Too many moms?

Getting a later start than usual this morning, thanks to the bank holiday our girls get to observe. They’re sleeping in, and so did I.

Today in Bioethics: the coming complications of quasi-maternal specialization, post-paternal insemination, post-partum abandonment, and fertility tourism.

But first, Downton! (Relax, Nick – this is not a spoiler unless you click the link.)  The soapy season finale reminded me first of the joy of first-time fatherhood and then, too abruptly, of how precious and precarious life is. Got the same message from our Saturday night flick too: pity the poor Time Traveler’s Wife, the traveler, their kids, their lives. Now you see us, now you don’t.

Those light entertainments and today’s texts combined to jog my memory of a pair of poets, in whose otherwise-intended words I keep discovering new applications. I had them both in mind when I awoke this morning:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. Kahlil Gibran

I suffer whenever I see that common sight of a parent or senior imposing his opinion and way of thinking and being on a young soul to which they are totally unfit. Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make . . . another you. One’s enough” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So our question today is really not just about too many moms, but too many overbearing moms and dads  and way too many sperm.

New reproductive technologies already fuel the confusion of children “who may have many Moms” not just because they’ve been multiply nurtured, parented, step-parented etc., but because one mom “donates an egg, another carries the embryo and a third mom raises the resulting child.” Interesting. I prefer to reserve the term Mom (or Dad) for the one who changes the diapers, dispenses the formula, hosts the sleepovers, and foots the bill for school and college. But there will surely be sticky issues to sort through. Let’s hope it doesn’t really come to lawsuits over mom’s bad egg shells.

And speaking of time travel, how about post-mortem sperm retrieval? Sperm and DNA are little time travelers already, of course, carrying their little packets of vital info down the ages. Advance consent is the big issue here, but how does an unborn child consent to be “fathered” by an anonymous donor who can never be met?

I remember a particular initiative to bank the sperm of nobelists. If that ever caught on there really would be a question about the ethical propriety of “cloning Abraham Lincoln” et al. “My Baby is a genius” is a clever song by Jessica Harper I know too well, because my first little genius used to wear it out. But it may not be such a great social engineering proposal.

How much is your dead body worth, indeed?

Radiolab‘s taking a timely look at related seminal issues. Near the end they explain why males may eventually be no more necessary for human reproduction than for that of the whip-tail lizard. This is definitely not the future I hope our intelligence creates, nor would serial philanderer Bertie Russell.

If you weren’t already a fan of this cleverly produced program you will be, after this. You’ll never look at ducks the same way again, either.

Another sort of baby banking has surfaced in Germany. “Operation Foundling” established a depository for the anonymous abandonment by teen parents of their unwanted infants. Not the best solution to a terrible problem, but better than the unthinkable dumpster disposal (etc.) we hear of periodically in this country.

Fertility tourism [bbc] bothers Glenn McGee mostly for the way it’s elicited the regulatory zeal of “practitioners of the least regulated field in all of American medicine,” IVF practitioners. He wishes they’d aim their zeal closer to home.

And what ever happened to Baby Louise, the pioneering test tube baby? (It was a Petri dish, actually.) She became a Mom, of course… the old-fashioned way. That’s one method you can bank on. Adoption’s another.


Postscript. Back from my morning walk. I didn’t know this was coming, but my subconscious did:


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