Saturday, January 31, 2009

14 Babies for a Single Mom

So, the news this week that a 33-year-old unmarried woman in California delivered eight babies -- with six already at home with grandparents -- is obviously creating a frenzy of conversation. In the media. On the Choice Mom discussion board.

One version of the story is here.

Undoubtedly this will lead to speculation about where ethically the line should be drawn. Some certainly want it drawn tight -- only a husband and a wife should be allowed to have children together. Others loosen it slightly. Not many feel there should be no lines drawn at all when the well-being of a child is concerned. But who decides? And at one point is it drawn?

Should there be a limit to age of a parent? Is 50 too old to start? What about the women we've seen in the news delivering babies at 60? Is it only the women who are "too old?" What about when men father children in later years, Charlie Chaplin style? Is that more acceptable? And if so, why?

In adoption, some countries reject applicants who are obese, or who smoke, or who already have children.

Certainly many places reject lesbians and gay individuals and couples as being "unfit" parents (even though research tends to indicate this is not true).

So, drawing lines is not an easy matter.

On the Choice Mom board, the story has kept us busy. Most of us consider it unethical for a single woman to be allowed treatment to implant multiple embryos when she already has six children at home. Here are a few excerpts of our varied opinions.

"I work in the pediatric ICU as a nurse practitioner and I have seen the effects of prematurity (both health issues for the children as well as the economic consequences for hospitals). I hate to pass judgment but it is soooooo hard to not when we are in a community that is struggling as single moms to provide the best environment for children. I am very shocked at the apparent lack of thoughtfulness on either the mom or the fertility doctor. I am glad *I* had an ethics consult when I was getting started. I am not saying no single woman should have more than 6 kids, but I think her situation is very concerning. Living in a 3-bedroom house with her parents."

Here's a CNN article about it.

Said another:
"I hate to be judgmental, but I really think this is very irresponsible, with or without a dad in the picture. I would not think of bringing even one child into this world if I was having trouble supporting myself and my current obligations financially."

"...And all that is said with complete respect to a mother's choice not to reduce or abort for any personal, ethical or religious reasons (except that if she used fertility drugs, I would PERSONALLY consider it hypocritical not to use medical means to reduce the number of fetuses in order to improve the lives of the remaining ones, since using medication in such a way, probably without proper medical supervision, is already a risky step outside the realm of natural / religious circumstances)."

It does affect society's view of our path. This woman's path is different. We support bringing into the world kids that we are prepared to support financially and provide loving care to. We support responsible medical ethics in using assisted reproduction. This will have an impact on the entire industry and maybe on our choices, too. It is hard to conjure up a scenario in which this is a justifiable choice."

Another (note that the eighth baby was a surprise during delivery; the mother chose not to abort any of the seven known children):
"I draw the line where parents inflict harm on their children. Attempting to carry 8 babies to full term is risky and almost guarantees that at least some of them will not have healthy lives. Same goes for drinking or using drugs while pregnant. I also draw the line where parents put themselves in a position where they are unable to meet their obligation to their children: to provide each and every child with sufficient love, attention, care and guidance, in reasonable living conditions."

"I think that having a baby as a single mom is a debatable topic (with people on both sides of the fence, which is fine). Having 14 children when you cannot adequately provide for them is not. It'll be interesting to see the story unfold. See what her motives were in trying IVF, who the sperm came from, where the money for IVF came from, how she expects to support these 14 kids, if she ends up with her own "+14" tv show. The women on this discussion board put so much thought into having children. We're well prepared, we've done our research, we've got money in the bank. Imagine if everyone put this much thought into having babies. Every kid would (hopefully) know just how much he/she was wanted and is loved. Ah, utopia."

This smart advice:
"Before you undergo the process, you really should consider what you would do if you found yourself pregnant with multiples, especially high order ones. Since many of us wind up using ovulation-stimulating drugs or IVF, our risks are higher. You should have thought through the options beforehand so you have a fair sense of what you would do in certain situations, rather than wait until it's thrust upon you and you have to make a quick call in an already stressful and hormonal place.

