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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Democrats’ previous president and maybe their next one have a particularly fraught relationship.
Updated at 4:11 p.m. ET on February 19, 2020.
Bernie Sanders got so close to running a primary challenge to President Barack Obama that Senator Harry Reid had to intervene to stop him.
It took Reid two conversations over the summer of 2011 to get Sanders to scrap the idea, according to multiple people who remember the incident, which has not been previously reported.
That summer, Sanders privately discussed a potential primary challenge to Obama with several people, including Patrick Leahy, his fellow Vermont senator. Leahy, alarmed, warned Jim Messina, Obama’s presidential reelection-campaign manager. Obama’s campaign team was “absolutely panicked” by Leahy’s report, Messina told me, since “every president who has gotten a real primary has lost a general [election].”
The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.
The scene is one many of us have somewhere in our family history: Dozens of people celebrating Thanksgiving or some other holiday around a makeshift stretch of family tables—siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts. The grandparents are telling the old family stories for the 37th time. “It was the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen in your life,” says one, remembering his first day in America. “There were lights everywhere … It was a celebration of light! I thought they were for me.”
The oldsters start squabbling about whose memory is better. “It was cold that day,” one says about some faraway memory. “What are you talking about? It was May, late May,” says another. The young children sit wide-eyed, absorbing family lore and trying to piece together the plotline of the generations.
The president has interpreted the Republican-controlled Senate’s vote to acquit as a writ of absolute power.
There are twokinds of Republican senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump in his impeachment trial two weeks ago: those who acknowledged he was guilty and voted to acquit anyway, and those who pretended the president had done nothing wrong.
“It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call, and it was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine declared, but added that removing him “could have unpredictable and potentially adverse consequences for public confidence in our electoral process.”
But Collins, like her Republican colleagues Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, was an outlier in admitting the president’s conduct was wrong. Most others in the caucus, like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, deliberately missed the point, insisting that Democrats wanted the president removed for “pausing aid to Ukraine for a few weeks.”
A notably aggressive Democratic debate in Las Vegas featured myriad attacks on the newest, wealthiest candidate onstage.
Everyone came to Vegas to fight—everyone, that is, except Michael Bloomberg.
Tonight’s debate at the Paris Theater on the Las Vegas strip was the feistiest free-for-all of a marathon campaign that only saw its first votes cast two weeks ago. The candidates went after each other with abandon—frontrunners filleting the underdogs, zingers criss-crossing the stage like lasers. A newly energized and combative Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tried to reassert herself in the race by taking down just about all of her five competitors—but particularly the former New York mayor.
Bloomberg made his debate debut after entering the race 10 weeks ago, and his lack of experience on the national stage was apparent from the evening’s opening moments. Bloomberg, who has muscled his way into the top tier on the back of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in advertising, came under withering criticism from his rivals on a broad range of issues. Again and again, he struggled to respond. Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden assailed the “stop and frisk” policing policy Bloomberg presided over as mayor, and which he defended for years despite data that showed it disproportionately affected young men of color. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont knocked him for his Republican past, noting his endorsement of President George W. Bush in 2004 and the financial support he has given to GOP candidates in the many years since.
If there’s anything corporate America has a knack for, it’s inventing new, positive words that polish up old, negative ones. Silicon Valley has recast the chaotic-sounding “break things” and “disruption” as good things. An anxious cash grab is now a “monetization strategy,” and if you mess up and need to start over, just call it a “pivot” and press on. It’s the Uber for BS, you might say.
Cloying marketing-speak, of course, isn’t limited to the tech world. As a health reporter, much of my work involves wending my way through turgid academic studies, which are full of awkward turns of phrase such as salience and overweight (used as a noun, as in “the prevalence of overweight”). Even more tedious is reading some of the reports put out by nonprofit organizations, which always seem to want to arm “stakeholders” with tools for their “tool boxes.” I wish journalists were immune, given that we fancy ourselves to be plainspoken, but sadly common in our world is talk of “deep dives” and “impactful long form.” (Use of the word impactful is strongly discouraged by The Atlantic’s copy desk. As is the use of many other words.)
