Over at The Public Discourse, I had a piece published regarding a baby boy born after being frozen as an embryo for 19 years.
Experts estimate there are over 400,000 frozen embryos waiting for their summons in cryo-banks across the country. Many people rightly hold these embryos in high regard, recognizing them as more than tissue—they are human beings in early development, complete with unique DNA sequences, and the active potential, if given a suitable environment, to develop to adulthood. So when these embryos are “adopted,” taken out of storage, implanted into a womb somewhere and allowed to become fully grown people, should we celebrate?
To kidnap is to transport a person, against his will, and confine or falsely imprison him. A remarkable number of child kidnappings are motivated by custody disputes. Divorces and separations inspire some adults to take children across state lines, or often enough overseas, to avoid interference from and interaction with the other parent or guardian.
Using distance as a tool and taking a child elsewhere is helpful when your objective is to prevent kin from coming and finding the child you’ve taken, or if you’d rather not have your grown child go looking for their kin.
These adults try to increase the feeling of impossibility, to make the child and other parent or guardian feel like the chances of finding each other are slim to none. The more daunting the task, the more likely the kidnapped child will accept their circumstances and the more likely the other parent will stop looking or become defeated.
Distance often works to break the connection, but we still hear stories from those who speak up and declare that they’ve been robbed of family and identity.
Jane Jeong Trenka, author of Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Koreaand The Language of Blood, was recently featured in the New York Times for her bold return to Korea. At 23, she put her trip “home” on a credit card and communicated with her mother through a translator. Five years after her birth mother’s death, she moved to Korea for good, divorcing her American husband and leaving her job and American family behind. She’s not the only one. The majority of Korean adoptees return to the land of the birth, at least to visit.
Trenka’s reconnection was successful only because she didn’t face the usual obstacles. Her birth mother had provided letters and gifts. Most international adoptees’ origins are shrouded in anonymity. In order to succeed at finding a birth parent, they must enlist the help of a private investigator, a translator, and an international travel agent. Then, once they arrive, the language and cultural barriers are steep—intimacy is blocked until they have learned each other’s language. And by then the parent(s) may be elderly or dead.
I know this from firsthand experience. Not only was my sister a Korean adoptee, but for my entire childhood I only knew three facts about my own biological father. He was blond, had blue eyes, and a college degree. I was born when there was no internet. No DNA tests. To find him seemed impossible.And so I never entertained the idea that I’d be able to find or know him.
But then miracles happened. I received a one-page tear sheet with a few fill-in-the-blank answers that suddenly gave my anonymous sperm donor father a personality. He was Polish. He was a scuba-diving instructor. He studied respiratory medicine. The internet bloomed and sites like FTDNA and 23andMe emerged. Suddenly, it didn’t seem impossible that I might be able to find him.
And I’ve been searching for eight years, with the help of DNA tests and a private investigator. The man we suspect could be my father unfortunately died several years ago of lung cancer, right around the time when I started looking.
For caretakers who don’t wish their children to long for their genetic kin, stories like Trenka’s and mine are annoying. There are only two options from here. One, adoptive parents or those using sperm or egg donors must concede that genetic ties are important and find some way of cooperating with the child’s genetic parents—which can be messy and inconvenient for the caretakers. Or two, the caretaker can make it even more difficult for the child to find his genetic kin. The caretaker will reign supreme with a hermetic title as Mother or Father.
Distance or Dungeon. Or both.
Today, adults can separate children from their genetic kin not just by traveling geological distance, but by bending time and space. They can bring a child into the world who is wildly younger than his natural parents or siblings by cryogenically freezing them as embryos.