I have uterus didelphys—a.k.a. having two uteri, two cervixes, and two vaginas. (On top of that I have a hormonal imbalance, which one doctor said was PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome]—I had a trans-vaginal ultrasound done and my ovaries are riddled with cysts—but a second doctor said it’s not PCOS.) Each of my uteri is smaller than a normal-sized one. But my menstrual cycle is like clockwork, and there are no other downsides besides high-risk pregnancy.
The doctor told me that the organs of the female reproductive system are duplicated at one point during development, but eventually the organs merge and become one. For mine to have not merged is like a mutation! I’ve thought of it like the X-Men. It’s pretty cool, IMO, because I can break the ice by telling people I have two vaginas.
I’ve read about women with uterus didelphys who have successfully become pregnant and carried almost to term, successfully delivering via C-section. I recall reading that one woman carried twins in one uterus and a single child in her other uterus simultaneously and they were all delivered successfully. [Our reader is likely referring to Hannah Kersey’s story. And here’s the story of Sarah Reinfelder, who also had twins—one in each uterus. That occurs in one in 25,000 women with uterus didelphys, making the overall likelihood one in 50 million women.]
The doctor said that my uterus that looked more developed was on the side with the smaller vagina. It’s too small for a penis, let alone a baby to come through, so if I ever got pregnant, they would likely do a C-section. I really wanted to give birth naturally, but it would be impossible.
Though to be honest, I’d rather not try to conceive. I’ve always been extremely squeamish and quick to faint (while having blood drawn, for example). I’m honestly glad about my malformation, so I see it as a sign to not try. I would be risking my life. I’ve never been on birth control or used protection with my husband and I’ve never become pregnant. (I wonder if my hormonal imbalance may be contributing to my luck.) I’ve never tried to get pregnant and I can’t afford any other options [e.g. in vitro fertilization]. Adoption would be nice. Until then, I have animals.
Yesterday we heard from a reader with uterus didelphys, a genetic condition that forms two vaginas, two cervixes, and two uteri—each linked to an ovary through its own fallopian tube. It’s difficult to determine exactly how common the condition is, but it’s between one in every 2,000 to 3,000 women, including the following reader. Her uterus didelphys went undetected for many years—and nine months:
I have wanted to share my story since it happened to me, to let other women know it’s OK to have uterus didelphys and that you can successfully carry a baby to term even with the condition.
This spring I was 36 weeks pregnant when my doctor came in with some very scary news. My baby was slowing down on the growth curve and they didn’t know why. There were many possibilities, from genetic disorders to the more probable explanation that my placenta was not giving my baby the nutrients he/she needed. We ran tests and monitored the baby, and the whole while I knew something was different about my pregnancy.
I only ever felt the baby kick on my right side, and we could only ever find the heart beat on the right side.
I shared this with my friends and family, asking questions about their pregnancies and wanting to relate to their stories of the baby kicking their ribs one minute and their bladder the next, but I never shared it with my doctors. I think I thought that I was crazy and was just imagining it; certainly there was no way my baby was just on one side of my stomach.
The next four weeks were scary and we were worried. We didn’t know what was to come. My doctors wanted me to carry the baby as long as possible and were ok with me going into labor on my own. That didn’t happen, and I was brought in for an induction during my 40th week. For 48 hours we tried to get my body to go into labor on its own, but I never felt a contraction, even though I was supposedly going through them like clock work. I went in for a c-section on my second night in the hospital and had a healthy baby boy delivered not even an hour later.
During the C-section, my doctor discovered I had uterus didelphys. I have two sides to my uterus, which explained the baby only kicking on my right side, and I also have two cervices and two openings in my vagina. All of this came as a shock, but I was also so happy there was an explanation.
I was able to carry a healthy baby to term without even knowing that it was a high-risk pregnancy. My husband and I hadn’t been trying to have a baby, though we wanted kids eventually, and I am so glad it happened the way it did. If I knew what I know now, I, like the previous woman who wrote in, might not have wanted to try due to the risks.
The more I read about uterus didelphys and the struggles such women have had to get pregnant, the more I am so grateful for our little guy. He was born small (5lbs, 12oz) and had to be kept in the hospital nursery for about 24 hours, but I would do it over again any day to have him. I hope that other women who have this same condition hold on to some hope that they can have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Here’s a very rare experience we haven’t seen in our reader series yet: embryo adoption. It’s a middle ground between having your own biological child and adopting one: You adopt an embryo created from a donor egg and sperm and bring the fetus to term in your own body, thus experiencing the biological aspect of motherhood when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. But let our reader tell it:
My husband is infertile and didn’t know it when he married his first wife (college sweetheart). Her sadness/bitterness was a leading cause of her leaving him after 13 years of marriage.
When we met several years later, he told me early on about his infertility “in case it’s a deal breaker.” I said it wasn’t, given our ages (36 and 45). Fast forward five years to today, married four years now, and we have a beautiful son born of “embryo adoption.” We met our son’s genetic parents through friends of friends and have an open adoption relationship (even though legally, it was just an embryo “donation”). They had leftover embryos from their own IVF and we adopted all three (and we’ll give our last one a chance at life next year). The four of us have become good friends and are like an extended family. We are ALL thrilled with this arrangement.
Success factors: (1) Embryo adoption/frozen embryo transfer is much less expensive than full IVF because the embryos already exist. (2) Neither my husband nor I are genetically related to our son, so it feels like “equal footing.” (3) We got to experience pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding like genetic parents. (4) It aligned with our ethical beliefs that embryos are humans; we didn’t create more to be discarded. (5) We are not overly enchanted with our own genes; we were happy to adopt others.
