Tag Archives: DNA

Stories We Tell–The Movie and More

Some time back I wrote about a documentary I wanted to see called “Stories We Tell.”  It was made by a young woman named Sarah Polley and it is autobiographical.   I’ve now had a chance to see it and it made me think.

Polly is the youngest of five siblings.   (I use this term loosely as you will see.).  Her mother, apparently a quite dynamic figure, died some years ago,   For many years there was a family joke that her mother’s husband–the man who Sarah Polley referred to as her father–was not in fact genetically related to her.   For whatever reasons, Polly decided to investigate.   The film is not so much the story of her investigation as it is the story of what all the players involved make of it all.

Actually, it isn’t really what all the players make of it.  Continue reading

When Do Father’s Rights Mean Controlling the Mother?

There’s a lively conversation in the comments of the most recent posts here–one I mean to pick up and move along shortly.  But I feel that I need to take time out to blog about this story, which I must confess is one that I’m really bothered by.    It’s from the NYT, which means that for some of you it may be on the wrong side of a pay wall.  I’m sorry about that, but it does seem to be their story.

I’ll start with a summary.  It’s obvious that there are facts in dispute and I’ll try to note specifically where that is the case.   Most of what seems to me to be important is actually not in dispute.

Bode Miller and Sara McKenna met via a high-end dating service.   They both lived in California.   Miller is an Olympic skier.   McKenna is a former Marine and firefighter.  He’s now 36 and she’s 27, but I think they were dating in April/May, 2012.

They dated for about a month-and-a-half.   When they split up, McKenna was pregnant, although obviously she wasn’t very far along.  Continue reading

When Parents Talk To Their Children

I’m at the midyear conference of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys/American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys just now.   It’s a program devoted to the world of ART and there are lawyers from around the country and the world–a really terrific and interesting group.  It’s very busy but I wanted to take a minute out to post this.

This morning there was a great speaker who focused on psychological issues around egg donation.   Her name is  Dr. Andrea Braverman and she teaches at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.  One particular point she made was both simple and provocative:  The way parents talk to donor-conceived children can profoundly shape how the children react.

Perhaps this was and is obvious.  After all, think about what you call the man who provides sperm?  Donor?  Father?   Daddy-donor?  [Your choice here?] Continue reading

News From Florida–Lesbian Mother/Egg Donor Must Have Rights

I’m interrupting myself (though I really want to get back to “social infertility” and what to think about it) because there is an interesting and important new case out of Florida.  You can read the opinion (though it is long) and I’m sure in time there will be press, too.   (I wrote about this case when it was decided by the lower court and you might want to read that, too. )

I want to offer some initial thoughts here, though think it quite possible I will find that I need to revise them as I think further.  The case covers a lot of ground and might have some broad implications–or at least suggest some broader arguments.

The facts are pretty simple.   DMT and TMH were lesbians in a long-term committed relationship.  They wanted to raise a child together.   TMH provided an egg.   It was fertilized in vitro and the resulting pre-embryo was transferred to DMT’s uterus, which means DMT was pregnant with/gave birth to the child.   Continue reading

A Little More on What Families Look Like

I’m still thinking about yesterday’s post–the whole story of the blond Roma children.   I’m inclined to agree with Kisrita when she says “the fact that a kid looks different should never be a cause for authorities to get involved unless you have clear evidence of wrongdoing” (that’s in the comments from yesterday)  but I’m afraid there’s some distance between should and is.   What I mean is that it does happen, even though I think it shouldn’t.

There are at least two different things I think about here–or maybe two different levels on which I think about the same thing.   First, there’s the  mere fact that different looking adult/child dyad can raise eyebrows or attract attention.   Second, there are the specific ways in which this plays out depending on the specific differences we observe.    I’m going to consider these in reverse order–second one first.

The second thing is very much about race.   Continue reading

Still Here, Still Thinking, But Life…..

I feel badly that I have been so absent here.  (And so many of you have carried on so nicely without me.)   There–better to just start with that.   But why haven’t I been here?   Life intervenes?   Not in any dramatic way, and not in a bad way (thanks for those concerns) but just in the mass of little things that pile up.

I’m tired, too, of dashing over to this, apologizing, putting up one meager post, and then failing to find the time to build momentum.   But you know, being tired of it doesn’t mean I don’t stop trying.  It just makes it harder to try.   So here I am–I will try again to get myself on more regular footing.

I must have 17 tabs open with things to comment on , none of which seem totally pressing.  I think what I will try to do is put together a few things that in some (as yet not totally clear way) seem related to me.  The uniting theme–if there is one–is about DNA and inherited characteristics and the cultural stuff around that, I think.

So I’m pretty sure most of you saw the stories about the blond children turning up in Roma families.   Continue reading

Sorting Pregnant Women: Four Types, Which Get Grouped Together?

