I know a little about the unforeseen turns the road to parenthood can take. My wife Carole Bernstein C’81 and I struggled with infertility for years before our older daughter, Sara, was conceived, and we suffered through more waiting, and many hours of paperwork, before traveling to China to adopt our younger one, Lily. Associate editor Trey Popp’s cover story, “Baby Mama,” about Melissa Brisman W’93—who used paid surrogates, or “gestational carriers,” to give birth to her and her husband’s biological children and, as a lawyer and advocate, has gone on to help many others do the same—brought those days back to me in a couple of ways.
On the one hand, when I read that “intentional parents” may be put in the “strange position of having to adopt their genetic child,” because their carrier is listed on the birth certificate, I could see the illogic, but my gut reaction was along the lines of boo-hoo. Having been home-studied, fingerprinted, and criminal-background-checked myself, I remember declaring that all parents should be vetted for their fitness to raise a child.
I felt more sympathy with Brisman’s clients’ drive to create a family, their frustration about needing help to do that, and their impulse to exert control wherever possible. Though again, the forms this takes, given the wealth many of them have, do seem a bit over the top, like the couple that had their surrogate flown by private jet to her doctor’s appointments.
Trey spoke at length with Brisman and her husband, and with the two women who gave birth to their twin boys and their daughter, who were very forthcoming about their experiences. He also describes the mechanics of Brisman’s practice, surrogacy’s murky legal status in states across the US, and the ethical concerns that have been raised over paying women for pregnancy (about which Brisman has a few choice comments).
My daughter Sara is 18 now, so when frequent contributor JoAnn Greco pitched a story on a book called The Teenage Brain, I was interested right away—especially since the author was Frances E. Jensen, chair of Penn’s Department of Neurology and a leading scientist in the field, who was a fine subject for a story in any case.
Subtitled A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, the book synthesizes the latest data on brain development, one big takeaway being that judgment is one of the last things to get wired: For teens, reward carries a lot more weight than risk. Grounding the science are Jensen’s own experiences as the mother of two former teenagers and examples from other parents who’ve emailed her or come to hear her speak. JoAnn’s story, “Plastic Fantastic,” also highlights Jensen’s achievements as a researcher and her thoughts on neurology’s future—in particular, the importance of “de-siloing” research to speed progress.
In his book The Invisible Front, journalist Yochi Dreazen C’99 wrote about Mark and Carol Graham, who lost two sons—one to suicide while he was an ROTC cadet and the other killed on duty in Iraq. The stark contrast in the responses they received to the two deaths moved them to work within the military to reduce the stigma for soldiers seeking help for mental issues and eventually to speak out publicly for the cause.
In “Healing Invisible Wounds,” senior editor Samuel Hughes explores Dreazen’s experience reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan, his relationship with the Grahams, and his own struggles—as a self-described “adventure junkie” who had looked down on stay-at-home types—with symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Also, this silver lining: Dreazen met his wife because of the war—see the story for the details—and they recently had a baby.