Should we Prevent Devastating Pregnancies? What’s Your Opinion?

            Adopting foster children can be an unending series of trials and tribulations. Maggie Jones’s “The Meaningful Life of a Supersize Family,” in the November 17, 2013 New York Times Magazine, makes the case in spades. The article profiles two families that have sacrificed the niceties of life in order to provide hearth and home for kids who most need it.  

            Misty and Jon already had four biological children. Even so, they discussed the adoption option and realized the $20,000 it would take to complete the process would overstretch their budget. But an ad on a Christian radio station about a new organization that was helping Christians to adopt foster kids helped change their minds. It opened the door for the Misty-Jon family (they didn’t want their last names used) to take in Denver County foster children, with the intention of adopting them. They were able to receive financial help including Medicaid and payment of therapy expenses.

            Their first foster children were brothers, Shon and Cory. They were told that the boys’ mother had dropped them off with a man who couldn’t care for them, and she never returned.

            Of the two, Shon had the worst time adjusting to his new family. He would lie in bed at night, head in hands, staring straight ahead until Misty left the room. He’d wake up in the same position in the morning “as if he were on guard all night.”

            Eight months later, as the adoption process was inching along, a caseworker informed Misty and Jon that Corey and Shon’s mother had just given birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They were dangerously premature at 24 weeks old. Each infant weighed one pound, and the county was asking for foster parents to

Premature ababy and mother.

10-week premature baby being held by her mother (this is not drug-related). Photo courtesy Polihale, Wikimedia Commons

cuddle the babies in the hospital. The boy died days before Misty and Jon’s first “holding” hospital visit, but his sister Olivia survived. Having severe heart problems, she was hooked up to a ventilator. After six months of driving 45 minutes every other night to the hospital to hold Olivia, Misty brought the little girl home, with a tracheostomy tube to help her breathe, a feeding tube, and full-time nursing care paid for by Medicaid.

            Another girl, Raena, was supposed to be a short-term placement. Her mother was on track to regain custody of the four-month-old, who weighed only 11 pounds. A relative’s boyfriend had shaken the child and thrown her into a bassinet, which resulted in two permanent brain injuries. When Raena’s mother lost her parental rights due to drug problems, Misty and Jon, who were caring for this special-needs child, “eagerly” began the adoption process.

            Maureen and her husband Christian heard the same religious radio ad as had Misty and Jon. They also had four birth children, and believed they had a calling to adopt foster children. The result was they adopted two boys. David and Ernesto’s birthmother was 16 when she had David. Thirteen months later, she gave birth to Ernesto, even though she tested positive for methamphetamine. Ernesto struggled with sensory issues: In one instance, he wrapped his torso in duct tape and in another, covered his head in Vaseline. He had screaming fits, hit his adoptive mother, and “grabbed her hair with both hands so that she couldn’t move.” Maureen rightly suspected that he had been exposed to drugs in utero.

             These stories lead us to ask the big question: Is it time to consider laws that prohibit unfit parents (drug addicts and child abusers) from repeating their traumatic, inhumane, and costly mistakes?  Progeny from parents who have no capacity to “think twice before making children,” frequently suffer sad and dysfunctional lives. The families who take in and take care of these children suffer too, both financially and emotionally. Society suffers by paying for services to dysfunctional parents and the children they sire. Citizens witness the cruelty to these offspring with horror, unable to stop the injustice. Why do our laws allow it? Can lawmakers and voters set boundaries that will actually save the yet unborn from a terrible fate?

          What do you think? We’d love to start some dialogue in this topic.

“If you don’t intend to have kids, don’t get married.” What?

We just returned from a two-and-a-half-week sojourn to New Zealand, where we were able to put non-South Pacific news out of our minds. Those Kiwis are the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Nevertheless, we had plenty to think about when we learned how this beautiful country–the last to be discovered by humans–managed to get its fauna screwed up, starting with the arrival of humans on its shores. For the animals on the land of the Kiwis it became a sad tale. That story, however, is for another day.

But no sooner had we arrived home and flicked on the TV than we were immersed in the controversy over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage (evidently the so-called budget sequestration issue had been resolved in our absence, as evidenced by the fact that in the five days since we returned, we have not seen or read a single story about it). Stand where you may on the gay rights issue, but one argument enrages us and should likewise raise the hackles (wherever they may be on humans) of anyone who does not or cannot have children.

There are those who argue that the purpose of marriage is procreation. In Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as in Tuesday’s hearing on California’s Proposition 8, the procreation argument came up.

If procreation is the sole purpose of marriage, it raises the following questions:

Should women over age 50 be permitted to marry?

