the information gathered was interesting. It’s not data, but it does reveal some interesting information.

                    The biggest limitations of the study was lumping of groups together. (Children born of egg donors & sperm donors & children of divorced parents & children told as adults/ and told as kids & hetero-sexual & gay parents & all economic classes — all lumped together. When variables are all smushed together like this it makes it much harder to elicit interesting and/or revealing information from a survey.)

                    Ki Sarita,

                    In terms of studies and the reason I care about quality research:

                    1) There are groups that have specific religious and political agendas which they wish to enact. It was only recently I realized that some of these institutions and think tanks were interacting with DC issues. Conservative think tanks have sponsored unscientific studies on a variety of hot-button political subjects — abortion being just one of a variety of subjects.

                    2) I would certainly read and process a study on the health of children raised by gay parents. Julie has linked to one long-term quality study.

                    Would or should studies studies overrule a fundamental right? No. For example — would I then conclude that the state has the moral and political right to criminalize gay relationship and jail people for these relationships? No — I would not. If a lesbian gives birth to a child, would I support the state taking the child and placing said child in foster care because of the sexual orientation of the parent? No! That is a horrifying abuse of state power in my opinion. This comes out of my understandings of the role of state power.

                    3) I personally do know several donor-created people. They are all children and they are all living in two-person committed gay relationships. (A friend of a friend is a donor adult in her 30s, but she’s not a personal acquaintance. I don’t know if she’s happy or not. She graduated from Yale, for whatever that’s worth.) All of the children appear to be happy and well adjusted. They’ve got all the normal experiences — birthday cakes, friends, laughing, soccer practice, terrible two temper tantrums, messy rooms, adorable facebook pictures, ect.

                    Will they remain happy? I don’t know. Am I happy the children are in the world? Yes. Do I suspect these children will continue to experience both joy and pain in their lives? Yes. Do I suspect that these children will most likely grow up to be fairly happy and well-adjusted people? Yes. Is it an experiment? Yes. Are all births, to some degree, experiments? Oh, yes.

                    Would I criminalize the circumstances of their birth? No. Would I prevent other people from having children in this manner through the use of state power? No.

                    Would I use moral suasion to persuade a couple to either get pregnant or or not conceive children? No. Just as abortion is something that is, truly, a private decision — I cannot know what is right for someone else.

                    Do I think I have the moral right to determine how and when other people procreate? No. This includes all sorts of dramatic circumstances:

                    I don’t think I have the right to tell a poor person to not get pregnant. I don’t think I have the right to force an abortion on a drug addict. I don’t think I have the right to forcibly sterilize someone who is mentally ill. I don’t think I have the right to force someone to carry a pregnancy. Fill in the blank here for any other example related to pro-creation.

                    Do I think the state has a right to criminalize the procreative actions of the citizenry? No.

                    Some political and religious groups (now and in the past) would like to use the power of the state to restrict and promote procreation only among economically well-off, heterosexual, physically healthy, ((white, Christian)) married couples. I do not agree with this agenda. In fact, this use of state power horrifies me.

                    Do I think it is ever truly ethical to bring any child into the world? I don’t know. You give a child life, but you also give that child a death. No one gets out of this world alive.

                    Welcome to the world baby. As your birthday present you get: one life, one death; joy, pain; winter, summer; day, night. You’re alive to experience the world in all of its suffering and glory.

                  • I do not believe in criminalization either so we’re not as far apart as you might suspect. If I did I would criminalize myself because I did have a baby in circumstances which are very not ideal.
                    I’m a big fan of state non interference. So, What I do believe is the state should not aid and abet and promote such practices by creating special laws to facilitate it.
                    Like you, I don’t either go around telling total strangers how to manage their lives. But as a citizen of a [somewhat] free country, I have a right to voice my opinion about the laws and social practice the country.
                    (when I spoke about donor conceived I meant adults. As an adult, we rarely have relationships with children independently of their parents. I also know a woman whom i greatly respect for other reasons, with 2 donor conceived children.. )

                  • Tess it’s 11:43 pm for me on Pacific Standard time. Do you go by the current time in your time zone or do you think everyone should define the time for themselves and just let the chips fall where they may? Would you show up a few hours late for work and tell your boss that for you, it’s only 8:00 am and he should respect your self definition of time?

