Saturday, January 20, 2007


I had nagging doubts about giving my Jewish embryos to a Christian couple. Doing so would contribute to the millions of people who did not realize they had Jewish roots and whose loss to assimilation diminished my culture.

After corresponding for a couple of weeks I had exhausted all my hard questions for Jenny and Erin. They had failed to give me a reason to reject them, other than their culture of origin. But while there was a lot I liked about them, they had not yet given me a compelling reason to accept them, either.

Both had fertility issues and they wanted my embryos to start their family. Their response below was the email that finally made up my mind as to whether or not to give the embryos to these women.

I had asked them under what circumstances they would abort. They were unaware of my preference that they terminate a pregnancy if their fetus was badly disabled. I do not want to cause suffering and I feel that carrying a baby to term just to see it die or live in pain would be awful for everyone involved.

Would they reduce if they were carrying multiples? We had not discussed this, but to ensure a healthy pregnancy I hoped their answer would be yes if it were triplets or more.

I also hoped one of them was planning to stay home with their children, though I had given them no indication of my wishes. My wife and I are doing this, at great financial sacrifice, because we feel it is best for our own children.

I wondered if they planned to move to another state. The Southern state in which they live is very conservative. It would be easier for for them to protect their children elsewhere.

Finally, I needed to make sure they were not planning to hit their children. My wife had grown up just a few miles from where they live. She attended elementary school in the 1970's when it was policy all over the South to strike children for breaking rules. She herself had been beaten in front of the class for some minor infraction. The South is not known as the most progressive social laboratory. Had it shaped the discipline methods of these potential parents?

The recipients did not know that these were the make-it-or-break-it questions. They did not know what I wanted to hear. Here is what they said:

"It's good to hear that you both arrived [home] safely [from your vacation]. The questions that you have asked are all things that Erin and I have discussed in detail and I will happily answer them."

As always, Jenny and Erin were both involved in this process. They were good partners. They were thinking things through in preparation for welcoming a child into their lives.

"Moving: We love our house and the historical features and charm that it has. It is plenty big (three bedrooms, two baths and a decent sized fenced in yard) but it is an older home, and with older homes come projects. We both agree that when we have a child, we would like to have more time with the child and less time with maintenance of a home.

Erin, being a designer would like to build a home. I, being from the country, would like to have land with plenty of room for our children to explore and play. So truthfully we would like to buy some land with plans to build.

That's our dream. The reality is that in our town, land (a significant amount of it) is difficult to come by but we have already been looking at new construction and would consider one or two of the construction companies here to build a home in one of the newly developed subdivisions.

We are pretty rooted in this area, with Erin's parents being from here and mine less than two hours away. It is not in our plan to move away, both of us are pretty established with our careers and family/friends here. Moving out of the country, I can say with a great amount of confidence is out of the question.

I had been afraid of this. It was a huge plus that the families of each of these women were so supportive and so close by. Gay and lesbian families suffer when their own families of origin are openly hostile to them. Family support makes a huge difference to new parents. Jenny and Erin's parents and sibling were behind them 100%.

Still, as lesbians they faced tremendous legal and social prejudice in their home state. They planned to do a second-parent adoption but they might not even be able to accomplish this if they stayed in the South. Nothing compares to having loving family and friends surrounding and supporting a new family. But knowing the bias they would experience if they stayed put troubled me.

I moved on to the question about discipline. I hoped they did not believe in spanking or hitting children. Adults who cannot think of any other way to help a child understand correct behavior are not terribly creative. Just as I don't understand how we teach people not to kill by killing killers, it doesn't seem logical that children will learn not to be aggressive or hit others by being hit themselves.

"Discipline: Erin and I have had conversations about this, we wanted to be sure that we were on the same page regarding discipline. To answer this broadly, we would not use any type of physical punishment. Working in a school system has really taught me a lot regarding discipline.

