I have tokophobia and two kids. My mother and both grandmothers were ripped apart during childbirth. They all had lifelong incontinence and sexual dysfunction after countless surgeries. It destroyed one of my grandmother’s marriages. My father just resorted to affairs but stayed with my mother despite her complete inability to orgasm and having to wear basically adult diapers most of her life. (She still does.)
When I became pregnant, I thought I could rationalize through my fears of ending up the same way, but I was terrified. My OB ended up performing an elective cesarean at 40 weeks. I had a healthy baby and excellent recovery. I did it again two years later with the birth of my second daughter. Both times I was walking around the halls with my new baby within 12 hours.
So far I’m the ONLY woman in my family to give birth without incontinence and sexual dysfunction. I’ll advise my daughters to also have surgical births. Sometimes tokophobia is valid.
But this next reader, Diane, thinks that term is being tossed around too loosely:
It’s not a PHOBIA! I’m sure I’m not the first person to point this out. It’s a legitimate and rational fear. Walk through an older cemetery sometime and check out the dates of death for the women vs. the men.
The doctor did not make it on time to ANY of my deliveries. Not one. And the practice at the time was to force me to wait for the doctor to show up, even though the baby’s head was showing. My last baby was delivered by the nurse because the baby wasn’t waiting any longer, and it was the best delivery I had.
Here’s the book I read before my second childbirth: Immaculate Deception by Suzanne Arms. [The New York Times in 1975 named it Book of the Year.] It helped me be able to argue with the medical professionals that I did NOT need pain medication. (And it helped me prepare my husband to back me up and not side with them, because they tended at the time to use a tactic of turning to the husband, while you were in labor, and saying something like, “You don’t want your wife to suffer, do you?”)
But I still wound up having an IV inserted that I did not need, “just in case,” and after the birth I still wound up getting pitocin [a synthetic hormone used to induce labor] to “shrink my uterus,” which caused worse contractions than childbirth.
[Suzanne Arms’s] groundbreaking exposé reported how women in childbirth were routinely separated from their partners, physically restrained at the wrists and ankles, lowered into the stirruped lithotomy position, administered drugs without their consent, given episiotomies without their consent, discouraged from breastfeeding, and denied their babies following delivery. At the time of that publication, most obstetric practices hadn’t been studied rigorously, if at all.
The most shocking part of Block’s description of that era: “60% to 90% of women giving birth got episiotomies”—an episiotomy being an incision down the perineum, or the area between the vagina and the anus, to allow for quicker and ostensibly safer delivery and the prevention of tearing. At least 60 percent. Nowadays that figure is much, much lower, thank god:
Since then, the use of this surgical incision has dropped significantly — from 21 percent of all vaginal births in California in 2005, for example, to fewer than 12 percent in 2014. National trends have been similar.
This last reader, Marina, says she isn’t sure if her aversion to getting pregnant qualifies as tokophobia:
I’m a 31 and have been with my spouse for seven years (and married for three). I can remember in first grade knowing I never wanted to be pregnant or give birth. I figured there are enough kids who need parents that I didn’t need to create my own. (I probably had a vague idea of pregnancy and birth from National Geographic animal documentaries at the time.) When I would tell adults that I wanted to adopt, I was always told that I would change my mind when I got older.
A few years down the road, the addition of learning the biological process (and viewing the infamous video) and my feelings towards childbirth were only strengthened. I also started to strongly dislike the thought of the pregnancy and dealing with a newborn. When puberty hit, my feelings didn’t waver. In fact, the drive to never get pregnant caused me to delay having sex until quite a few years into my twenties. But I also started taking birth control in my teens just in case. (I grew up in a pro-choice family, so this was driven by going overkill on pregnancy prevention.)
Even in my mid twenties, as all my friends became baby crazy, I still wanted nothing to do with having a baby. When I reached my late twenties, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome [a connective tissue disorder]. If I were to get pregnant, I would likely have a difficult pregnancy, the pregnancy would cause a permanent decline in my health (the opposite of what pregnancy often does to those with autoimmune disorders), and there would be a 50 percent chance that the baby would also have Ehlers-Danlos.
In the past year or so, I have been feeling a stronger desire to be a parent. However, I would still avoid pregnancy and childbirth at all costs. My spouse and I recently got a puppy and it is has reminded me that I would be happy to be a parent if my body is able to handle it … but my ideal scenario is probably adopting a potty-trained toddler.
