Four years ago, on the original Overeducated Housewife blog, I wrote a rant about people who were upset about the advancement of uterine transplants. In that post from March 2016, I wrote the story of a 26 year old woman named Lindsey who had always longed to experience pregnancy with a baby of her own. But Lindsey had known since she was a teenager that it was not meant to be, because she was born without a uterus.
In February 2016, Lindsey underwent an experimental operation at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida. She was one of the first women in the world to have a cadaver’s uterus surgically implanted into her body, and was the very first woman in the United States to have the procedure done. Doctors had hoped she would be able to try to get pregnant two years after the surgery. Unfortunately, Lindsey’s uterine transplant quickly failed, and by the next month, she was undergoing another surgery to remove the transplanted uterus.
I read about Lindsey’s case in The New York Times, and then read some of the comments. To me, transplant medicine is fascinating and amazing. And yet, plenty of people were posting awful comments about Lindsey and how “selfish” she was for wanting to have a baby of her own instead of adopting one. Even when it came to light that Lindsey already has THREE adopted sons, many people were quick to criticize her, wondering why those three boys “weren’t enough” for her and speculating that they would feel “bad” because their mother wanted to experience pregnancy. I was pretty agitated by the stupidity of the comments about Lindsey’s case, so I wrote a rant. I will repost my first rant about this subject, since it’s relevant to today’s follow up rant.
Yesterday, I read the exciting news that another uterine transplant patient in the United States has successfully given birth at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The child, son of 33 year old Jennifer Gobrecht and her husband, Drew, is the second baby born in the United States after a successful uterine transplant. Jennifer Gobrecht, who was born with a congenital condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome, had believed she would never be able to experience pregnancy, since she was born with ovaries, but no uterus. Thanks to the dedication of skilled researchers, surgeons, and nurses, and her own bravery and willingness to be part of an experimental medical procedure, she’s received her miracle in the form of her baby boy, Benjamin. And yet… people are criticizing her.
I read comment after comment about this story on The New York Times’ Facebook page. So many people asked why she didn’t simply adopt a child. After I read an especially snarky comment from a woman who wondered why the Gobrechts didn’t simply adopt, I asked “How many children have you adopted?”
The commenter wrote a rude response indicating that she had never wanted children and didn’t see how my question was relevant. But a whole lot of women– probably women like me, who for whatever reason, have faced infertility themselves– liked my comment and totally saw where I was going with it. The commenter wondered why I would ask her how many children she’d adopted, implying that it was irrelevant and none of my business (which it isn’t). And yet, she wondered why Ms. Gobrecht and her husband chose to make the family planning choices they had! I guess it was lost on her that the Gobrechts’ decision to go ahead with the experimental uterine transplant was none of her business, either.
The commenter then wrote that Ms. Gobrecht’s decision to give birth to her own baby was essentially the same as adopting someone else’s baby. I guess she missed the part in the article in which it was explained that Ms. Gobrecht possesses ovaries, which means she has her own eggs. She was lacking a uterus, which is simply where the fetus develops and has no bearing on its genetics. So no, it’s not the same as adoption, because this baby shares DNA with his mother. And even if it was a case of a woman who got pregnant using donated eggs, it would still not be the same as adoption. For instance, there would be no risk of a birth mother deciding at the last minute that she wanted to keep the baby, a heartbreaking situation that many prospective adoptive parents face. And she would be able to experience the joy of seeing ultrasounds and feeling the baby’s kicks. Of course, she’d also experience the less pleasant aspects of pregnancy, but if that’s what she wants to do, more power to her. Who is anyone else to question her choice, if it’s available and legal?
Another commenter posted to my query that she’d adopted one child– then wrote “thanks”, as if she’d burned me good by proving that she’d put her money where her mouth is. To that commenter, I would (and did) say something along the lines of… “Good for you that you adopted a child! Here’s a cookie. But that doesn’t make your opinions about other people’s family planning decisions any more relevant.”
