Thursday, 21 August 2014

So, apparently we're 'immoral'

For a moment this morning I was outraged and nauseated as I read, over my breakfast cereal, Richard Dawkin's latest contrarian tweet.

In response to a woman who wonders about the ethical dilemma of going ahead with a pregnancy after a Down syndrome diagnosis, Dawkins - seeing no dilemma at all - replies:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

But then I saw this (from Craig Porter):

...and now I feel better. Best. Response. Ever. 

Suck on that, Richard Dawkins.

If this is what immoral looks like, then paint me scarlet.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


In recent days, a city where I lived and worked for more than two years (and stretched and grew and changed as a human being), has been ever on the verge of open conflict, trying to defend itself against a scary level of fundamentalism after decades of work to move beyond its legacy of trauma. My thoughts are so often with the people there, my former students, the families who shared their homes and stories and all of what they had, so often in short supply though it was. Of the warmth and hospitality I received. I think of their generosity of spirit, their openness and interest; of conversations carried out across cultures and generations, soft voices and gentle laughter, in the dark as the generators gave out. 

May they be safe tonight. May the warmth and hospitality and openness of these people win out over the fear and intolerance and violence they now face.


 ~ Pray for Peace ~
Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.

If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas–

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

                                       ~ Ellen Bass

Friday, 8 August 2014

Stuff nobody told me about parenting a newborn

I stumble, befuddled and bleary-eyed, from bed, unsure of the time or even, in those first semi-conscious moments, what day it is.

I rummage through the pile of discarded garments on the floor, selecting the least wrinkled, the least malodorous, and contentedly throw it on. I know I'll probably be in pyjamas all day anyway.

In the kitchen I manage to rustle up a breakfast of sorts: coffee - the stronger the better - cold left-over pizza and some squares of chocolate. There will be no time for cooking today, even if I could find the inclination, which I don't.

The detritus of the previous night's activities is everywhere; heaps of unwashed dishes and a room in happy disarray, that gives me a warm, smiley feeling to behold. This is a life well-lived.

It feels full, frequently overwhelming, full of mistakes and lessons learned without a manual, trial-and-error-on-the-fly-we're-all-still-smiling-and-no-one-got-hurt. The heady rush of daily developments and discoveries. Each moment a study in newness and magnificence. Blissful, and awash with messy, limitless possibility. Every day an adventure.

If infertility is surprisingly like being a physicist, I had no inkling of how much these first steps into parenthood would - oddly - resemble my earliest university days.

The gorgeous cause of all the leftover-eating, dirty-laundry-wearing, mess-making adventure.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A semi-retraction: not all people are bastards

As I was typing yesterday's post, the story of baby Gammy it seems was already making its way across global headlines, and an equally global campaign of support and compassion had blossomed. (I admit that with this adjusting-to-motherhood thing I'm somewhat behind with a fast developing story.)

In a few short days, funds have been raised to pay Gammy's necessary medical costs, and the international press coverage has generated what I consider a very positive discussion about a whole range of issues, from the the ethics of 'surrogacy tourism' to the lives of children with disability generally and the positive contributions they make to their parents lives. The tone of discussion has been a lot more open and well-directed than I might have anticipated.

At the same time, I'm surprised that there could really be any level of sympathy for the parents involved, as some comments here seem to have suggested. Is it sad for them, in the sense that they are clearly people who don't seem to grasp the value of every individual life, from that of their children to the woman they hired to carry them? Yes, pitifully so. But they are no more victims than the dubious agency which they apparently hired to broker a deal in which they never bothered to meet their surrogate.

As one commenter suggested, this is not normal practice for those who pursue surrogacy as a road to family building. Who goes about something as serious and life-altering as gestating and birthing their child without a lot of research, some serious contractual specifics in place and at least a certain level of comfort with the person hired to do so (which would entail meeting said individual)? If it were me, that would be the last venture in which I would be looking to cut costs.

