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Them Before Us: An Interview with Katy Faust by Zsófia Tóth-Bíró

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Interview

Them Before Us: An Interview with Katy Faust

Katy Faust is the founder and director of Them Before Us, an organization working to advance social policies that encourage adults to respect the rights of children to a stable home with their biological father and mother. Her organization strives to put children’s needs before adults’ desires in every conversation about marriage and family.

Faust was one of the speakers at the recent MCC Budapest Summit “On the Values We Teach Our Children,” organized by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium. She is the author, with Stacy Manning, of Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement (Post Hill Press, 2021). Her book was recently translated into Hungarian as Szemünk fényei and published by MCC Press Kft.

She spoke with The European Conservative about the importance of traditional marriage for the sake of children, how culture frames adults as victims when children are the ones who have to pay the price of adult decisions, and the moral pitfalls of reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy.


INTERVIEW

Tell us how and why you started Them Before Us.

Them Before Us is a non-profit organization. Originally, I started the writing that became the backbone of the organization because I was angry—angry about the way children are being ignored and forced to sacrifice. 

I began writing on the marriage issue, where the message was all about the adults and their suffering and their desire and their longings, and nothing about children. I do think that people who identify as LGBT have suffered. I think they have serious struggles, and they deserve our friendship and our love. But the message I heard was, “We’ve suffered, therefore children need to sacrifice for us.“ I heard them saying that kids don’t care if they have two moms or two dads, but this is not true. It is the same as saying that kids don’t care if they have lost their mom or dad, because same-sex homes are always missing a parent. Those are always homes where children have lost somebody they have a natural right to. And nobody was acknowledging that.

I’ve worked with kids for about 20 years, and what I have heard from them is that losing a parent matters to them. Very often it is one of the deepest wounds that a child can experience in life. As a species we have experienced mother loss and father loss for centuries, but never before have we called it progress; never before have we promoted it; never before have we incentivized it and endorsed it. 

So, I started Them Before Us because I realized first of all we needed the stories of children who had lived through these modern families. These children were invisible and silent. One of the main reasons we started this is because we needed a place to put all their stories, so people could read for themselves exactly how children are affected when they are intentionally denied a relationship with their mother or father. 

Some say that acceptance of no-fault divorce was the ‘original sin,’ meaning that it is when traditional families started falling apart. Do you agree with that view and how does the crisis of marriage impact children’s rights, including those of the unborn?

It is the original legal sin. It is the original redefinition of marriage. Marriage has these norms associated with it: monogamy, complementarity, and permanence. Those are the three things that make marriage distinct from other relationships, and all of norms have a child-centric value. Monogamy, because there’s only one man and one woman involved. The inclusion of any other adults actually diminishes child outcomes. The addition of a stepfather or stepmother, or being in a polygamous home with more adults, these situations do not improve child outcomes. It is the one man and one woman that specifically benefits children. 

The biological connection with that one man and one woman is called complementarity, and it specifically advantages children. Children need both a male parent and a female parent. Men and women offer distinct and complementary benefits to children. And children need permanence. Children don’t just need their mom and dad when they’re two days old, or two months old, or two years old; they need them all their life. 

Marriage codified these norms that had very child-centric benefits. When we legalized no-fault divorce, what we were saying is permanence doesn’t matter. We were saying that children could lose their non-custodial parent or be separated from their parents for 50% of the time in the best-case scenarios, with no adverse effects. That was the first time we moved away from an institutional understanding of marriage and towards this idea that marriage exists to make adults happy. We told adults that once you cease to be happy, it can cease to be a marriage and you can get out of it more easily than you can get off your cell phone contract. Marriage became a vehicle of adult fulfillment rather than this vital child-friendly institution. That had a very damaging impact on our idea of what children need. 

Gays and lesbians are not responsible for the abysmal state of the family in the United States. That began with no-fault divorce, which was perpetuated by ideas of the sexual revolution. The family has been further eroded by reproductive technologies that originally were used by heterosexual couples. 

No adult group escapes the eye of Them Before Us. It is an organization that insists that all adults—single, married, gay, and straight—all sacrifice for children. No adult gets a pass. Every adult has to do the hard things, so that children’s rights are protected. 

Some people say that the main reason people have few children—or have no children at all—is essentially egotism. This seems to be partly true, though another important reason may be financial or emotional insecurity. What do you think of the Hungarian model for addressing low birth rates? Do you think governments have the right or duty to actively promote traditional families and child-bearing?

I’m a children’s rights activist, and so I think that adults can make the decisions that they want for their lives as long as those decisions aren’t hurting children. I think that if you experience same-sex attraction, a pluralistic society should permit you to make whatever consensual decisions you want. If a woman wants to be a career woman and never wants to have children, she can. But if you have children, then your entire life needs to conform to their rights and needs. 

If you have children, it does not matter where you are on the career path, whether you experience same-sex attraction, or if you’re struggling in your marriage. At that point, it should all be very child-centric. If a couple has a child, then a society does well to reward both adults for committing to one another and to the baby. So, I do like what Hungary is doing. I like that they are incentivizing and making it easier for couples who have children to commit to one another. What you incentivize you get more of, and Hungary has incentivized marriage and family. It has made it a little bit easier to create a home and get married and have children. I think we’ll see more and more stable, growing Hungarian families as a result. 

In the United States, we’ve often incentivized the wrong thing. We saw an expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s and ’70s, which in the name of helping single mothers, actually rewarded single mothers, and so we got more single motherhood. Whatever policy you make has to incentivize adults to commit to one another for their child, and Hungary is certainly doing that.

