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April 28, 1997


Farzana Versey

Will motherhood too become an assembly line product?

Dominic Xavier's illustration Britain's widows can now become pregnant with their dead husband's sperm because, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, 1990, the couple are seen as 'together'. This issue come to the fore because a young widow demanded her right to motherhood.

But a 62-year-old Italian has already used the 10-year-old frozen sperm of her deceased husband to perpetuate his memory at an age when it could prove to be risky.

Has motherhood changed so much? Some time ago, a bonny baby was born to a brain-dead woman and all my images were shattered. It was argued that the foetus was kept alive because the unborn child had a right to live. What a life will that child have! At whose breast will he learn to hum his first song? Who will place cold compresses on his forehead as he burns with fever? Will he be able to forgive himself that he denied his mother a decent burial only because of a piddly human rights issue?

I know I am resorting to a stereotype that feminists decry: of the mother being responsible for the child's welfare, of her being expected to be a superwoman. But I am certain the feminists are feminists because of their mothers.

Motherhood is merely precedent -- you learn from the good and you unlearn from the mistakes.

The only think I dislike about motherhood is when it resorts to unnaturalness. Why is motherhood such a prized state and why does it ignore the real needs of the mother? I am not denying that a woman who is unable to use nature's bounty may feel the need to assert it, but to extend it beyond the realms of possibility bespeaks a certain desperation. Why is it that in western societies where there has never been a premium on fertility, women over 50 years of age are rushing to the obstetricians for bottled sperm and womb transfers and such exotic motherhood devices?

I have a little theory. I think it is an extension of feminism. Somewhere, I suspect, the stereotypes are being parodied and barrenness is being turned on its head. We are shown women who are enjoying their femininity, and nothing exemplifies this more than motherhood. To create a world within your womb and, to top it, to be able to talk of it as a choice rather than a natural course gives the woman a sense of responsibility.

My only fear is that, like all good things, will this too become an assembly-line product?

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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