I am not sure if my situation is tokophobia (I normally lack phobia and anxiety; I am way too comfortable with heights, snakes, taking tests, etc.). Or maybe I was innately aware of how faulty my genes are. Regardless of why, I have always, and assume will always be, opposed to personally being pregnant or giving birth.
I am a childfree woman in her late 20s. I find the idea of pregnancy abhorrent and frightening in almost every way. Everything about it makes me cringe, most intensely if I imagine myself giving birth. I occasionally have nightmares about being pregnant and giving birth.
Ten years ago I used hormonal birth control for a short time and had several unpleasant side effects, including morning sickness, weight gain, and mood swings. Since pregnancy hormones are orders of magnitude stronger than birth control hormones, I am terrified of the changes my body would experience if I were pregnant. I’m afraid I would have hyperemesis gravidarum [severe nausea and vomiting] or some other horrible complication.
Going off the hormonal birth control was ten times worse.
I had depression, insomnia, amenorrhea [no menstruation], gained more weight, and I developed an eating disorder in effort to lose the weight. I believe these issues would repeat themselves—probably in fuller force—after a pregnancy, and that scares me more than anything.
It took a lot of time for me to regain my health, and I wouldn’t like to have to go through that process again. I always feel that my hormones are in a perpetual state of delicate balance. If anything, such as pregnancy, disrupts that balance, I will never regain it. I know it’s irrational.
I have always had extremely painful periods, and without strong painkillers I am unable even to get out of bed. I know that the pain of childbirth would be much worse, and that is not something I ever want to experience.
Several years ago I had exploratory surgery to see if endometriosis was causing my painful periods. It wasn’t the cause, but at that time, something deep inside me had been hoping that it was and that it would render me infertile, just so that I would have no risk of ever becoming pregnant. I still hope I’m infertile and have thought about getting tested, just so I can know for sure.
I’m glad that neither I nor my husband want children. I track my monthly cycle religiously so that I can make sure we have sex at the times that I am least likely to be fertile. I also record and pay close attention to the small changes my body undergoes throughout my cycle, such as PMS symptoms, mood changes, etc. This way, I’ll notice new or intensified symptoms that may indicate pregnancy, if it ever occurs.
I, like Ashley Lauretta, struggle with generalized anxiety, which probably has affected my experiences and predisposes me to tokophobia. Tracking my cycle helps me deal with it by giving me a sense of control and comfort.
From the article that started this whole discussion:
There are not many women who openly discuss having tokophobia, though some have spoken out in media or online in recent years to share their stories or seek help. One woman on Reddit, in a channel devoted to people who don’t want children, notes that her tokophobia was so severe she was afraid of having sex with her significant other for fear of becoming pregnant, even when protection was used. “I know it’s silly that I’m this afraid,” she writes, “but I can’t help it.”
That recent college grad, Eileen Jones, emailed hello@ to elaborate on her experience. In her long and compelling note below, she recalls several events in her life that triggered her tokophobia and how those deep-seated fears derailed her first career goal. Her phobia is so overwhelming that she’s “only had vaginal sex two times.” And her thoughts on self-sterilization raises some interesting questions. Here’s Eileen:
I turned to reddit for advice because for years I had felt like such a freak of nature because not only do I not want children, but I am also terrified of pregnancy. It was such a relief to find an online community that understood how I felt.
I can’t exactly pinpoint what caused my tokophobia. I have always thought that tokophobia/not wanting children might be some sort of evolutionary response to overpopulation. I knew when I was about 4 years old that I did not want children. I think I was maybe around 13 when I realized that I actually had a fear of pregnancy. I remember doing sex education stuff around that age and abstinence was really pushed at my school. I can remember the nurse explaining some of the symptoms of pregnancy and being pretty repulsed.
When I was in high school, I had my heart set on being a doctor.
I attended a National Youth Leadership forum on medicine. During this program, I shadowed a radiologist. She showed me an x-ray of a pregnant woman and you could see the fetus inside of her. Although I did not mean to show any sort of negative reaction, the doctor could tell that I was physically repulsed. She asked if something was wrong, and admitting to her that I didn’t really like “pregnancy stuff” was kind of embarrassing for me. I felt like I was being really rude.
