The End of Motherhood

In May of 1971, an article by Edward Grossman appeared in Atlantic entitled, “The Obsolescent Mother”. He predicted that the day would come when a woman’s two laparoscopy scars will be as commonplace as our smallpox vaccination mark. At age twenty, every female will be superovulated and her eggs will be collected and frozen. This is a particularly good age, according to the author, since at that youthful stage women are less likely to conceive a Down syndrome child or one that has other congenital defects.

Thereafter, whenever a woman wants to become a mother, she will simply have one of her eggs thawed, fertilized in a dish, and gestated in an artificial incubator. The uterus will become vestigial, though the ovaries will remain important. No woman will lose her figure due to childbearing. Grossman predicted that “women who wish to put up with the old style and all that it implies will be free to do so. But it will be a throwback and increasingly rare as the manifest advantages of the artificial womb make it likely to win the competition.”

indexNow, in the year 2014, Grossman’s predictions have not been quite fulfilled. Nonetheless, according to NBC News, mega-tech companies, Apple and Facebook have agreed to cover the cost of egg freezing for their female employees. Apparently, these two technology giants do not want to lose important female employee hours. Babies can always wait. Apart from the moral issues, which are sundry, has technology advanced to the state where egg freezing, thawing, and subsequent fertilization in a dish is feasible?

The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology estimates that the chance of one frozen egg leading to a live birth for a woman of 38 years is 2-12 percent. This age is significant since the average age of a woman who elects egg freezing is 37.4. In 2011, fewer than ten babies worldwide were believed to have been born from eggs frozen from women 38 and older. After reading 112 articles relevant to the safety and efficacy of egg freezing, Samantha Pfeifer, representing the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, stated that, “Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope.”

The notion that there is a “competition,” as Grossman called it, between a woman’s procreative processes and technology is, itself, quite artificial. Can motherhood be segmented into separate parts? Or is motherhood best understood as a continuity that begins with the loving embrace and continues through conception, gestation, delivery, and lactation? Can various stages of motherhood be exteriorized without something important being lost in the process?

The artificial incubator, together with egg freezing and in vitro fertilization can exteriorize procreation completely. Can a woman be prepared for motherhood when motherhood is artificially prepared for her? Will they be able to cultivate maternal feelings or responsibilities for their children while those children are developing apart from them? What will become of maternal bonding? Will this augur the end of motherhood?

Marge Piercy’s book, Woman on the Edge of Time, is considered a kind of bible for many feminists.  Its central message is that only by giving up their power of reproduction can equality between the sexes be achieved. The price, of course, would be the end of motherhood. On a more humane note, sociologist Jean Bethke Elshtain maintains that the “core of human ethics requires “men and women to join together in opposing a headlong race toward social engineering.”  “Otherwise,” she warns, “we will face more insidious political domination than we have ever known.”  Something may still be said for the “old style”.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, CT, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad and Poetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart are available through Articles by Don:

  • jenny

    Do doctors freeze the men’s sperm too ?

    • mrglenney

      I find your question quite insightful as it speaks to the pervasive attitude that childbearing, contraception, when to have children, and all the rest is incumbent upon the woman. Hence, your question, do they freeze men’s sperm?
      The truth is that pregnancy and childbearing are life experiences that God designed for women for a reason. One of the greatest loves is the love that can exist between mother and child. Read the biblical story about the two women who both claimed the child as her own- and what ensued. The message is about sacrificial love. The same love that Christ demonstrated on the cross.
      The other truth is what Mr. Kalpakgian stated: we are really asking for trouble when we muck around with the natural order- and we’re doing a lot of that these days.
      Women need protection. They need men to embrace them as women- pregnancy, childbearing, and all – if that is their vocation. And, we need men to appreciate the vocation of motherhood and wife. All these things have become disordered in our present society. And, by the by, pregnancy and childbearing and becoming more educated are not mutually exclusive events. Some of my best education and reading and learning was done while I was nursing a baby!

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    The hubris of modern man presumes that human technology improves Mother Nature’s wisdom and God’s created order. There is no nature, no motherhood, no fatherhood, and no family in the way God designed them to be. Scientific man thinks he can manipulate and experiment on human nature in any way under the mantle of “research” and progress. As the ancient philosopher said, “Nature is the first thing that is and the last thing we know.” If man truly knew Nature, he would recognize God’s handiwork and not dare to touch the intricate, delicate harmony of all the parts that operate according to the mind of an all-wise and all-good God. Man always pays a tragic price when he attempts to rend asunder what God has joined in His infinite wisdom. Huxley in BRAVE NEW WORLD was prophetic in depicting the very scenario you explain with luminous exposition.

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  • KarenJo12

    So, do you believe women deserve to participate equally with men in education, the economy, and public life? If not, what should we be allowed to do? If so, how do you ensure that?

    • deltaflute

      In this age of co-parenting I’m surprised that you would say that. Women and men can be parents and pursue their education, career, etc. The problem is that society doesn’t support that choice for men and women. It becomes and either/or instead of both/and thing. That doesn’t happen as much in Canada, where I live, because they have better maternity and paternity care.