Read these two stories exploring the complexities of adoption, both published in February 2021.
In this Washington Post Health & Science piece, family physician Anne Jacobson offers a refreshing perspective on adoption as she recounts her agonizing gauntlet of infertility testing and assisted reproductive treatments over a four-year period. So many public stories about this issue accentuate the profound disappointment many women experience when they learn that they are unable to pass on family genes to their prospective children. Jacobson attests that “infertility has been portrayed as a curse, a failing” and ranks “as much an existential crisis as a physiological one” (E4). While initially susceptible to this theory, she and her husband, who is Asian American, eventually decided to take the international adoption route and became the parents of two seven month-old children from Kazakhstan. Jacobson’s central message dethrones the primacy of genetic connection in the race to motherhood, noting that while her own and her husband’s careers were steeped in science and both knew precious little about their adopted children’s genetic history, they “fell immediately and completely in love with them.” Yet like many adoptive mothers, fifteen years on, she is keenly aware of the concern in others’ glances and comments that continue to question the “realness” of their bond. She draws an analogy between adoption and pregnancy, with its own far lengthier “gestational period … filled with dreams, preparation, worry and doubt” and similarly “accompanied by waves of exhaustion, panic and exhilaration.” Importantly, she also marks the differences: “Our family’s story began with experiences of loss on two sides of the globe. … For me, I can only say that I have found my greatest joy on the other side of loss.”
This New York Times story spotlights the entirely arbitrary and often restrictive state laws that govern surrogacy in the United States. Reporter Maria Cramer introduces readers to Tammy and Jordan Myers, who live in Grand Rapids, Michigan and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their twins, who were delivered by a surrogate. But due to a MI law that bans surrogacy, they are not recognized as the newborns’ legal parents--despite affidavits from their fertility doctor and their surrogate, Lauren Vermilye, confirming that they are the babies’ biological parents. Their recourse? Apply to adopt their children.
While many states have their own quirky requirements governing surrogacy (and in some cases, no laws at all), Michigan’s is the most extreme. Its history traces back to the 1988 Surrogate Parenting Act, inspired by the sensationalized Baby M case of that era. That controversy introduced the term surrogacy to the public at large, but ultimately, its class and gender politics quickly created a “stigma” around the hiring of surrogates that led to Michigan’s 1988 ban. Cramer reports that “Under Michigan’s law, paying a woman to act as a surrogate is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.”
The Myers understood the law but due to Tammy’s bout with cancer, they could not conceive and carry to term (the couple has an eight-year-old as well). They also could not afford a surrogate. Their Facebook plea for “an unpaid volunteer” was taken up by Ms. Vermilye, and a successful pregnancy resulted from in vitro fertilization with the Myers’ genetic material. But despite this satisfactory conclusion, both parties have been thrust into a scenario that neither wants. Denied a hearing, the Myers have begun the highly time-consuming process of filing adoption paperwork. Their status as experienced parents gives them no advantage--they’re starting from scratch. “Being forced to prove they are fit to adopt their own children is ‘offensive,’ said Mr. Myers, 38.” At this juncture, they’re urging the state to pass a nullification of the 1988 law to spare others in their situation.
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