"I decided early on that I could not do anything to increase my chances for multiples. All of my planning and my understanding of my resources (financial and emotional) told me that I could really only handle one as a single parent. I would have liked more than one child, but at this point unless Prince Charming does pop into my life in the next year or so, that's not going to happen."

"It is hard for me not to "judge" as I see things from a medical standpoint. I don't know how many of you have been in a NICU and have see the heartbreak I have. You always hear the wonderful stories of how well premature babies do, rarely do people talk of the grief and sadness that can and does happen all too often. Sometimes being alive is not living. I do not know why someone with six children would opt for IVF, OR have all embryos transferred. I try to be open-minded but I am enraged. There are so many ramifications that aren't medical."

On the other hand:
"I have been following this discussion with a certain amount of trepidation. Who are we to judge a woman's actions? How do you justify passing judgment on another when we ourselves are going against societal mores and rules pursuing our own paths? Where do you draw the line? Do you watch the TV show about 17 kids? Is THAT criminal? Do you decry the woman's choices because of her singlehood? Because of the idea she may have used injectibles or IVF to super-ovulate, or because she has so many children under 7? I can only say I am very glad I am not in her place. I know I would be having trouble managing 6 children, despite the fact that I have a supportive family, etc."

Here's a BioNews article about it, and the responsibility of the fertility doctor.

So...let's open it up in the more public forum. What do YOU think about this story?

And, does it make a difference to your thoughts if the woman is 33, or 25, or 40? Does it make a difference if she has a high school education, or is in her post-graduate studies? Does it make a difference if she has the means of financial support for all of her children?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In response to Ann Coulter

submitted to Huffington Post

For those of you not attuned to every attention-getting proclamation of Ann Coulter, she recently went on a 3.5-minute rant on “The Today Show” (Wednesday, January 7) about why single motherhood is the root of evil in society today.

An old argument, defended in an old way. Largely focused on statistics about the pregnant teens, rapists and murderers who were raised by single mothers. Any societal problem, she said, is “really a problem of single mothers.” This is not an outrageous statement, she added, but a fact. And it’s the exultation of single motherhood in the media and movies, courts destroying the institution of marriage, and children raised without fathers that is filling up our prisons.

One thing you have to say for Ann – she does provocative bullet-point copy well.

As the moderator of a discussion group with more than 900 single women who are proactively CHOOSING to become mothers without a father in the home, and founder of the website, I can tell you that the TV clip was passed around quickly in our community.

First, my own soapbox: Obviously it’s so easy to think it simply has something to do with how many parents are home – quantity, not quality – rather than think any more deeply about what is going on in the home. Why are those mothers single? Why is there no father?

I presume Ann hasn’t waltzed into a prison lately to ask WHY those rapists and murderers are there. What was it about the single-mom home that led them astray? Mom working two jobs to make ends meet and not being home to set curfews? A father’s rejection and abandonment? A caretaker who was immature, depressed, focused on self to the exclusion of all others? Too much exposure to an alcoholic or abusive parent?

I happen to know, from my own suburban childhood, three people who have been jailed for assault, murder and attempted rape. Each of them came from a stable two-parent home. There’s obviously no clear-cut answer to the complexities of a person’s psyche.

It might be scary for some to admit, but having specific rules – one biological father and one biological mother in the home to raise children for 18 years – is no guarantee of anything.

Second, people who proactively choose to become a parent on their own – such as the tens of thousands of Choice Moms (aka single mothers by choice) -- are NOT doing a disservice to society. Our children are generally confident, strong-minded people who benefit from attentive, loving, disciplined parenting.

Some of us do struggle financially, especially these days. Some of us do struggle emotionally and logistically with the lack of a partner in our life. But there is a big difference between someone who can “deal” with these struggles, and someone who cannot.

Although more Choice Moms are starting families on our own in our 20s (this surprises me, but it is a trend I’m seeing in my membership), we are not victims to any circumstance other than the fact that we didn’t have a partner around when it was time to build our family.

