Monday, February 09, 2009

... the "RIGHT" to bear children (part 1.5): Biology does not a mother make.

I was going to hit the Big One today ("defining" life and all that), but yesterday morning I received this Direct Message on Twitter:
I'm really troubled by the idea that you need a "right" to be a mother. You are a mother, it's a biological fact.
When I replied with "Biology does not a mother make," the Twitterer wrote:
Yes it does. Check you biology text.
I think some of the links on yesterday's post (which was not up yet when this exchange took place) kind of prove my point.

But I see the root of the problem: we use one word to talk about two things that can be entirely different.

In Spanish, the word "aborto" refers to both an (elective) abortion and a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). This infuriates me, because the two are ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THINGS. (If this is not inherently obvious to you, then I'll go into the details when I write about when "life" begins.) We have the same problem here, with the word "mother."

Having the necessary working parts and possessing the ability to pop a baby out doesn't make you a mother. Yes, it makes you a biological mother, but it doesn't make you a mother.

Loving and nurturing that baby makes you a mother.

The girls in those links had the necessary biology. Would you call them "mothers"?

Limiting "motherhood" to something as simple and vacant as biology is also horrendously insulting to mothers who adopt. I'd like to see anyone go up to an adoptive mother and tell her she's not a mother simply because the child didn't come out of her own vagina.

Motherhood is a huge undertaking. It is the most important job in the world. Seriously. It is the beginning of everything.

And, unfortunately, too many people out there are doing an amazing job of screwing it up.

The influence a parent has over her child is immeasurable. (And, in my opinion, underestimated.) I seriously believe we could solve all the problems of the world if we found a way to give everyone caring, loving, nurturing parents.

Motherhood (and fatherhood; don't want to leave them out) is a huge undertaking. It is a huge responsibility. One that should be entered into when one is ready to do so.

Not something that you're stuck with because the condom broke or you missed your pill one day. Because that's just not fair to the child.


  1. ...we could solve all the problems of the world if we found a way to give everyone caring, loving, nurturing parents.

    I don't even know where to begin on this doozy. Perhaps we should all start with Kumbaya in unison.

    I think if you examined the underpinnings of why you wrote this one sentence, it would go a long long way towards you understanding why other people don't seem to be on the same page with you on a great many things.

  2. I wouldn't even know how to start a post like this, so I'm seriously impressed at how you put it. I think that one of the most important distinctions in the world is between true parenthood and biological parenthood. Like you, I believe that being a parent implies loving, nurturing, and providing for a child, and doing everything that you do with your child's best interests at heart. I have friends who have used either sperm or egg donors (or both) to have children, and I certainly wouldn't consider the people who made those donations to be the child's parents in any way, shape, or form. The child's parents are the people who wanted that child, and who then gave of themselves in every way required to ensure that child's well-being. Sometimes I wish that there were different terms for a biological parent and an actual parent, since so many people abdicate parenthood either through their refusal to care for the child or through their cruelty or neglect of the child.

    It's silly, but I'm thinking of the part in the movie "Juno" where Juno says that she thinks that the baby she had was never really hers, that it always belonged to the adoptive mother, from day one. Obviously that's not an exact quote, but you get the picture. That's sort of how I think of it - sometimes, for whatever reason, a baby's parents are different from its genetic sires. Call me crazy. :-)

    By the way, thank you so much for visiting and commenting on my blog. I definitely think you should go ahead and make that patchwork afghan!

  3. Crisatunity-- I don't understand what you find so puzzling in the above statement. Perhaps you don't know much about child development or the importance of nurture in forming the self. Well-adjusted individuals who were raised by caring parents are more likely to do well in school, to feel confident, to want to excel. They are less likely to go commit crimes and rape people, or feel like they need to power-grab. I've known people who were abused in various ways as children, and it's scarred them for life. No, it's not a 100% deal as nature/biology still plays a role. But if we spent more time tending to young children and meeting their needs, we'd go one heck of a long way towards making this world a better, more peaceful place.

    I believe it was Maslow who did the experiments with the Rheesus monkeys, providing them with either a "nurturing" mother made of terrycloth (provided some touch and tactile comfort) or a wire mother that only provided food. The monkeys with the wire mother grew up to be seriously disturbed, incapable of social behavior or even being able to mate with other monkeys as adults. It's an extreme example and yes one based one monkeys and not humans, but goes to show the importance of even just a little bit of love and nurture to a growing being.

    Cristina-- in medical settings they use the term "spontaneous abortion" for a miscarriage, so it's technically the same word, too, we've just found a different word for talking about it outside of a hospital.

  4. PS- I think it's absurd that people feel they have a right to be a mother, carte-blanche.

    You have to take a course and pass a test to be able to drive a car.

    You have to go to school and earn a degree before being able to work in certain fields.

    Why should you not have to prove anything before being given a CHILD??

    You wouldn't just walk up to a business and say "I have absolutely no training or experience in this field, but you need to give me your CEO position because I have that right." Why do we take motherhood, as you said probably the hardest job any of us will be blessed to have, and assume anyone can do it without any training at all? It's a ridiculous mentality.

    I often hear pro-lifers say that abortion is wrong b/c the child shouldn't have to pay for the mistakes of the parents, and that the parents (well, usually the mother b/c dad's gone, he doesn't have to do anything) need to "face the consequences for their actions." Yeah, well, a child should NEVER be a "consequence." It is a living, breathing being that will internalize how it is treated, and making him grow up in a home with parents that don't know what they're doing and who will neglect or even abuse him is so twisted it begs the question of what kind of a respect they truly have for "life" at all. Apparently quality has nothing to do with it.