Also, during this medicine program, I remember medical students talking to us about rotational programs where you would intern for a set amount of weeks as an ER doctor, then you would switch for a certain amount of weeks and intern as a pediatrician, etc. I remember thinking that there was no way I would ever become a doctor just because I knew I wouldn’t make it through interning as an OB/GYN. Gastroenterology? Fine. Proctology? Great! But something about working in the OB/GYN field was gross to me. Honestly, gynecology doesn’t bother me one bit, but there is no way I could handle obstetrics.
I really related to the part in Ms. Lauretta’s article when she describes how Helen Mirren felt when she watched a film about childbirth. When I was a senior in high school, my anatomy teacher showed us a film on childbirth. I remember staring down at my desk the entire time. My best friend, who sat in front of me, was turning around periodically to check on me. I remember her asking, “Are you okay? No, really … are you okay… ? Are you sure?”
I’ve recently stumbled upon the MTV series 16 and Pregnant. Although I do think it’s a great series, when they show the girls in labor, I can’t watch. I’m seriously like your average person watching a horror movie and shielding their eyes from the screen. I’ve even had to mute it.
Another thing I’ve had to deal with is the repulsion of seeing pregnant stomachs. A friend of mine who is currently pregnant recently posted a video of her stomach on Snapchat. In the video, you can see her baby moving around inside of her. I was so freaked out that I had to exit the video; I couldn’t even watch it.
As far as my sex life goes, I don’t really have much of one. I’ve only had vaginal sex two times. Both times, the guy used a condom, but I still panicked. The last time I engaged in vaginal sex, I sat in my car and cried for a few minutes after. I drove myself to the nearest Walmart and bought some Plan B. I was basically an anxious mess until I had my period. I even took a pregnancy test AFTER I got my period just to make sure I wasn’t pregnant.
I feel that the only way I will ever have a normal sex life is if I get sterilized. Unfortunately, most doctors are not keen on this because they are concerned you will change your mind. However, as I stated earlier, I’ve known since I was about 4 years old that I didn’t want kids and I have only become more sure with age.
I really wish there wasn’t such a negative stigma around women who do not want children. [CB: Readers discussed the contentious subject last year.] I don’t consider myself to be generally selfish. I’m not a child-hating monster. In fact, although I’m not too keen on babies and toddlers, I do enjoy interacting and working with older children, especially teenagers. In college, I volunteered with at the Science Olympiad where I worked with middle and high school kids and really enjoyed it!
One thing I wish people knew about tokophobia, or at least in my case, is that I don’t think less of someone for being pregnant. I don’t hate pregnant people. In fact, I am excited for my friends and family members who are pregnant because I know they’re happy and excited. I will definitely attend their baby showers and get them gifts.
I really wish that I wasn’t mortified by things related to pregnancy, but it’s something that has definitely improved a little in recent years. I can actually look at sonogram images now without being disturbed!
I was so happy when someone told me about Ms. Lauretta’s article. It’s always comforting to me to read about people who feel the same way I do. Thank you so much for taking time to read this. If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.
Incredible and timely piece, thank you so much. I actually am writing to ask a question. The article says over and over to get some help if you believe you have this phobia and want to have a baby. That's me, and I want to know how to get help. What are the concrete suggestions from Brian Salmon [a doula and lactation consultant] and his colleagues with regards to getting over this?
My story: I’m a 40-year-old woman, and I’ve only just come to decide that it’s time to be a mom. I don’t have the money to adopt, but I absolutely would if I could. I’m disgusted by being pregnant and terrified of giving birth. I’ve been pregnant before, more than once, and it felt like being invaded by a destructive alien force.
I would say that my phobia comes from the following experiences:
1. I’m a control freak. I’m a lawyer, alpha, eldest child, feminist, political activist, and conservator over my only sibling, who has DD. I fill with anxiety over mere annuals because I cannot STAND the idea of a stranger in my vagina unwantingly, without my guidance and oversight. I avoid them like the plague.
2. Those pregnancies and the subsequent abortions, ONLY with regards to the physical pain, and again, having all these people prod my privates.
3. My parents were open lefties who perhaps shared too much, including horrifying birthing stories that my mother identified (my birth especially) as “the most traumatic experience of her life.” She also showed me videos and books too early, like Our Bodies Ourselves, which depict women screaming in agony with their vaginas gaping in a room full of old white men.
