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Family Planning: When is a legal right morally wrong?


After I posted my Adoption Myths, and Realities piece, I had contact with an adoptee working on her own film-project, 'Imaginary Mothers', (a project that is not yet completed), and I was pleased to see more and more adoptees born in other countries are doing what they can for the mothers left-behind in a foreign land.  [One does not have to belong to a larger formal organization like United Adoptees International, to make a positive contribution and difference, but we all know, being part of a larger group sure as hell helps.]

One day after that email exchange with a Costa Rican adoptee, I posted a news article promoting the benefits of surrogacy, as it is now being done in, of all places, India. [Gee... outsource, much?]

While few may see the relationship between hard-core adoption issues and slowly developing surrogacy issues, I'm hoping my following observations and recollections will help bring the ways of the family-planning industry into better focus.

In the beginning

Back in the days when I used to attend church, I would try to show how good and patient I could be, as I was forced to listen to the priest's speech (the never-ending homily) about the ways and rules to good moral contact.  Unfortunately, more often than not, the moral-lesson for the day got lost once I realized the old-world man-with-a-white-collar was going to give a simple every day challenge, and turn it into a long complex biblical reference, complete with characters and a time-line I could not relate to or understand.  God knows I tried to listen... I tried to hear, I tried to absorb, but once I heard the priest call-out chapters and verse numbers, to text that made no sense (thy, thee, shall not no more....), my mind and eyes would wander, and instead of receiving the blessing of a high moral order, I would quietly look around and try to imagine what the people around me were doing... what were they thinking?  (What were they going home to, after all the church-stuff was over?)

It took YEARS for a cool hip priest to come to our parish.  Cool and hip at my family's church meant the new-guy was under the age of 70, and when it was time for his fatherly talk, he would step-off the alter, 'join the crowd' as it were, and not perch himself at the podium like his more formal gold-cloaked  coworkers would.  He would use an everyday ordinary example, and turn it into a fantastic lesson.   I liked this priest... he seemed real, and earthly, and I respected him more than the others because he smoked and joked.  I learned a lot from him.  Unfortunately, he didn't run the church, and as the newbie, he didn't get the same altar-time his two superiors did.

I dreaded those sermons given by holier-than-thou preachers. As one of the only adoptees in the congregation, I needed more.  I needed instruction.  I needed answers to questions like, what does the adopted child say... how does the good child respond... when a hard-core fundamental religious person tells me I must  'honor thy mother and father'?  (Which mother... which father?...  Can someone out-there help me with my problem?)  Even as a seemingly very lucky little girl, I really had my struggles, and I really wanted outside help.  I wanted answers or suggestions so I could do better in difficult challenging situations... the very real-life situations I myself was actually facing, and hating.

I got nothing.

And so each week would go... too many a Saturday night or Sunday morning would be spent at church (as my Aparents stayed home), and there I would have to sit, stay and listen to a service featuring one of the old-school papal preachers.  I would roll my eyes and try my best to get through the long service.  At father-speech time, I would sit and gaze, with that good pensive look on my face, think to myself, "Forget the lesson that abortion is nothing less than murder....I want to know what sort of priest says sex outside of marriage is bad (but sex with a child,behind locked doors is OK.)  I want to know what sort of priect uses infertility as a topic so he can introduce the orphan to the congregation as the next-best thing  to future family planning?"  As I got older, I wanted to know what priest -- what church -- what diocese got the whole maternity-house deal going-on, and how did he sell that path, that route, that plan to parents of the wicked and to the couples inflicted with the misery of infertility?  How does the spin-doctor create a story that does bad, but gets interpreted as good?  I wanted to know, because as I got older and lost faith in my A parents, my teachers and my church, I wanted to know more about the ways of the church, because hot diggity damn, I saw first-hand how the Catholic Church was making a serious killing (boosting annual revenue) simply by convincing the married and infertile, they should follow priest-friendly advice, and call their local family services, so they too can discover the real joys and blessings only a private Catholic adoption agency can bring the faithful.   

<ignoring the expected collective 'Amen', and refusing to do the dutiful nod coupled with the hand gesturing sign of the cross, wishing instead an honest member of the clergy would step forward and offer an informal apology to the people screwed and hurt by the church>

At this point, I'd like readers to refer to the part of family-planning history where man or woman would take unwed mother with child, and separate the two, so a married couple in holy communion can continue with their family-plan, leaving mother to suffer for her sins.  [See:  Maternity Homes, and their special services ]  Please, take your time and peruse the pages of history; it's really fascinating stuff, because without Maternity Homes doing their part to preserve an infant's life, many a private, not-for-profit adoption agency would suffer an unwanted fate and face a less than happy end.

