To Parent or Not to Parent

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    • 00:00


    • 00:31

      ZACHARY SWANBORN: --are the hives.

    • 00:33

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: How come there are no bees?

    • 00:34

      SARIT SWANBORN: Where are the bees?

    • 00:35

      ZACHARY SWANBORN: They're inside it.

    • 00:37

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: Oh, they're making honey?

    • 00:38

      ZACHARY SWANBORN: I'm getting here, though.One, one, is the sun.

    • 00:43

      SARIT SWANBORN: Zachary is six, and he'sthis little ball of energy.And he's a delight of a child.A bright thinker, very inquisitive,curious about everything around him.Olivia is also a ball of energy in many ways.She really just adores Zachary and looks up

    • 01:04

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: to him in so many ways and is alsovery curious about the world around her.And it's just such a pleasure raising them togetherand watching them interact.

    • 01:15

      NARRATOR: In many ways, this is a typical American family.Two young and happy children, parentswhose love for those children knows no bounds.But for Sarit and Arnold Swanborn,the process of becoming parents was anything but typical.In fact, it was probably the greatest challengeeither of them has ever faced.

    • 01:37

      SARIT SWANBORN: We've been married for six years,and unfortunately we had a very hard beginning gettingpregnant.I'm a very high risk candidate, and ittook several miscarriages for me to finally findthe right doctor and get on the right medicationto successfully carry our son to term.

    • 01:56

      NARRATOR: But once Sarit gave birth to son Zachary,it quickly became clear that the hardest work of allwas just beginning.

    • 02:05

      SARIT SWANBORN: He actually had a very tough start.He weighed three pounds 15 ounces,was born five weeks early, and wasdiagnosed with cystic fibrosis.We were told that the median age of survivalwas 30 years old when he was born.And so there was that whole issueof grappling with mortality of our son.

    • 02:26

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: Would we be childless at some point?Or would there be a cure in his lifetime?

    • 02:33

      NARRATOR: Despite their son's medical situation,Sarit and Arnold knew that they wanted Zacharyto have a brother or a sister.They also knew that would present a challengeon a number of levels.

    • 02:45

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: With both Sarit and Ibeing carriers of cystic fibrosisand the chance of having another child with cystic fibrosis--not only would that mean additional care for us,but it also puts the health of our son in jeopardy.Because having two cystic fibrosis childrentogether, they just breed on each other's germs,and it just makes it that much worse.So for us to look at other ways to grow our family

    • 03:06

      ARNOLD SWANBORN [continued]: was an important exploration that we needed to go through.And we talked about it a lot and said why don't we just adopt?You know, that seems like the right thing to do.Just like a moment of clarity.I was like an epiphany.It just sort of hit us.

    • 03:23

      NARRATOR: Rather than going through a public adoptionagency, the Swanborns chose to utilizethe much more expensive services of an open, private agency.In their minds, this gave them the greatest likelihoodof getting a newborn, as well as the opportunityto become more familiar with the birth mother and familyhistory of their future child.

    • 03:44

      NARRATOR [continued]: Unfortunately, the reality of what occurreddid not live up to their expectations.

    • 03:49

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: We were matched with this personin her first trimester.And after I don't know, a couple of visits to the mother,she just stopped communicating with us.So that was a red flag.And then you get requests for additional moneyfor doctors' visits, which don't happen, and things like that.

    • 04:11

      ARNOLD SWANBORN [continued]: And what you wind up finding out is these kids, some of them,they use this as a way of making moneyor as an income for them so they can live.And they're not always the most upstanding individuals.

    • 04:27

      NARRATOR: While Sarit and Arnold weretrying to deal with what was becoming an increasinglyuncomfortable situation, something very unexpectedhappened.

    • 04:36

      SARIT SWANBORN: I learned that I was pregnant,and we had a fork in the road situation.I was a very high risk candidate.And we had the cystic fibrosis factor to consider.I didn't know if I could carry a second child to term.We don't know what would come of our second child in termsof diagnoses.

    • 04:56

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: Essentially we said, we're pregnant now.We don't feel comfortable terminating.Let's have a baby.Let's go that route.We wanted two children.We wanted to have siblings.We wanted to have a family where the two children wouldbe able to play together.So we had to see how the pregnancy would go.And with all of the unknowns that that held,

    • 05:16

      ARNOLD SWANBORN [continued]: so that was our decision.

    • 05:19

      NARRATOR: And so the Swanborns themselvesended the adoption process.From that point forward, their focuswas on making sure that Sarit had a healthy pregnancyand a successful delivery.