To be fair, my mother’s OB/GYN was an Indian woman, and I have a dear friend who grew up on The Farm with the doulas and midwives who wrote the manuals. And I saw The Business of Being Born, so I know that, rationally, I have options outside the nasty hospitals and their profit-driven approach. And I know that there are oils and exercises to avoid tearing. But this fear isn’t rational, right?
So here I am, ready to do this, and paralyzed with fear. And your article just gave it a name, and the hope of fixing it. Please point me in some direction for fixing it.
When speaking with sources for my piece, I learned a lot about the options available to women who have tokophobia yet wish to have children someday (me being one of them). They recommend finding both a therapist and a midwife, both of whom specialize in tokophobia or have at least worked with it previously. They can not only help you discover the root cause of your phobia but also break it down into smaller related fears and work through each one specifically. They can educate you on the birthing process and your options for it—hospital vs. home, for example, or Cesarean vs. natural—and then advocate for you.
I followed up with Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC to find out if there are any specific questions or concerns you should broach in therapy.
“Voicing your fears and reaching out for help is half the battle in overcoming tokophobia,” notes Brunner. “So many women sit in silence and shame with their fears, and that only causes the anxiety to grow.”
“Finding a professional who is familiar with tokophobia and/or reproductive mental health issues is essential.” Brunner suggests that you find a therapist comfortable working with couples, as it may be helpful for your partner to be in the sessions from time to time to better understand your tokophobia and help work through it with you.
When you start looking for a therapist, don’t feel like you need to choose the first one you visit. Brunner notes that having a connection with your therapist is shown by research to be the strongest predictor of a positive outcome. Should you encounter anyone in your search who responds to your fears with judgement or with shaming, they are not the therapist for you.
If you don’t know where to start in your search, Brunner suggests asking your ObGyn for referrals. “Make sure that your therapist, doula, or midwife feels confident that they can help you get to the root of your fears and overcome your phobia,” stresses Brunner. “You want to surround yourself with positive, optimistic energy, as Brian Salmon correctly stated in the original article. Pregnancy and childbirth can be a beautiful and relatively comfortable experience, and aligning yourself with professionals and friends who ascribe to these empowering beliefs is essential.”
Should you not be ready to reach out to a therapist, Herrera recommends having a lifeguard in place. “Have somebody who loves you pay attention to what is happening; if they see that you are having increased tokophobia or symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, then they get help,” stresses Herrera. “Have everything lined up, have a therapist lined up with your insurance whom your lifeguard can call.”
I hope this gives Kelly and other readers struggling with tokophobia a sense of where to start as you begin your journey to parenthood. Many of you, like Sacha Zimmerman, had the fear but didn’t know there was a name for it, and I want to remind you that you aren’t alone. You aren’t irrational or broken—you have a legitimate phobia—and asking for help is the best thing you can do to work through your fears.
I always thought I was missing some important maternal chip in my system, some crucial feminine widget in my consciousness that was supposed to look at childbirth as simply beautiful—as the most natural thing in the world. Instead, long into adulthood, my overwhelming feeling toward the act of giving birth was something along the lines of: You want me to push what out of where?!
Ashley Lauretta’s wonderful piece for us this week, “Too Afraid to Have a Baby,” mentions that Helen Mirren was scarred by a childhood viewing of an educational film on the topic. I feared childbirth from the moment I heard how it was done; I don’t remember ever not thinking it sounded ghastly. But I too had my own filmstrip moment that pushed me further over the edge.
In my mid-20s, I saw an episode of Susan “Stop the Insanity” Powter’s short-lived talk show (please do not feel obliged to remember Susan Powter) about nightmare-childbirth scenarios. One guest on the show suffered something so completely horrific, I dare not write it. Suffice it to say, she had to go through several corrective surgeries and receive hundreds of stitches—down there.
Do I sound immature? I felt immature. I also felt rational. That maternal chip I was missing was really a blind spot. Other women could not see the obvious flaws of natural childbirth, but I was cursed with perfect vision.
When I became pregnant at 37, I could feel my due date hurtling toward me like a runaway train. Maybe I could have an elective C-section. I read up on the procedure—too many people have it, hospitals and doctors are too quick to turn to it, it’s driving up health-care costs, it’s selfish, the baby will be bathed in drugs …
As I read, I was not chastened. Instead, I thought, So it’s do-able.