Should infertile couples be allowed to marry?

Should couples who intend to use donated eggs or sperm be allowed to marry, since the donated gamete will not belong one of the prospective parents?

And the greatest stick-in-the-craw question of all: Should ordinary heterosexual couples who have absolutely no intention whatsoever of having kids—like the two of us—be authorized to tie the knot?

And here’s one for “dessert.” If two women want to marry with the intent of having one of them having in vitro fertilization, does that put them above a heterosexual couple who merely want to adopt? … and the beat goes on.

While half of American women who give birth under age 30 do so without being married, the marriage/procreation connection becomes even more tenuous. As for those who argue that marriage for the sake of procreation is the only way to go, we hope that fewer of those folks marry, ideally because it dawns on them that there are already Enough of Us.

Grandparents by the Millions Have to Do it all Over Again

Typically, most parents with grown children fervently hope (and oft times pray) for grandchildren – so much so, that prospective grandparents sometimes pressure their own offspring to bear a little darling or three. But given the present situation in which grandparents are stuck with childrearing a second time around, the adage “Be careful what you wish for,” is worth heeding.

            According to the 2010 US Census, about 7 million grandparents have grandchildren younger than 18 living with them.  Of the 7 million:

  • 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under age 18;
  • 580,000 grandparents who are responsible for grandchildren under age 18, have incomes below poverty level; 2.2 million have incomes just at or above poverty level.;
  • 1.9 million married (or separated) grandparents care for their grandchildren
  • 670,000 grandparents who are caregivers for their grandchildren have a disability

Photo courtesy grandparentscafe.com

Photo courtesy grandparentscafe.com

Millions of grandparents provide a home that saves their grandchildren’s lives both emotionally and physically. It’s a good thing these kinfolk are involved and willing to spread their love. However, the price they pay is a big one. They are not always prepared for their new role. They must frequently make the shift from grandma and grandpa to mom and dad, which isn’t natural or easy. Usually they have to deal with the emotional and health issues that accompany their grandchild, not to mention learning to navigate the educational, legal, social and health care systems.  It’s no wonder that a grandparent who rears his or her grandkid experiences more symptoms of depression than grandparents who are in the traditional role of enjoying their grandchildren sans raising them.

Besides the financial burdens of being a caregiver for grandchildren, grandparent marriages can suffer due to the jolt of a suddenly changed lifestyle.  In her article, “Kinship care and marriage: Raising grandchildren can create marriage difficulties!” Beth Q. Beck, former director of the Children’s Service Society of Utah, lists plenty of reasons for disagreement in kinship care marriages. Two big ones are:

  • Differences over whether grandma and grandpa agree that kinship care must be provided at all;
  • Nourishing the marriage falls by the wayside because the grandchildren require so much time and energy.

Ms. Beck describes a recent study at the University of Chicago, in which 12 of the 39 grandmothers who participated reported that the negative impact of raising grandchildren on their marriage was significant. Only three said that caring for their grandchildren strengthened their relationships with their husbands.

In an interview with a New Jersey social worker, Fox Business columnist Casey Dowd tried to shed more light on the increase in “grandfamilies” over the last decade. Social worker Janis Marler told Dowd that according to 2010 Census findings, a philosophical shift in the child welfare system has added value to placing children with relatives rather than in foster homes. A 2008 law signed by President Bush, encouraged this change. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act mandates that child protective service agencies provide notice to grandparents and relatives within 30 days of a child’s removal from parental custody.

So, dear grandparents, beware of what you wish for!  Think about the possible consequences of pressuring your progeny to create more humans when we already have Enough of Us. The ultimate burden may well fall on your shoulders.

Population and the Mormon Church

                In keeping with our continuing series about religion’s influence on procreation, we look at the family, birth control, and abortion beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormonism. 

            There are about 12.2 million Mormons worldwide, which makes it a small religion but one that carries a big-population punch.

            In 1995, the church’s First President and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued a “Proclamation to the World” that marriage (between a man and a woman), as well as family, is central to God’s plan. The Mormon Church has issued only five proclamationssince the church was established in 1830. This one spoke to the import of God’s commandment given to Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish the earth.”

Mormonism's governing body

Mormon Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, including the First Presidency

            For Mormons, the importance of family has its origins in the Church’s belief in premortal life, i.e., the unborn are God’s spirit children.  Each husband and wife brings these spirits to earth, where they become offspring.  They manifest in human form and “gain earthly experience” in order to fulfill their divine destiny. Mothers are the ones who rear and nurture their children; fathers provide for, protect, and generally preside over the family, from which the relationships of the members extend “beyond the grave,” and fulfill the “divine plan of happiness.”

