This week I’ve been thinking a lot about personal choice. Specifically, the incongruousness between emotions and principles that cause us to make unexpected choices.
Many of us spend far too much time in our head worrying about the future – imagining all the possible situations we might find ourselves in and how we would respond. This gives us the illusion of control. We feel prepared. There’s a quote by French philosopher Michel de Montaigne which has always hit me close to home: My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.
Still, we ruminate on potential catastrophes. We judge other people’s behavior. How could she stay with her cheating husband? Why didn’t he do more to manage his son’s addiction? How could she terminate her pregnancy? Why don’t they just adopt? It seems so simple in our heads. If those were our circumstances, we know exactly how we’d behave. We would never put up with that. We would never allow this to happen. We are sure.
But in my experience, when faced with a challenging situation, even one I’d previously imagined, the choices I ended up making were unanticipated. The moment was never quite as I pictured it. At the point of choosing, my feelings conflicted with my ideologies in ways I didn’t consider. It was harder than I thought. And I surprised myself.
There have been three major decisions I’ve made so far on my journey to motherhood that I would not have expected. The first was our decision to keep trying rather than adopt. Before my losses, adoption seemed like such an easy solution. “They can’t have kids? No problem, they can adopt.” There were kids without parents, and parents without kids <boom> family.
If we had pursued adoption, I would probably by a parent by now. But my husband only wants one kid (he thinks… we’ll see…) and it proved harder than I thought to let go of my desire to have my own baby. I wanted to carry my child. I wanted to feel her kick inside my belly. Even though I know pregnancy is not parenthood, it was an experience I craved. So, I continued to try, possibly past the point of sanity, certainly past the point I assumed I would.
The second was our decision about what to do with our unused embryos – our “frosties” as they are sometimes called. There are four common options: (1) destroy them; (2) donate them to other couples; (3) donate them to science, or; (4) do a “compassionate transfer” where they transfer the embryo to you at a point in your cycle when implantation would be unlikely. Our clinic doesn’t offer option four, but I wouldn’t have chosen it anyway. To me it seems like an intentional miscarriage and I’ve had quite enough of that.
When first faced with this decision, I had an immediate and visceral reaction against the idea of donating our embryos to other couples. Again, I was surprised. It felt selfish not to donate them; I understood and empathized with other couples suffering infertility and wanted to do anything I could to help them try to conceive. But emotionally, I couldn’t imagine another couple raising “my child” when I couldn’t. If my embryos grew into humans, I needed to know them.
The third decision that surprised me was our choice to pursue surrogacy. The first time I remember hearing about gestational surrogacy was when Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick used a gestational carrier to have their twins. Candidly, I remember thinking, “Fantastic, now rich people don’t even have to get fat to have kids.” Oh, how terribly ignorant I was. What sweet, sweet lies I told myself. I wondered why people went to such trouble to have their own children. I mean, why didn’t they just adopt? Ha!
Then my husband and I found ourselves at 36, with six failed pregnancies, five remaining frosties (3 male, 2 female), and a misbehaving uterus. Our options were to keep trying ourselves, choose to live without children, adopt, or use a gestational carrier. We chose surrogacy.
Sometimes I feel ashamed that we chose not to adopt. I’m clearly defective – it’s not as if my DNA is going to benefit the gene pool. But part of what excites me about parenthood is the continuation of my family tree. I want to see myself and my husband combined into a tiny human. I want to identify traits that have been passed down from our parents and grandparents. And that’s okay. Would I make a different choice if we didn’t have the embryos? Probably.
That’s why it’s dangerous to judge others’ choices or rigidly adhere to our expectations for the future – because context matters when we make decisions. Even the bible tells us this: For we know in part and we prophesy in part… When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me. Our perspectives and priorities change as we age and as our life events evolve. There’s another quote in the bible: Judge not, or you too will be judged.