<deep breath>

Let us resume....

The other day, I caught an interesting honest confession made by a blogger who is described as, "married for 11 years and ttc [trying to conceive] the entire time."   According to her side-line profile, infertility was an ongoing issue.  In addition, they had "2 failed adoptions, 4 unsuccessful IUIs and one FET with donated embryos which worked!"  The challenged couple is expecting their first child.  (mazel tov!)  The 'finally!' mom-to-be  wrote a blog piece titled, "Should fertiles adopt?", and within her post, she made two comments about supply and demand that really amused me.  First she wrote: 

 And let's be honest, adopting a newborn is not exactly altruistic. There is a bit of selfishness involved in wanting a newborn. Now don't misunderstand, I am in no way saying that wanting to adopt an infant is selfish at all!!! But there is a difference in adopting a newborn as opposed to an older child, a special needs child or internationally. Those children are the ones in need and the goal there should be to help them and provide a home for them. And there are many, many waiting children that are not "healthy newborns".

A most poignant observation..."and the goal there should be to help them and provide a home for them".  Hold on to that theme and thought, because I will be coming back to it.  But first, I'd like to continue with the next part of her post, where she states:

As an infertile I want to say that fertile couples should not be allowed to adopt infants domestically. If your reproductive parts work and you have healthy pregnancies and have no known genetic issues, should you not have your own? Why take from those that are unable to have a baby? Or, if you want to help a child in need, should they not adopt internationally? Or a child in the foster care system? But then I wonder if I am just letting the pain of infertility overshadow my thoughts on the subject.

Now, before I continue, I'd like to express my appreciation for such candid honesty, because I so truly believe there are many infertile women who feel robbed and overlooked, and that pain and sense of deprivation creates a distorted view on what's right, what's fair and who should get what, when, and why.  [Yes, the abused adoptee has empathy and can easily relate to the plight of those 'chosen' to go-without.  Doing without can become a real bitch of a cursed burden, can't it?]

Thanks to the marketing of maternity homes, (and their convincing ways), the adoption industry is able to serve the infertile and adopting public by offering fresh healthy newborns ready for final placement.  Best part?  None of the babes were birthed in a bathroom or alley or corn field, and all the mothers received prenatal care.

In some (the best?) cases, these fresh-from-the-womb babes can be brought to the Aparents and sent home right away; while in other cases, (the worst), the anxious to be a parent will have to wait many days, even months for paper-work to clear.  With so many unreliable factors, it's no wonder many hetero and homosexual celebrities with a lot of money will choose surrogacy as their build-a-baby family plan.  And it's no real surprise so many eligible infertile PAP's will find themselves petitioning others to improve adoption laws, increase international adoption, and shorten the timeline of the adoption process so it equals the time of gestation.

Again, I have empathy for those facing refusal.  In the case of the infertile person/couple who has been wanting and planning for a baby for years, I can easily understand the frustration a waiting person feels when he/she is told there is a delay or a need to wait for the promise given/chosen.  In the mind of the frustrated and the infertile, I imagine being told to wait feels like a cruel and unusual punishment.   [I imagine it's like telling a pregnant woman in her 40th week, "Hold on a few more months, do NOT give birth; we think we found a problem with your paper-work, and we'd like to investigate a little more".]

Making and breaking the rules

Since the decision made in Roe v. Wade (1973) reproductive rights in America have become a strange and tricky course for those not terribly familiar with adoption laws.

In 1994, as pro-choice Hillary Clinton  pushed her stance on reproductive freedom rightward, another world-famous figure came to a National Prayer Breakfast, imploring others not to kill the unborn, but to save the child because the child is wanted.  Had I been personal-pals with HRC, I would have whispered, "Hey, go ask Mother Teresa if there's any truth to the rumor about her hiding millions from her orphans..."  Those unaborted are wanted -- wanted by whom, exactly? [Oh, I would have loved to have been a fly on that banquet wall.] 

Breakfast ended, and what was the final compromise decided for the American people? Adoption shall be promoted as an alternative to abortion, and adoption will be the ideal(?) family-found solution to orphanage over-crowding.  [See: Letter to Hillary:  a special request made on behalf of parents wanting bans to be lifted in Guatemala.  Quite the political move and risk! ]

See, as great as it is to encourage women NOT to abort and help starving orphans, there's a problem.  The demand for more infants and small children (from Americans who want to adopt) has made child trafficking a more serious issue in countries that supply a list of 'available orphans' to a wide variety of lawyers and affiliates working with international adoption agencies.