Them Before Us is outspokenly critical of surrogate pregnancies, and same-sex couples adopting children or using surrogate mothers. That is a very brave position to hold in the U.S. Do you get a lot of backlash, or do you get support from ordinary Americans? Who are your allies?

Whatever position we take, somebody will hate it. A lot of people hate our stance on divorce, a lot of people hate our critique of same-sex parenting, a lot of people hate our critique of third-party reproduction, sperm and egg donation, a lot of people hate our stance on surrogacy. We are used to it. 

That’s the thing about Them Before Us. We will critique any adult or any idea that is forcing children to sacrifice for adults. Many adult groups that focus on sexuality, marriage, and relationships have at some point insisted that they deserve to be able to live how they want regardless of what it costs their children. They’ll say, in essence, “My kids want me to be happy,” or, “If I’m happy, my kids are going be happy,” or, “Biology doesn’t matter, love makes a family.” They’ve got all these platitudes that paper over the cost of the child. 

We get opposition with every subject that we confront. When it comes to surrogacy, however, there is a great need for education. Even from conservatives or Christians I hear things like, “How could you be against surrogacy? Surrogacy is just about helping people have babies!” That is not what surrogacy is. Many of us have this picture in our mind of a poor infertile heterosexual couple that just needs a woman to carry their child. That is not what surrogacy is about. Surrogacy is about on-demand designer babies shipped worldwide. 

The reality is that only 7% of the children created through IVF are born alive. From the very genesis of the whole process, the majority of babies involved in IVF, whether for biological parents or for a surrogacy, never make it to a womb. They spend their life in a freezer; some are thawed and discarded or donated to research; some of them are abandoned; some are deemed nonviable and thrown out; some are deemed to be the wrong sex and discarded. That is the reality of IVF and surrogacy. 

The few babies make it into the mother’s womb, whether it is the biological mother or a surrogate, have very high failure rates. These failure rates are even higher with surrogacy, because if it’s an unrelated embryo, the mother’s body is more likely to reject it due to something called “genetic dissimilarity.” It’s almost like an organ; the body recognizes a foreign gene pattern and rejects it. And then, even if the baby is implanted successfully, abortion is a standard part of every surrogacy contract. If you’re paying six figures for a child, which is what surrogacy pregnancies cost, abortion functions both as quality control and quantity control. It is very common for intended parents to say, “We want to abort this baby because it looks like there might be some disability or some kind of genetic problem.” Abortion is also quantity control. Sometimes doctors implant three embryos, expecting only one to survive. But what if all three implant? Then the parents often decide to abort one or more. They say something like, “Well, we can’t afford three children. We’ve got two boys and a girl, so let’s abort one of the boys and then we can have twins, a boy and a girl.” Surrogacy contracts almost always include an abortion clause, where the intended parents get to decide whether their child lives. 

All those factors mean only 7% of those babies are going to make it through the whole process. And in a surrogate pregnancy, 100% of the time that baby is going to lose a relationship with the only person they know on the day that they are born: their mother. Even if the baby is handed over to the genetic parents, he doesn’t know those two adults from the other seven billion in the world. The only person he knows and wants and has a bond with is the woman with whom he spent the first nine and a half months of his life. Her voice, her smell, her body, her heartbeat; that is the only thing he knows, and she is the only thing he wants, and he does not get her.

We have learned from studying adopted children, even children adopted from birth, that they experience what is commonly called a “primal wound,” the woundedness of losing their birth mother. Even though they don’t physically remember it, their bodies remember it. Adopted children tend to have greater challenges with trusting and attaching; they tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Many of them would say, “This is because my primary connection, my primary relationship was lost on the day of my birth.” 

Now, there are tragic situations where a child does need to be adopted on the day of his birth. In those cases, the adults need to shepherd the child through those wounds. These days, adoptive parents (like me) go through a lot of training on how to help their child understand the adoption at different times of their life, when they have different levels of understanding. Adoptive parents understand that it is significant that our children are not being raised by their birth family. We don’t pretend like that isn’t significant. No one gets approved to adopt unless they go through that kind of adoption training and awareness. In the home study process, we hear over and over that part of our job as parents is to help our child understand that we recognize the loss and the grief they are experiencing. 

In adoption, the loss is recognized as a tragic necessity, and parents pull together to help the child grow through it. In surrogacy, the loss is inflicted intentionally on the child by the parents. That’s really what surrogacy is. Surrogacy splits what should be one woman, one mother, into three purchasable and optional women: the genetic mother (the egg donor), the birth mother (the surrogate), and the social mother (the female parent, if there is a female partner in the couple). Surrogacy allows adults to cut children off from their genetic mothers, to separate them intentionally from their birth mothers, and then to raise them in a completely motherless home. 

There is no way for surrogacy to ever be child-friendly. Even in the best-case scenario, where they go home to the social mother is their genetic mother, they still suffer the trauma of losing their birth mother. 

Them Before Us seems to be a very ambitious initiative, seeking to build international alliances. Could you tell me a few words about that and the types of success you have had in that regard?

Everybody asks me what we are trying to do. And the answer is: a global takeover. This idea, this principle that adults need to sacrifice for children and not the other way around, must be the dominant idea in every culture of the world. It simply must, for the sake of the health of individual children and for the thriving of society. If we cannot do this, our societies won’t thrive, and we will break our children’s hearts. 

That is what we aim to do. I will know that we have been successful when in every personal conversation, every policy decision, every trending news headline that involves children, everybody begins by asking, “What is best for the child?” When we begin with the child, then I’ll know that we’ve succeeded. 

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