Someone (ki sarita, in fact) raised an excellent question in an early comment on the last post:   Why would you call Monica Schissel a surrogate when she is a pregnant woman and she is genetically related to the fetus she carries?  There is some discussion of this in the last post, but I’ve been thinking about it more generally.   This leads me to some observations that might be useful or, failing that, at least interesting.

It seems to me you can think about pregnant women as falling into one of four categories.  Here they are:

A:   Intending to be parent and genetically related to embryo

B   Intending to be parent and NOT genetically related to embryo

C   NOT intending to parent and genetically related to embryo

D.  NOT intending to parent and NOT genetically related to embryo. Continue reading

Baby Veronica Returned to Adoptive Parents

Have we reached the end of the Baby Veronica story?   Last night Dunsten Brown gave up physical custody of Veronica (no longer a baby), allowing the Capobiancos to assume that role.   There’s no way of knowing if this is actually the end of the story.   Litigation could be continuing, as the article suggests.   But surely this is a significant moment.   Actual physical custody of the-now-four-year-old child at the center of a very long legal struggle has shifted to her adoptive parents, who presumably have taken (or will take her) back to South Carolina.

I’ve written about this many times before, though most recently not so much about the actual merits as about the nature of the on-going struggle.   It is this aspect of the case that continues to trouble me most.

Veronica (and at least all parties seem to agree on her name, unlike some cases where the child is given different names by the competing parties) is four year old.   Continue reading

Thoughtful Commentary on the Meaning of Family

There was a piece on NPR yesterday about the author Cheryl Strayed.   She’s the author of Wild, a book I confess to having started but not really gotten into before it had to be returned to the library.  It’s an account of her time spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and her reflections on her life during that hike.

The book has been successful and many people have read it.   Many people write to her to report how connected to her they feel after reading the book.  One day, as you can see if you listen to or read the NPR story, a woman wrote to her to say that she thought she and Strayed had the same genetic father.   And indeed they did.  (Strayed hadn’t named the man in the book, but the woman had recognized him and could name him herself.)  That means, of course, that Strayed and this woman are genetic half-sisters.

It turns out that Strayed’s father, who had been  married to Strayed’s mother, had remarried after a divorce.   His new marriage produced the woman who wrote to Strayed.   But that marriage, too, dissolved and neither daughter has maintained any contact with the man in question.    They knew (at least vaguely) of each other’s existence but that was all.

Strayed asks questions that I think are important:

“It’s been really pretty interesting to think about: What is family? And what is a connection? You know, obviously this isn’t someone I grew up with. I’m meeting her as an adult. And like I said, our connection is through this man who neither one of us has a relationship with now. And so how are we sisters? And how do we proceed?”

For me this connects up the recent post about family forms.   The connection between Strayed and her correspondent has several facets.  There’s genetics, of course.  But there’s also the experience of having had and then lost touch with the genetic father–the same man in both cases.    There’s clearly commonality there.  Is that fairly encapsulated in “sister?”   Probably not.

I don’t mean to suggest that one needs a new term for every variation on relationships.   Perhaps my point has more to do with how language choices can sometimes oversimplify.   Whether Strayed and the correspondent call each other sisters or half-sisters, their relationship is not like many others that fall within those categories.   As Strayed says, they never knew each other growing up–and both sisters and half-sisters common do at least have some contact.

And then there’s Strayed’s last question:   How do we (from my perspective, they)  proceed?

I will not make any attempt to answer that, of course, as it is hardly my business.   But in the end, this is the most crucial question.   What does one make of it all?   There’s something special in that relationship, but the meaning any pair of people give to that is up to them.   Very likely it is contextual.  For medical purposes, for example, the genetic connection may be of paramount importance.  At other times, though, having the same man as absent father or the same man as once-present father may be more important.

I suspect if I’d read Wild I’d know more about Strayed’s own relationship with her father and maybe that would lead to more to think about.  Perhaps I’ll put it back on my “to read” list

The Continuing Saga of Baby Veronica

It’s been several months since the Supreme Court decided Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl.   It’s a case I had written about a number of times over the years, though I have yet to actually discuss the Court’s opinion.  (It’s the “lost-it-over-summer” thing.)    When the Supreme Court opinion was issued, it probably seemed to many to mark the end of the case, but for some procedural follow-on in the lower courts.   But the case was not, in fact, over and indeed, it continues even now.

You can read the facts in almost any of the news stories about continuing proceedings.   And they can be very long and convoluted, as the case has a long history.   But for my purposes here today, it comes down to this:    There is a three year old girl named Veronica.   The South Carolina Supreme Court, following the opinion of the US Supreme Court, ruled that a couple from South Carolina (the Capobiancos) could complete their adoption of this child.   But she has been living in Oklahoma with her genetic father, Dunsten Brown, who also wants to raise her as his daughter, for roughly half her life.   Continue reading