More stories of embryo adoption, and donation, are here.
The beginning of our reader’s note mentions how her husband’s first wife ended the marriage due to his sterility. We’ve previously heard from readers on how infertility has variously ruined marriages and strengthened them. Below are three more readers along those lines. The first one attests to how struggling to have a child forged an even stronger bond with her husband—partly because both of them have infertility issues:
I take strong issue with the urban legend that IVF can destroy a marriage. IVF is simply one of those major life events that will test the depth of a relationship and the maturity of the people involved in that relationship.
My husband and I feel that we were both very lucky but also very smart in our IVF process. When we started trying to conceive, because I was in my 30s and my husband in his 40s, my OB-GYN told me that if nothing was happening after four months of trying, get into a fertility clinic and have tests done. I also had an amazing herbalist/acupuncturist whom I worked with to regulate my cycles who gave the same advice. Furthermore, I had watched several friends struggle through IVF, and I knew that it was better to be proactive rather than waiting and trying and waiting and trying for years.
(By the way, it is infuriating when someone flippantly suggests, “Have you thought about adoption?” Adoption is not the panacea, and it is not a simple—or cheap—process, and IVF is usually cheaper. Adoption is simply a different means by which to have a child with its own particular challenges that may be different or similar to the challenges of going through IVF.)
After eight months of trying, we had fertility tests done. It turned out that we both had issues, which, honestly, was a relief in the sense that neither one of us could feel like it was our “fault.” We were even, and in it together.
Our issues mean that it is extremely unlikely that we will ever conceive naturally. I think that diagnosis was a blessing, because I know of other couples who don’t have a clear diagnosis and who go through IVF but secretly hope to conceive naturally. That is not a possibility for us, and it was a relief to be able to return to having sex as a form of relational intimacy and to let go of the pressure on sex to make a baby.
Because of our particular issues, we skipped over IUI and IVF and started straight away with ICSI [intracytoplasmic sperm injection]. I was grateful for this, because it would have been very hard (and expensive) to go through so many failed rounds. Our first round of ICSI worked, and we are expecting a baby girl in only a few more weeks.
Throughout the process, IVF brought my husband and I closer to each other. Going through IVF is a very intentional process. There’s no “magic” in it, like you see in the movies where getting pregnant seems to happen so effortlessly and is often used as a cheap plot device. Our process of having a child forced us to talk about things that some couples never talk about. We had hard conversations. These conversations can, yes, test a marriage, but our marriage was strong to start, and making these choices together only made our marriage stronger.
We also continuously reminded ourselves that we are a family with or without children. We told ourselves that if IVF didn’t work, then we would buy a scooter. Stupid, maybe, but it helped keep our perspective clear that our family and our life together is about more than having children, no matter how badly we want a child.
My husband administered all of the shots to me, and we went to every single appointment together. Actually, we didn’t do that once, and there was bad news, and we learned after that just how serious and vulnerable the process of fertility treatments is, and we made sure to do everything together from that point on.
Even if we hadn’t gotten pregnant through IVF treatments, the process was still very positive for us. It opened our eyes to a world of medical professionals who do incredible work everyday. It also gave us an appreciation for how unique each person’s experience with fertility is.
Finally, it forced us to get very clear about what our marriage means to us and what it means to have a family together. It made us acutely aware that if we want something in life, we have to go out and try to get it. There is nothing passive about IVF. Everyone’s experience is different, but for us, it was a very good experience, and I remember the closeness that we felt as we were preparing for the treatment as a time of deep love and togetherness.
This next reader’s marriage also survived infertility issues, but their infertility nevertheless had a powerful ripple effect on her extended family:
I was 25 when I married and we tried starting a family right away. I had normal periods but never could get pregnant. When I saw my gyne a year later, she found my FSH [follicle stimulating hormones] to be slightly elevated and sent us to a RE [reproductive endocrinologist] right away. That led to numerous IUI attempts and two IVF attempts, lab draws, and lots of tears and heartbreak. I remember getting up one night just sobbing so hard I could hardly walk at the thought of never being pregnant, giving birth, looking at a copy of me and my husband.
It is now 12 years later, we have since given up, but we are better emotionally now. Our marriage was in a rut for a long time, and needs of all kinds were not being met. We both stuck through it and have a stronger marriage now.
Along with my own heartbreak though, my sister also dealt with infertility and IVF treatments. Nothing worked for her either, and her husband expressed a desire to have “his own kids.” Sadly, their marriage did not survive. This is doubly hard on our family because my parents will never have biological grandchildren, so they are struggling with acceptance as well. My dad’s family ends with my sister and me.
Infertility affects more than just the infertile couple; it really affects a whole family. We are all still grieving over all the losses infertility caused and will one day, hopefully, move on.
Another reader also reconciled with being childless:
My wife and I pursued increasingly aggressive treatment for infertility necessitated primarily by what we eventually discovered to be my azoospermia [low sperm count]. We faced the feelings many couples experience of stress, personal failure, loss, jealousy, worry about the future, concern about the financial burden, questions about the consequences of donor sperm, and horror stories about adoption. It was a very difficult time in our lives, but we worked extremely hard to keep communicating our feelings with each other and to be supportive of those feelings, no matter how complex or mixed.