    • 05:31

      SARIT SWANBORN: I knew I was very high risk,and I was on many medications.And one of the brightest days was getting a callinto my first trimester that told usthat our unborn child was indeed just a carrier,and did not have cystic fibrosis, whichmeant that this child could live a life without the burdenof that illness.

    • 05:52

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: So we were elated.We thought we had turned the toughest corner.And unfortunately, eight months into the gestationof my pregnancy, our child's heartbeat stopped.And I had to deliver a stillborn.And that was probably horrible, horrible.

    • 06:12

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: That was a littledarker than the first baby.

    • 06:14

      SARIT SWANBORN: Yeah.Because we wanted a child so badly.My second child and I thought I had--we thought we'd licked the odds, and were well on our way.And we lost, we lost her.And she was beautiful, and she looked just

    • 06:35

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: like our son Zachary, just a split image of him.And with her loss, went our dreams and our hope.It was a really hard day and whatgot us through the delivery of our stillborn daughter,who we named Tatiana, was the promise that we would adopt.

    • 06:58

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: My sister was in our room, and she said this is not over.You're going to have another baby.You know, and that was what got me through the darkest time.And Arnold, I think as well.

    • 07:12

      NARRATOR: For Sarit and Arnold Swanborn,the question of whether or not to have childrenwas never really a question at all.The only question was how to go about achieving the goal thathad eluded them for so long.But for other couples, the thought of having childrencan trigger a great deal of doubt and uncertaintyand lead to an outcome that is very different.

    • 07:36

      ROGER MCLEAN: Sherry and I considered having children.In fact, I think we had sort of a dealthat we'd consider it-- it was about every year,about every anniversary.We'd have a conversation about itand decide whether we thought we wanted to or didn't want to.And really, I think it was something that justafter a period of time of deciding, well, maybe not yet.

    • 07:59

      ROGER MCLEAN [continued]: Maybe we're not quite ready.Eventually, it got to where it was starting to be impracticaljust because of our age.I told Sherry-- and I don't know how she felt about it,you know, when she was growing up-- but I always wanted kids.I thought I had a great childhood and a great family.And that was something I thought was important to me, in my 20s

    • 08:21

      ROGER MCLEAN [continued]: and in my 30s.

    • 08:22

      SHERRY MCLEAN: I think I knew at a very young age I did notwant children.But I had always reserved that if Imet the right man and that was important to him,I would reconsider that.As Roger said, every anniversary,we kind of took a vote, and we had decided if one of ussaid no, that was the way it was.And we both kept saying no.And so we did not.

    • 08:44

      SHERRY MCLEAN [continued]: And I'm very comfortable with it.

    • 08:47

      ROGER MCLEAN: Part of both of us were thinking we need to,if we're having children, we need to provide themfinancial security.So you're building that kind of security.And before you know it, the time kind of gets away from you.And I'm perfectly happy with our livestogether without the children.We've got tons of nieces and nephews,and we get to enjoy lots of kids that way.

    • 09:08

      ROGER MCLEAN [continued]: You know, I don't know if some day we'llregret that we didn't have our own or not.I guess time will tell.

    • 09:16

      NARRATOR: For Sherry and Roger McLean, both well-educatedand highly successful, the decisioncame down to a careful analysis of the prosand cons of parenthood.

    • 09:26

      SHERRY MCLEAN: I think that I see many advantagesto having children, but they all concludeat the end of four hours.So I enjoy children, but there's a lot I enjoy in my lifethat I would've had to have given up,including I have traditional values.And I happen to believe if you're

    • 09:46

      SHERRY MCLEAN [continued]: going to have children that you should stay home and raisethem.So that would have meant one of us giving up our career.And there was never a time when Ifelt that I wanted to do that, and I thinkRoger was at the same place.

    • 09:60

      ROGER MCLEAN: Sometimes I used to thinkit would be great if you could have kids that were alreadypast the diaper stage.And a lot of the fun of kids, I have alwaysthought would be oh, when they start playingsports and things like that.Well, they don't start doing that until they're6, 7,8, 10 years old.And it was those years, one through three,that I always wondered-- what's this going to be like?

    • 10:22

      SHERRY MCLEAN: It's of interest to me right now,also that-- we see our friends.We have friends of a variety of ages.And therefore we have friends now that have their kidsand they're struggling to get them through college.And we have other friends that whether or notthey can go out to dinner on Friday nightdepends on if the babysitter shows up.

    • 10:43

      SHERRY MCLEAN [continued]: And we don't have that.I appreciate what they're doing and the young peoplethat they've raised.And I do enjoy being around them.But it's nice to go home without them.

