Personhood, babies and embryos

written by Hubby

With the thaw date for our children having suddenly arrived, I (Hubby) am making these remarks on somewhat short notice, but I hope they are clear regarding our reasons for approaching that landmark in the way that we do.

We affirm the following truth claims. We’ve got arguments that have convinced us of the truth of each of these truth claims, though some of those arguments will have to wait for a future date. I’m presenting here only very brief summaries of the arguments. None of these are our “opinions” – all of them are claims we make about the way the world is. We might be wrong, lots of other folks disagree. But based on the arguments both for and against these truth claims, this is way we believe reality to be. We’d seriously enjoy talking about any and all of the truth claims and arguments for them, so don’t hesitate to ask.

First, that all human life has a particular kind of value. The value we’re talking about here is sometimes called “human dignity” or similar. This kind of value is inherent to all human life, regardless of whether or not the human is sleeping or awake, conscious or unconscious, regardless of racial or ethnic background, the ability to feed or otherwise care for oneself, etc. When this value is present, but the person with this value is treated as if they didn’t have it, a grave injustice is committed. Examples include the treatment of Jews during the holocaust or those subjected to chattel slavery such as was practiced in the US until the civil war. The Jews under Hitler and the slaves were not treated according to the dignity present in all human life, and this poor treatment is why these horrors are horrific. The difference between the slaughterhouse where cows are turned into sides of beef and Auschwitz lies in the fact that the victims of Auschwitz possessed human dignity, and were treated as if they did not. Many people from vastly different worldviews believe in something of this sort – theist or atheist, scientific or not, Eastern, Western, secular, religious, etc. As an aside, our account of where this value comes from happens to be a Christian one – we claim that this value comes from humanity being made in the image of God, their creator.

Second, that human life (and hence this value) begins at conception. Because in the fertility industry conception has acquired a variety of different meanings (think of how literally is now commonly used to literally mean non-literally), we think it’s worth being specific. By conception, we mean fertilization (when the sperm penetrates the egg)– not syngamy (when all the chromosomes are first united in the nucleus), not implantation (when the embryo begins to receive it’s sustenance from the mother instead of from the reserves in the egg), and not from quickening (when mom first feels the baby moving). At fertilization, the resulting thingy (to use a totally non-technical, non-biased term) begins working as a unified organism. Prior to this, there are clearly two separate things (sperm and egg) each carrying out their own separate processes – neither of which is inclined to grow, divide, mature, be born, etc. on its own. At fertilization, there is a single entity working towards unified ends. At first, it works towards the end of achieving syngamy – the pro-nuclei don’t just bounce randomly into each other, rather syngamy is the result of a process which is ordered to achieve syngamy. The cell begins dividing, a process aiming towards eventual cell differentiation into separate tissues, organs and systems… all of which are ordered to living a complete human life.

At implantation, the embryo obtains a steady supply of vital nutrition, oxygen, etc. But if we were to accept that access to nutrition, oxygen, etc. is what makes a person have value, then victims of famine suddenly cease to be human beings. We reject the consequence that victims of famine cease being human – lack of a steady source of nutrition does not make something non-human, so we also reject the premise that human life begins at implantation. We reject the idea that life begins at quickening because movement – making oneself felt by another human being, is likewise not a condition for personhood. Victims of paralysis or some in vegetative states may not make others physically feel their presence, but this does not make them inhuman. Many other conditions for human personhood have been suggested, I will simply sum up by stating that any condition for human personhood that makes infanticide permissible, we immediately reject on the grounds that it makes infanticide permissible.

As a result of these two truth claims, we are lead to a third. If any of those thawed do not survive, a human person has died. And we bear a special relationship to these particular human persons – they are our children. If necessary, we will mourn their deaths in many of the same ways we would mourn the death of our 4-year old son Samuel. We will not have the specific sorts of thoughts, memories, attachments, etc. to these children that we currently have to Samuel – but our love for Samuel is not based on the fact that we’ve held him in our arms, or the fact that Rachael carried him for nine months, or any of our memories of him. Our love for him, and for the five embryos we have adopted is based simply on the fact that he is our son. Those memories can come or go – they are conditional, but our love for him is not conditional. Likewise, these other five are our children, our sons and daughters and if they die, we will mourn for them in many of the same ways (though certainly varied in strength, intensity, duration, etc.) that we would mourn if Samuel died. As we go through this process, whatever the Lord has for us, please keep us in your prayers. Statistically, we are told to expect to lose many of these children this weekend. So we approach the thaw date with fear and trembling, anticipating the probability of deep loss and grief in the coming days, alongside our hope that these children will live full lives. Whatever the Lord has for us, both joy and sorrow, we will accept from his hand. Our charge is to be faithful to the commitment we have made as adoptive parents, to care for these children placed into our family with everything we have, and to give them the best chance at a flourishing life that we are capable of.

How many children do you have?

Usually when someone asks, “How many children do you have?” they usually mean to ask how many children are you feeding, caring for, dressing, etc right now. But since you become a parent when that baby is conceived (aka fertilization), and that parent-child relationship isn’t changed by the unborn-status or death of that child, it is far more accurate for me to talk about the 7 children God has given me.

We have Little Man, who is 4 years old, and Ananias is in heaven with Jesus. We lost baby Ananias in June 2013, and it was an early miscarriage. But since we believe that life begins at fertilization, and even the single celled zygote is a person, our child, we openly claim that child. Just as if someone lost their baby during infanthood, or childhood, that parent-child relationship doesn’t change, so it is the same when the baby dies at the early stages of pregnancy.

In the same way, now that the contract phase is done, we are now the parents of 5 more babies, even in the frozen, very early developmental stage. So, if you ask me now, I’ll tell you I’m the mother of 7 children. God has given us one, so far, to raise, and he has taken one, so far, home to be with him. We don’t know what God has for those other five, but we are eager to find out. Yes, even if it means he is taking some or all home to be with him, we want to know.