In the end, after receiving treatment for more than a year, we decided to remain childless, and we’re not sorry at all. What got us through dealing with infertility—communication, respect, and mutual support—has made our marriage stronger. We also feel that we tried as much treatment as we were comfortable with, and therefore that our choice not to have children is just that: our choice, made deliberately. Lastly, infertility treatment diagnosed a separate health issue I didn’t know I had, and treatment for that problem has improved my quality of life.
Two years later, our marriage is stronger than ever, and we’ve found a world of opportunities and experiences that fill whatever hole may have been left by the lack of children. I’m saddened by how many of your readers and others have had overwhelmingly negative experiences that destroyed those relationships. I know it’s a very hard situation, but not all experiences with infertility lead to the end of relationships.
Update from a reader:
I’ve been reading your series on infertility and am having a really hard time with these entries. Why? Because I am an adoptee. I was born in 1971 to a young woman who struggled with drug use, and after a month in foster care, I was adopted by a family who has given me everything in the world.
So when I hear language from your readers like “... her husband expressed a desire to have ‘his own kids’”; “This is doubly hard on our family because my parents will never have biological grandchildren, so they are struggling with acceptance”; and “my dad’s family ends with my sister and me”—well, perhaps you can’t imagine how hateful and hurtful that feels to someone who is adopted.
My grandparents were thrilled to have a new grandbaby, no matter how I got there. My parents definitely thought of me as their “own” kid, and their family line did not die out simply because they couldn't have biological children.
I would never say to a couple “just adopt,” because it’s a long and challenging process. But being a parent is about a lot more than just having a baby. It is utterly insulting to adoptees to imply that we are not a “real” part of our families. I heard this stuff a lot when I was a kid; I really didn’t think I’d still be hearing it into middle age.
For dozens of personal stories from readers on adoption, check out this Notes thread. For quick reference, here’s a chronological list of entries:
A reader revives our series with a rare perspective we haven’t heard from yet—a lesbian couple struggling to conceive:
I’ve read many, many of the stories you have posted regarding infertility, deciding to have children, and adoption—mostly to find answers to my own questions. The stories seem to be consistently from heterosexual relationships, and while I can relate to these on some level (infertility, financial strain, marriage), I am at the same time seeing them at such a distance. My experiences are not the same and I have many of the same options, but they are altogether different.
My wife and I have been married for three years. We decided to have children, and, as lesbians, were sent directly to a reproductive endocrinologist. We kept trying to tell the doctors and nurses (and each other) that we weren’t infertile ... we just didn’t have sperm!
Except it appears we are somewhat infertile. After four failed IUI cycles using my uterus and donor sperm, we reached the point at which we were told, “If it was going to happen this way, it would have already.” Our 20 percent chance was knocked down to 10 percent for further IUI, and they suggested IVF—or, to change tracks and let my wife become pregnant.
My wife is somewhat gender nonconforming, and her view of becoming pregnant herself is that she would do it if it were necessary for us to have a child—something we both want. But she is uncomfortable with the idea of being pregnant. I can understand her feelings and empathize with the choice. As her wife, I don’t want her to do something she isn’t excited about.
Our doctors can’t seem to get the language right; they talk about “her” baby and “my” baby, as if any baby we had wouldn’t simply be our baby. One doctor even told my wife that if later she “wanted her own baby,” then we could use embryos from my IVF for her to be pregnant. We understand at face value they are concerned with the biology of making this baby, but it’s hurtful.
Everyone says we’re lucky: We have two wombs, and sperm is inexpensive compared to surrogacy. Some people suggest we “just adopt” (we would if we could afford it!) or simply tell us to let my wife become pregnant.
The choice isn’t that simple. IVF is expensive, giving up the hope of being pregnant is difficult, and spending money on infertility is hard when it’s just taking away money we could use to raise the child. Having my wife go through IUI and spend another $6,000 on three or four chances at 20 percent sounds like bad odds ...
Some days it seems as if every other lesbian is just throwing around sperm and getting pregnant. Why should it be so difficult?
I never thought I would deal with infertility, and I am devastated at the thought of never being pregnant. I don’t even care about the baby’s genetics being mine; I simply want the experience of being pregnant with our child.
Meanwhile, for more reading on the subject of lesbian mothers-to-be, here’s Alana Semuels back in December 2014:
Increasingly, lesbian couples who want to have children are turning to men they know for genetic material, and are sometimes asking him to share some parenting responsibilities. It’s possible that gay men who use a surrogate to have a child are involving the mother in the child’s life too—at least if you believe the premise of the failed 2012 NBC comedy The New Normal.
“We are seeing a growing trend of a female, same-sex-couple parenting with the man who provides the genetic material but does not relinquish his rights as a sperm donor,” said Diana Adams, a New York lawyer who advises families on issues like these.
To be sure, this new type of family can create a minefield of legal issues. A Florida judge last year allowed the names of three parents on a birth certificate after a sperm donor sued a lesbian couple, who had been his friends, after they asked him to cede parental rights. Last October, California amended its family code to provide that a child can have more than two parents. And the case of Jason Patric, who donated sperm to his ex-girlfriend on the condition he wouldn’t be involved in the child’s life, and then changed his mind and sued for custody, got widespread media attention in 2012 after Patric started lobbying for more rights for sperm donors.
“Three-parent families will be one of the next major legal issues for the LBGTQ community,” Adams said.