    • 10:54

      ROGER MCLEAN: I mean we do enjoy going out to dinnerand going out to parties and things like that.And children take such a commitment of time.And also, as I say, I think part of me was always thinking,we've got to have our financial house just in perfect order.

    • 11:17

      SHERRY MCLEAN: Probably my only regret would actuallybe for Roger, in that Roger lovessports-- a baseball nut, a football nut, a golf nut.And we talked from time to time that hewould have loved to have been like a Little League coach.Unfortunately, into today's world of child molestation

    • 11:39

      SHERRY MCLEAN [continued]: and if you're a grown man that wantsto go coach a team of eight-year-old boys,instead of others thinking that that's a wonderful thingand you have something to give, it's now thought of as weird.And you've almost put yourself at a personal risk.And so that's probably my only regret,is that you're not going to have a chance probably to do that.

    • 11:59

      ROGER MCLEAN: I remember my mother telling me 35 years ago,no one can understand the type of lovethat a parent has for a child.And sometimes I think that we've missed that.Because, as much as we love our nieces and nephews,they're not our children.And so maybe we will never experience that type of love

    • 12:21

      ROGER MCLEAN [continued]: that a parent has for a child.Well, I guess I'll never know.But I regret that some.Because when I talk to my friends who have children,you can tell-- the way they beam whenthey talk about their kids.That's something Sherry and I will never have.I think there's some sadness about that.

    • 12:42

      NARRATOR: Sadness, and perhaps some regrets.But on balance, Sherry and Roger feelthat they've made the best decision for them.

    • 12:51

      ROGER MCLEAN: So often you hear about peoplewho, tragically when their kids are grown,they find they don't have anything in common anymore.And they divorce.So you know, that's sad, too.Because you got a couple people who justspent 20 years with each other.And now their kids are gone and they're looking at each otherand they have nothing to talk about.

    • 13:11

      ROGER MCLEAN [continued]: The kids are gone, so what's left between us?Well, Sherry and I don't have that to worry about,because we get to concentrate on our relationship.

    • 13:22

      NARRATOR: The decision to focus on personal happinessand marital stability, rather than automatically plungeinto parenthood, is becoming more and more common.While families in the late 19th centuryhad on average about six children,the number of children per family todayhas dropped to only about 1.8.

    • 13:43

      MEGAN SWEENEY: I think that the real hot question hereis what's happening?Where's the endpoint of this trend?So we've seen, certainly comparing the 1950s to now,we've seen a reduction in the number of children peopleare having.Are we actually going to hit the end point, where as a society,we're heading towards having no children at all?You don't have to be a sociologistto recognize that that would be disastrous.

    • 14:04

      JUDITH TREAS: If you look at many European countries,women are having very, very low fertility.The woman on average who has childrenmay have a little over one child per woman.And so European countries are facingsubreplacement fertility, which meansthey aren't even able to replace their own populations.

    • 14:23

      NARRATOR: While the US demographic situation certainlyhasn't reached that stage, the downward trend is unmistakable.A number of factors are often citedto explain the drop in fertility,but there's one overriding fact that stands out.

    • 14:39

      DAVID POPENOE: The biggest marital changeis probably decoupling of marriage and child rearing.It used to be the case that's why you married.And if you asked people, you know what's marriage all about?Well, it's to provide a safe sanctuary for raising children.If you ask people today what the main purpose of marriage is,only about 20% of the population comes up with children.

    • 15:02

      NARRATOR: One possible explanationis that children today are consideredmore of an economic liability than an asset.

    • 15:11

      DAVID POPENOE: Well, in the past,marriages were basically kind of economic units.Both the husband and wife had clearly defined rolesin the struggle for life.And you had lots of kids, because kids basicallyhelped you out economically, either in the home shopor on the farm or even child labor.Also they took care of you when you were old,

    • 15:33

      DAVID POPENOE [continued]: so you the more children you had, the better chanceof old age support you had.Today, they don't really help you in any labor sense.They're in school.They go off to college.

    • 15:47

      JENNIFER JOHNSON-HANKS: The economic reasonsare often framed in terms of the quantityand quality of children.This notion that there's a trade off between how many childrenyou have and how much you invest in each child.And that as societies come to put more and more valueon raising high quality children, by which they meanvery educated, very expensive children, people

    • 16:08

      JENNIFER JOHNSON-HANKS [continued]: are going to choose to have fewer of them.

    • 16:11

      DAVID POPENOE: This is a big reason why peopleare having fewer children.It's not the only reason.I think probably the biggest todayis that you get used to, in a marriedcouple without children, get usedto a pretty free lifestyle where they can do whatever they want.And then suddenly the child comes and completely upsetstheir applecart.