Summer Shorts

Since I can’t seem to keep myself writing on any regular basis, I’ll stick to publishing shorts.

-We are staying busy swimming, swimming and swimming. And now climbing. Yeah, every time we’d go to the university pool to swim, we had to stop and watch who ever was climbing. Yesterday, one of the guys working that area asked if Little Man wanted to climb, and he did! We went back today and he worked really  hard at it. He never got all the high, but he’s figuring it out, and working all his muscles to fatigue. This is the first thing we’ve found that really pushes him that hard.

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-On July 5, we got to join the youth group to set off firecrackers. Little Man really enjoys them and found that the little smoke bombs he could light himself, until he got a spark on his hand. That reduced his enjoyment some.

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-What, you don’t watch someone else on the computer while sitting on their shoulders? This is the preferred watching position of Little Man these days.

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-I was told on this day, “I am an artist.” And when he had finished he said, “I’m done being an artist.” I had always assumed ‘artist’ was a more permanent descriptor, but I guess I was wrong.

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Spring time shorts

Yes, I’m wearing shorts more often, but this is more short blurbs about life right now. And no pictures of me in shorts because it might blind you. Its still somewhat early spring.

Little Man is still totally in love with water. He is all about water play, which means turning on the hose and watching the water flow. We shut down our raised beds a year ago, and they’ve over grown with grass, but I did dig up a 2’x2′ square so he would have access to loose dirt to play in. Yes, and mud. Since the area was ‘raised’, there is an incline to watch the water flow down as it floods the dug up area. He would stay at that for hours if he didn’t get cold. Yes, the boy has found the ability to get cold… when its 70′, cloudy and he is wet.

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We are doing more ‘science experiments’ these days. Little Man is interested in different things and I’m just going for it. We made Oobleck (even made it green!), a paper mache volcano (we did make it errupt!) and we have three Forest Tent catepillars in a big jar on the table, and a Swallowtail butterfly catepillar also in a big jar on the table. No we aren’t doing any kind of worksheets, but we are learning and talking about the natural world.

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I mentioned life being unpredictable lately in my last post. I thought I might offer more explanation of it. For the past year, we have been ‘approved and waiting’ for domestic infant adoption. About 6 months ago, God started working in our hearts to consider embryo adoption. After losing a baby to early miscarriage in June 2013, we are starkly aware of the emotional risk and the resulting grief of losing a baby. We reached a point recently where we realized we were ready to take on that risk and the possibility of such grief. And so, right now, we are in the midst of the application process for embryo adoption.  Of course, we are also doing all kinds of thinking on the ethics of IVF, fertility clinics, and our society’s attitudes towards babies in the embryo stage. Hopefully, I’ll be able to more fully articulate our thoughts, but its such a deep, intense, and sensitive set of topics, its rather scary to approach.

I got a hair cut today. This is monumental because I’ve cut my own hair for the past 5 years. I decided this was what I wanted. My goal is to grow and donate my hair for as long as I can, and this is the 4th time I’ve been able to do this. A before picture….

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and after….

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I do think my hair is getting curlier as I get older.

What are you up to?

back to blogging… maybe

I’m finding that I have a love-hate relationship with a wide variety of tasks… blogging, vacuuming, laundry, goal setting. I find that these things I have this love-hate relationship with are such that I dislike doing it, but I *love* it when the task is done. I don’t really like to vacuum, but I love freshly vacuumed carpets. I don’t like sweeping and mopping, but I love freshly swept and mopped tile floor. Also, I love posting my stories and my ramblings, but getting them to a postable stage is an arduous task. And its hard to remember, at times, that things worth doing are often hard things to do. Yeah, I dislike vacuuming and laundry (and most other household chores) because they are dull and boring to do. That can be remedied with a podcast or audio book.

However, I’ve not completely figured out how to remedy this love-hate relationship with blogging and goal setting. And they are intimately connected, unfortunately. I love to set goals so that I can feel purposeful and intentional about my activities and course of daily life. I want to know what needs to get done, what I want to get done, and what I did get done. But I don’t want to have to set goals, nor look at them when I don’t meet them. I’m not thinking of writing out goals right now; life is just too unpredictable. And if I set goals and don’t reach them, that leaves me feeling blah… so I’m not doing “goals”.

But blogging is an outlet, a chance for me to declare to noone in particular “hey, look at me, I vacuumed this week!” And if I’ve set goals, I get to declare “I not only decided I was going to vacuum this week, but I actually did it! Look at me!” And, of course, if I don’t meet my goals, I just don’t blog about it. Blogging is also a creative outlet, yes, but I don’t want my blogging to be just about me getting things done, or merely me expressing my own creativity.

I would love for my blogging to have such focused purposes as encouraging women to love their husbands, or challenging the reader’s thoughts on this or that deep topic… alas, to choose one such area is not for me. Being a stay-at-home-mom suits me quite well, because the general topics I cover in any one day vary tremendously. And so, my blogging will reflect this diversity. For better or for worse.

During this 8 month hiatus, I didn’t write. In fact, the last draft of a blog post I have is from last September, so you see, I haven’t written in quite a few months. But I did do a lot of other things, from several work projects, reading a slew of books, enjoying the time with my family, and thinking deeply about a variety of topics. I hope to start writing again about all these things. I want to start writing again. I’m ready, I think, to do the hard thing that is worth doing.

So, expect a variety of posts. Some about day to day life, some about deep issues. Sometimes I have conversations with friends and family that I want to write about. Sometimes I read something I want to write about. Sometimes, its an idea that came out of the blue. So, I’m going to work on this discipline of making time, sitting down and writing.