The residents of Boca Chica didn’t ask Elon Musk to move in, but now his company is taking over.
BOCA CHICA, Texas—Mary McConnaughey was watching from her car when the rocket exploded on the beach. The steel-crunching burst sent the top of the spacecraft flying, and a cloud of vapor billowed into the sky and drifted toward the water.
McConnaughey and her husband had planned to drive into town that day in late November, but when they pulled out onto the street, they noticed a roadblock, a clear sign that SpaceX technicians were preparing to test hardware. She didn’t want to miss anything, so she turned toward the launchpad, parked her car at the end of a nearby street, and got her camera ready.
The dramatic test was a crucial step in one of Elon Musk’s most cherished and ambitious projects, the very reason, in fact, he founded SpaceX in 2002. Weeks earlier, Musk had stood in front of the prototype—164 feet of gleaming stainless steel, so archetypically spaceship-like that it could have been a borrowed prop from a science-fiction movie—and beamed. He envisions that the completed transportation system, a spaceship-and-rocket combo named Starship, will carry passengers as far away as Mars. A few months before the explosion, hundreds of people came to the facility in South Texas, on the edge of the Gulf Coast, to see the spaceship, and thousands more watched online. “It’s really gonna be pretty epic to see that thing take off and come back,” Musk gushed at the event, as if he were seeing the finished Starship in front of him.
How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election
Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET on February 10, 2020.
One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign, and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers.
The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.
How should Democrats fight against a president who has no moral or legal compass?
Democratic primary voters care deeply about electability. What most want is simple: a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump in November. So they worry about whether former Vice President Joe Biden will inspire young people, and about whether Senator Bernie Sanders will scare away old people. They debate whether a political revolution is necessary to energize the base, or whether the revolution will dissuade independents. Will the historic candidacy of a woman or a gay man take off or implode?
But these concerns about policy and broad cultural appeal are secondary to the true “electability” crisis facing whichever Democrat wins the nomination: He or she will need to run against a president seemingly prepared, and empowered, to lie and cheat his way to reelection.
In short: It would up the chances of a contested convention.
LAS VEGAS—Democrats everywhere may start asking the same volatile question after Nevada holds its presidential caucus on Saturday: Can the party deny Bernie Sanders the nomination if he arrives at the Democratic National Convention this summer with a plurality, but not a majority, of the delegates?
That question is becoming more urgent because Nevada, where the candidates will meet tonight for their ninth debate, looks poised to nudge that once-fanciful scenario closer to reality.
Each of the presidential camps believes that Sanders, who placed a close second here in 2016, is positioned to win, a victory that would solidify his standing as the clear leader of the party’s liberal wing and the race’s overall front-runner. But the results are unlikely to eliminate doubts that he can expand his support much beyond the one-fourth to one-third of the party that constitutes his hard-core base. Simultaneously, the Nevada outcome could intensify the muddle in the middle that has prevented any centrist candidate from emerging as the principal alternative to Sanders.
Many in the party elite remain deeply skeptical of the Vermont senator, but rank-and-file voters do not share that hesitation.
Judging by media coverage and the comments of party luminaries, you might think Democrats are bitterly polarized over Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid. Last month, Hillary Clinton declared that “nobody likes” the Vermont senator. Last week, James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, said he was “scared to death” of the Sanders campaign, which he likened to “a cult.” Since the beginning of the year, news organization after news organization has speculated that Sanders’ssuccess may set off a Democratic “civil war.”
But polls of Democratic voters show nothing of the sort. Among ordinary Democrats, Sanders is strikingly popular, even with voters who favor his rivals. He sparks less opposition—in some cases far less—than his major competitors. On paper, he appears well positioned to unify the party should he win its presidential nomination.