Well, what a fine mess we have, all over the bloody globe, thanks to poverty, and political interest mixed with limited government oversight and assistance.  That toxic mix means parents need help caring for their children, but they wil far-too-often find themselves asking, "Who in the world is going to care or help?" ["WTF does a person have to do to get the help and support they need?"]

This brings me back to the infertile woman's claim, "...and the goal there should be to help them and provide a home for them". Indeed, in an ethical morally sound world, many more would come forward and work like Haing Ngor, M.D. did for his own people in Cambodia.   This wonderful example of a man went into a community, and there he helped feed the hungry and assist the needy, and he tried to find ways to help elevate the standard of living, so children born in that region could have better, (and with God and man's help, not grow and be forced to suffer like their parents had to.)  Why heroes like him meet a cruel fate, I'll never understand... humanitarians like him deserve a much better ending.

In contrast, there are those who will draw all sorts of attention to new developments made in technology and family services, suggesting such efforts are destined to grow and flourish, improving the lives of many.  For instance, huge advancements have been made in regions of orphan-capital of the world, India.  Why, it would almost seem as if Mother Teresa could be seen as an image in the clouds, performing a bloat-load of miracles from way up above. 

<bursting the bubble>

Not quite.  

Turns out, as more infertile couples and unmarried individuals face difficult challenges during their time of need (that time-frame one tries to secure a good domestic adoption-plan), others are reaping the benefits found in foreign surrogacy programs.  This new-found success rate is the not-so-kept secret ecstatic friends are telling fed-up and frustrated friends looking for the answer to their wish-for-a-baby prayers .

QUICK!  Tell a friend

The benefits to 'great success' are many.  Thanks to advancements made in IVF medical technologies, adoption agencies like Adoptions From the Heart are able to improve family-services, meaning service options can expand.  This is great news for the person who thought the only family-plan to consider was domestic or foreign adoption (because domestic surrogacy is just too damn expensive).

Imagine the joy a poor-chance adoption candidate feels when it's discovered a newborn IS doable, and it can be done at a fraction of the cost  and half the legal child custody hassle of a domestic surrogacy plan. Imagine how good this news is for the agency director wishing business could grow and expand, so one's yearly compensation can increase.

 Increasingly, couples and individuals who cannot afford surrogacy services in the United States are looking to women in other countries to turn their dreams of parenthood into reality.

Advocates say hiring an overseas surrogate to bear a child is a less expensive, safe alternative. Opponents say it's a form of medical tourism that takes advantage of poor women in less developed countries.  [From: Debate swirls around overseas surrogacy ]

I often feel advocates pushing the foreign surrogacy plan secretly pray adoption bans will continue so they can 'rightfully'  say, "screw the poor local, she's getting a good deal, and she knows it."  In an article written in 2008, we learn a little about the women put to labor.

For the Indian surrogates themselves, the process is daunting and fraught with emotional conflict. Fearing social censure, many surrogates hide their pregnancies from relatives and friends by moving away temporarily on the pretext of having secured a job elsewhere. Some doctors separate the surrogate from her family to ensure she gets the proper nourishment, while avoiding risks to the fetus such as sexually transmitted diseases and second-hand cigarette smoke. Surrogates are sometimes put up in dormitories or in a hospital ward for their entire pregnancies.

Still, it's a way to raise money in sometimes desperate circumstances.

Sudha, a 25-year-old mother of two, now works as a maid in Chennai earning $20 a month. She said she owed moneylenders about $2,700, borrowed to pay bribes to secure a government job as a street sweeper that never materialized. A neighbor told her she could earn about $2,000 at a local clinic by bearing a child for an infertile couple. She gave birth in July 2008—and is haunted by the memory. "Whenever I have free time and I lie down, I think about the child," she says.

Sudha, who asked that only her first name be used, has cut the debt to about $600, but the family struggles to eat. One solution, her husband, Umat, says, is for Sudha to act as a surrogate again. But he adds that he "won't force her if she says no."

[From:  Heading to India for a Longed-For Child ]

In today's news, (three years after that 'India-Surrogacy- and-you' news report ), we get a better glimpse of life for the paid surrogate:

Evantash and Rupak said surrogates are required to stay at the infertility clinic until they give birth so that their nutritional and medical needs are met. The women's families can visit throughout the pregnancy.

