I went from the Browser to read this Financial Times article about having babies in Britain today, because I found it interesting to consider that by 2030, one in three Britons will be from what we consider today an ethnic minority group. What does Britishness mean when one out of three Britons are not of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic stock? Does it matter, and if so, how will it matter?
But what shocked me was the stuff about the consumerization of having children, which has gone farther than I imagined. Indeed, the FT piece is really about the “revolution” in babymaking. Look:
In 2012, Noel and David met with a US surrogacy agency – a popular option for gay fathers. While adoption was a possibility, Noel “wanted a biological relation. I know some people think it’s selfish but that biological link is something that matters to both of us.” Surrogacy is not cheap: intended parents can expect to pay between $100,000 and $150,000. Choosing a donor and a surrogate was “like match.com”, Noel recalls. He and David chose a 23-year-old donor with brown hair and eyes who likes riding and whose profile matched his ideal of a “warm, outgoing, outdoorsy family”. It took more than a year to identify her and to find a surrogate, an “incredibly altruistic” 32-year-old.
In early 2014, Noel and David flew to a fertility clinic, each fertilising four eggs. Two embryos, one via each of them, were transferred to the surrogate on Valentine’s day. When I spoke to Noel in June, the trio had been pregnant for 19 weeks. He and David send daily messages to the surrogate via WhatsApp. David’s embryo did not survive but Noel’s did and the couple plans to use some of the six remaining ones at a later date. In September they will travel to the US to take delivery of their baby.
In Britain changes to laws governing adoption and NHS-funded in-vitro fertilisation clinics have also led to more same-sex parents. Two hundred and sixty same-sex couples adopted in the year prior to March 2013, an increase of 100 over the previous 12 months. Women in same-sex relationships began 766 IVF cycles in 2012, a 36 per cent increase on 2011, and a further 1,271 women used artificial insemination, up 20 per cent, according to data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The number of same-sex parents may remain small but, as Noel says, there is now a generation of young gay people who know they have the option.
No, I didn’t flag this because the parents who commissioned their artisanal child are gay. I flagged it because they custom-ordered a child like some people custom-order living room furniture — and there is an industry in place to serve their desires. More:
Noel and David are not the only ones seizing new opportunities. In her twenties Fiona was busy exploring the world, working on animal conservation projects. “I made no connection between a choice of a career, and any implication this may have on having a family down the line,” she says. “I believed I would have it all in my twenties.”
Twenty-eight and working in Costa Rica, she found out she was pregnant. She was taking antimalarial medicine and had been vaccinated for polio. On her return to the UK a doctor told her that these might put the baby at risk. Unsure in any case whether she wanted to keep the pregnancy, she opted for an abortion. “I hadn’t been upset before I went in theatre,” she recalls, “I was resolute that this was exactly the right decision.” Waking after sedation, Fiona realised that she was crying. “It wasn’t from the pain. We think we know what we want but our bodies are actually pretty powerful. And clearly, on some level, I wanted to be a mum.”
In her thirties, Fiona’s priority was managing her career. By the time she turned 40, she found herself appealing to younger men keen on no-strings-attached sex; the older men she dated were not keen on having children. She found it hard to concentrate on any one aspect of her life. “Everything was screaming that time was running out.”
So, about a year ago, at the age of 41, Fiona spent £10,000 to freeze a dozen of her eggs through a process called vitrification. Early evidence suggests that eggs thawed after this new method of freezing stand a better chance of success than those frozen using previous, less sophisticated techniques.
The HFEA doesn’t publish data on the number of vitrification cases but a spokesperson says it is “growing rapidly from a small base”. Dr Geeta Nargund, a doctor at the Create Fertility clinic, says that this is “another stage in female emancipation”. “Rather than having to decide whether it is career or baby,” she adds, “women are getting a step closer to having it all.”
We have made the creation of new life — human life! — into a consumer product like any other, all in the name of “having it all.” Monstrous. I mean that: monstrous. Where does it end?