Friday, September 03, 2010

Biology, motherhood, and female athletes

Note the staid title. It's because "you're f*&^ing kidding me" kept running through my head after reading this NYT piece and I couldn't get past that most basic but not very telling sentiment long enough to come up with a witty/snarky title.
So Gigi Fernandez, former professional tennis player, decided rather late (relatively) in life to have children. And becoming pregnant was quite difficult for her. Not surprising because fertility rates in women do decline as we age. Fernandez and her partner, former pro golfer Jane Geddes, made the decision when Fernandez, who was to be the bearer, in her 40s. After many rounds of in vitro fertilization that did not take, Fernandez had the eggs of a personal friend inseminated and implanted in her.* And now she and Jane have twins.
Before I get to the problematic aspects of this story, I just want to say "good for them!" It sounds like they went through a lot during this long process.
But the messages Fernandez are sending are worrisome. First, she talks about waiting too long to have kids and regretting being so focused on tennis when she was younger that she was not thinking about parenthood. This is one in a series of articles by the NYT about female athletes and the decisions they make about becoming parents and raising children. The series seems to be called (based on the heading on my internet window) "Female Athletes Risk Deferring Dream of Parenthood too Long."
Such a slippery slope, no? Don't play sports too long (or too hard as is suggested in the article) because you won't be able to bear children later on. But let's note that Fernandez retired at the age of 33 and met her partner that same year. But she didn't make her decision to have kids until about 10 years later. That had nothing to do with tennis.
The whole choose to have kids or choose your career (sports or otherwise) ultimatum is really, well, lousy for lack of a more articulate explanation.
And it ignores the possibility of not bearing children at all but adopting or fostering. The children Fernandez bore are not biologically related to her or her partner. Biology does not create a family, of course. But why go through what both women relate was a hellish process of hormones and mood swings (plus subject a good friend to the same in order to harvest her eggs for implantation) when you could adopt? Why are adopted children less desirable than the ones that come from your own womb? What is up with this hierarchy that seems to exist in the realm of how one becomes a parent?

* Let's also note the great expense of fertility treatments, likely made possible, in this case, by the professional athletic careers of the two women.


Diane said...

"I was so selfish in those years. I felt like I had to be. I felt like tennis was so all-encompassing."

The implication is that there is something wrong with that. It is all-encompassing. So what?

Gigi Fernandez said...

Hi Ken. Thank you for sharing my story. I appreciate your points and just wanted to clarify a misrepresentation. We were all for adoption. We first tried in Florida, where we live, but during the process found out we could not adopt here because there would not be a mother and a father in the family. We then decided to adopt in California, where we had to establish residence and paid an attorney a large retainer to sit on an adoption wait list for 1.5 years. We had 2 birth mothers select us and change their mind in the 8th months. So after all that we then went to the egg donation. The only difference between what we did an adoption is of course that i carried the babies and was therefore assured that they had a good environment in the womb, which is not always the case with adoption. Adoption is a wonderful thing for traditional couples, its just a little more complicated for non-traditional ones. thanks again for sharing my story.

ken said...

OMG, Gigi Fernandez commented on my blog! I saw you play at the US Open and in Newport, I think.
Thank you for the clarification or rather addition of the information on adoption. I wish it had been in the article itself. There seemed to be an implication (generally, not from you specifically) that true motherhood is only attained through the birthing process.
I also wish the issue of sexuality had been mentioned given that it clearly had an impact on the whole process.
I'll be interested in reading the other articles in the series because I am still quite concerned over the message that women have to choose between athletics and motherhood.