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Making Babies

louise

Procreation has changed an awful lot in the past few decades. Do you remember Louise Brown? She was the very first ‘test tube’ baby (aka known as the result of the first successful in vitro fertilization.) Her mother’s story (splattered on every British tabloid) was an international shock. Would the child be normal? Should we be making people in a laboratory? Were eugenics far behind? What kind of person goes to such sci-fi lengths to replicate themselves? Even the Pope weighted in. Well, little Louise is 34 years old now and my have times changed. Medical advances have redefined not just how we make babies but when mothers can be made as well.

Thirty plus years ago a pregnant woman over the age of 35 raised eyebrows. The elevated eyebrows were less about impropriety and more about biology. “Geriatric pregnancy” is an actual medical term and has nothing to do with walkers or graying hair. The human body is designed to be at peak fertility and health before age 35. Specific gestational and delivery risks are more probable after this age. Medical advances have made it safer (through early detection methods) for older women to carry and deliver, but the risks still exist. Historically women over 40 have had children, often quite by surprise. It is not unusual for a woman to develop a (false) sense of infertility security at the start of menopause. But it is only in the last decade or so that women over 40, trying to become pregnant has become normative. It was as recent as 1995 that (actress) Jane Seymour made magazine covers and evoked national gasps by becoming pregnant (with twins) at 44. Public judgments were made about her vanity and sense of entitlement. “She’ll be over 60 when they graduate!” It’s rather unlikely that today such an endeavor would warrant mention let alone prompt a national discussion.

Celebrities (and regular folk) routinely become parents at an older age; often through elaborate intervention. A woman can use her eggs (if they are viable) or a donor’s eggs. She can use her own or someone else’s uterus. Sperm is easily and equally transferable. There are many means and methods of now creating people. It’s hard to imagine that any new configurations could possibly be discovered/invented. All of this progress brings its own host of issues. Medical ethicists must smack their lips and rub their hands together every time a surrogate is hired. What does it mean to create a population who may never know to whom they’re related? Will children grow up and marry their siblings? What does it mean when the eggs of a woman with cancer are frozen for future use? Do doctors have a medical (and ethical) imperative to determine any genetic component to her cancer before fertilizing the eggs? And while we have the ethicists in the room: should health insurance cover fertility expenses? Is replicating one’s genes and/or having a birth experience, medically necessary? If not, are only the wealthy then entitled to these means to parenthood?

And what of other means to parenthood? What is the (current state and) future of adoption? International adoption has become a bit trendy as a few celebrities publicize their children’s origins. But limits to these adoptions are imposed everyday. What of domestic adoptions? There was a time that celebrities regularly and publicly adopted locally out of need. Fertility, contractual obligations, marital status or state of marriage necessitated adoption. If celebrities are adopting domestically today they’re doing it quietly behind closed doors (as the surrogate signs over her rights.) There will never be a shortage in this country of children needing parents. Accidents happen, death happens, life happens; and children are left in precarious situations.

There is no one way or even right way to make a family. In fact often it’s the messiest and most complicated households that are the richest. However as we make these incredible medical advances in maternity let us not lose sight of what we want parenthood to be. Nurturing and guiding a human being is an incredibly rewarding endeavor. Giving a child solid roots and the freedom to fly is the greatest of gifts. How that child arrives into your home and life is immaterial.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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A Place Of One’s Own

Do you remember hearing about people who kept an uncle in the attic?  Was that just my family?  The attic seemed to be where relatives who might not be entirely suited to living in society, were stashed.  You never hear these references any longer.  We could chalk that up to the demise of the cohabiting extended family, but I doubt it.  If there ever really were uncles up there, they’re long gone now.  The modern generation of uncles is more mainstreamed or perhaps people don’t have attics any longer.  The extended family does seem to still be cohabiting, but now it’s the adult children.  And they seem to not be in the attic or basement but be in their old room.

You’ve heard countless reports of adults in their 20s (or older!) living with their parents.  They don’t seem to be there to offer support to parents presumably in their senior years, but to live as they did as a teenager.  They live in the manner they’ve grown accustomed with; reliable climate control, plumbing, food, laundry, cable, wireless, and perhaps access to a car.  You’ve no doubt heard that unemployment is the cause of this phenomenon.  No doubt for some it is.  But there’s something else in play too, no?

Let’s think back, way back (cue flashback music and wiggly screen.)  There you are headed off to college.  You’ve got your new comforter, milk crate of albums, a hotpot and every stitch of clothing you own.  Maybe a parent drove you to campus.  If so they’re long gone by the time you start to unpack.  Those first few hours are filled with nervous meetings of roommates and suite-mates and a growing euphoria of having left home.  Yes, the university is nice.  Yes, the classes seem mildly interesting.  But YOWZA, you don’t have to live with your parents anymore!!!!  You go through the next four years jerry-rigging yourself into a major that will render you employable.

Ah the world of work and the demoralizing entry-level position.  You probably worked weekends, maybe even graveyard shift.  You’d stumble home to your apartment, careful not to wake your roommates sleeping on the couch.  You’d collapse in your bed, lucky to share an actual bedroom with just one other person.  Most nights you’d be too tired to boil up a generic hot dog or open a can of no-frill baked beans.  In the morning you’d wake up 10 minutes early to avoid the maddening crush of all your roommates fighting over the shower.  Our developmental milestones were measured in how many roommates we were able to discard.  Living alone was the ultimate brass ring.  I’m not so sure that’s the case any longer.

There is now more than one generation that has no familiarity with sharing a childhood bedroom let alone a bathroom.  Colleges and universities know this and have been churning out “singles” at an impressive rate.  There is also little romance now associated with being ‘poor.’  There have been too many post-Reagan decades for communes and ‘living off the land’ to hold any mystique for people under 40.  We all spend money in ways that would have floored our generic hot dog eating selves.  Bottles of water?  Cups of coffee for $5?  Electronics?  New cars?  It’s fair to say we considered making a long-distance call a luxury back then.

There are no doubt many young(er) people living with their (extraordinarily generous) parents who have simply had a bad run of luck.  They chose a path to a degree that they could afford.  They chose a course of study that should lead to employment.  They’re ready willing and able to share a garage apartment in the suburbs with three strangers.  But nothing has gelled for them.  They are cooking all the family meals, taking care of the home and generally making themselves an asset to their parents while they look for employment and housing 8 hours a day.

And then there’s everyone else.

There’s Brandon, whose parents paid his tuition entirely and set him on a debt-free course, only to have him drop in and out of the workplace.  He currently lives at his parents’ home while working on his web business, or saving up for a condo (home ownership is now a birthright by the way.)

Emma has college debt, some of it avoidable no doubt.  She eschewed starting at a community college and floundered a bit for it.  Her 4-year degree took 5 1/2 years, but she’s done!  Yes, $200K is a staggering amount of debt for anyone, but surely a dance major can find well-compensated work?

And then there’s dear sweet Madison.  She/he (who knows with a name like Madison!) worked her way through a school she could afford.  She applied for every grant, fellowship and scholarship and even got a free ride to graduate school.  Madison has a good job with a bright future.  She lives with her parents because it makes everyone happy.

Are unemployment rates high?  Of course.  Are students being trained in areas which have projected job growth?  Perhaps.  Has our culture changed radically in the past 20 years?  Absolutely.  That flashback you, bolting through the door of your parents’ home towards your own life is now quaint.  If you had been raised in the child-centric universe that exists today, you may have been less eager to jump into adulthood.  It would seem that the most important takeaway from the “more adult children are living with their parents” buzz is that it may very well not simply be the result of high unemployment.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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