                    Kinship is a measurement of distance, no different than the clock and calendar measure time. Rulers measure distance, spedometers measure speed. We have systems of constants that apply to everyone or there would be chaos. Defining something for yourself generally is another way of saying someone is lying. If I rob you and you seek justice and I say I did not rob you I am defining my own reality where it did not happen. That would suck for you because I’d be lying. You can self define things only to the extent that it does not impact anyone else’s reality. Now a woman with offspring is a mother whether she likes it or not. She can choose to be absent and do it any number of ways but in the end what she is, is an absent mother. She has not self defined herself out of that kinship relationship she’s lying and hiding. Do whatever you want to do but you have to take the knocks for it you can’t self define reality for anyone other than yourself.

                    Being a person’s son is a measurement of biological distance. Being someone’s adopted son is a measure of legally vested distance and being someone’s son-in-law or step son is a measure of contractual distance. Self defining – lets just put any old number down for weight of the baby it does not have to be accurate. Let’s pull you over for speeding when you are only going 55 because the cop needs to meet his ticket quota and he’s self defining speed today. Let’s not get you a birthday present because we’ve self defined your birthday to a more convenient time for us and never complain that we forgot or gave it late because for us, your birthday is now six months earlier and you are older than you actually are. What would you do if the post office self defined your address and all your mail went to some nice elderly man in Florida? The point here is you cannot self define yourself out of your kinship roll because it impacts other people’s reality. That is precisely why people with falsified birth records are up in arms whether their parents were donors or young kinds not ready to raise children or whether they were dead beats.

                  • Marilyn,

                    I don’t get what you want me to say. I’m respecting “My Parent’s” feelings towards her biological father. She sees him as her father, and I respect that. She gets to call the shots about what people mean in her emotional life.

                    One of my friend’s father left the family after a divorce. He behaved badly. Years later he showed up at her graduation ceremony. She walked up to him and told him, “You need to leave. You are not my father. My father is sitting next to my mother.” (This was her mother’s second husband. He raised her like his own daughter.) She turned and walked away. She has not spoken to him since.

                    I respect my friend’s feelings. She feels like her step-father is her father due to her biological and legal father’s bad behaviour. It was too late for her biological/legal father in my friend’s eyes to regain a place in her emotional life. She is an adult now, and she gets to call the shots. You can’t force family.

                    I accept other people’s feelings about their families. I accept their interpretations of their relationships. If they are adults, I don’t try to control their feelings. And, you know, we ultimately don’t have control over the feelings of other adults. Whether it is unrequited romantic feelings or unrequited kin-relationship feelings — sometimes one needs to accept that people feel what they feel.

                  • “Do I think it is ever truly ethical to bring any child into the world?”

                    It is always truly ethical for a married couple to have sex and bring children into the world, that’s what the marriage license protects and affirms. They have a right, it is right, to have sex and conceive offspring with each other, and that right overrides any judgements about risk or ethics of doing so. On the other hand, those risks and ethical concerns are too much to justify intentional conception by unmarried couples because unmarried couples do not have a right, and it is never ethical and facilitating it should be and punishable by fines and jail (all parties involved in facilitating it should be subject to punishment). It should not be a legal viable option to intentionally conceive offspring with anyone but your legally married life partner, exclusively. If they can’t do it together they have no right to create offspring with someone else to raise together. That can’t be justified ethically.

                • ki sarita,

                  We are agreed, it sounds like, on the state not getting involved in criminalizing these matters.

                  I strongly support 1st Amendment rights for all.
                  I was re-reading the details of the study “My donor” and some of the variables did get broken out. (raised by gay parents; single parent; heterosexual parents.) If you google the study you can get the PDF. The survey information is contained in tables at the end of the study. (The essay portion of the study is not particularly helpful and rather polemic.)

                  Some of the information suggests that people raised by heterosexual parents seem to have the worst outcomes. Children raised in two person same-sex relationships have the best outcomes. 🙂

                  Anyways- I wanted to point out that some variables were separated out at the end of the study.

                  I had also forgotten the high percentages of respondents that approved of health insurance covering donor-creation techniques. (The essay section of that study does not appear to accurately represent the information collected in the survey.)