A professional survey of more than 500 Choice Moms, conducted last year and to be officially released in a few months, reveals that a majority of us have postgraduate college degrees. Most of us saved money and found housing in a stronger neighborhood before becoming parents on our own. Most of us don’t consider single parenting to be any more difficult than it is for other parents. Most of us consider it very important for our children to have male role models.

We argue with each other about everything from home-schooling to breast-feeding – we tend to be strong-minded women with strong values that are not shared by everyone in the community.

We include women like Arlene, the politically conservative Choice Mom of a five-year-old daughter, who shared this with me:
“I enjoy reading Anne Coulter since I think she is a gifted writer, has a sharp wit, makes brilliant observations and is not held back by the PC police. One of the issues I agree with her about is her view on the children of single mothers having more problems than their peers. However, Ann is NOT referring to all kids of single moms -- certainly not to the offspring of mature, intelligent, financially secure women.

“I had a child on my own for one reason: a loudly ticking biological clock and an intense wish (need?) to be a biological mom. I can always get married (at least it's in the realm of possibility), but the clock waits for no one when it comes to childbearing. I do not think it is optimal for a child to be born to a single mom. However, I think a single mom can do a great job of raising a child (as many have in various sets of circumstances through the ages). But I would be in deep denial if I thought the absence of a father will not have an impact on the life of a child.

“I tend to run in conservative circles. However, I have not had one negative comment about my choice. When presented in an honest and forthright manner, who wouldn't understand? Everyone knows that there's a lack of desirable marriage-minded (particularly Jewish) guys, so who can blame us?”

Now that is a reasonable voice I can listen to. Too bad there aren’t more non-celebritized voices like Arlene’s filling space with the “liberal” media, otherwise all of us could truly get greater perspectives on “the other side” of issues.

My final point to share is this: Of course all children should be surrounded by people who love them, who protect them, who teach them discipline and respect, who notice when they’re struggling. It’s great when they have a mother, and a father, and a grandparent, and family friends, and teachers, and other role models to do this. No one should be raised by simply one person, or two people.

The website this month, in fact, looks at the amazing support we give and receive from our wider community. Including, in webcast form, the fun anecdote of how four single women delivered two babies in 24 hours. And, in blog form, the story of a D.C. single mothers by choice group that is rallying around a newborn whose mother unexpectedly died of pregnancy complications. And, in podcast form, the strong women who are learning how to ask for help and reach out to a wider circle to add to their life and that of their children.

There is no weakness in becoming part of a larger whole. We are not supposed to be isolated individuals living in cocoons of our own making. We are ALL, single and married parents and non-parents, supposed to be here for each other, raising strong children together.

Hopefully, someday, Ann will discover this and write a new book about that.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Tragedy reminds us about being prepared

I just learned that a 40-year-old Choice Mom-in-the-making, who lived in the D.C. area, suddenly died Christmas Day while 32.5-weeks pregnant, from the very rare pregnancy complication of HELLPS (Hemolytic anemia, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count).

Her baby boy was born safely, but she did not get to meet him.

On SO many levels this is tragic and makes all of us in the Choice Mom community stop with a collective gasp and remember what a blessing it is that all of us are here to enjoy the friends and family that surround us.

There are two silver linings in this woman's story.

One is that she was connected to her local Single Mothers by Choice community, which is now contributing to a trust fund in her son's name. Choice Moms is now beginning the steps toward establishing a fundraising event to involve our worldwide community. I'll continue to post here as this develops.

The second silver lining is that she was as prepared as anyone can be for this kind of tragedy.

This woman already had a guardian picked out, life insurance, and a will prepared. But most of us don't have this level of foresight, especially when we are so eager to conceive, deliver and embark on motherhood for the first time.

Choice Moms wants to help all of us become better educated about the importance of these steps BEFORE you plan to bring a child home. As Jessica, who told me about this woman's story, pointed out, many insurance companies won't give you insurance if you are pregnant.

Who wants to help us on this fundraising and awareness mission?