Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Can't Sleep

It is 4am and I am wide awake. This entire night has been disastrous! I was exhausted after a day at work and a decent work out at the gym. Around 9pm I settled into bed poised for blissful slumber. Instead, I found myself still awake at 11.30 mentally prying, hurling myself to sleep, to no avail. A friend called and asked, "Why can't you sleep?" I said, "Because I can't turn my brain off!" (That is ALWAYS the reason I can't sleep!) Further prompted, I was asked, "What are you thinking about?" The first thing out of my mouth was, "I am mad at Bill O'Reilly tonight." My friend chuckled. (Aunt Alfie-You can probably stop reading right about here!) Then I tried to think of other things on my mind, and wouldn't you know it, my mind went blank at that moment.

O'Reilly ruffled my feathers tonight (O'Reilly 1, Vela 0) by ranting on and on about Jennifer Aniston's new film, The Switch, in which her character chooses to become pregnant by artificial insemination through the use of a sperm donor. From what I can gather, she is a single gal, mid to late thirties, and wants the gift of motherhood so she (wait for it O'Reilly....gasp) MAKES HER OWN, VERY HARD DECISION, to become pregnant.

Given that it is 4am and I am a bit lazy and hazy with "the words" right now I am not going to articulate all the OBVIOUS points why Bill O'Reilly (just an over paid man with a really good parking space) has upset the WRONG woman in her mid-thirties this evening. Instead...I offer you a well articulated opinion I found on NPR's Facebook page as I rifled through Facebook at 4 in the morning!

Our conversation this week about children born through artificial insemination was very close to home for me.

I’m one of the tens of thousands of women who became a mother using a sperm donor.

With the high range of estimates finding that 60,000 American kids are born through donor conception each year – representing less than 2 percent of all births - I had hoped it was still too rare to draw the kind of Fox News debate that rages around issues like gay marriage. And so I’ve watched this issue become a hot topic in the culture wars with dread.

But that didn’t stop me from reading “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” the report compiled by our guest Elizabeth Marquardt and her organization. It’s crucial for me to have the best possible understanding of the situation I’ve brought my innocent child into, so when it was first released, I spent hours reading every word, checking every number, studying every comment. And it confirmed that bearing and raising kids this way would be tough. But it also confirmed on every measure of dysfunction, a majority of these children turned out just fine.

As a consequence, I’m not sure why there are so many grave predictions for families like mine. And I reject the idea that most mothers conceive this way because they’re ignoring the difficulties. When I decided to have a child using artificial insemination, I knew I would have to find a way to deal with all those old fashioned folks who believe that a happy marriage provides the best home for raising children. That was especially tricky, because I was - and am - one of those people. I know what kind of challenges children face in single-parent homes. I was raised in one.

But I also know that being married when your child is born is no guarantee of a stable, two-parent home forever. Before I decided on artificial insemination, I pictured my alternatives: going on a mad hunt for husband with a one-item agenda and a stop-watch; or trying to convert a friend into a baby-daddy, a life-time partnership with no rules, blueprints or history of success. And even if that search panned out, I saw a 50/50 chance of ending up in the exact circumstances that faced my mother and so many other single and divorced moms: raising a child with a ghost dad.

For me – and for so many other kids I knew whose fathers weren’t around - what did the most damage was the emotional whiplash of having your dad there one day, and gone the next. On your 5th birthday, he’d swoop in for a weekend of ballgames, movies, gifts and pizza, and then do nothing for your 6th, a card for your 7th, a gift for the 8th, and back to nothing for the 9th. The suspense injects a little bit of poison into every celebration, every milestone, and every holiday.

If on one of those occasions, my mother had handed me a folder and said, “Listen, the reason your father didn’t show up is that - before you were born or even conceived - he signed this piece of paper agreeing to have no contact with me or with you until you turned eighteen,” that would’ve been better than what I had. And even with those issues, my mother provided a good home and raised my brother and me to be good and decent people.

I have faith I can do the same.

As an African-American child of a single mother, I’ve been hearing about the inevitable failure of my family and everyone in it for years. And thanks to endless web of relationships, I’ve gotten a front row seat to dysfunction that can develop despite the best of circumstances, and success that can grow, even under the worst.

Given what I know, I believe I can give my child a life worth living. And if I can do that, I don’t think it’s the government’s – or the culture warrior’s - business to tell me I can’t.

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