Saturday, September 22, 2007

We will return to normal viewing in a moment

Two o'clock in the morning and I'm jolted awake again by another dream about the lesbian-mothers-of-wrongfully-born-twins case, my third rude awakening in three nights. In my dream they have been trapped in my childhood laundry since their children were born, which is why they are suing. I suppose that might accurately represent their view on how the situation feels. Tonight - just a few minutes ago - I was the unnamed mother in question, and was just about to be chloroformed.

There's been a lot of internatter about the case, and the bloggers I respect have been much more thoughtful than my initial explosion. The Muriels have been frustrated by how the ignorant hordes have picked up and run with the fact that the parents are lesbians. Over at Larvateus Prodeo there's a long string of mostly sane comments on the issue. Both of them, and a few of the less-hysterical newspaper articles, focus on the fact that this is a simple and rather dull medical negligence case, which happens to be newsworthy because the parents being lesbians taps into people's prejudices about same-sex parents.

So for sensible, thoughtful comment, click on those links and off you go. I want to work out why I am so affected by this, why it wakes me up night after night. It may not be pretty. It's my thoughts and emotions and gut feelings, okay? A proper teenage journal entry. Then I'm going to leave it alone, because really, who am I to comment?

There seem to be four issues that disturb me.

There's the lesbian thing; not in the way the media is beating it up, but that they are lesbians is relevant for me. I've realised that I do expect a higher standard of parenting from lesbians. I'm not sure whether it's gender stereotyping (of course two women are going to be better than a woman and a man) or a natural inclination to believe that one's own family structure is the best, in the same way I would believe that a Christian upbringing was best if I was Christian, or a traditional Greek upbringing if I was Greek. I'm disappointed to realise that lesbian parents are human, get overwhelmed and say they have 'lost their ability to love.' I'm making a judgement, of course, that what is reported in the paper represents less-than-ideal parenting. Maybe once I've had twins for three years I won't feel quite so opinionated.

In the last couple of months, three of the lesbian families in my extended social circle have broken up - two of them quite amicably, one with great acrimony. In all of the cases the (single) child was about three. I suppose I fantasised that, well, we have to put so much work into getting pregnant that it somehow creates a more solid base, more realistic expectations of childrearing and the pressures on a relationship that it creates. Now I wonder whether the difficulty of getting pregnant actually can create a fantasy world, a belief that everything will be wonderful if only we get pregnant.

I thought we were going to demonstrate a brave new world, a model of women-led families that would demonstrate the potential of families for listening, caring, being co-operative, child-focussed and nurturing. All of those derided 'feminine qualities' would lead to a better sort of family and thence to a better society. Gentle, secure, non-bullying boys and confident young women leading the next generation.

God, I should have written a novel! A science fiction one along the lines of 'The Shore of Women'.

That's only the first part. The second aspect that I wonder about is the medical negligence part. Maybe the doctor made a mistake or maybe he didn't, the courts will decide. But I wonder about the expectations we have of superhuman infallibility in doctors. When I make a mistake, a typo gets published in a magazine, or a bunch of trainees goes away with a misremembered statistic from a journal article sloppily cited. But a doctor can never, ever make a mistake. Obviously i don't want doctors making mistakes on me, but isn't some human error inevitable, as long as we have humans doing the job? Perhaps the doctors have brought this on themselves, with centuries of marketing themselves as superior to all other forms of healing. But it seems a bit harsh that someone can have a written document expressing one set of wishes, then articulate a change of plans minutes before they go under anaesthetic, and expect that that will be communicated all the way down to the lab.

I don't know how we would resolve this, practically. If we accept that some fallibility is inevitable, does it pave the way for sloppy work generally? is the only thing that keeps doctors practicing effectively the threat of punishment if they are found out? Yes, in some cases, I'd say. But should the test of a 'reasonable person' (I'm not a lawyer so I'm not exactly sure how this works) be not, 'Would I have made this mistake in this particular circumstance?' but rather 'Would I have the same mistake rate - is this a reasonable rate of error to expect from a competent human?' Obviously this would radically change medicine. Imagine if your doctor said, 'This operation has an eighty percent chance of success and a one percent chance that I will make a mess of it.' I wish I could find out doctors' mistake rates so I could truly make informed decisions. How many times has my ob crushed a baby's head with forceps? How does this compare with other obs? How many incorrect decisions to caesarean section - or an incorrect decision to not? How many people have been paralysed by my anaesthetist's epidurals? The risk, they say, is one in 100,000 - what if all of those ones have been created by my anaesthetist?

Okay, I'm halfway through. I haven't got any answers, only questions.

Next,the idea of wrongful birth offends me deeply. In a concept I've just discovered, again in The Age comment by Sushi Das, I'm 'morally dumbfounded'.

In his new book, The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathon Haidt from the University of Virginia argues morals are tied to religion and politics. He explores the idea of "moral dumbfounding" — when people feel strongly that there is something wrong but cannot explain why. He says morality is driven by two things: moral intuition, based on behaviour driven by emotions that evolved before we had language; and moral judgement, which came when we were able to articulate why something was right or wrong.

Moral dumbfounding, Dr Haidt says, comes when moral judgement fails to come up with a convincing explanation for what moral intuition has decided.

