My previous ramblings (re dead man’s sperm etc) were the product of a dazed brain. Newly invigorated by yesterday’s tidyup, I have some additional analysis to make.

I had reasoned more or less thusly:

(1) I have never been in a situation where I really, really wanted to give birth to a child and yet was unable to conceive and/or carry one. I cannot understand that state of mind, because I have never been there, never even been near.

(2) I do take the approach generally that I should not go about judging other people’s hopes, wishes, fears, ideas, attitudes and choices, even if I do understand where they are coming from, but certainly not if I have no idea what they are going through.

(3) Therefore I pass no judgement on assorted fertility treatments and similar medical interventions which are designed to produce a child who would not otherwise have been born.

(4) Accordingly, since the situation in this Israeli case is no more than an extension of fertility treatments already deemed acceptable, I can see no reason to pass judgement there, either. Therefore, it is OK, and my gut reaction to the contrary is purely an ick-factor thing. My bad.

Where I went wrong, as any half-witted feminist could have told me (but you were all either too polite, or reading something else at the time) is at stage number 3.

Since when did I give up my right to analyse the meaning and consequences of medical procedures just because I’ve never happened to want one myself?

The fact that I would never choose to give a baby of mine formula milk instead of breastfeeding does not mean that I cannot analyse the politics of the breast v bottle debate. The fact that I would never choose to undergo cosmetic surgery does not stop me from shouting from the rooftops how totally bad and wrong it is. The fact that I would never choose to undergo FGM does not stop me from screaming in my head and on my blog.

The fact that I have never been in the position where breastfeeding has become so painful and seems so difficult and there is no help or support and no light at the end of the tunnel, and there is a free sample of formula in the cupboard… so that I end up just saying to hell with it and bring on the powder… that fact does not stop me from having very deep feelings and strong opinions on the subject of our bottle-feeding culture.

The fact that I cannot imagine being so filled with hatred of and discomfort with my body that I would go through surgery to “correct” it, does not prevent me from subjecting cosmetic surgery to rigorous analysis.

The fact that I cannot imagine being so disposed that voluntary FGM seems like an attractive alternative to ostracism and daily acts of hatred – again, does not stop me from subjecting the procedure, and the process that lead to people undergoing it either willingly or at the hands of their supposedly loving parents, to feminist critique.

So let’s look at fertility “treatments”.

I know little of them. Perhaps I will take the time soon to learn more. What I do know is that they often involve drugs, invasive procedures, sometimes surgery. They involve a lot of mucking about with the putative mother’s body.

And for what, exactly?

For motherhood. Now, I am the last person to slag off motherhood. I love being a mum. I find it deeply fulfilling and satisfying. BUT. I know a lot of women who are not mothers, and they also appear to find their lives deeply fulfilling and satisfying. Motherhood is not, despite the way I do kind of feel about my own mothering, the be-all and end-all of life. In reality, it is not.

And not just for motherhood in general: for biological motherhood. The purpose of fertility treatment is not purely to “get” a child, because you can get a child in other ways – for example, by adopting one of the many, many, many children who are orphaned or otherwise in need of adoptive parents. The point is to have a child “of your own”, meaning one that is biologically related to at least one and preferably both of the putative parents. This is not essential. Mothering/parenting a child is fulfilling regardless of biology. Biology is decidedly not the be-all and end-all of being a parent.

But many, many women and their partners feel that having a child is essential. Why?
Many, many couples feel that having a child who is biologically related to them is essential. Why?

I don’t have all the answers right now, but I think this is so clearly a subject worthy of feminist analysis that I find it hard to believe I managed to not even notice this as a real issue.

Here are some thoughts.

Our society still has a very strong virign-mother-whore approach to assessing women. If you don’t want to be a virgin or a whore, yes, motherhood looks like the right place for you.

Our society still assesses women based on their ability to reproduce. Proof of fertility, in the form of a child, is proof of womanliness. Problems with fertility are an insult to our womanliness, and to our personhood, that seem impossible to bear. This assessment of womanliness based on capacity to reproduce is part of the reason why, in a workshop at the Big Green last year, someone asked whether we thought that she, as a person who had undergone a hysterectomy, was “a woman”. It is part of the reason why women disappear as they age, their biological clock ticking down to Domesday, with post-menopausal women all but invisible. Yes, a want of fertility is a defect in such a world; yes “treatment” is appropriate in such a world. Right?

In a patriarchal culture which is predicated on building up wealth over generations, on passing wealth through the paternal line – kinship is vital, and proof that someone is biologically related to you is extremely valuable. Especially for men. The whole bloody point of female oppression over the millennia has often been to ensure that the offspring a woman produces are actually fathered by the man who owns her. With biological lineage that deeply entrenched, yes, we are going to feel that bloodlines count.

And why is the medical establishment – ethicists and all – willing to go along with all this?

Patriarchy. Money. Power.

Because the person that is harmed is the woman. It is she who takes the drugs, she who undergoes the invasive procedures and/or surgery. It is she who, ultimately, will end up going through pregnancy and childbirth. It is her body that is taking all the risks; when the child is born, it is she who will do all the work. And because there is nothing that the patriarchy loves more than a nuclear family; and you can’t have a nuclear family without nuclear kids.

Because fertility treatments cost money. People pay a lot of money. People are willing to have several goes at this, if they do not succeed the first time around. Most fertility treatments are funded privately. Even poor people will scrimp and save and budget so that they can give some rich white guy a wad of cash in exchange for – what?

Because doctors are very good at doing what people want. Doing what people want makes the doctor powerful. Counselling people that what they want is not possible, not practical, that it may be harmful or risky or downright dangerous; counselling people to think carefully about what they really want, giving people the support they need to come to terms with the grief they feel at being unable to have their own children… these are not the powerful things that doctors like. The fast, dazzling magic of fertility treatment is sexy and powerful. The slow, careful magic of emotional support is difficult, draining and it gives the power to the patient/client.

Patriarchy. Money. Power.

From that point of view, what’s not to like about fertility treatment?

But from the point of view of bodily independence, there are clearly some serious problems here. Women are not baby machines. Their bodies are as they are; they do not need “correction” or “treatment” to make them into the incubators that they “ought” to be. They are not ill. The “treatment” is not medically necessary. It is not about health. It is, like cosmetic surgery and FGM, about compliance and about “choice”.

What if, instead of treating women and men with “fertility problems” as somehow defective, we just shrugged our shoulders and let them come up with another plan for their lives?

What if, after the revolution, it did not matter who you were related to: you could be yourself, a child with many loving adults to care for you – sisters, neighbours, uncles, friends.

A person who loved children but had none of her own could, like my great-Aunt, give tea-parties now and again for all the children on the street. Or form a close attachment with a child in a local single parent family where some extra support is desperately needed? Or find some other creative way to express a love of little ones and desire to spend time with them? What if men who loved children were not demonised for taking on childcare jobs? What if ANYONE could take an interest in children not biologically produced by them, without worrying about being labelled a paedophile?

Where then would be the expensive fertility doctors and their Frankenstein treatments?

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