Saturday, November 6, 2010

Molecular Parenting

This is a guest post by Stewart, aka "Papa":

Max is my biological son.

I know what you’re thinking. Whoa . . . wtf?! I thought Max was Jacob's biological son! But wait, family members, don’t faint just yet.  Max is also Jacob's biological son, and Jacob would beat me hands down in any Jerry Springer paternity test episode.

Okay, now that your universe has righted again, let me explain. When you are two guys planning to start a family via surrogacy, everyone wants to know which one is going to be the biological father. Some people ask directly, and others ask everything about the process except that, hoping that you mention the parentage, since it’s what they really wanted to know in the first place. But even as it’s obvious how badly people want to know, their question is always tempered with: “not that it matters . . .” Indeed, we know several sets of gay parents who have taken this attitude to heart, and actually mixed their sperm together before inseminating their surrogates, so that even they would not know which of them is the “real” father. After all, it just doesn’t matter. Each of the men in these couples are their babies’ “real” fathers, regardless of whose little swimmers won the race.
But, even these couples usually end up finding out the answer through a paternity test when their children are very young (even if, in the spirit of “not that it matters,” they do not divulge the results to others). Because biology does matter in certain respects, right? It can matter legally, as I discovered when our lawyer and I had to go through more hoops than Paul “Dizzy Hips” Blair just to get listed as “mother” on Max’s birth certificate. It certainly matters medically, as we know that genetics affect an individual’s tendency towards such innocuous traits as height, eye color and skin tone, as well as much more serious concerns, such as susceptibility to cancer, alzheimer’s and diabetes. Let’s face it, there is a reason why, if you want to become a sperm donor for an infertile couple, you have to do more than grab a dixie cup and aggravate Christine O’Donnell (so to speak). You also have to fill out a 22 page questionnaire about your family’s medical history. Anyone in your family ever have Mad Cow Disease? You better know the answer (for real) if you want to earn that $200 for your deposit.

So yes, biology matters. But so what? That’s no skin off my back. Because parents who adopted their kids, or whose partner did the donating in a surrogacy relationship (as in my case), are still their kids’ biological parents. How? Because a person’s genes are not solely the result of which sperm met which egg. Parenting also plays a role in the biological make-up of our children. For example, as parents we can literally alter our children’s tendencies towards certain genetic conditions. According to a finding published in Newsweek last year:
In most cases, our genes are only a predisposition; they are not written in stone. And if we have a strong family history for diseases such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, or heart disease -- "bad genes"-- then we may need to make bigger changes in lifestyle in order to help prevent or even reverse chronic diseases. In the centuries-old debate about nature vs. nurture, we are learning that nurture affects nature as much as nature affects nurture.
As parents, we have the power to affect in our children all of the lifestyle choices mentioned in the article: “nutrition, stress management techniques, walking and psychosocial support.” As another example, through parenting we actually change our children’s physical brains. The Toronto Star reported last year that:
Infant brain imaging, baby brain wave studies and even autopsies of infants show the profound similarities among newborn human brains. Adult brains, however, are profoundly different biologically.
In other words, our brains are literally shaped by our lifetimes, and our lifetimes are shaped by our parents, irrespective of how they became our parents.
So, while Jacob and Christie created Max’s biological make-up, as his “papa” I will have the tremendous privilege and obligation to help mold his biology in a positive direction, towards a lifetime of health and happiness -- through guiding him in what he eats, how much exercise he gets, how often is brain is engaged through reading and experiencing the world, and in countless other ways. So yes, Max is my biological son, and is becoming more so every day.


  1. Terrific post, Stewart. It explains so much. Especially that Max seems actually interested in having you feed him from a spoon!

  2. He's looking sharp in that Dwell studio Bib!! Great post. I can't wait to see you guys in a couple of weeks.

  3. Very interesting post and a very interesting point of view.
    Me and my husband live in London and have a 17 month old boy, also born through surrogacy in California....
    I am the stay at home papa' so it's interesting to know that the way I can influence my son has a biological aspect to it.

  4. great post! i see you are also feeding max homemade baby food ;) -eli's mom alison

  5. Genetics is the only thing I can put hand on heart and say it matters in respect to medical conditions for the future of the child. Yes by the law of the land maybe for the terrible event of breakup. But other than that it matters not. Really.

    I have 2 girls by previous marriage and the third from current relationship, second husband. My husband has been the step-dad since the youngest was 4yrs old and she does not remember a life without him. The oldest was 7yrs and has a bit of memory from things when young but not much.

    Both oldest girls see their biological dad so have regular contact with him. It has always been an interesting old question for me "nature v. nurture?". I can tell you my middle child, the youngest of the first marriage appears to be the perfect child from my currant husband, her step-dad. She is clumsy like him, loves everything techy, comes up with excuses like him, there is plenty to compare likeness.

    The older child does have traits of her biological dad, which to my observation appears to have set before she was even old enough to walk, she just was a completely different baby. She's more shy and timid but having the experience of living with my outspoken & loud husband I think it has had a positive influence of her coming out of her shell more. And obviously they all have my traits, mannerism and so on too.

    So, you're right from my experience the environment, nurture, has a lot to answer for! :)

  6. There are actually some great examples of cultures where kinship *is* determined by becoming "made of the same stuff"--food, water, housing, time.

  7. Hello Jacob!!!
    Im Helena, a brazilian product designer student! In class im making a project that is focused on gay dads and new cofigurations of moderm families. Most products are focused for mums or women for baby care, and even lifestyle. So we tought: What about the guuuuys? The good guys who like taking care of their babies?

    Well im using your blog as a reference for my class project, and i wanted to tell you that
    I thought i should passed and say hello! I admire all the work you 2 are doing.
    thanks for sharing that!

    Helena, brazil :]

  8. Helena, Thanks so much for using the blog as a reference. Good luck on your project! Also, I appreciate your nice comments.