The other women in my mommy pace group would smile at me serenely, beatified by their holy cargo. I’d be fine, they’d assure me. It wouldn’t be bad at all, they promised. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about their childbearing blind spots.
I screwed up my courage and confessed my fears to my doctor. “I’m not sure I can do it,” I cried. “OK, let’s schedule a C-section,” she replied without missing a beat. Yes! She was one of those doctors I’d read about who handed out surgery like candy. She told me that at my age, the chance of ending up with a C-section was already increased because more things go wrong the older the mother is. Given that, she said, she always prefers to schedule procedures than to end up with emergency C-sections—which, obviously, no one plans for. She also said that being in a fevered panic about childbirth was no way to, well, experience childbirth—not to mention it was a pretty poor way to be pregnant; after all, my stress was probably being transmitted to the child inside me.
So as far as my doctor was concerned, it was a no-brainer. Science!
But I still dared not tell a soul. I knew what the world saw: I wasn’t doing it the right way, the best way. I was a selfish, scared, immature crazy person.
Then, as I neared the end of my pregnancy, my baby didn’t turn around; he was breech—a common reason to need a C-section. My doctor and I laughed. “So I’m legit?” I said. Since then, if my C-section ever comes up in conversation (which is far less often the more distance from the event I get), I say, “He was breech”—as though I had no choice in the matter. But I did have a choice. And I actively chose.
Now I don’t look back on the day I gave birth as one in which I was tearful and totally terrified, thinking only of the cruel physics of what was about to happen. Now I remember every detail of that happy spectacular day with joy. Because it was all about my son.
A lasting effect of this pandemic will be a revolution in worker expectations.
I first noticed that something weird was happening this past spring.
In April, the number of workers who quit their job in a single month broke an all-time U.S. record. Economists called it the “Great Resignation.” But America’s quittin’ spirit was just getting started. In July, even more people left their job. In August, quitters set yet another record. That Great Resignation? It just keeps getting greater.
“Quits,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, are rising in almost every industry. For those in leisure and hospitality, especially, the workplace must feel like one giant revolving door. Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August. That means one in 14 hotel clerks, restaurant servers, and barbacks said sayonara in a single month. Thanks to several pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, everybody, particularly if they are young and have a low income, has more freedom to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else.
Female doctors have always dealt with appearance-related confusion and disrespect. That only got worse during the pandemic.
In the spring of 2020, as Boston’s first COVID-19 wave raged, I was the gastroenterologist on call responding to a patient hospitalized with a stomach ulcer. Wearing a layer of yellow personal protective equipment over a pair of baggy scrubs, I spent 30 minutes explaining to him that he needed an endoscopic procedure. We built a rapport, and by the end of our conversation about the pros and cons, he seemed to agree with my recommendation. I told him we would be ready to perform his endoscopy within half an hour.
“Well, before we do anything, I’m going to need to discuss it with the doctor.”
When I entered the room, I had introduced myself as the doctor. I had also just explained, in great detail, a highly specialized procedure.
The Tribune Tower rises above the streets of downtown Chicago in a majestic snarl of Gothic spires and flying buttresses that were designed to exude power and prestige. When plans for the building were announced in 1922, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime owner of the Chicago Tribune, said he wanted to erect “the world’s most beautiful office building” for his beloved newspaper. The best architects of the era were invited to submit designs; lofty quotes about the Fourth Estate were selected to adorn the lobby. Prior to the building’s completion, McCormick directed his foreign correspondents to collect “fragments” of various historical sites—a brick from the Great Wall of China, an emblem from St. Peter’s Basilica—and send them back to be embedded in the tower’s facade. The final product, completed in 1925, was an architectural spectacle unlike anything the city had seen before—“romance in stone and steel,” as one writer described it. A century later, the Tribune Tower has retained its grandeur. It has not, however, retained the Chicago Tribune.
Even when the president’s party passes historic legislation, voters don’t seem to care.
It’s common now for Democrats to argue that the agenda they are struggling to implement on Capitol Hill represents the party’s most ambitious since the “Great Society” Congress convened in 1965. That’s a reasonable assessment—but one that the party today should consider as much a warning as an inspiration. Under the relentless prodding of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate passed landmark legislation at a dizzying pace during that legendary 1965–66 legislative session.