I think it’s awesome that some people want to adopt. It was never anything I was interested in doing myself, although I would have liked to have had a baby with Bill. As I have mentioned many times before, but will repeat for the new folks, my husband was talked into having a vasectomy when he was married to his ex wife. He has two grown daughters who, until very recently, were completely estranged from him. One of his daughters reconnected about three years ago, and Bill now Skypes with her and has gotten to see his two grandchildren via the miracles of modern technology. Because he loves me, and wanted me to have a chance to experience pregnancy, he underwent a vasectomy reversal. It was technically successful, although the procedure and recovery were definitely much more complicated than the initial “snip”. He was fortunate enough to have that procedure done free of charge, thanks to the Army and its doctors who need to maintain their skills. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I never got pregnant. Ex, on the other hand, went on to have two more children with her third husband.
Back then, we didn’t have the money to pursue other methods of infertility treatment, so we eventually let go of the dream. At this point, I’m fine with that decision. I was ecstatic that my husband would even consider undergoing an invasive elective surgery on the most private part of his body so that I might be a mother. It felt to both of us like he was taking back a bad decision. In the end, that was enough for us, although we would have loved to have had a baby of our own.
Many women yearn to be mothers. Some of them are fine with adoption if they can’t get pregnant. Even people who can have their own babies may want to adopt, for whatever reason. It’s simply something they feel “led” to do. Then there are some people, like me, would rather not adopt. They have their reasons for feeling the way they do. Maybe you think their reasons are invalid, selfish, or even stupid, but your opinion doesn’t count when it comes to someone else’s family planning choices.
Adopting a child isn’t like picking out a puppy on a dog rescue Web site. You can’t just trot down to the local orphanage and pick one up after proving that your landlord approves and you have a pediatrician lined up. Adoption usually costs money and involves having other people check you out thoroughly– everything from home visits to financial inquiries. It can take time, too– sometimes years, even, although there are children in foster care who can be adopted with less hassle.
I’m quite sure most people would be offended if some stranger demanded to know why they chose to have children of their own instead of adopting. If you wouldn’t ask a fertile person that question, how could you dare ask that of someone who has struggled with infertility? It really is an insensitive and obnoxiously inquisitive question that is likely to put you in potentially awkward social situation.
Besides, while many people have been adopted and everything has worked out beautifully, sometimes adoptions can lead to heartbreak and misery. I won’t get into that now, since I have at least one more point to make before I close this post. Suffice to say, adoption has its pitfalls. It’s not for everyone. While I would never discourage anyone from choosing adoption, it’s a decision that needs to be carefully considered by people who are prepared.
The uterine transplant procedure is not even very likely to prevent most people who would otherwise consider adoption from adopting a child. It is simply one more tool in the arsenal against infertility. It will help the small cohort of women who, for whatever reason, lack a uterus. In other words, it’s not a huge crowd of people who would opt for a major, risky, invasive and expensive surgery in order to become a parent. It’s doubtful medical insurance will ever pay for the procedure, at least not in my lifetime, so the vast majority of people who might be candidates will probably not be able to afford it, anyway. I think the pro-adoption crowd can relax their sphincters now.
The final point I want to make is that I think uterine transplants are a good thing, not just because they give people like Lindsey and Jennifer Gobrecht the opportunity to experience pregnancy and give birth to their own babies, but because exploring any groundbreaking transplant procedure furthers the development of transplant medicine as a whole. You can bet that uterine transplants are being done right now because hearts, lungs, kidneys, corneas, and livers have been successfully transplanted. Now that uterine transplants are a thing, other parts of the body might follow. And with every new advancement and innovation in medical research, mankind is helped to understand the human body more.
Aside from that, uterine transplants have been done successfully in other countries, such as Brazil and Sweden. If the United States wants to be on the cutting edge of medical research, American medical researchers have to keep pushing into new frontiers. To do that successfully, people like Jennifer Gobrecht have to be willing to be part of the exploration. I, for one, am delighted that she was brave enough to come forward and was ultimately rewarded with a beautiful son named Benjamin. It really is a miracle. People should be applauding her for being a part of medical history instead of lecturing her about the wonders of adoption.