    • 16:34

      DAVID POPENOE [continued]: Marriage today is more and more orientedtowards individual expression and individualism in generaland concern with the self than ever before.And it really is the tail end of a long cultural change.

    • 16:50

      TIMOTHY BIBLARZ: In today's setting,having a large number of childrenmay be costly in terms of lost opportunities for parentsto do other things.Particularly for women, a large number of childrenmay have a cost in terms of lost opportunity for higher

    • 17:12

      TIMOTHY BIBLARZ [continued]: education, for participation in a fulfilling career.

    • 17:17

      JENNIFER JOHNSON-HANKS: What kind of livesdo they want to live?It's a very different life that you've committed yourselfto if you've got six children rather than three,or three rather than one.

    • 17:27

      MEGAN SWEENEY: Many people don't actuallyplan out their lives in such a way that they say,I am never going to have children.Some people do.But often the decision to remain childless actuallycomes about as the result of a series of decisionsto postpone childbearing.Many people have some goal in mind.But then life happens.Things happen along the way.

    • 17:46

      DOCTOR: Hi.Mr. and Mrs. Hansen.Hi.Thanks for coming back.

    • 17:50

      NARRATOR: For example, postponing childbearingtoo long makes it much more difficultor even impossible for some couples to conceive.

    • 17:58

      DR. CALVIN JOHN HOBEL: If you lookat the women that have infertility,they're usually older women.And most of the women who have chosennot to get pregnant until later on in lifeare also working women.So they also have this work ethicand have a fair amount of stress in their work environment.So here now you get into your early 40s,

    • 18:21

      DR. CALVIN JOHN HOBEL [continued]: and you want to have a baby.Because of the stress you can't get pregnant.And therefore, the only solution isto then help them with the reproductive technologiesthat we have today, to do in vitro fertilization,to take their eggs, get them fertilizedand then to reimplant them-- and thatresults in multiple gestations.

    • 18:43

      DR. CALVIN JOHN HOBEL [continued]: And that causes a tremendous amountof stress and difficulty.So it's a vicious cycle.

    • 18:50

      SUSAN H. MCDANIEL: Sometimes thisis the first really big problem a couple'shad to face, and often pretty unexpected, even though it'sfairly common.So how well the couple's able to communicate is very important.And being able to accept-- lots of times coupleshave different values that they place on having children.

    • 19:12

      SUSAN H. MCDANIEL [continued]: And helping them be able to talk with each otherin an honest kind of way about that,and to support each other, and to come to some decisionabout how far are they going to go in the technology process.When are they going to stop, being able to take breaksfrom it, because it can be grueling and very

    • 19:32

      SUSAN H. MCDANIEL [continued]: hard emotionally as well as physically.

    • 19:36

      NARRATOR: Sometimes the emotional challengesare intensified by painful interactions with familyand friends, many of whom have no ideathat the couple in question is having a problem.

    • 19:47

      SPEAKER 1: Just wait until your first little one comes along.

    • 19:49

      SUSAN H. MCDANIEL: So nobody really knowsand people are often forced to, for example, go to baby showersand have in-laws ask them when are theygoing to have grandchildren.And they haven't felt comfortablebeing open about what's going on.So there are some social and family thingsthat can make it additionally painfulto go through the process.

    • 20:12

      NARRATOR: For those couples who chooseto use in vitro fertilization in order to conceive,there are other issues beyond just the question of will itwork that need to be considered.

    • 20:22

      SUSAN H. MCDANIEL: The technologyis way ahead of where the emotional and interpersonal andethical issues are.We're now pretty clear about counseling people of thatand how to tell their children from the beginning.You know, there are many different ways that familiesare made, and there's this way, that way, and here's

    • 20:44

      SUSAN H. MCDANIEL [continued]: the way that you came to be.And being able to tell a loving story like you mightwith an adoption or any other nontraditional way-- I thinkavoids all the problems later of having a secret like this.

    • 20:56

      SARIT SWANBORN: Where's the airplane in the sky?

    • 20:59

      NARRATOR: Sarit and Arnold Swanbornwere not interested in keeping secrets.They knew that if they adopted a child,they would need to tell that child the truth about howhe or she came to be a member of the Swanborn family.But there was time before they'd have to worry about that.First, there was the matter of making it successfullythrough the adoption process.

    • 21:22

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: I think everybodythat we know, all of our friends,our family were extremely supportive of our decisionto adopt, knowing our history, youknow, knowing the history of having difficult pregnanciesand the potential of having another CF child.And that there are many kids in need, that need loving,and we'd be a good family for them.

