Saturday, September 10, 2011

Unconventional ways of building a family - a first person story

Please do read this contribution from a patient of mine . While some people are critical about IVF because they feel it is "artificial", I feel the great thing about IVF is that it's technology which enables and empowers - it allows people to build their family in ways which were not available earlier. Anything which is unconventional is likely to invite criticism. This moving piece, which comes straight from the heart, will help readers to understand that there are many pathways which people can adopt to grow their families - and non-traditional methods can work very well, when chosen wisely !

" The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right freely to ……share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”(Article 27).

I am a 24-year-old Canadian woman with post-secondary education who currently runs a successful home-based business. My wonderful mother is a 55-year-old former teacher who has been married for nearly 30-years to a loving husband and father. I was brought up in a stable, loving environment by a mother who quit work to stay home full-time with me throughout my early years and only returned to teaching part-time when I entered school. She was not only my mother, she was my mentor, my advocate, and my greatest friend (and so has remained to this day).
After my birth, my parents tried to have another child for years but unfortunately all their attempts failed and fertility treatments were never an option where we lived. Although both my parents came from large families themselves and had always dreamed of having many children, by the time I had reached my early teen years and my father was transferred to a city that offered fertility treatments, my mother was considered too old to receive treatment. My parents once and for all gave up all hope despite the fact they still had a lot of love to give.

At the age of 20-years-old, while studying and working away from home, I came across a website for surrogate mothers and the idea came to me that I could be a traditional surrogate for my mother, giving both her and my father a genetic link to the baby. After weeks of study and contemplation, I realized that this was something I really wanted to do and finally approached my mother with all I had been researching. Initially, although deeply touched by my offer, she had several concerns, including her age, my ability to understand and fully appreciate how this would affect my life, any potential child(ren)’s reaction to learning their origins when older, and the fact that, should we go through with it, this would be, to say the very least, an extremely unconventional family situation.

While my mother’s age was a deterring factor and my parent’s would have certainly preferred to have children while younger, our research led us to many women who had conceived naturally while in their 50s including a 57-year-old Los Angeles woman who naturally conceived and gave birth to a daughter in 1956. In 2007, it came out that a British woman had given birth without the aid of fertility treatments ten years earlier at the age of 59. My maternal grandmother herself had her last baby at 50-years-old and lived to the age of 86.

Combined with my father and mother’s excellent health is a family history of longevity and women working full-time well into their 70s. Also, considering the fact that today the age expectancy for Canadian women is 84.0 years old, a woman giving birth at 50 can reasonably expect to see her child reach more than 30 years of age. In comparison, the age expectancy in 1900 for women in Canada was only 47.3 years which meant that a woman giving birth at the age of twenty could only expect to see her child reach their mid-twenties in her lifetime.

In addition to physical tests to determine my eligibility to become a surrogate mother, I attended many sessions with a psychologist both with and without my parents. I am extremely grateful for these talks as I truly believe it helped me understand all that I was committing myself to and bettered prepared me for my role as a surrogate. I do not look at it as having been a surrogate for my mother but for my best friend.

At the age of 21, after more than a year of preparation, I underwent intrauterine insemination with donor sperm, resulting in me conceiving and carrying a beautiful baby girl to term. Despite the natural misgivings that some surrogate mothers have about “giving” up the baby, I found the whole experience to be wonderful. I never thought of her as mine but my little sister and I was extremely blessed by this opportunity to have a very special connection with her. I never really gave her up either. My parents and I bought a house together where we now have all lived since before the fertility treatments started. I have been there from day one and continue to be there for her each and every day. My mother and I get along wonderfully and agree on the aspects of raising children. She may call me sister, but our relationship is much closer to that of mother and daughter.

While we have no reason to believe that my mother will not live to see her youngest grown to adulthood, it is planned that should the worst come to be, I will continue to care for and raise my little sister. She will not be left an orphan in a distant relative’s home or placed into foster care. Instead, she will continue to live with and be loved by one who has been there as a second mother from the day of her birth.

Many may argue that this seems wrong and against nature, and for most of the world’s population, it probably wouldn’t work. But we are one of the few exceptions. For our family, it works. We are now blessed with the joy of a beautiful, intelligent, well-adjusted little three-year-old girl and we couldn’t be happier with the decisions we made and the results that came after. When she is old enough to understand we will explain to her that she was not only a culmination of a mother and father’s love but that of an older sister’s as well. Our family may be unconventional and non-traditional, but it is wonderful nonetheless and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
As an older parent, my mother feels she has much to offer. She is more financially stable, has more time, patience and experience to devote to motherhood. My father as well has more time now to spend at home with his family. Also, after almost 30 years of marriage, my parents are extremely close and work well together. The time when most marriages end in divorce has passed and they continue to love and respect one another.

We feel truly blessed that at this time we were able to travel to India and become patients under the care Dr. Malpani where we are currently undergoing IVF treatment using my eggs and donor sperm. Resulting embryos will then be transferred to my mother’s womb in the hopes that once again she can carry her own child.

With the rapid increase in scientific ability comes a great responsibility to use that knowledge wisely, and to acknowledge the rights and freedoms of all it affects. We should use fertility treatments to help grow stable and loving families. If we begin drawing lines to include only the majority, we will miss out on all the beautiful families waiting to be created unless we can learn to accept the exceptions."

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