So, I 'just know' that the idea of 'wrongful birth' is wrong. Unless, I suppose, I wanted to prosecute a case myself, against my parents? Should a person be able to decide for themselves their birth was wrongful?I won't follow that particular rabbit hole. Back to the point - I'm trying to get my 'moral judgement' to express itself. I wonder how any parents could subject their children to that. It's like that bad Demi Moore movie that asks 'Would you have sex with a man for a million dollars?' Would you tell your child s/he shouldn't exist for $400,000? Being diagnosed as clinically infertile, I understand I'm biased, and prone to the delusion that a child is a blessing. And if I was carrying a child with a significant disability (and maybe I am, we elected not to have amniocentesis, about which I have occasional anxieties), I would want to know and make a decision about whether or not to keep the foetus.

I feel some pressure to support them simply because they are lesbians. That disapproving of bringing a case like this is tantamount to saying 'lesbians shouldn't be parents.'

On the other hand (there's always an 'other hand' when I'm being honest), if someone had specified a maximum of two embryos, and got three, then I might think they had a case...triplets are hard. So go figure. Maybe I'm just inconsistent.

But I can't imagine ever saying 'I've lost the ability to love'. Not over having a healthy child. Maybe if I was captured and tortured, that might turn me off the human race a bit. But maybe that's a bit of misreporting.

But if you didn't want the second (or third) child, why not give it up for adoption? Not necessarily to a straight family, which is what the rednecks are calling for, but to a nice same-sex couple who don't usually have access to adoption? Maybe to a couple of gay boys who don't even have the option of using IVF clinics? Then I suppose you could just sue for the extra inconvenience of having a multiple pregnancy (how much would each street-chuck be worth, I wonder? and the extra tiredness - I could get compensation for all the extra blog entries I was too exhausted to write, not to mention the hours and hours of well-paid consulting I didn't take on. A few more dollars for the extra stretch marks and saggy boobs and you're done.)

'Giving it up for adoption' seems to be positioned as a right wing response, but I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's about adapting to the society as it is, rather than changing society to meet the needs of the people in question.
Then (I'm going to stop in a moment, I promise) there's the price. I think that's a straight-out case of envy on my part. They can't support two kids on $120,000? My god, how are we going to survive? I'm the primary wage earner and Lovergirl is going to be a student finishing her doctorate for the next two years. If they can get $400,000, why can't I? Hmm...maybe I can...

As a few people at larvateus prodeo commented, from a compensation perspective, how would you ever separate out how much of the chaos and overwhelm is due to having one child, and how much is due to there being two? Some twin parents (admittedly not the majority) have told me that after the hell of the first six weeks, they found two actually easier - better at settling themselves at night, and less demanding of attention as they have each other to interact with.

Finally, I think I'm having a straight out illogical mother-bear response. I confessed to Lovergirl, 'I feel like someone is telling our twins they are unwanted.' Said Lovergirl, sensibly, 'But they're not.' They're not unwanted, and in my case at least, twins are definitely not a devastating accident. I feel like I've won the baby lottery! Although all this bile about lesbian parents has been unleashed by the case, I don't think it's new, and I am optimistic that it's changing. Our babies are going to be noisy, and exhausting, and expensive, and put strains on our relationship that I can't even imagine. I am delighted to be having them, and anxious to meet them, and concerned about the state of the planet we are dumping on them. We've cancelled our tickets to Italy, and I've dropped out of film school, and Mum's in Bali this very moment on a holiday Lovergirl and I had organised for ourselves six months ago, before we got pregnant. If it had been a singleton pregnancy, we still would have gone. Life is never going to be the same again. And that's okay.


Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...

Keep working it out... it's certainly an issue with many layers.

Another one I've come to is the whole death/birth dichotomy.

For instance, if they were suing over wrongful death, everyone would be cheering them on.

They're not though. There case surrounds the "sanctity of life" and all the deeply entrenched muck which that involves.

More thoughts to keep you up at night!

JahTeh said...

I've already commented at Themuriels about this. All the outraged mothers saying how could they not love a child. Well it's easy with post-natal depression and as much as I tried to love him, he was some alien creature that I could kill any minute if he didn't stop crying. I ended up by hurting myself instead. My mother looked after him for 12 months but I went there every day and I had to put up with so-called friends and their mothers whispering about how lazy I was not to have him at home.
90 per cent of mothers will have felt this way about their child at some stage after the birth, most of them just won't admit it.

Mikhela said...'s all very well for me to have all sorts of opinions now, but just wait til I have two screaming babies. Still, it's good for me to write it out, try and work out why I am so affected by this. (rather than just blindly reiterating the consensus of outrage)

Anonymous said...

"Some twin parents (admittedly not the majority) have told me that after the hell of the first six weeks"

Six weeks?! At least the first 12 are hell - and that was with just one ;-)

I was heard to say to my partner, when our babe was about 7 weeks old, that I'd made a dreadful mistake having a baby. Honestly. And that first year put a big strain on our relationship, which took a long time to recover.

I know parents can often be the bearer of bad tidings and it seems like they get off on it - and you know how much I adore my child now - the reason I tell stories about the negatives is that if that happens to you, you won't think you're the only one in the world who's ever felt like that. Becoming a mother is a drastic upheaval - it takes years for the dust to settle.

Having said all that, I agree that this pair sound a bit naive and selfish - but then again, they have to tell the negative stores in order to win the case. And it might be that they started the case three years ago, as soon as they found out it was twins - it might have taken ages to get to court.