Sunday, February 5, 2012

IVF, Adoption, and Pro-family politics

I am going to wade into some controversial topics, so I hope I can do so without rubbing people the wrong way. I simply ask that you read me through to the end and don't jump to being defensive because it seems I am judging you. I hope that in reading how I am struggling with these issues, you can see that I agree with you on some parts and see how difficult these issues are. I've been thinking a great deal issues of pro-choice politics, contraception, adoption, adoption by same sex couples, infertility treatments, etc. The Komen decision has gotten me and everyone else talking about women's health and family planning. And I had a recent conversation with a group in my church about how Catholics should vote. That has also got me thinking deeply about these issues. My understanding of the Catholic Church's position is that since no politician perfectly matches all Catholic teachings, we have to weigh the good and the bad and inform our conscience about what to do. But still there are issue where it is not that I come to a different conclusion from the church after weighing these things, but that there are some single issues where I disagree with the official church position. And that has got me thinking about what is behind my opinion on these issues. So I want to try to lay out my thoughts.

And let me lay out one thing in advance. I will use the terms pro-choice and pro-life because those are the terms that are out there. But I don't like them as it implies that some people are against life.

I've always been pro-choice. As my husband E once said in reference to my very liberal family, "it would have been hard not to be pro-choice growing up in your family." And truth be told, I was always pro-choice in the "no one is going to tell me what to do with my body" frame of mind. I never really thought about when life began or what the status of an embryo was. In short, I had opinions about these things, but they were not really well thought out beliefs, more of a reaction than anything else.

And so I went along in my life, not really putting too much thought into what an embryo was. Until we were faced with infertility. And then suddenly, this issue became much more important to me. And as E and I discussed our treatment options, we had to figure out what exactly an embryo was. And what it meant to create them in petri dishes and store them for long periods of time or turn them into science experiments. Ultimately, we decided that we could not move forward with IVF for a number of reasons, but one of them was because we did think an embryo as a form of human life. These little groups of cells, whether they were transferred into my uterus or left to freeze, could potentially be our children. And it just didn't seem right to mess around with them in a lab.

And so, it made me question my pro-choice bona fides. I mean, if I was to recognize that these embryos as our potential children, shouldn't I change my mind on a host of other issues having to do with embryos? I entered a period of self-doubt. Was I really pro-life? Or at least less pro-choice than I thought I was?

Now that we are in the adoption journey, I get comments about how wonderful adoption is. I hear people praise adoption as the common ground that pro-choice and pro-life people can find. Isn't it great, they say, that women can choose adoption instead of abortion? I get comments that assume I am pro-life because we are adopting. Shouldn't I want more people to choose adoption over abortion? Yes, of course I do.

But ironically, it has been the process of getting deeper into the adoption community that has reinforced my pro-choice beliefs that flew into doubt with our IF journey. Let me be clear. I don't want abortion to happen. But adoption is not all sunshine and roses, either. The first thing social workers will tell you as you explore adoption is that all adoptions begin with a loss.

And here we get back to the issue of Catholic and politics and trying to weigh various moral issues as a group. There has been an increasing connection between the anti-abortion, anti-contraception, and anti-same sex adoption/marriage crowd. In all the criticism about Komen's decision about Planned Parenthood (and it should be noted that their apology was not really a reversal of their decision), people have highlighted that only 3% of PP services are abortions. While that is true, playing it up overlooks the fact that the pro-life community doesn't like their contraception/STD testing services either. And the same groups that oppose abortion and contraception are also fighting against policies like those in Illinois that require adoption agencies to work with same sex couples. And while probably less so, many are also fighting safety net programs like food stamps, welfare, worker's rights, and health care.

And this is where I've been pushed back into the pro-choice camp as I learn more about what is actually involved in adoption. As I heard about potential situations, I couldn't help but think to myself, somebody get these women on some birth control. There are women who are in no place to raise a child, but yet are having sex and getting pregnant. And we want to tell them that their choices are to parent the child and spend their lives struggling or make an adoption plan and walk around with a piece of their heart missing. And the implications of that choice for the child is to grow up in an environment where the cards are stacked against them from the beginning, or experience the loss that comes with adoption. So, I am very much in favor of expanding access to contraception so that this type of choice doesn't have to be made.

I am at a place now where in a month I will likely say that adoption is the best thing that ever happened to me because it will bring me my son. But it also breaks my heart to know that there are women, such as our birthmother, who see so little hope in their future that the only way for their son to have a shot at a good life is to have someone else raise him. So, I actually want to see fewer adoptions happen if that means that as a society we actually decide to honor life once it is born and give people access to services they desperately need to be able to raise children.

Another way that going through adoption has made me disagree with the Catholic church is about adoption by same sex couples. I've interacted with different types of agencies and think the approach of places like Catholic Charities (at least the one near me) that believe they serve the pregnant woman facing a crisis is better than crisis pregnancy centers that tend to look down on women more for finding themselves in that situation and think of the adoptive parents as the people they serve. Part of it has to do with knowing that adoption is not all sunshine and roses and so I don't necessarily think there should be MORE adoptions. I think they should be done differently. And part of it is that I think pregnant in a tough situation are ill-served by organizations that won't offer you any help once you indicate you don't want to make an adoption plan and are past the point of abortion. So if the Catholic church gets out of the adoption game as they are threatening to do in places like Illinois over adoption by same sex couples, then women in crisis will be be the ones to suffer (not to mention the children they are carrying).

And thinking of those children, I just can't see why we would deny children a loving and stable home if someone is willing to provide it. I mean, there is certainly more than enough heterosexual couples wanting to adopt a healthy White infant. But for other types of children? I am not judging people who had to make certain decisions about the types of situations they will be open to; we've turned down some ourselves. But it's hard for me to see how it is preferable to let older kids or kids with severe health, behavioral, or developmental problems to take their chances in foster care than let them find a forever family just because the parents are of the same gender. There are some wonderful foster families out there, but the system also lets many fall through the cracks and our goal should be to find forever families for these children.

Anyway, I hope I haven't totally offended anyone. These are just some of the thoughts I have swirling around in my head now.


  1. This is a very well-articulated post. Thanks for writing it.

  2. I am a mom only because of adoption. That being said, the whole process was anything but easy. Our circumstances are a little different (a family member offered to get pregnant with the sole purpose of giving us the baby-after finding out that biological children were impossible for us). I've never felt more violated in my life-all the forms, fingerprints, homestudies, etc. It left me feeling like if EVERYONE regardless of race, religion, social standing or age had to go through what we did in order to bring their babies home from the hospital, child abuse could just about be abolished. It just irritates me that this whole process is so unequal.

  3. This is something that I have struggled with over the last few years as well. I was raised to be pro-life, but when we were faced with the possibility of having to use ART to build our family, I had to take a hard look at what I truly believed, and what I was was merely repeating by rote from my church and family upbringing.

    I am not a supporter of abortion, but neither do I want to have the government dictate what I can and cannot do with my body. I support adoption by anyone who can provide a loving stable home, be they heterosexual, homosexual, or single.

    One thing I still go back and forth on is what to do with 'extra' embryos created in the IVF process. Ideally, I would like to see them adopted by others who are struggling to build their family. I don't like the idea of just letting them sit in a freezer forever, but nor do I like the waste of seeing them destroyed when they are no longer considered needed. In that situation, I would rather see them used in research that may provide some hope for others.

    (sorry for the ramble...)


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