And while I'm willing to believe that a 21 year old women from a small village in Thailand might be naive enough to overlook or not fully grasp these details, I can't understand why a couple who had undertaken fertility treatments would be. After all, experiences like IVF and surrogacy are not something you just enter into on a whim - almost by definition they normally involve a huge amount of forethought, soul-searching, weighing up options and preparedness.

And I would still argue that to normalize these people or to speak of their rights in this situation discredits those who enter into surrogacy arrangements out of a genuine desire to parent (and also smacks more than a little of the extent to which western notions of entitlement foreclose the rights of the surrogates in such a scenario). This really isn't about biological parents' right to termination, which of course should be respected. It's not a story about Down syndrome either, except insofar as some people see it as a marker of undesirability. No, we don't know all the details of what went on and who knew or understood what, but at the very least we know this couple hired a surrogate in a country where they knew there to be few if any regulations and precisely because it would be a cheap option. I'm not the only one to see parallels with The Handmaid's Tale here, and all this is said better there. (I won't even touch on the latest reports of an investigation into the biological father.)

As others have mentioned, there are so many things wrong with this story on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin. What I can't see is any interpretation in which the couple are anything other than complicit at best, and exploitive at worst in this whole situation.

But actually, this was supposed to be a post about how some genuinely good developments have come out of a horrible situation. Not all people are bastards, if we just know where to take the discussion. My faith in people is renewed. And to end on a high note, this picture of Gammy being loved on by his surrogate brother is kind of adorable.


Monday, 4 August 2014

Basically, people are bastards

Last week I read a story that has been doing the rounds on Down syndrome blogs and boards across the global media. An Australian couple who hired a surrogate in Thailand to carry their twins (apparently at a clinic that's not even licensed) discovered through prenatal screening that one of the babies had Down syndrome. They requested that the woman (who they never met through the entire process) terminate the pregnancy but she refused on the grounds that it was against her culture's beliefs.

When she finally gave birth, they came to Thailand and took home the little girl with a typical number of chromosomes, abandoning the little boy with Down syndrome. The woman who had carried he and his sister (and bears no biological connection to them) has since been caring for the boy as his mother. She comes from a rural part of the country and her poverty is what compelled her to enter into the surrogacy arrangement in the first place. Now the baby boy, called Gammy and loved by his adoptive family, needs cardiac surgery to survive (as about 50% of all babies with Down syndrome do), and the family cannot afford to get him the care he needs. Meanwhile, his biological parents, who went to great lengths to conceive him via IVF, are back in Australia with his sister.

This story enrages and saddens me on so many levels I don't even know what to say. The Australia media, as they are right to do, has emphasised the ethics involved in using the bodies of impoverished women in the developing world, women who very often have few choices in life, as essentially objects to sustain a reproductive industry available to a wealthy few.  

As one half of a couple who struggled with infertility for years and came very close to needing IVF to build our family, I am angered at stories like this. Stories that give a bad name to assisted reproductive technologies which, on the whole, help to bring babies into the world for parents who just long to love and care for a living child. Angered that these stories give any credence to the widely held but mistaken societal belief that IVF exists primarily to furnish rich, self-indulgent couples with designer babies. Angered on behalf of the many wonderful and loving parents I know who had no choice but to rely on such technologies to welcome their precious babies, and who may face stigma as a result of such negative coverage.

And as the mother of a child with Down syndrome? I. can't. even. I should clarify: I pass no judgement against people who consider termination or adoption when they get a diagnosis. While I think it's sad for everyone involved, I understand that sometimes it may be better for people who feel from the outset that they lack the capacity to parent a child with complicated needs.  

But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about self-absorption on an epic scale. We're talking about abandonment. We're talking about treating both the surrogate and the babies she carried - to borrow a term used by one of the experts interviewed in the press - as commodities that you can return if you don't like the fit or the colour.

I don't even know what to say about people such as these. I can't help but think that the real loser in this whole story is the baby girl; she has a twin brother growing up in another country who she may or may not learn about when she's older, and is stuck with those people for parents.