Over those two years, the 89th Congress, finally completing a crusade started by Harry Truman almost two decades earlier, created the massive federal health-care programs of Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor. It put a capstone on the civil-rights revolution by approving the Voting Rights Act. It created the first large-scale system of federal aid to elementary and secondary schools and launched the Head Start program. It approved breakthrough legislation to combat pollution in the air and water. It created new Cabinet departments, a new agency to regulate automobile safety, and national endowments to fund the arts and humanities. It transformed the face of America with sweeping immigration legislation that finally undid the restrictive quotas that had virtually eliminated new arrivals since the early 1920s.
The comedian’s latest special blurs the line between victim and bully.
At the end of Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix stand-up special—after 72 brutal, bruised, combative minutes that conclude with the story of a suicide—my other half turned to me and said: “That wasn’t very funny, was it?”
Was it even meant to be? The emotion that defines The Closer is not laughter, but anger. Chappelle once delivered his most offensive jokes with a goofy, quizzical, little-lost-boy smile, removing some of their sting, but here the humor feels sour and curdled. The stoner who never gave a shit seems genuinely frustrated and goaded on by social-media pile-ons. An alternative title for the special might be A Response to My Critics.
Artists tend to be annoyed when critics grade their work on its political content rather than its technical and creative choices, and yet responding to The Closer any other way is hard. The special draws its energy from one of the hottest debates in popular culture, about competing claims to victimhood. Its jokes about LGBTQ people have led to boycott threats, calls to remove the special from Netflix, and even the brief suspension of a transgender Netflix employee who protested the special. In GQ, the writer Saeed Jones declared, “I feel like a fool to have rooted for Dave Chappelle for so long.”
The irony in loneliness is that we all share in the experience of it. In this episode of How to Build a Happy Life, we sit down to discuss isolated living and Americans’ collective struggle to create a relationship-centric life. As we continue along our journey to happiness, we ask: How can I build my life around people?
This episode features Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general.
This episode was produced by Rebecca Rashid and hosted by Arthur Brooks. Editing by A. C. Valdez. Fact-check by Ena Alvarado. Sound design by Michael Raphael.
Be part of How to Build a Happy Life. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a voicemail at 925.967.2091.
She thought that her daughter would want to meet her one day. Twenty-five years later, that’s not true.
My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.
My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn't want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.
Winning images from the annual photo competition produced by the Natural History Museum, London
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, founded in 1965, is an annual international showcase of the best nature photography. This year, the contest attracted more than 50,000 entries from 95 countries. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. The owners and sponsors have once more been kind enough to share the following winning images from this year’s competition. The museum’s website has images from previous years and more information about the current contest and exhibition. Captions are provided by the photographers and WPY organizers, and are lightly edited for style.
Does everyone have a right to know their biological parents?
Damian Adams grew up knowing that his parents had used an anonymous sperm donor to conceive him, and as a teen, he was even proud of this identity. He considered donating to help other families have children. Becoming a father himself, however, changed everything. When his daughter was born 18 years ago, he cradled her in his arms, and he instantly saw himself in her and her in himself. He felt a biological connection so powerful that it made him reconsider his entire life up until then. “What I’d had there with my daughter,” he says, “was one thing I had been missing in my life.” He felt the need to know where he came from.
Adams, a biologist in Australia, would spend years searching for his biological father, running into one dead end after another. Meanwhile, he also began campaigning to end donor anonymity for others like him. In 2016, he and fellow activists pushed the state of Victoria to retroactively abolish anonymity for all sperm donors. (A previous law had already banned it from 1998 onward.) Donor-conceived people in the United Kingdom have also successfully campaigned to ban anonymous sperm donation. In the United States, where anonymous donation is still technically offered, some donor-conceived people are asserting a right to know their genetic origins and even to contact their biological parents, who may or may not welcome the surprise.
In 2014, the executives at a brand-new start-up called Andela made a decision whose consequences they would only understand much later. Andela’s model was to recruit and train promising African engineers, then place them at Western tech firms, which meant its employees and clients were scattered across time zones; it desperately needed a way for its distributed workforce to share information and make decisions easily and asynchronously, ideally without subjecting anyone to a deluge of emails. So the company started using Slack.
The maker of the chat software had recently become one of San Francisco’s trendiest new companies, based on a promise to make work communication more transparent and fluid. And at Andela, it did. As the company grew, Slack became its central nervous system, the place where business was conducted and where the company’s culture was formed.