How We Form Families

2019-06-20T15:55:05-07:00July 1st, 2019|

Guest Blog by Barbara Stark-Nemon

Nearly a year ago, my nephew and his husband welcomed their first child into the world.  Five years after legally marrying, they established their careers, bought a home, and researched a number of ways to create the family they both wanted. They chose surrogacy as a means to have children, and selected their surrogate in an extensive reciprocal vetting process. They joined her a week before the baby was born so that they could attend the birth. Our entire extended family were ecstatic and eagerly waited to welcome baby Abigail.

How times have changed.  The sentences I’ve just written above would have been unimaginable thirty-five years ago, when I began trying to have a family and experienced infertility. Most people who had children then were married— to members of the opposite sex. Legal same-sex marriage didn’t exist. Adoption was only available in my state through public, licensed agencies with long waiting lists, and then almost entirely for the purpose of placing children with heterosexual married couples.  Private adoptions were legal in only three states in the U.S. While creating pregnancy, using sperm donation, was well established as a means of working around male infertility, births through in-vitro fertilization were still rare, considered by most insurance companies as experimental, and therefore not covered.

The early days of surrogacy as a means to have children (the mid 1980s to early 1990s) were a “wild west” of legal wrangles for both traditional surrogacy (the surrogate carries a baby resulting from her egg and the intended father’s sperm) and gestational surrogacy (the surrogate carries a pregnancy resulting from implantation of an embryo genetically unrelated to her.) The legal and financial barriers to unregulated surrogacy were formidable, and there were no reputable clearinghouses for information or resources. Highly publicized cases of courts reversing decisions terminating parental rights left adoptive parents and parents hopeful of using surrogacy to form families, frightened and insecure about their futures.

New gender identity policies and LGBT laws, changes in marriage laws, and particularly, advances in reproductive technologies have now allowed infertile heterosexual couples, same-sex couples and single individuals desiring to produce children to do so—legally and openly. There are pre-birth orders identifying parents of the babies born to surrogates, and law firms and agencies entirely dedicated to the surrogacy process.   There are organizations dedicated to the ethics of surrogacy. At the same time that all these changes have complicated social and legal definitions of family relationships, they have broadened the acceptability of different family constellations, and brought critically important conversations into the mainstream.

These facts underlie a major theme in my recent novel, Hard Cider, which tells the story of a woman who must confront a shocking piece of news involving surrogacy, just as she is trying to launch her reinvention as a hard cider producer in the northern Michigan land that she loves.  Her resilience, often tested, must be summoned once again.  The notion that we form family in different ways is also important in my first novel, Even in Darkness, historical fiction that takes place over the whole of the 20th century in Germany— through the world wars and the Holocaust.

The ethical and emotional consequences of producing children and families in new ways, is a theme I’ve explored in my own life, with friends, with other family members, and through the fiction I  read and write.  Infertility, alternative means of forming a family— including adoption, surrogacy, and children born outside of marriage— have all presented challenges to my own self-determination, my definition of family, as well as to others’ near and dear to me.  What are the ripple effects of those challenges? What emotional history is pulled into consideration?  These types of questions are no longer simply great fodder for fiction, but reflect the reality of the expanded ways we now create family.  I wish for my great niece a secure and happy place in this new reality.

Below is a list of books that relate to the themes of infertility, surrogacy, adoption, and/or  how we form families.  Enjoy!

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love,  by Dani Shapiro

The Doctor and the Stork: A Memoir of Modern Medical Babymaking, by K.K. Goldberg

The End of Miracles,  by Monica Starkman

The Husband’s Secret, by  Liane Moriarty

The Choices We Make, by Karma Brown

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

The Orphan Daughter, Cari Noga


Barbara Stark-Nemon lives, writes, swims, cycles and does fiber art in Ann Arbor and Northport, MI. She is the author of the award-winning novels Even in Darkness, (2015, She Writes Press) and Hard Cider. (September 2018, She Writes Press). Stark-Nemon is a contributing blogger at Huffington Post ( and author of award-winning short stories and flash fiction. Learn more at  contact:

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