Although surrogates are paid as much as $8,000 — equivalent to 15 years of salary in India — Caplan said the money often does not lift the surrogates out of poverty.

"The woman gets some money, but she'll use it for debts, and end up back in poverty, only with less debt," Caplan said. "So there is a high degree of exploitation."

Evantash and Rupak indicated that such concerns have been addressed.

Rupak said he has made several visits to the Indian infertility clinic that works with his agency. He said that although the surrounding town "might look sketchy," the clinic itself is clean and modern.

Evantash said the clinic he works with provides surrogate mothers with around-the-clock medical care and counseling during the pregnancy and for at least 30 days afterward.

"Their welfare is not skimped on," he said. 

[From:  Debate swirls around overseas surrogacy ]

The temporary welfare may be good, but the long-term consequences?  I'm sure one day the surrogate children and gestational carriers lifted from poverty will let us know who seemed most concerned about what.

Keeping it in the family

Perhaps the most disturbing development in the baby-making-placement industry is the job opportunity so many see.  Just as many adoptive parents have made the choice to open their own non-profit adoption agency doors to the general public, those who have successfully navigated the the international surrogate process are also seeing the <cha-ching> possibilities that go with private enterprise.

The sales-pitch is simple:  what better adviser is there than the person who battled the red-tape and returned home with the ultimate prize -- a healthy newborn (or two)?!  Ah, yes, but such advice is rarely free.  It will be noted in one of the many (hidden?) adoption/surrogate service fees.

Don't get me wrong... while I believe a person has the right to pursue his/her own vision of success and happiness, must these pursuits exploit women in good reproductive health, who happen to be in less than desirable financial circumstances and poor social positions?

Surrogacy advocates want to assure potential clients their program is a 'safe alternative'.  Safe, compared to what?  Both pregnancy and child birth bring serious health risks to mother and child, especially if the pregnancy is a multiple. Scientific studies also prove the loss of maternal-child skin-to-skin contact ("maternal deprivation") after birth can cause negative effects, affecting both mother and child.

Oh, let's be honest, when has adoption or surrogacy ever been about the infant's best interest?

Perhaps the 'safe alternative' means once the DNA has been secured, it's safe to assume the biologic parent seeking custody will be able to bring his/her foreign newborn child back home to the states, without the trauma of an orphanage experience, long legal proceedings, and the fear that goes with not knowing if the infant in-hand was stolen.  Excellent news for those looking to earn a livable salary (for special legal services), and for those not at all impressed or pleased with adoption laws or the adoption industry.

<shaking head>  It's the marketing of babies and wombs, all over again, only now with a new-age 'legal' twist.

... and I thought the use of modern-day Maternity Homes linked to modern health centers, by big-guns like Bethany and Gladney, was bad.

How happy all the abandoned, unwanted, not-aborted orphans put in-care must be, knowing they will have to move-over and make room for baby born via surrogacy, so all can fit under the family-planning umbrella.

While each adult has the right to make his/her own mind about if, when and how a family will grow, it's difficult to see a strong sense of morality or respectable ethics when a person's overzealous sense of entitlement puts other lives at risk.  

we have not yet had stories about the contract workers for whom pregnancy was a dangerous occupation, but we will. What obligation does a family that simply contracted for a child have to its birth mother? What control do - should - contractors have over their "employee's" lives while incubating "their" children? What will we tell the offspring of this international trade?

It's the commercialism that is troubling. Some things we cannot sell no matter how good "the deal." We cannot, for example, sell ourselves into slavery. We cannot sell our children. But the surrogacy business comes perilously close to both of these. And international surrogacy tips the scales.

So, these borders we are crossing are not just geographic ones. They are ethical ones. Today the global economy sends everyone in search of the cheaper deal as if that were the single common good. But in the biological search, humanity is sacrificed to the economy and the person becomes the product. And, step by step, we come to a stunning place in our ancient creation story. It's called the marketplace.

[From:  The Globalization of Baby-Making ]

Call me unrealistic, but there's no way I will let my daughters or sons believe it's perfectly acceptable for a person to look at a woman's body or her unborn baby like it were a piece of precious meat.... one that can be bartered, bought, or exchanged, even if the price seemed right.

Holy Father or no Holy Father, that is the valuable lesson my life-story (complete with adoption, marriage, and pregnancy) taught me.

by Kerry on Monday, 14 February 2011