But in the future, a sperm donor might not be necessary at all. In the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal sketched out “Five predictions about the future of reproduction”—the fourth claiming that “synthetic sperm will save the nuclear family”:
Researchers may ultimately be able to take a cell from an adult man or woman, turn it into a stem cell, then change that stem cell into a sperm or an egg. Doctors have already succeeded in breeding same-sex laboratory animals in this way.
Timothy Murphy is a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago whose work focuses on the bioethical implications of reproductive technologies for gay, lesbian, and transgender people. He points out that creating artificial sperm and eggs could, rather than leading to radical social change, actually preserve a normative family structure. “For gay and lesbian couples, the synthetic gametes would eliminate the need for a third party,” Murphy notes. This kind of assisted reproductive technology—“unnatural” as it might be—would allow same-sex couples to keep reproduction solely within the family.
The following reader tells the story of her long battle with infertility that culminated with the successful use of donated eggs. But despite the happy ending, she struggles with uneasy questions about the ethics of the donor industry and the “massive resentment” she harbors toward her husband. She prefers to stay anonymous here “in order to protect my daughter’s privacy”:
I met the love of my life late, at age 36. Two years later, we were married and trying for a baby. In retrospect I wish we had started to try as soon as we decided to spend our lives together, but hindsight is 20/20. I had several friends conceive without difficulty in their late 30s, so I was confident that we still had time and that it would happen.
But it didn’t. For three years we did the usual fertility treatments, including three rounds of IVF, with one heartbreaking early miscarriage. The treatments just didn’t work.
Early on we had discussed backup plans, though we weren’t crazy about any of them. Adoption was potentially just as expensive, difficult, and heartbreaking as fertility treatments and it could take years, particularly if we wanted infant adoption. The thought of starting from scratch with a whole new cycle of hope and disappointment was daunting. But we didn’t much like to face the prospect of childlessness either, since both of us had long dreamed of having a family and desperately wanted to raise children together.
A friend in her mid-40s told us about donor egg programs. She had a successful pregnancy using donor eggs and strongly recommended it. Our initial reaction was “no way, no how.” We wanted our own genetic child, and my husband balked at the idea of “having a child with another woman.”
But as the years wore on, and after our final disastrous round of IVF, we weren’t ready to give up yet, so we faced a choice: start from scratch with the long complicated process of adoption, or go with donor-egg IVF.
The upside of donor eggs was a massively increased chance of success, since the donor would be under 30. So long story short, we went with donor eggs. It held the highest chance of success with the least chance for heartbreak (a huge consideration given that we were already worn out by the stress of the previous attempts). It would allow our child to have a genetic relationship to one parent. And, I would be able to have the hoped-for experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
We now have a beautiful daughter who gives us joy every day. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. But at the same time, I still have very mixed feelings about the process:
I worry about the ethics of the situation. I can’t get around the fact that we effectively “bought” a baby. The only reason we have a child is because we could afford the costs. I also worry about the financial pressure on the donors, who are generally young women trying to pay off student loans.
Being walked through the donor database was surreal and icky. Much like a dating site, we could review donors’ photos, medical histories, eye colour, height, etc. As we searched the list—trying to find a donor who bore at least a vague resemblance to me—I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie picking out a designer child. Reviewing the list I knew that hundreds of potential donors had been rejected for not being worthy. I knew full well that I wouldn’t have been considered worthy due to a bouts of depression in my past. It just felt too much like eugenics for comfort.
I struggled with massive resentment toward my partner—resentment that he would get the chance to see himself in his child and that I never would. To see all those little resemblances: his dimples, his sister’s eyes, his father’s laugh. I will never get a chance to see how the random magic of genetics came together to make a child out of the two of us. It’s a huge grief, and one that I bear alone. Only our closest friends and family know the details of our daughter’s conception. I still have pangs whenever someone tells me she has my eyes or asks which one of us she looks like.
I still sometimes grieve the ideal of parenthood I thought I would have. But I am also grateful every day that my daughter exists. It’s an astonishing thing to bring a life into the world and see her become more and more herself. And if this is what it took for this unique little person to exist, I can make peace with that.
For more reading on the ethical quandaries of egg donation, check out this 2015 Atlantic piece by Jacoba Urist. She addresses a key question: How much money do donors typically get—and how much should they get?
In the [American Society of Reproductive Medicine] guidelines, issued in 2007, the organization’s ethics committee considered—and then rejected—a pricing structure based on an outright comparison to sperm donation. If the average payment for sperm donation was $75 for an hour’s worth of work, the committee members reasoned, then a woman paid the same hourly rate should get $4,200 for the 56 hours it typically takes to donate eggs—but “because oocyte donation entails more discomfort, risk, and physical intrusion than sperm donation,” they wrote, “sperm-donor reimbursement rates are reasonably considered to underestimate the amount that is appropriate for women providing oocytes.”
The committee members also argued, however, that the space between too little money and too much is a narrow one. The ideal payment is up to $5,000, the ASRM believes; higher fees “require justification,” while more than $10,000 is always inappropriate. The possibility of more money, the guidelines say, could create an opportunity for donor exploitation in the egg market: Women may provide eggs “in response to financial need,” leading them “to conceal medical information relevant to their own health or that of their biological offspring.” [...]
Is the money for a donor’s eggs, or her services, or her discomfort? It’s virtually impossible to decide how much a woman should be paid for the process, and how open the egg market should be, without confronting the underlying issue of what she’s being paid for in the first place.