If expectations are clearly set and consequences are discussed then we believe that children have a much higher ability to succeed. We are both also strong believers in positive reinforcement (reward systems) especially for young children as an overall deterrent for negative behaviors.

If a child were to do something, such as "hitting" for instance, we would probably take the child aside (removing them from the situation) and talk to them openly about how they are feeling, why their response may have not been the appropriate one in that particular instance, talk about other alternatives (what could you have done differently), and discuss how they made others feel (including us) and ask them to apologize to those they have hurt.

Regarding specific incidences, we believe it would depend on the
age/severity of the problem that has arisen. We both believe that open communication is key for older children. I hope that answers your question, discipline is difficult because it spans from birth to ??? and changes throughout the process of the child's life. But, overall physical discipline is not something that we would use."

This answer would be published unedited if I were writing a behavior sciences textbook outlining the perfect way to help children learn correct behavior. As I read this phenomenal answer, I felt something shift in my heart. It was so well-reasoned, so compassionate, and so exactly parallel to all I had learned about the right way to help children learn. My wife and I were using the same methods every day with our own children. At age two, our son was already saying "please", "thank you", "excuse me" and "no thank you" consistently and without prompting. He knew what to touch and what not to touch in our home. When he wanted one of his sister's toys he brought her another one and traded. We had used positive reinforcement to teach all of this and it had worked beautifully.

I was just about ready to give these women the embryos based solely on this perfect, child-centered and thoughtful answer. But I was very concerned about not contributing to an unhealthy pregnancy. Would they agree to limit the number of embryos they implanted? Would they reduce if they were carrying triplets? And most important, would they abort if the fetus was severely disabled? Their response could not have been less in sync with my preferences:

"Chances of aborting, none. Chances of reducing, none. I work with special needs children with severe disabilities day in and day out. They are the reason I get out of bed in the morning and often wake up thinking about them at night.

I also work with adults with severe disabilities (Autism, Down's
Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy) and see the greatness in them. Erin's mom ran a mother's day out program and also worked at the local school district's "special needs" school for children with severe disabilities, so Erin has had experience with special needs children most of her life as well.

We would be DELIGHTED to have twins, triplets would be challenging but we would be grateful and happy!. We initially set out on this journey with the thought that we would like to have three children. We were told that they would only implant two embryos at once so, if we had twins the first time, wonderful! We would also want to try again with the third embryo.

Plans for childcare: Erin of course would take off the first three
months with the child. I am off during the Summer and other various breaks during the year and would keep the child(ren) home with me during those times. Erin's mother is ten minutes away and would probably keep the child(ren) some.

My school also has a day care program available to take children from six weeks of age. The day care is housed on school grounds and is for educator’s children only. It is of course educationally based and at age three they would be in a separate (preschool program for educator’s children).

I hope this answers all your questions. Please feel free to ask more if you have any!

Yes, it answered my questions, but in the opposite way I was hoping for. Their perspective on aborting or reducing were diametrically opposed to my own and that was a problem.

But their reasoning about taking on the care of a disabled child was so beautiful, and so moving. I loved the part about "seeing greatness" in her disabled clients.

My own belief system dictated that I would not continue a pregnancy if the fetus would be born into pain. But I was giving the women the embryos to create their child, not mine. If they were willing to open their hearts and dedicate their lives to a child even if it meant watching him or her die or live in suffering, then God bless 'em.

They still were not Jewish, but I had come to the realization that I needed to select the best parents for these embryos, not just the best Jewish parents. If they were open to it I had suggestions to help these women give their child(ren) some sort of sense of Jewish identity. They had already given me their assurance of good intentions to do just that.

I also had ideas about how address their naive enthusiasm for twins or triplets. And there was a difficult yet feasible way for them to circumvent the draconian anti-family laws of their home state.

Would they accept these suggestions? I hoped so. But these were just details. We would work this donation out one way or another. The recipients had finally sent the email that made up my mind. I felt happiness and great relief. The search had ended. I would give these wonderful women my embryos.