    (Ok, sorry for mini-rant...)

  5. @Marcy: actually, your mini-rant is part 2 of this topic. :P

    I hadn't thought about comparing motherhood (which IS a job) to any other job, where you DO need to take classes and learn what it's about and prove your competence and ability before you're entrusted with the responsibility. (This shall also be addressed before the month is out.)

    @In The Meantime: I still haven't seen Juno, but one of these days I'll have to break down and rent it. It's interesting that the character said that, since that's the reason I knew I could never carry the pregnancy to term and give the baby up for adoption -- after having it inside me for 9 months, how could I possibly walk away? But maybe some people can detach from the experience, and that's how they handle giving up the baby for adoption.

    @crisatunity: Perhaps if I rephrased it: the problems in society (crime, bigotry, racism, etc.) can be traced back to childhood. Many people in prison (i.e., people who committed crimes) were abused as children (by their parents, or the parents allowed it to happen (PS - neglect is a form of abuse).

    Generally, girls who go out and have unprotected sex with the first guy who winks at them suffer from low self esteem. Those girls then become teen moms, add to high-school drop-out rates and unemployment/welfare numbers. (I'm not saying all teen mothers are "bad," but let's face the reality: the odds are not with them. And Bristol's baby is going to have a VERY different life than the kid born to any of the girls walking the halls of the high school where I work.)

    If parents honestly taught their children to love their neighbor because "what you do to the least of them you do to me," would we be bombing each other? (Disclaimer: I'm not saying Christianity is The Only Way; this is just the only example I can quote because it's part of my personal schemata. From what I understand, "do not harm" is a pretty standard goal of every major religion, so whichever faith you follow, stick to its true intentions [instead of getting caught up in the details] and we're good.)

    If parents modeled personal responsibility and accountability, honesty, and a strong work ethic, would we be bailing out these CEOs with their millions-of-dollars bonuses?

    Yes, this is a pretty high ideal. But that's what I was referring to. (Hey, if we're going to talk Utopia, might as well go all out, no?)

  6. the problems in society (crime, bigotry, racism, etc.) can be traced back to childhood.

    Based on what evidence? Remember you feelings don't count as evidence.

    Many people in prison (i.e., people who committed crimes) were abused as children (by their parents, or the parents allowed it to happen (PS - neglect is a form of abuse).

    Care to share any statistics and their sources?

    I don't genuinely want or expect you to answer either question. I'm just demonstrating that you are going to the well of we've all heard it and sounds good so it probably is true without much a critical attention to expressing something from your own distinct perspective. It's your perspective I would hope you'd want to refine and expose here, not just playing to the crowd to get sycophantic shoulder rubs of agreement. I know that's the only reason I keep coming here hoping to see. Keep going and get there.

  7. I see what you're saying, and I'll see what evidence I can provide (but that'll probably have to wait until the weekend or so. I feel I'll be in for a huge amount of research... unless I can find someone else's doctoral thesis on the subject).

    Although I didn't elaborate (maybe I did a little more in yesterday's post), my observations come from my mom's stories and comments (she's a social worker, dealing with abused kids; she usually gets to decide if the kids stay with mom or go to a foster home) and from what I've seen as a teacher. I don't have concrete evidence and numbers, but I know what I've seen. It makes sense to me, because of what I've experienced, but I see your point that I need to back up what I say.

    (Part of it is I don't want to go off on too many tangents, because then these posts will be eternally long and nobody will want to devote the hours required to read each one...)

  8. More important than backing up what you say (which is important) is saying something in the first place.

    Rather than summing up your observations with well-worn conclusions, needle into the threads of any of those observations.

    It seems to me that one of your goals is to persuade. So far during your monthly foray, you've been preoccupied with bolstering your credentials and place in "the movement". Move on from there; we accept your place.

    The post where you likened your public and familial risks on admitting to having an abortion to having an "A" was a persuasive voice.

  9. Absolutely, 100 per cent agree with you, Criss. In my teaching, I saw a lot of women who were not ready to have children, and the damage they did to their poor kids because of it. If parents don't raise their children in loving, nurturing homes then society as a whole suffers.

  10. How's this for evidence of abuse leading to seriously disturbed adult behavior:

    "On August 1, 1966, the day psychiatrist Stuart Brown started his assistant professorship at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, 25-year-old Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas Tower on the Austin campus and shot 46 people. Whitman, an engineering student and a former U.S. Marine sharpshooter, was the last person anyone expected to go on a killing spree. After Brown was assigned as the state’s consulting psychiatrist to investigate the incident and later, when he interviewed 26 convicted Texas murderers for a small pilot study, he discovered that most of the killers, including Whitman, shared two things in common: they were from abusive families, and they never played as kids."

    (I came across this by total accident, had to come back over and share)

  11. And another: (Not as scientific, but still. I'll look for those this weekend.)

    "I mean, here he is, as good-looking as someone can be, as rich as can be, as talented as can be, as famous as could be, and it still wasn’t enough.

    It still couldn’t stop him from indulging in yet another symptom of his screwed up childhood—the kid abandoned by his father doing whatever it takes since to be loved and wanted, desperately seeking the constant hugs of approval, forever trying to fill the gap missing in his soul, compelled to live a life that swings from hedonism to therapy sessions."


    "He’s a victim of something that happened long ago, an event that cut so deeply into his psyche it’s never quite healed."