Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quick! Have a baby! (Or not.)

So there I was, driving down the road, minding my own business, listening to NPR, and this story came on the radio.  It's stayed with me.  Or rather, the sense of shock I felt as I listed to it stayed with me.  I wasn't surprised to hear that wealthy women in Manhattan are freezing their eggs, or that it's hard to get pregnant at 40.  I was surprised at what I didn't hear: any mention of the ethical, economic, and health issues involved.

Now, I'm not an ethicist, so I'm not going to weigh in here except to say that the ethical issues around freezing eggs, surrogacy, IVF, etc. are real, and deserve to be taken seriously.  I do think that well-meaning, intelligent people can come to different opinions about what is or is not ethical, but for heaven's sake, let's have the discussion, rather than pretend that there's not really a decision to be made here.

While we're discussing things, let's talk about the economic issues as well.  I was absolutely floored to listen to a doctor advocate procedures that could very easily hit $40,000 to be standard for women in their twenties.  Who can afford that?  How can she afford it?  To whom, precisely, is all that money going?  Also, that is a LOT of money; what are the ethics involved with spending it in such a way?  People may certainly decide that this is an appropriate use of their financial resources.  But what was staggering to me was how glib every single person in that story was about the cost.  As far as I could tell, they were not actually talking about Monopoly money.

And now, while we're having meaningful discussions, let's talk about the long-term health effects of undertaking what is, essentially, a very unnatural process.  We do all sorts of unnatural things with our bodies.  I get it.  In the best case, we make informed decisions about what we're going to do to our bodies, even if we periodically and unnaturally have cheeze puffs and skittles for dinner.  But there are, surely, very significant potential health issues for both parents and child in undertaking this sort of procedure.

And all that leads us to Judith Shulevitz's "The Grayest Generation" in the latest New Republic. Shulevitz is concerned with the wider health issues around advanced parental age, particularly the challenges faced by children born to older parents.  It's an interesting piece, and one that raises some fascinating problems... without proposing a single solution.  The implied solution seems to be "just have babies already... or better yet, ten years ago." But Shulevitz makes a few fatal assumptions.  First, she assumes that most people of childbearing age who want to have children are in stable relationships (or, second, if they're not, they're willing to have a child solo) and finally that potential parents are in stable economic circumstances.  

In my world (single! graduate student living very close to the poverty line! 30 years old!), none of those assumptions are accurate.  I am not in a stable relationship;  I have a hard time going on a dinner date.  There's absolutely. no. effing. way. I'd have a child on my own.  Quite apart from the moral and ethical issues involved there, I live alone, hundreds of miles from extended family.  And I, like so many people in my generation since 2008, am not wrapped in a cocoon of financial security.

So what, precisely, am I supposed to be doing? 


  1. I went through a period of anxiety and depression about this topic shortly before I met my husband (only two years ago!). I remember riding the commuter line into NYC and seeing poster upon poster advertizing fertility clinics, and thinking - What is wrong with our society? We work and work, putting off family until we have to pay a fortune to start one. Women pump themselves full of hormones in the meantime, then have to pump fertility hormones when we decide we are ready? It makes no sense. I was single at the time, which I blamed on men. I knew some great guys. But they were only just getting out of the middle school dating phase. They certainly weren't ready to hear that it was time to take it up a notch because women like me were concerned about our fertility. I fretted about their lack of concern about this problem, society's general illogical approach, and my own desire to have a family, eventually. It didn't help that I was also counseling my friend, who, having married the love of her life at age 33, was giving up on her dream of having children because none of the fertility treatments she could ethically consent to worked.
    I'm married now, which helps this anxiety, but doesn't cure it. I just learned of a friend who found out she had breast cancer right after getting engaged, and will be on hormone therapy that won't allow her to bear children. Who knows if my husband and I be able to have them when we are ready. That is never a given. I do know that I'm doing what I'm called to do, married to the man I'm called to love for life. I am reminded of Matthew 10:37-38, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me." If following God's call means not bearing children, that will be my cross. Meanwhile, I will encourage young people to think about the many benefits, as well as the drawbacks, of marrying young.

  2. kks, thank you for this honest and heart-felt response. I have often wondered what the role of adoption might be in this difficult situation, and I'm wondering if readers have comments in this regard. Not being able to have your own children has to be one of the most difficult things a woman must face, but am I too naive thinking that being a mother is still very much an option? I welcome insights here.

    I am reminded also of a striking passage in C.S. Lewis' _The Great Divorce:

    "But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

    “Is it?...is it?” I whispered to my guide.
    “Not at all,” said he. “It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
    “She seems to be...well, a person of particular importance?”
    “Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
    “And who are these gigantic people...look! They're like emeralds...who are dancing and throwing flowers before here?”
    “Haven't ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.”
    “And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
    “They are her sons and daughters.”
    “She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
    “Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
    “Isn't that a bit hard on their own parents?”
    “No. There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”
    “And how...but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs...why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
    “They are her beasts.”
    “Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
    “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
    I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
    “Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough int the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”

  3. yay! another commenter! thanks for chiming in, kks.

    you know, I think one of the things that really bothers me about this whole phenomenon -- and your description of the advertisements in the train reminded me of it -- is the fact that it so easily treats people as commodities. Don't have a husband? Get one! Don't have a baby? Have one! The very language we use to describe this means we talk about people as something we can consume. And surely, that's not how that's supposed to work.

    (Also, I love the observation about the middle school dating phase. Um, YES.)


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