Urist also mentions the documentary The Perfect Donor, whose trailer is below. It begins with a young woman relaying what an agency told her about her prospects for donating: “You’ll probably get picked pretty fast, because you’re blonde, you’re blue-eyed, and you’re white”:
Dr. Greene [at the donor agency] asked about my parents’ and siblings’ bodies: average-height, average-weight, fair skin, and blue eyes, and she makes an approving expression at the last fact. This is like a sunroof on a car you might buy or a washer-dryer in a potential apartment. Grad school is a leather interior, a pool in the backyard.
Lacey was compensated $8,000 for her eggs. Jessica Cohen, while an undergraduate at Yale, responded to an ad in her college paper to donate her eggs for a whopping $25,000. From her 2002 Atlantic account:
Beyond their desire for an Ivy League donor, they wanted a young woman over five feet five, of Jewish heritage, athletic, with a minimum combined SAT score of 1500, and attractive. I was curious—and I fit all the criteria except the SAT score. So I e-mailed Michelle and David (not their real names) and asked for more information about the process and how much the SAT minimum really meant to them. Then I waited for a reply. [...]
David responded to my e-mail a few hours after I’d sent it. He told me nothing about himself, and only briefly alluded to the many questions I had asked about the egg-donation process. He spent the bulk of the e-mail describing a cartoon, and then requested photos of me. The cartoon was a scene with a “couple that is just getting married, he a nerd and she a beauty,” he wrote. “They are kvelling about how wonderful their offspring will be with his brains and her looks.” He went on to describe the punch line: the next panel showed a nerdy-looking baby thinking empty thoughts.
The following paragraph was more direct. David let me know that he and his wife were flexible on most criteria but that Michelle was “a real Nazi” about “donor looks and donor health history.” [...]
After I’d brooded about these matters, I received the shortest e-mail of the correspondence. The verdict on my pictures was in: “I showed the pictures to [my wife] this AM. Personally, I think you look great. She said ho-hum.”
After we published a story from a reader who had ethical qualms about using a donated egg that became her daughter, a bunch of readers in the TAD discussion group debated the question, “Is egg donation unethical?”—especially since thousands of dollars are typically given to the donor. Below are some of the best comments and personal stories from those readers, edited for concision. Here’s Terri:
My only real concern is compensation. Selling to the highest bidder for significant profit is risky and unseemly. It has to be regulated in a manner that protects both parties.
Another reader takes a more libertarian approach:
As long as all parties consent and the child created is loved and taken care of, then all is good. What’s unethical is bad parenting.
Jim compares egg donation to adoption:
The financial aspect of donation is no more fraught, to my mind, than adoption fees. The stickler is setting a fair price for the not inconsiderable pain and discomfort the donor experiences, as well as screening donors to make sure they are psychologically secure with the process.
Egg donation, fertilization, and implantation is essentially a rich person’s ethical problem, if that. Many women and their partners beggar themselves financially in an effort to become pregnant. If they can afford it and they want to, why not?
This next reader complicates Jim’s characterization that it’s “a rich person’s ethical problem”:
I am part of an IVF support group, with 10,000-plus members, and I’ve undergone IVF myself. The large majority of us are not affluent.
Also, it’s not fair for people who have never struggled with infertility to imply/demand that those of us who suffer from infertility settle with adoption, as if it’s an easy solution. We just want the same chance fertile people have—a chance they didn’t have to fight for or pay for, or suffer from.
Another reader also isn’t troubled by egg donation:
Is it less creepy than adoption? Prospective parents are also given dossiers of babies/kids they would like to consider. It shouldn’t be creepy to “choose” a child. We choose our mates, after all, and the initial attraction is mostly superficial there too. Is a child that arises from such a pairing not “chosen” as well?
It’s not uncommon in egg and sperm donations for people to search for donors who bear some similarity to them. Since the child will not have a genetic connection to the replaced parent, isn’t it better that they at least have some physical similarities? This is supposed to make life easier for the young kid, so they are not wondering why they look different or being teased as school for looking different (young kids can be merciless to their peers).
Finding physical similarities and other preferences is a big part of Gail Sexton Anderson’s job. She runs Donor Concierge, a service that matches intended parents with egg donors and surrogates.
Race and ethnicity is a big part of that process, which Gail addresses in this blog post:
For many intended parents having a sense of continuity within the family blood lines helps them to come to terms with going forward with an egg donor. I have had many intended parents tell me that they would like to find a donor who is Irish, Welsh, Italian etc. so that they can share stories of their heritage with their child and not feel they are being false to their child who shares their family but may not have similar ethnic heritage. ...
One problem that we run into over and over again as we search for our clients is how difficult it can to find the egg donor’s ethnic heritage. Too often egg donors and agencies confuse race with ethnic heritage and will just use race as a blanket answer to cover both. The trouble is they are not the same. One is a very broad category and the other defines the details of that category and for many intended parents it is an important distinction.
For example when I am looking for a Chinese donor I often find that all donors with any Asian heritage are listed as Asian. That is fine to a point if within the details of the egg donors profile her specific heritage is listed such as Chinese, Hmong, Japanese, Korean etc. Many programs have thought to include this information but many others still list the donor as just Asian. For a Chinese or Korean family this can be a real problem for many they feel strongly about their ethnic heritage and one is not interchangeable with the other.
Fertility industry experts say there are several reasons Asian eggs are in demand, including a cultural aversion to adoption. If a woman is infertile, they say, many Asian couples would prefer to use the husband’s sperm with a donor’s egg to conceive a child that carries at least half of the couple’s genetic identity than to adopt a baby from other parents.