              • My parent's donor is my father

                (“Isn’t your father who ever you think he is?”)
                Again, this is a matter of definition. Relationships of all kinds are all relative and subjective. Many people consider many kinds of different relationships as “family”, regardless of how “the law” defines or enforces or what “story” you were raised with “the script”. (“You can’t force family”) One shared reality that we all have in common is that every single one of us comes from 1 man (genetic) and 1 woman (genetic) – with only a very few very rare exceptions of nature (2 sperm embryos) or laboratory science (2 mother embryos). That man and that woman I call father and mother but that does not mean that I have no “family” outside of them. But they are rooted in reality – everything grows from this.

                • My parent's donor is my father

                  And when the two people who create you – who you are made of – grew from, do so in a very intentional purposeful way – with out both of their love and/or recognition (a just a very basic starting point) – in order to fill the needs of others – it’s ripe for confusion – hence the need for “scripts”. Yes, you absolutely right no one can force family or love.

                  • Most children are created for the emotional needs of others, with the exception of children who were “oopsies.”

                  • My parent's donor is my father

                    I think “oopsies” whose genetic parents embrace love and commit to, come from the purest kind of selflessness and love. I was created for the emotional need of my mother. And I’m profoundly grateful to have been her source of support. She lives on in me, we are a part of the same soul, BUT I won’t deny my own children the pride and identity of their grandfather, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all their people who they are connected to through him. The sacrifice and denial stops and begins with me. I won’t pass on that loss to our children and I know my mother would agree.

                  • I misunderstood you — I thought you meant to say that both partners loved each other before they created a child. I thought that was a very romantic view of the world, as most pregnancies are not planned. (And, when you consider the globe, love does not exist in many marriages.)

                    But you meant that the mother decided to keep the pregnancy out of love? I wasn’t speaking of a mother’s or father’s love towards the yet-to-be-born child.

                    I think it’s great you want to create your own family in your own way and according to your own moral beliefs and ethical code. This is as it should be. But that doesn’t mean your way is the right path for everyone else in the world.

                  • “BUT I won’t deny my own children the pride and identity of their grandfather, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all their people who they are connected to through him.”

                    Quick question — apologies if this seems ignorant — but does this mean you wouldn’t marry someone who was adopted & couldn’t find and/or be reunited in their biological family?

                  • My parent's donor is my father

                    I’m used to being misunderstood and attacked because of presumed political ideologies. Not the case with me – I’m not a simple person. I’m speaking out of love and respect for everyone involved. I have no idea where you are going with the question “but does this mean you wouldn’t marry someone who was adopted & couldn’t find and/or be reunited in their biological family?”

                    I never dated anyone in that situation that he or I knew of. While I was in the dating scene I WAS always been wary of men who come from divorced families though. I married a man whose father (biological) was firmly committed to his mother (biological/genetic). Over 50 years and counting. My husband and I are only on year 21 – not end in sight..

                  • I can try to clarify, but I’m not sure exactly which part was confusing. You said that you wanted the suffering to end with you, because you wanted your children to have genetically related grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins — a large extended family.

                    I thought that meant that you wanted your partner to (1) be able to genetically reproduce so you could have children who were related to both of you and (2) for that person to have a large family that was genetically related (blood-grandparents; aunts; uncles; cousins.)

                    I wondered if you wouldn’t marry someone who was adopted, because the extended family would not be genetically related to your child.

                    I understand that some people are very attached to genetic connection, and I wondered how important the extended genetic connection of your reproductive partner was to you.

                    But it sounds like you are already married and perhaps already have your own biologically related children. From your posts it sounded like you were stating an intention in the future. (I thought you were younger, and still unmarried, because your posts sounded like you were speaking in terms of future intent.)

                  • My parent's donor is my father

                    Sorry for the confusion Tess, text is a very difficult form of communication. No I simply meant that I am grateful to have been there for my mother (and social father, and every other father like person – and mother like person in my life) I hope I added to their life in very positive ways. But the self sacrafice of denying the importance of half of my biology (my father and all the many many many people connected to me through him) ends with me. Once I had children, there was no more denying – the search started and I found him. The greatest prize was finding my siblings and their children who connected my mine. My sister was the pot of God at the end of my rainbow. But I won’t lie, after all the celebration wears off, it’s back to reality….it’s not happily ever after…it’s difficult but at least I can say we know them and we love them.