    • 21:44

      SARIT SWANBORN: We had a strong support system,and a lot of encouragement to go forth.And everyone had an agency that we should work with,and had a suggestion about it.

    • 21:54

      NARRATOR: Arnold and Sarit felt an immediate bondwith the woman who would become the birth motherof their future daughter.She actually wrote a poem when she was pregnant with Olivia--

    • 22:05

      SARIT SWANBORN: As a carrier of the child--

    • 22:07

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: But not as the mother of the child.She'd known from day one that this baby wasn'tgoing to be in her family.It was going to be given up for adoption.And she was a vessel for the birth of this child.

    • 22:18

      SARIT SWANBORN: But she wrote this poem that had so muchpoetic beauty to it and love.And we will read this to Olivia, so sheknows that this came from love and that her mother wished herwell.

    • 22:30

      NARRATOR: Even before Olivia's birth,Arnold and Sarit began to prepareZachary for what was to come.

    • 22:35

      SARIT SWANBORN: He definitely saw us putting togethera birth packet.And he saw his picture in it.And we definitely said, mommy and daddyknow that there are many childrenin the world that need love.And there is a child out there whoneeds your love and our love and wouldn't thatbe nice to bring a child into our lives?And I think that for what he could understand of it,

    • 22:58

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: it was intriguing.

    • 22:60

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: I think the idea of a child, or a sibling,coming into their life is always interesting to any childuntil they get there.So you know, to him the idea of bringing somebody elseinto the family was great, you know, that's wonderful.Yeah I'd love to have them.It doesn't matter.To him, it didn't matter.He didn't know.He didn't know any different.

    • 23:20

      ARNOLD SWANBORN [continued]: But then she got there.

    • 23:23

      SARIT SWANBORN: And then he had to share.

    • 23:25

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: And then he had to share.Year and a half, almost two years later,we're still dealing with issues of not being ableto share-- time, possessions, whatever it is.

    • 23:36

      NARRATOR: Despite some typical sibling rivalry issues,Arnold is gratified that Zachary doesn'ttry to take advantage of Olivia's statusas an adopted child.

    • 23:45

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: And he's never said, oh she'sjust my adopted sister.He's never said that.I don't know if he's aware of the fact that she's adopted,or it just never enters his mind that she is somehowa little bit different in the family than he is.

    • 23:59

      SARIT SWANBORN: Actually, he is very awarethat she's adopted because he has made a statement to me.He's very, very bright and aware of his surroundings and thingsthat are happening.And he has said, mommy, take her back.She needs to go back.She cannot be a part of our family right now.Only because he was very upset about something,

    • 24:21

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: and he didn't know how to push my button other than to saythat.So he is aware, but--

    • 24:29

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: He's hiding it from me.

    • 24:31

      SARIT SWANBORN: Right, he's hiding it from you.But that also tells us that we needto sit down with both of them and havea conversation about the fact that sheis adopted very early on.We're not going to wait until she is a teenager or older.First of all, Zachary and all of his young five-year-old cousinswill blow the whistle long before we can have thatdiscussion if we don't.

    • 24:53

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: So she will know at a very tender age.

    • 24:55

      ARNOLD SWANBORN: We will have to justhave that tough discussion with both of our kids.We're going to have to tell Zacharyhe's got cystic fibrosis and tell our daughterOlivia that she's adopted.To us, that makes our story of our family that much richer.

    • 25:09

      SARIT SWANBORN: Because after losing our daughterat eight months gestation, we had empty arms.We had aching arms.We needed to fill that spot.And we feel complete inside, in every way.Because there was that question mark at the end,and we didn't feel that we had our complete family

    • 25:31

      SARIT SWANBORN [continued]: picture yet.She is the poster child of adoption.She is just amazing.She's a good eater.She's a happy kid.She's a healthy kid.We don't take any day for granted that we have her,and we look forward to raising her.

    • 25:52


    • 26:26

      NARRATOR: Our Families, Ourselvesis an 18-part series about marriages and families.For information on this program and accompanying materials,call 1(800)576-2988 or visit us online at

To Parent or Not to Parent

View Segments Segment :


This episode of Our Families, Ourselves looks at the decision of whether or not to become a parent. Experts discuss family demographic change and how that is affecting the ways couples conceive. Also examined are non-traditional paths to parenthood and the sociology of family relationships.

To Parent or Not to Parent

This episode of Our Families, Ourselves looks at the decision of whether or not to become a parent. Experts discuss family demographic change and how that is affecting the ways couples conceive. Also examined are non-traditional paths to parenthood and the sociology of family relationships.

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