Demand is also high among Jewish couples, many of whom put off having kids to pursue higher education or careers, clinic operators say. According to a report from the United Jewish Communities, half of Jewish American women have college degrees and 21% have graduate degrees. They tend to marry later, the survey says, and have lower fertility rates. …
One reason for the lack of supply [of Asian eggs] is that Asian women are less likely to go through the discomfort of egg donations out of financial need. On average, Asian women earn higher salaries and are more likely to be college-educated than their counterparts in other racial groups, according to Labor Department statistics. Asian females out-earn white women by 13%, black women by 31% and Latinas by 52%, the agency said. “A lot of young women who elect to be egg donors do so for financial reasons,” Vorzimer said. “But many Asian and Jewish donors who are in such high demand are young ladies who do not need that financial compensation.”
Back to our readers:
I can see how the donation process could feel “designer baby” or “eugenics lite” and leave a bad taste in mouths, especially with the sadly inevitable preference for fair-complected donors. But it’s worth noting that 1) this has always been true of sperm donation and 2) the cost of entry, so to speak, for parents is too high for this to have a significant impact on population dynamics.
This next reader is on the same page:
I don’t think the eugenics comparison is fair at all. Even if every couple goes into the process looking for a baby that is similar in appearance to them, those are the babies they’d be conceiving naturally were they able/should they choose. Races are not being wiped out by egg donation and subsequent selection.
The eugenics angle isn’t just about aesthetics. As this reader illustrates, “My now-wife (we were dating at the time) looked into egg donation for financial reasons but was told she couldn’t due to some family medical history.” Another reader can relate:
My daughter looked into donating, to try to pay off student loans. She was turned down because her father is mentally ill and because she and both parents are nearsighted.
Setting aside the fact that I have reasons to believe that my ex-husband’s mental condition may be more a product of environment than heredity, can I just say I worry for the offspring of people who may come to believe that their high priced, perfect eggs will invariably yield perfect children.
This last reader can relate firsthand to donation:
As someone who has undergone IVF and has eight embryos waiting and who plans on donating any leftovers to a couple/person in need, I do not find it creepy in the slightest. I understand where people are coming from about adoption, and I have heard from so many people over the past eight years of TTC [trying to conceive]. And we do plan on adopting out of the foster program, which we have already been approved for, but not placed.
Unless you have gone through infertility, you just can’t possibly understand the heartache it causes. We have to watch over and over and over women have children who don’t appreciate the gift, or who abuse their child, abandon them and so much worse, so we cry and cry and wonder why me, why us. It’s awful. There is nothing wrong with a person/couple wanting a biological piece of them to exist in this world.
A reader, Erin, raises a really interesting concern among the estimated 30,000-60,000 Americans born every year from artificial insemination:
I’ve seen several of the posts in this infertility series pop up in my social media feed and was wondering if you’ve considered sharing the perspectives of adults who were created using 3rd party reproduction methods, such as donated eggs or sperm. If you are attempting to engage in a conversation about ethics, I believe that is a vital piece of the puzzle. Please don’t forget that infertility “treatments” like egg and sperm donation affect the people they help to create. It’s worth noting that the majority of people conceived through anonymous sperm donation do not support the practice.
Indeed, according to a 2010 study written up in Slate by two of its authors, Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt, “About half of [people conceived via sperm donors] have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even if parents tell their children the truth.” More of their findings:
Two-thirds of adult donor offspring agree with the statement “My sperm donor is half of who I am.” Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. About two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins.
Regardless of socioeconomic status, donor offspring are […] more than twice as likely to report having struggled with substance abuse. And they are about 1.5 times as likely to report depression or other mental health problems. As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families.
Read the rest here. Clark and Marquardt conclude that the U.S. “should follow the lead of Britain, Norway, Sweden, and other nations and end the anonymous trade of sperm.”
Circling back to our reader, I asked Erin if she has personal ties to the issue of sperm donation, and she replied:
Yes, I do. At the age of 36, I learned I was conceived via an anonymous sperm donor. It was absolutely the most mind-blowing experience of my life. In an attempt to make sense of my new reality, I joined Facebook groups for donor conceived people, read every available resource and eventually launched a website, We Are Donor Conceived.
The craziest part of the experience wasn’t how the disclosure affected me personally, it was learning how the modern-day sperm donation industry functions. There are tons of resources out there, but this post is a great place to start.
That post is titled “10 Things Your Doctor, Clinic, or Sperm Bank Won’t Tell You.” A few passages:
Many parents use donor conception instead of adoption because a genetic connection is important to them, but then negate the importance of that very same genetic connection when it involves their child’s relationship to the “donor”, the other half of their child’s genetic family, ancestry and medical history. [...]
Parents: This shouldn’t be about your unresolved grief, your hesitations, or your fears. This should be about what’s in the best interests of your child, and their right to the truth about themselves, their medical background, their ancestry, and their genetic relatives. After telling (or after your children find out via DNA testing), please do not ask your children to keep the “secret”. This may have been your secret, but it shouldn’t be theirs. This type of response could cause unnecessary resentment, anger, and upset. Secrecy implies shame, and donor offspring have nothing to be ashamed of, most certainly not the methodology of their conception.
Are you a parent of a donor-conceived son or daughter and would like to share your perspective on this issue? Or, were you conceived from an anonymous donor and would like to tell your story? Please send us a note: email@example.com.