                  • Oh, I see — by denying the suffering you meant you were denying your need for your biological relatives & desire to search for them. I see! Sorry for the confusion, and congrats on having found them.

              • “:Isnt your father who you think he is”
                Yes and No, Tess. We do not exist in a vaccuum, completely independent of our culture and going back generations and generations.
                As any anthropologist will tell you, kin is a product of culture, not of individual decisions. Within these frameworks, we have some freedom but it is limited.
                The idea that the individual chooses its own kin is a new and very shaky development.

                • Yes, interesting:

                  1) I’m not going to tell a donor-conceived person (“My Parent” on the internet how to understand her own life and her kinship relations.

                  I affirm other’s feelings about their kin. Certainly my opinions have no bearing or relevance to the lives of strangers.

                  2) Kinship is, of course, culturally and socially constructed.

                  3) These cultural and social constructs are historical. That means they are subject to historical change.

              • Hey Tess you did it again in the story about the graduation. You see her feelings did not change your reality or anyone else’s she is simply not talking to her father and telling everyone that her step father is her father. You still referred to him has her father so you don’t respect her right to self define as much as you say you do. Oh wait were you doing that just for clarity sake so we understand the situation? Yes, of course you were. And for clarity sake its generally necessary to explain the truth of the mater as it is before going on to explain the way people are reacting to the truth. Your own story telling shows that it is really impossible to ignore the facts of the matter just because someone involved wants to pretend things are different than they really are. I think your point is that you want to give people the latitude to not behave in certain ways if they don’t want to – and I agree they don’t have to but it does not change the fact of who they are or what is expected of them say as a parent. You see not behaving like a parent did not make that man no longer her parent, her rights were not altered and neithr were his, she is just not speaking to him and that is her perrogative.

                • But how I feel is not nearly as relevant as how she feels.

                  If she doesn’t think he’s her father, she’s not going to act like he’s her father. If she doesn’t act like he’s her father — then it’s done. For all practical purposes he’s not her father because she won’t acknowledge the relationship.

                  Do you see what I mean? What does he care if I or you acknowledge him as her father? What does it matter what we think? We’re not much relevant to their lives.

                  If she ditches him, then he’ll never talk to her on Thanksgiving. He’ll never get a chance to meet her children — his grandchildren. She has children. He’s never met them. He’ll never get a card, an acknowledgement, a present, a visit at his sickbed. She won’t acknowledge his funeral. She won’t remember him on the Day of the Dead. She won’t bring flowers to his grave site. She doesn’t love him. She doesn’t hate him. She’s just over him.

                  What does “father” mean, if she doesn’t recognize him as father? What does “father” mean, if she feels nothing towards him? What does “father” mean if he has no significance in her life? What does “father” mean, if she will not acknowledge either his life or his death?

          • “But donor women don’t have that same experience of lack of choice over relinquishment and the subsequent trauma. They don’t feel grief about forcible relinquishment and that is a huge difference in experience.”

            Which makes it all the more horrible and wretched for the children they give up. Don’t you get it? They are biological parents of their own offspring bottom line end of story no different than had they carried and delivered them on their own. Pregnancy is not remembered by their children and the fact they don’t think of themselves as mothers does not change the fact that offspring you deliver yourself is no different than those you don’t – it’s just attitude behavior. Knowing that your mother is not anguished and grieving your loss must be a million times worse I cannot even begin to wrap my head around that kind of pain. Seriously I can’t fathom it.

            They don’t “think of themselves as mother’s”. What complete and total bull&hit is that? It’s like having a smoking gun in your hand and not thinking of yourself as guilty.

            • I am not sure that donor egg conceived, view the donor as the parent in the same way that donor sperm. pregnancy is still a very strong aspect of motherhood in common psychology. some probably do, but some don’t.

              • Ki do you remember when you were a fetus? Is your mother’s pregnancy a big part of your memories of her motherhood?

                A person’s view of their biological mother comes not from her pregnancy but from being her offspring her descendant from being half her flesh and blood from being related to her from being her obligation to love and care for. And their feelings about the care they were given growing up by their mother or adoptive mother are a separate thing entirely.

