Friday, 3 January 2014

having babies artificially

Happy New Year.  I hope your Christmas and New Year were great and wish you all the best for 2014.

We have had a lovely chilled out Christmas with family and friends, but a rather sickly New Year.  Things for 2014 can only get better.

Following on from my last post, on having babies later in life, today I am going to be discussing some of the new technologies that might make that possible.  My apologies if you're not interested in that stuff, but I've been fascinated, ever since reading Shulamith Firestone at University (on whom more later).

If you recall, in my last post (you'll find it here) I noted Robert Winston's suggestion that we should recognise the benefits of having babies later in life, and we should therefore be looking to improve women's chances of conception when it's wanted, rather than criticising them.

Aarathi Prasad - her webpage is here
Last year, Aarathi Prasad published a really interesting book on reproductive technologies.  There was an article about it in The Guardian.

Prasad notes that artificial wombs have been created, and have already been used to gestate wobbegongs (sharks), although not yet from conception. Also, human embryos have successfully implanted in artificial wombs (although scientists are not allowed to gestate them yet). 

She describes the artificial wombs as being like incubators, and believes it's only a matter of time before they're used for people (presumably for premature babies initially).

All of this holds interesting possibilities for freeing women from the shackles of nature when reproducing.  It could be useful for women who are no longer fertile, for women who were born without a womb, and for those who have lost their womb along the way.  Who knows, it might even be used by women who don't want to put their body through the rigours of pregnancy.

Shulamith Firestone in 1970
Pic from here
However, I promised you the late great Marxist Feminist Shulamith Firestone. Prasad's work reminded me of Firestone's 1970 book,The Dialectic of Sex, in which she sets out that just as the class dynamic works through the relation of the classes to the means of production (the Marxist bit), so the gender dynamic works in relation to the means of reproduction (the feminist bit). She felt that women would remain subjugated while they were the ones being pregnant, and that artificial wombs, and other technologies would remove the need for gender distinction in relationships.  

Firestone sadly died last year, mere weeks after Prasad's book was published.  I hope she saw it.

So does that mean that artificial wombs would reduce the role of mother?  Make it synonymous with parent?  

At the moment a hugely important aspect of motherhood, and one restricted to women, is breastfeeding.  Prasad notes that lactation could be induced through hormone injections, but that could be for a mother or a father, or both (and one of each would not be necessary).

Would having a child gestated in an artificial womb feel like being a biological mother? Or an adoptive mother? Are pregnancy hormones necessary for bonding?

Of course, men bond and they're not pregnant. Adoption works (but not always). But are these bonds good enough, if women are looking for biological motherhood?  

I believe that there is an over-emphasis on biological relatedness in our society at the moment.  Sometimes biological mothers have trouble bonding with their babies.  If the massive surge of hormones during birth were all that were needed to create a bond, then surely hormones could be given to mothers and babies, to assist in bond formation, whether the baby and mother were biologically related or not.

And on the topic of breastfeeding.  If lactation could be induced in anyone, and the milk supply would adapt to the needs of the baby (which I am assuming it would as that is what it tends to do).  And if career couples chose to have babies while continuing their careers, could induced lactation see the re-emergence of the wet nurse?

Oh the thinks we could think!  

What about you?  What do you think?  What issues might this throw up?  What would your worries be?  Do you think this might lead to true equality if it caught on?  Would you be happy for your child to choose this path to parenthood?  What if they managed to get this so good it was better than a real womb?

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