Thursday, July 7, 2011

What makes a family?

I read and really liked this New York Times article called "Who's on the Family Tree? Now It's Complicated" about the ever-evolving concept of family with the burgeoning use of adoption and third-party reproduction and more fluid relationships among intimate partners.

I liked how one family described that they have "the family tree" and then they have "the day-to-day structure of the family" and the idea that some families now organize their family tree into two separate histories: genetic and emotional.

I also liked that thought is going into how this impacts teaching in the classroom. One teacher is quoted in the article as saying, “You have to be ready to have that conversation about surrogates, sperm donors and same-sex parents if you are going to teach the family tree in the classroom.” Which made me smile. I like to envision that by the time our child is old enough to be grappling with any of these issues that perhaps there will be so many other children through embryo donation, adoption, surrogacy, and the like, that it will not be a situation that will make them feel different or put them in an odd situation in a classroom...say, should they be asked to draw a family tree....or like in my sister-in-law's prep school biology class, perform a PCR DNA analysis on themselves and their parents (yikes! Hope those kids have already discussed their origins before this happens!) 

It's on our minds as we think about next steps: How do you make a family? How do you define love?

So passing case this is of interest to you, too...


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  1. I saw this, too. I have to think that there are so many more kids that are still "created" out of love, but less "traditional" means than 30 ish years ago when the first IVF occurred, you know? I just have a feeling that our kids aren't going to be the only kids in class that have a non-traditional history (probably in more ways than conception).

    we also use the term "chosen family". to describe our closest friends. the people that you would trust your life to...but are not bound to genetically. :) I guess it's the same as emotional family...I just like my term better! :)

  2. To be honest I found the NYT article annoying in its claim/assertion that this is something new. Sure, some of it is, but children whose social fathers aren't their genetic fathers is nothing new, and as some commenter on the article (not me) pointed out, surrogacy (traditional, not gestational) is as old as (at least) the Old Testament.

    I do think much of the openness is new, and (largely, perhaps not uniformly) good. At the same time, as the article (and you) pointed out, the ready availability of things like DNA test mean that those who would prefer to choose not to be open with their children about their genetic origins (if their emotional parents are not their genetic parents) do so at considerable risk, I'd say.

    But, if the article helps you feel more at peace with pursuing paths that you've been reluctant to explore but that may turn out to bring you to the family you are seeking to grow, I'm all for it, one hundred percent.

  3. This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing, Mo. My husband is Canadian and has a brother and a cousin. Both, however, do not want children. So, the only child to pass along my husband's last name is Bryce...who is AA. We've joked with my husband's family that the family tree just changed and now looks COMPLETELY different forever more. 100+ years from now, family will look back with curiosity, I'm sure! For us, that's the wonder, love and quirkiness of adoption. :-) Good read. Thanks!

  4. Love this! We absolutely consider some of our friends actual "family", my bestfriend is 100% my sister, my biological sister I only see or hear from 1 or 2 times a year...genetics does not a family make ; ) We define family as those people who love us no matter what, that we can count on for anything and everything and who we would do anything for in return b/c we all love each other not b/c their is some kind of obligation, expectation or duty...and not for nothing but said best friend is the ONLY person that I trust with my IVF/ICSI miracle, not even my mother is allowed to baby sit, so I guess that says a lot about how I feel about family and "family" : ) Lots of well wishes to you guys as you continue this family building journey!

  5. I dunno. Seems like old news.

    For example, as the result of large number of divorces and remarriages, I grew up in a family (or, more accurately, several families) with lots and lots of people who weren't biologically related to me. Or, for that matter, to each other.

    And my situation was far from uncommon.

  6. Very interesting Mo, thanks for posting. I'm glad the article was helpful to you. As to your questions - how do you make a family? In any way that you can - all it takes is love. And how do you define love? For me there is no stronger feeling of love than what I feel when I hold my sweet baby in my arms and see him look into my eyes, completely trusting of me. I don't have any genetic connection to him, and although I did carry him for nine months, I don't have any doubt that I would love him just as passionately if he had come to me in any other way. And I know that you too will have that same feeling some day soon.

  7. I liked this article, but I also agree that it's not new. I agree with the commenter on the article who said that there are more important things to teach in school than family trees. (I also think this was the most positive bunch of comments I've ever seen on a NYT article about ART. YAY!) Seriously, there are so many different kinds of families that doing family trees in school doesn't make sense to me. There are so many children (and always have been) who have family members they are not genetically related to. Explaining these relationships can be complicated. This seems an unfair burden for a (for instance) 7 year old, to explain to his/her teacher and classmates.

    "How do you make a family?"

    Let me count the ways. :-)

    "How do you define love?"

    Let your heart do that. Love for your child is truly unlike any other love. I wish this for you so damn much!

    with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life!

  8. thanks for posting this link. It's very interesting how we as human beings are creating families - communities of those we love. Tradtional is no longer the norm, and non-traditional is earning some street-cred!

    Always in my thoughts Mo!


  9. THanks for posting the link Mo. Just wanted to say hello and I've been thinking of you blogging friend.

    And, I think that all you need for a family is love and understanding. Hell...not even families made the "old fashioned way" has that always.

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  11. Great article Mo~ family is an ever evolving tree because of the societal changes that have happened in the past 50-100 years. It is great that teachers have recognized this and are working it into the classroom discussions...
    For your questions:
    How do you make a family? In whatever way you can that makes your heart sing...
    How do you define love? By the sound your heart makes when you are with those you love

  12. how are you both doing? please update when you can... many people care for you!

  13. I'm hoping no news is good news...

  14. Mo, just checking in with you to see how your are doing.

    My grandmother was adopted and it makes a weird gap in my own family tree. As we are using donor sperm, that family tree will also have weird truncations.

    But family is LOVE.

  15. I hope your silence means wonderful things are happening.

  16. Just wanted to check in and see how you are doing. I hope things are going ok. Thinking of you.

  17. Routinely check in to see if you have updated. Just want you to know I think about you and hope no news is good news and you are enjoying your summer.

  18. Thinking of you too. About to embark on a DE cycle... I'm very excited to consciously bring this creature into a world of love... DNA shmeeNA!

  19. I'm hoping that everything is okay and you're just to busy to update us. This small corner of the blogosphere is thinking of you...


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