                The reality is that a person has two biological parents and they either raised them or they did not. How people feel about that is their own problem or solution but it does not alter the facts of the matter which is that giving birth to another woman’s child still leaves the other woman as the biological mother.

                • These don’t have to do with individual memory but with cultural rules of kinship. Psychologically we are still programmed to associate pregnancy with motherhood because for almost all of human history, it was. Technology changes faster than psychology,
                  if technology separating genetics and pregnancy, becomes more and more common, then sure, you will see that change. but it hasn’t happened yet.
                  As you stated in your very humerous post, kinship- like time zones- is determined by cultural consensus.

                  • Ki for someone who has been told that they were “conceived with a donor egg” – it very much has happened because they will come to understand that the woman who gave birth to them is not their biological mother and that her relatives are not their maternal relatives. There is no other way that they can possibly understand the situation unless they completely disregard science and biology and just pretend that giving birth turned the woman raising them into their bio mother but that takes a lot of denial.

              • They are not ‘donor egg conceived’. Their mother’s egg was fertilized and they became her embryo and she chose to have another woman give birth to them and allowed that woman to raise them. Their mother conceived them, her gestational carrier gave birth to them and their legal birth mother of record raised them. They were not conceived by another woman using a donor egg. You are a nurse you know that it is medically impossible for me to conceive my own child with another woman’s egg. You know that its the other woman that conceives. They make it and you make it sound like an infertile woman is capable of conceiving by ‘using’ a donor egg. The donor egg is the donor’s egg whether it is in or out of her body – it never becomes anyone else’s egg even if they pay for it, even if she wants them to have it and she wants to pretend that it is no longer her egg there is nothing she can do about it. It’s her egg and if fertilized it will be her embryo and if her offspring are born they will be her offspring, her children for ever and always even though someone else raises them.

                Ki you are talking about letting perception dictate reality. Letting people’s feelings about what they are somehow change what they are. Like I said kinship measures distance like miles measure distance or like miles per hour measures speed or like pounds measure weight. Your feelings about how much you weigh don’t change how much you really weigh. I’m 120 on my drivers license – they let me pick that number, its not true but it’s a number I liked and the grocery store clerk does not need to know my real weight anyway. Am I lying?

                • “They are not ‘donor egg conceived’. Their mother’s egg”

                  That’s way too long. If you want people to substitute an alternative you have to come up with something that is 3 words or less. 3rd party reproduction or a phrase that is short and not a paragraph.

                  • How about we call them nothing at all but abandoned by one or both parents and black market adopted? Because that is exactly what it is when unrelated people get their names son original birth records whether money is exchanged or not the child is being raised by people who are not their bio parents without the protection of a proper court approved adoption.

                    I generally refer to them as people with one or two estranged parents that signed gamete donor agreements. Or people whose parents were gamete donors or People whose parents were donors is that short enough. How people become bio parents is really so unimportant How they behave once they are bio parents is what matters and if they don’t show up to take care of their kid, its a tragedy and its amazing when their kid does not see it that way. Even when they don’t see it as a tragedy, they’ve still lost rights and so the law needs to change to be fair whether some are happy without those rights or not.

                  • I don’t think I can go with that language formulation — “He abandoned his sperm.” I would want to start singing “every sperm is sacred.”

                    If how people became parents wasn’t important we wouldn’t see people not just acting differently, but feeling differently.

                    We can ignore these feelings (or lack of feelings) but it won’t make them disappear or change.

                • its true i’m talking about feelings but not individual random feelings- i’m talking feelings that are in accord with already existing cultural constructs.
                  (there. that was a sentence worthy of tess, wasn’t it?)

                  • about the girl with the graduation, i totally sympathize with her. but part of that is based on her father’s bad behavior. however, if her father had done everything he could to be a good father but she decided to go with her mom’s new lover because he was richer or whatever; i think we would not sympathize. we may not tell her what to do, but i don’t think we would find it so cool.
                    We also agree that her biofather behaved badly by upping and leaving her in the first place. this indicates that we don’t think he had a right to say “well I just don’t feel like a parent today, so I’m off. see ya in a few years.”
                    So Tess, you and I may draw the line in different places, but I think we can agree that kinship is not strictly determined by individual feelings.

