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Procreation Politics

womens-health

The news of the United States Senate discussing a limit on abortion is going to stir up conversation. By now we’re all pretty clear that some people do not approve of abortion. Those people should either never have one or never impregnate someone. Many other people consider it a choice with restrictions. Then there are others who don’t consider other people’s choices any of their business. In recent years any political discussion of abortion seems geared to appeasing a specific populace and there is usually a religious subtext.

However when discussing a term limit (in this case of 20 weeks gestation) it is a conversation about science and economics not about religion. Science is a wonderful thing and many of us owe a great deal to advances in medical research. Never before has the natal experience been so orchestrated and monitored. We now can manufacture zygotes that grow into fetuses that become babies. We can monitor and test for far more diseases and defects than we really care to consider. Many of these screenings occur at different stages in a pregnancy. Some maternal or fetal crises develop at any time (including into delivery.) It can be rather late in a pregnancy that an extreme fetal anomaly is detected. It is devastating news to receive and simply unthinkable that a woman would have no choice but to soldier on for perhaps five more months. With much of the fertility interventions we have now, multiples are not an unusual occurrence. Multiples always carry a higher risk both to the woman and the other fetuses. What happens when one fetus is threatening the life of the others in utero? How is the decision made to “protect the unborn” then made? It is also essential to keep in mind that a woman’s health can be jeopardized at any stage of a pregnancy.

If the health of the fetus or mother is not in jeopardy there are limited reasons a woman would seek an abortion after 20 weeks. Many of those reasons would cease to exist if we had safe, affordable, accessible abortions any and everywhere in this country. There will always be women who come to the decision later in the pregnancy (for varying reasons.) But for the most part, if abortion were as available as sonograms in this country, later abortions would be less of an issue. By making abortion accessible we’d also help to lower any stigma a woman might feel.

Having a later term abortion is never desirable for anyone involved. It involves a pregnancy that is visible, presumably a difficult decision process, and a more complicated procedure. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman making a casual decision about such a thing. That alone is reason enough for politicians to get over regulating women’s bodies and step up to improving women’s healthcare. It is outrageous that in the 21st century, people with resources can make (and shelve) all the zygotes they wish while people with limited resources must rely on the whims of their elected officials to control their procreation.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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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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The Right To Choose

The New York Times has ‘uncovered’ some misleading rhetoric regarding Plan B (aka ‘the morning after pill’.)  Many of those interested in banning the contraceptive have hitched their wagon to the notion that this pill sloths away attached cells from the uterine wall.  This is in fact not the case, and never has been.  Plan B prevents the attachment (by means that are very natural/biological but may be too ‘eeeeew’ inducing to discuss here.)

Without getting too technical or “no, she did Not just say that” let’s review what we’re discussing here.  What the banners were using as their justification for preventing access to contraceptives was that Plan B was in fact an abortifacient.  Their position is that as soon as two cells meet (an egg and a sperm) a human exists.  Sentimental rhetoric aside, there is a name for the meeting of these two cells; it’s called a zygote.  A zygote is not a fetus or embryo.  Zygotes slough off and disappear on a regular basis.  It’s nature.  Many regular monthly cycles include these invisible cells.  A zygote probably has as much of a chance as organically becoming a human as any unmet egg and sperm.  That covers the biologically, now for the chemistry.

The last thing I would ever do is provide ammunition to anyone looking to limit the human rights of others, but you know what?  You know what does slough off cells?  The I.U.D. and birth control pills do.  Both of these devices include hormones that change the lining of the uterine wall.  The presence of anything in the uterus (like an I.U.D.) prevents any attachment to the wall.  A zygote’s got nowhere to go.

It’s astounding to consider that people (and mostly they seem, to me anyway, to be men) are so concerned about sperm when it’s inside of someone else.  How could it be, if they are truly concerned about what happens to their contribution, that we still have absolutely nothing resembling reliable male birth control?  The only means we have is not traditionally embraced by men and is probably as old as the I.U.D.  Listen up men, you’ve had the corner on the medical field for centuries, whatya been doing?  Where’s your walkathon or ribbons to raise awareness for male birth control.  Where is the wait-list for reversible vasectomies?  Where is the partaking in relations only for fertilization?

I won’t hold my breath.  It’s always much more interesting to point to others as the problem.  It might even serve social purposes to belittle an entire gender, assuming they a) don’t know how their bodies work and b) can’t make informed decisions about their own reproductive life.  For whatever reason, these attacks on a woman’s body and rights have been going on forever.  And let us be perfectly clear, any limitations to contraception are an attack on women not an attempt to “save the zygote.”  There are facilities all across this globe that are creating and/or processing these microscopic conjoined cells through very expensive and sophisticated means.  They do not all become implanted, and those that do, do not all adhere and grow.  Yes, this brave new world of medically induced fertility is worth more than a cursory review from an ethics perspective.  We should be looking long and hard at the benefits and costs to our society and to the individual of these developments.  But what isn’t complicated is that every person should have control over what is done to his/her own body.  Forcing anyone to carry a pregnancy is barbaric.  Pound whatever religious text as you try to do it, hold up whatever placards you find most repugnant, but in the end, anyone daring to tell a woman to carry a pregnancy is nothing less than a barbarian.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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#ThreeMinutesApart

Would you give birth in an art gallery?  On purpose?  I’m guessing no.  Nor would I.  But then again I wouldn’t post a photo of my fetus on Facebook.  Call me a traditionalist, but I consider medical tests to be somewhat personal.  Sonograms and birthing are two sides of a similar coin (and not just in the procreational timeline.)

Birthing as “art” is pretty low on the Gypsy-Rose-Lee-having-no-talent rung of performance art.  Unless the “artist” did it while playing the trumpet, dancing, or adorned in light bulbs, I’m not sure it counts as a talent.  I’ve seen enough bad acting in my life to know that talent often need not get in the way of being on stage.  I would venture that our Lamaze performance artist is a subscriber to the “if it happens to me, it is interesting” school of thought.  But all art is some form of exhibitionism, isn’t it?  I’m less concerned with her personal display than I am with the sonogram as baby photo.

Medical test photos on Facebook are creepy.  A) it’s way too personal b) it’s a fetus, not an infant, anything could happen g-d forbid (which is why the test was done in the first place!) c) what in the world is the poster after as a response? “Oh your blurry blob looks just like you!”  After seeing one of these test results posted I started counting the years to my first colonoscopy.  Brace yourself world.

There are some out there who may not be ready to share their sonogram photos with the world.  Why, you ask?  Well because they conceived last night, so for them it is a photo of the pee stick.  That’s right.  Every friend and virtual friend can now see the results of a pregnancy test.  (I so wish I was being facetious, but oh my dears, I am still scrubbing my eyes.)  Remember when you didn’t discuss your pregnancy until the end of the first trimester?  Pish posh and rubbish.  I’m willing to venture that right at this moment, someone is updating her status with; “my temperature is elevated and the lights are dimmed.”

How did we develop this insatiable need for an audience?  When did the miracle of life diminish in its gravitas?  How is creating a life, not enough?  I struggle to resist my knee jerk reaction of pinning this on immaturity.  But I simply can’t help but equate this behavior with a toddler announcing to a group of adults that she successfully went potty.

 
 

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