A reader, Mimi Lee, introduces a new and rare experience to our ongoing series:
Ten days before my wedding, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a doctor, I naturally freaked out and quickly arranged my own lumpectomy within 48 hours of the diagnosis. I celebrated my new marriage surrounded by friends and family, wrapped in surgical dressings.
We returned from the honeymoon and embarked on a single round of artificial reproductive technology (ART) to preserve my fertility and our chances to build a future family. Meanwhile, I learned from a pathologist colleague that my cancer had not been completely removed, so after multiple consultations and opinions, I prepared for a mastectomy.
Amidst this whirlwind of uncertainty over the big C, I carefully emptied vials, mixed drugs, and prepared syringes for ART—only this time, it was not for any of the thousands of patients I had cared for as an anesthesiologist who specialized, ironically enough, in fertility. The prep was for me, inspired by the hopes and dreams of my own biological motherhood once I stomped cancer out of my life.
The ART went extremely well. At age 41, I had 18 eggs harvested. Twelve were fertilized and yielded five beautiful-looking embryos—my future babies. Two weeks after the embryos were frozen, I underwent my mastectomy.
A year later, after acknowledging that pregnancy was contraindicated for my type of breast cancer, my husband and I scanned gestational profiles at a surrogate agency. A year after that, he told me he wanted a divorce. After we separated, I underwent two more years of legal proceedings, which amounted to a full-time job, leading to a courtroom battle for the custody of the frozen embryos. My future babies’ lives hung in the balance.
Devastatingly, I lost that battle, and the embryos were ordered destroyed. With that, my ambitions of biological motherhood were forever silenced.
Like many educated, career-minded women, I had postponed marriage and motherhood until it was too late. My cohort of women was instructed to wait until “the time was right.” For me, that meant waiting until my career was stable and my financial independence was established. Many women I knew had chosen either motherhood or a career. Now many of the empty-nested moms are struggling to create new identities while the career women are struggling with feeling left behind, single and childless.
I lie somewhere in between. I have landed in a new career, but I was almost a mom. What feels terrible is that I missed the chance to keep my babies safe and secure.
ART is at once incredible and terrifying. It is fraught with ethical, legal, and socioeconomic minefields. Designer babies are happening now. Gender selection, physical features, and even genetic predispositions are all options. Furthermore, given the price tag, it’s only an option for those who can pay, generating huge concerns about the morality of our society. Why should parents who aspire to parenthood equally, but lack the out of pocket cash required, be left behind?
Finally, due to the lack of legal policy to reign in the practice, women and men are getting hurt. Custody battles are on the rise. Embryos hang in limbo. In my case, rhetoric borrowed from pro-choice arguments was used against me, and my ex argued that he had a right to not become a parent. This, however, failed to acknowledge the fundamental fact that accidental unwanted pregnancies differ vastly from the deliberate, invasive, expensive and time-consuming journey of ART.
Mimi is writing a memoir about her experience, and you can read more on her website, BabyEmbryos.com. The legal details of her story are here.
Another very public battle over embryos took place in 2010, when Jennifer McLaughlin, after giving birth to twins derived from embryos donated by a couple, sought custody of the two remaining embryos because they were genetic siblings to the twins—but the couple wanted to donate the embryos to another woman. McLaughlin appeared with her lawyer on The Early Show:
Perhaps the most high-profile custody battle over embryos involves the actress Sofia Vergara, whose ex-fiance, Nick Loeb, tried to gain custody of the couple’s two frozen embryos after she wanted to keep them “frozen indefinitely.” In 2015, he took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times and appeared on The Today Show to make his case:
From Loeb’s op-ed:
A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term even if the man objects. Shouldn’t a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term even if the woman objects? These are issues that, unlike abortion, have nothing to do with the rights over one’s own body, and everything to do with a parent’s right to protect the life of his or her unborn child.
In January, Melissa Cook, a 47-year-old California surrogate currently pregnant with triplets, sued the commissioning father, a single 50-year-old Georgia postal worker, who wanted her to abort one of the fetuses. (The egg used to create the three embryos implanted in Cook was sourced from an anonymous, 20-something donor.) Cook, who is pro-life, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming California’s surrogacy law violates due process, as well as equal-protection rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
Cook says she wants to take all three fetuses to term, adopt the unwanted third, and collect her full surrogacy fee. She also wants the court to rule that her surrogacy contract is unenforceable, which would protect her from the consequences of breaching her contract and possibly allow her to keep the multi-thousand-dollar fee stipulated in her gestational carrier agreement.
“She’s trying to get the state of California, essentially, to not recognize the contract she signed,” explains Elura Nanos, a fertility attorney based in New York.
Ultimately all the triplets were born and went into the custody of the father, and the surrogate lost her legal effort to gain custody herself.
The second known visitor to our cosmic neighborhood from another star is making quite an entrance.
No one knows where it came from, but it’s here now. And the chase is on.
Astronomers around the world are monitoring an interstellar comet hurtling through the solar system, known for the moment as C/2019 Q4. It’s the second time in less than two years that they’ve seen an object from another star swing through our cosmic neighborhood. The first time around, the discovery kicked off a worldwide sprint to inspect the object before it got away. It was mysterious enough that some astronomers even began to consider whether it was dispatched by an advanced alien civilization.
This second interstellar object was spotted in late August by Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea. Borisov has a reputation for catching never-before-seen comets with his telescopes, but they’re from around here; like everything else in the solar system—the planets, the moons, a sea of asteroids—they trace an orbit around the sun. And over the past few weeks, it’s become very clear that this comet does not.
