Do Genetics Matter?

Earlier this year, a recent advance in stem cell research got a lot of media attention. Researchers at Cambridge University and the Weizmann Institute in Israel were able to program stem cells to become primordial germ cells, the precursors to eggs and sperm. Scientists have been able to create viable baby mice from these cells, and with further study, viable human eggs and sperm may someday be created using stem cells from any human’s skin sample. I think this type of science has tremendous potential to assist male and female individuals suffering from various forms of infertility. However, more public interest seemed to come from the idea that someday same-sex couples may be able to contribute both egg and sperm to create children that are genetically related to both partners.

Reading about this future possibility got me thinking. We are a full house of six and won’t likely be having more children, but if this technology was available when we were going through surrogacy, would we have been interested in having children conceived with egg and sperm from Josh and me? How much do genetics really matter to us?

For us, how our children may be related to us genetically mattered some, but less than and in different ways than people may think. Josh and I are both reasonably proud people with good self esteem, but neither of us have a great desire to create “mini-me” children that carry all our traits and looks. In our initial conversations about becoming parents, adopting children that had no genetic relationship to either of us would have been a serious consideration, but it was not possible in Florida at that time. A surrogacy process where one of us contributed sperm to create children had some legal and social benefits that made it the way to go.

Living in South Florida, we have enjoyed our island of progressive blue in an often red state. We have been acutely aware that much of Florida subscribes to the Deep South mentality. Because of the hostile stance that the Florida state government had toward same-sex parents, we felt that at least one of us having a biological link to each of our children afforded some protection from the nightmare scenario of the state considering us “illegitimate, unfit parents” and trying to take our children away. As an interracial couple, we thought having children with both Caucasian and Asian features meant that if ever one of us was travelling with small babies alone, strangers would be more likely to accept either of us as related to these children. A man alone with small children and no mom in sight still raises eyebrows, and if the kids are clearly not biologically related to the man, some may even jump to conclusions that something inappropriate is taking place.

Thus we set out to have biracial kids. The other half of this genetic equation in current assisted reproductive technology comes from an egg donor. We decided to keep the identity of the egg donor completely secret, because if family or friends knew anything about the background of the egg donor, they could in turn infer which one of us was the sperm donor. The only people who know the genetic details of our family are the ones intimately involved in the process and the kids’ ongoing health. We know, the surrogates know, the lawyers and doctors know. Our families may have thoughts, but their theories have never been confirmed, and this reasonable doubt helps for us to both be treated equally as parents. When the kids are old enough to understand where babies come from (AJ and JJ are fast approaching that day), they will be the first to know about their genetic origins.

When we were considering a second surrogacy process a few years ago, we were presented with the opportunity for the person not genetically involved the first time around to make a contribution. But this was not our primary motivation for considering more children. We wanted AJ and JJ to have little siblings to teach them about responsibility, and help them understand that they are not the center of the universe. We knew that if we were blessed with a girl like DJ, it would bring more balance to our household than thoughts of genetics ever would.

Looking back, Josh and I have learned that genetics may matter for external situations, but within our family, it actually matters very little. Josh and I both love all our children equally no matter the biology. We have proven it to ourselves in a manner that is nearly scientific.

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