            Although Latter-day Saints (LDS) celebrate and encourage large families, “Church policy supports all methods of contraception except surgical sterilization,” says Joanna Brooks’ post on the Religion Dispatches.org Web site. “Birth control is widely used and accepted among LDS Church members.” Ms. Brooks points to a prominent LDS blogger and editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Kristine Haglund, who asked the question why insurance plans at LDS institutions do not provide coverage for birth control. The answer, it seems, relates to the present controversy over President Obama’s birth control regulation and “religious freedom.” Even so, Brooks notes that premarital health classes, birth control options and contraception itself is dispensed at Mormon owned Brigham Young University.

            The Church’s position on abortion is clear: it’s only acceptable when pregnancy is a result of a rape that causes severe emotional trauma in the mother (when would it not?) and/or when the life and health of the mother is in jeopardy.  The decision to undergo an abortion must always involve a competent doctor and confirmation through prayer of the local priesthood authority.

            Because Latter-day Saints believe that having a family is central to their purpose in life, there is little chance that most Mormons would choose to be childfree.  Yet, there are Mormon women who are childfree by choice. For them, receiving understanding within the LDS community is tough, and in some cases, nonexistent.  “I am made to feel worthless in the eyes of the church,” blogged one woman, who is married but clearly does not want children.

            Mormons may well be turning a blind eye to the plight of our planet by making children a spiritual priority. According to George B. Handley, Associate Professor of Humanities at Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church does not have an official position related to contemporary environmentalism.  He goes on to write that although the LDS scriptures “clearly announce the centrality of human beings as God’s offspring and declare that all of creation was provided for human enjoyment and use,” this does not mean that abuse of nature is justified.

            As long as Mormonism encourages large families nature will suffer. The only light at the end of the tunnel where the LDS Church is concerned is adoption. If a couple cannot conceive, they can (and many times do) adopt, which is a saving grace for our overpopulated world.  It seems, generally speaking, that Mormons do not accept that making more children creates problems that far outweigh their beliefs about the sacredness of populating earth.

           

When it Comes to Parenting, What’s the Difference Between Joy and Fun? (Part 2)

Where were we? Oh yes, continuing from last week’s discussion of why, on average, parents seem less happy than the childfree in modern America, part of the answer seems to be choice. The abundance of choices as to whether or not to have kids, how many, when – and if one (or two) wants to adopt – seem to writer Jennifer Senior, reasons for unhappiness among the child-burdened.
“While children deepen your emotional life, they shrink your outer world to the size of a teacup, at least for a while (‘All joy and no fun,’ as an old friend with two young kids likes to say.)” Senior refers to a collection of essays in which the writers debate whether to procreate. Those who chose childfree existence mentioned that it enabled them to travel, to take physical risks, and for one novelist, it enabled her to inhabit her characters without the hazard of being pulled out of her mindset by the demands of her real life.
Allow us to interject personal observations here concerning the child-associated deepening of emotional life. We are both animal lovers. Correction; animal L-O-V-E-R-S.  Between the two of us, we have had a wide assortment of domesticated creatures in our pre- and post-marital abodes. And we L-O-V-E-D them all deeply. In May we had to have our beloved greyhound Ginsberg euthanized. This, just five months after his right front leg was amputated. The latter brought us much grief. But he rebounded and after a couple of months he was back to his old running-just-for-the-joy-of-it behaviors. Except for the days he was recuperating, he brought us joy and fun every single day he was in our lives. When he left our lives (by “our” we mean the two of us and our 15-year-old mutt), we grieved. We are still grieving. No previous pet affected us the way he did. He was such a pure soul; a naïve personality who depended on us. But after his passing, we realized how dependent we had been on him – how he expanded our lives and how he deepened them. Our point is that there are other ways to deepen each of our lives and make them richer without taking on the responsibilities, burdens and risks of creating children. While you may not like dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets or any other animals, surely there are alternatives to kids. Otherwise, wouldn’t those who want kids but are unable to have them — and who don’t care for pets —  be the shallowest people of all? Somehow, however, members this group are as likely as any others to find meaningful ways to deepen and expand meaningful lives.
While mothers often feel that kids take up too much of their time, dads often feel they don’t spend enough time with them. According to studies by the Families and Work Institute, “It’s the men, by a long shot, who have more work-life conflict than women,” according to its president Ellen Gallinsky.
The hazards don’t end there. Children adversely affect the relationship between parents. Thomas Bradbury is a UCLA psychology professor with two kids. “Being in a good relationship is a risk factor for becoming a parent,” he says. One study that examined disagreements among 100 married couples found that 40 percent of them were about their respective children. That percentage did not include conflicts that were precipitated because the parents were already at wit’s end.
According to Senior, one man in the study put it this way: “I already felt neglected . . . And once we had the kid, it became so pronounced; it went from zero to negative 50. And I was like, I can deal with zero. But not negative 50.”
Senior’s article touches upon the fact that dissatisfaction grew with the greater wealth of the parents, that it dipped when the kids were between ages six and 12, and that its ugly head reared again during the kids’ teen years. “But one of the most sobering declines documented in Changing Rhythms of American Family Life is the amount of time married parents spend alone together each week: Nine hours today versus twelve in 1975.” What’s more, one UCLA study of 32 families found that spouses spent less than 10 percent of their time at home alone together (we assume this number does not include time sleeping).
There is frequently a disconnect between loving your kids and loving the act of parenting. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “When you pause to think about what the children mean to you, of course they make you feel good,” he says. “The problem is, 95 percent of the time you’re not thinking about what they mean to you.” And we would even dispute the notion that when parents think about their kids they “of course” feel good about them.
Personally, we have lost count of the number of friends and acquaintances who have told us that when they think about their kids they are overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, anger and fear . . . and sleeplessness. “Thinking” is the operative word here. All of the above are reasons enough to think twice before making children.