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
Two journalists detail the results of their reporting on the Supreme Court justice’s past.
Years ago, when she was practicing her closing arguments at the family dinner table, Martha Kavanaugh often returned to her signature line as a state prosecutor. “Use your common sense,” she’d say. “What rings true? What rings false?”
Those words made a strong impression on her young son, Brett. They also made a strong impression on us, as we embarked on our 10-month investigation of the Supreme Court justice. We conducted hundreds of interviews with principal players in Kavanaugh’s education, career, and confirmation. We read thousands of documents. We reviewed hours of television interviews, along with reams of newspaper, magazine, and digital coverage. We studied maps of Montgomery Country, Maryland, as well as housing-renovation plans and court records. We watched Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings multiple times.
Scientists taught rats to play hide-and-seek in order to study natural animal behavior—but it was also fun, for both the researchers and the animals.
Annika Reinhold says that she likes playing with animals (she has two cats) and “doing unconventional things that no one has done before.” When the chance came up to teach rats to play hide-and-seek, she was a natural candidate.
One might question the wisdom of training rats to hide, but there’s a good reason to do so. In neuroscience, animal research is traditionally about control and conditioning—training animals, in carefully regulated settings, to do specific tasks using food rewards. But those techniques aren’t very useful for studying the neuroscience of play, which is universal to humans, widespread among animals, and the antithesis of control and conditioning. Playing is about freedom and fun. How do you duplicate those qualities in a lab?
The senator from Massachusetts, they argue, is proffering a gentler version of progressivism that is simple to understand and compelling enough to attract a broad swath of voters.
Updated on September 18 at 3:10 p.m. ET
In 2016, Bernie Sanders described the Working Families Party (WFP), a grassroots progressive organization, as “the closest thing there is” to his “vision of democratic socialism.” The group endorsed him in his primary race against Hillary Clinton, and it’s grown more powerful in the past three years, as it has sought to build a multiracial populist movement nationwide. But this time around, with Sanders taking another shot for the White House, the group is throwing its weight behind someone else: Elizabeth Warren. The group’s surprising decision could be an early indicator of how progressives—including those who backed Sanders in the past—are planning to organize and vote next year.
Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.
During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.
At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.
I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.
The pursuit of money from wealthy donors distorts the research process—and yields flashy projects that don’t help and don’t work.
The MIT Media Lab has an integrity problem. It’s not just that the lab took donations from Jeffrey Epstein and tried to conceal their source. As that news was breaking, Business Insiderreported that the lab’s much-hyped “food computer” didn’t work and that staff had tried to mislead funders into thinking it did. These stories are two sides of the same problem: sugar-daddy science—the distortion of the research process by the pursuit of money from ultra-wealthy donors, no matter how shady.
Historically, research has been funded by grants. Government agencies and foundations announce that they want to fund X, and you, the scientist, write a proposal about why you’ll be awesome at X. If they agree, they give you money to do X.
The small village of Kivalina is threatened on several fronts by a warming Arctic climate, as the ground it sits on erodes, and the animals the villagers rely on become more difficult to hunt.
Along Alaska’s west coast, about 80 miles above the Arctic circle, sits the village of Kivalina, situated on a narrow strip of land between a lagoon and the Chukchi Sea—one of several native coastal villages dealing with problems due to the warming of the Arctic. Joe Raedle, a photographer for Getty, recently flew to Kivalina to spend some time with the villagers and photograph their lives and surroundings. The warming climate has led to troubles such as the accelerated erosion of the land the village sits on, which used to be mitigated by sea ice (which is vanishing), and permafrost (which is melting). Fish and wildlife that villagers rely on for food have been forced to change their migration patterns—and poor hunting means more food must be bought from a store, further increasing the cost of living. Raedle: “The residents of Kivalina are hoping to stay on their ancestral lands, where they can preserve their culture, rather than dispersing due to their island being swallowed by the rising waters of the ocean.”
After 20 years, has the author’s formula at last been exhausted?
It’s a bit embarrassing to finish a book by Malcolm Gladwell—master of the let me take you by the hand prose style, dealer in the simple and unmistakable thesis—and realize you don’t quite know what he’s driving at.
Gladwell’s method is well established and, you would think, fail-safe. It’s one of the reasons his books have sold millions of copies. Among his other talents, he’s one of those “professional communicators” that public-speaking coaches always say we should emulate: First he tells his audience what he’s about to tell them, then he tells them, and then he tells them what he just told them. He should be impossible to misunderstand. I must be an idiot.
Another possibility is that nearly 20 years after The Tipping Point, his best-selling debut, the Gladwell formula is at last exhausted.
The people of pre-colonial Puerto Rico did not disappear entirely—a new study shows that the island’s residents still carry bits of their DNA.
In the 15th century, when Europeans first reached the island now named Puerto Rico, it was home to between 30,000 and 70,000 people, sometimes known collectively as Taíno. They came from various ethnic groups descended from several waves of ancestors who came to the island in succession, beginning as early as 3,000 B.C. But a century after the colonizers arrived, official traces of these indigenous peoples were all but impossible to find.
Under a regime of forced relocations, starvation, disease, and slavery, their numbers plummeted. At the same time, colonial officials elided their existence, removing them as a distinct group from the census and recategorizing many—from Christian converts to wives of colonists—as Spanish or “other.”