                  • “(there. that was a sentence worthy of tess, wasn’t it?)”

                    hahaha 🙂

                  • Agreed that we wouldn’t sympathize if she told her father to get out based on $$ or for petty reasons. I agree – we could and would judge, but I’m not sure what good our judgement would do. She feels what she feels, and we don’t have control over that — you know what I mean?

                    We could decide she was responsible for the familial breakdown. We could judge her and declare her a bad daughter & a bad person. But us shifting the blame could not force her to change her actions & feelings. If she feels that her social father is her only father — there’s nothing we can do to force her to change.

                    Another real life example: My mother’s friend had a daughter. The daughter was a few years younger then me. A difficult child to get along with from the time she was quite young. As an adult, the daughter and her mother had an argument about the daughter’s boyfriend. The daughter refused to talk to her mother after the fight. She disowned her mother. She eventually married the boyfriend. Her mother got cancer. She still refused to talk to her mother. This went on for years. Her mother died.

                    I blame the daughter more then the mother. So did the daughter’s brothers. And many other people who knew the situation. But — my blame and/or judgment does no good. The daughter felt what she felt and did what she did. And maybe I didn’t understand something about the relationship.

                    In any case, how I judged her actions didn’t change anything. The daughter had the ability to walk away from her mother. Her brothers didn’t have any control over her actions or feelings. Her father couldn’t bring her back into the family. And my judgement and my mother’s judgement did absolutely nothing to change the situation or the daughter’s feelings.

            • People feel the way they feel. I can’t control someone else or their emotional life.

              My job is to observe, analyze and to study. I arrive at conclusions. One of those conclusions is that birth mothers have very different reactions then women who give eggs.

              • Well birth mothers are not necessarily related to the children they deliver tess, sometimes birth mothers paid to have the birth experience. In any event why does the reaction of the woman who donates the egg matter when it comes to talking about the concrete facts of the matter. If I hit someone over the head with a hammer and react as if I did not do it “who moi?” and everyone else in the room saw me do it – then why would my dumb a$$ reaction make a hill of beans bit of difference to anyone? Least of all to the person whose head I hit who surely expects me to take the blame and do my time I owe that person something at least an apology. Heck even if nobody saw me do it I’d still be to blame and still owe that person an apology.

                • 1) I thought we were talking about adoption, in which birth mother means a very specific definition coined by CUB.

                  2) Why do the feelings and reactions of women matter? I don’t understand this question. I suppose one of the reasons that feelings and reactions matter is because emotional impacts have concrete consequences.

    • Written by the mother. Gosh I remember why I adore you now.

  4. Very interesting post — and how does ART re-define our understanding of infertility?

    ART has transformed something that we haven’t much discussed on this blog. Many of the donor-conceived people who are adults were born from sperm donors.

    But sperm donors are not be used as frequently in ART for heterosexual couples because of the invention of ICSI in 1992. Very few men are infertile. Most that were defined as “infertile” are, in practice, sub-fertile and this can be circumvented via ICSI.

    In terms of ART as a journey that a couple is on — I think that is quite interesting, and the advances in ART encourage that approach.

    From a personal point of view I’m rather horrified by the idea that someone would leave their spouse because of infertility. That only makes sense if the couple isn’t much attached to each other (why are they even in a relationship to begin with?), and is together for the purpose of creating biological children.

    Many people who are classified as infertile, are actually in the “sub-fertile” range. This means that it’s not impossible for them to become pregnant naturally, but it is statistically unlikely. ART increases the probability of pregnancy. This means that the couple with the resources to pursue repeated ART cycles has a greater chance of achieving pregnancy. PGD testing means that couples with inheritable diseases can also because pregnant through ART.

    Couples who use donor gametes move to donor gametes because it increases the statistical chances of pregnancy among sub-fertile couples. Pregnancy, natural or through ART, is a statistical game.

  5. This is a really nice post, Julie, and I agree that it is a couple’s infertility. Thanks to ART, the pendulum has swung a bit in the other direction in that I know many women who are having serious marital crises because they want to continue treatment or pursue adoption and their spouse has declared he has a firm limit on what he will pursue, whether it is only one cycle, no IVF, no adoption, etc. These women now face deciding between a life with their spouse without children or a life without their spouse but with children.

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