Celebrity “Bumps” vs. the Adoption Option

 

Are celebrity gossip magazines and Web sites doing young people a favor by glamorizing the pregnancies of young showbiz stars?  The April 2010 issue of In Touch Weekly questions whether actor Jennifer Garner has a baby bump (i.e., another on the way). She was photographed with one smiling baby in her arms and another laughing child holding her hand.

            In the same issue People asks “Who’s Due Next?” and invites readers to “Track notable celebrity births . . . spot the latest maternity fashions in Bump Watch . . .”

On November 11, 2010, Josh Duggar made the “BIG” announcement on the Today show that he and his wife, Anna, are expecting their second child. Josh himself is of nineteen children. He, like his famous – or infamous – parents, wish to leave the ultimate number of his progeny up to God. The Duggars’ celebrity, in fact, emerges precisely from the number of kids in the family. And with the help of Today, People, and their own cable TV show, this is evidently a great thing.

            Model and cable TV celeb Kendra Wilkinson Baskett holds her newborn boy with a dreamy look in her eyes (OK Weekly, January 2010), while extolling the virtues of being a mom.  Dad, football player Hank Baskett, looks down at his namesake and claims that the babe recognizes his voice because he talked to baby Hank while the unborn child was in Kendra’s belly.

International adoption - Photo courtesy sheknows.com

            In our book, Enough of Us, we discuss that such romantic fictionalization about becoming parents isn’t healthy for young people who yearn to model themselves after celebrities or reality TV “stars” and to become pregnant years before they’re ready. And it’s generally not healthy for the children of these naïve young people either. The weekly reality show, Teen Mom, is proof of that. Yet, according to the October 18, 2010 issue of Us Weekly, 4 million viewers tune in to watch the chaotic and dramatic lives of four girls who became pregnant before graduating from high school. 

At the same time, there’s a hopeful trend emerging from these magazines – the adoption option. Notably, actor Katherine Heigle adopted a little girl from China and Sandra Bullock adopted little Louis (famous now) from New Orleans. Most of us know about The Pitt-Jolie family. Credit is due to Brad and Angelina for their willingness to spend so much of their fortune in raising and supporting children from a variety of cultures. True, they also gave birth to three children. Much hoopla was made of Angelina being a beautiful pregnant woman. Photos romanticized Shiloh and the twins so much so that teenage girls swooned and wished that they could live the life of “Brangelina”.

             That said, adoption is a noble act. It saves lives. It rescues children. Adoptive parents are open to bringing a person into their home who doesn’t carry their genes, and to commit fully to raising that child. “Adoption is the best kept secret,” said Lorna, whom we interviewed for Enough of Us. After unsuccessfully trying to bear their own children, Lorna and her husband finally asked an all-important question, “What are we doing?” This was couples’ speak for “there are so many children already born who could use a forever family; we’re going to help them out.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, families adopted more than 57,000 children through local government agencies in 2009. International Adoption Statistics and Trends shows that in 2009, just under 13,000 U.S. families brought children from all over the world into their families, which actually is quite a bit less than the previous eight-year average of 20,000.

So, listen up prospective parents. You can make 2011 a special year by looking into the numerous resources for adoption. There’s likely to be a deserving young person waiting somewhere out there for you.  Even People magazine says so.

You’ll be rescuing a child, adding to your family, and not adding to the overpopulation that’s already wreaking havoc on the environment.