I’m not sure where or how far I want to take this thread for now. The last couple of posts seem unsatisfying to me–they aren’t clear enough and they lack direction. Perhaps all I am ready to do at this moment is not that there are both commonalities and differences between lesbian mothers and gay fathers.
I’ve a bunch of other topics queued up for now anyway, so let me just add one more thought here before I move off for now. This is really the thought that triggered me to write about this topic now, so I might as well at least flag it.
A few posts back you’ll find an entry about some good news from New York state. It’s a note about a case in which one woman donated an egg which was then combined with donor sperm. The resulting embryo was then transferred to the other woman who brought the pregnancy to term and gave birth. As is discussed in that post, under the relevant law (there New York law) the second woman is a mother by virtue of having given birth. The first women has a number of theories under which she might claim motherhood, but in the case is allowed to adopt her the child (a second parent adoption) in order to ensure portable parental rights.
What the women did here is a fairly elaborate procedure, and it bears some resemblance to several different forms of ART discussed. So, for example, you could look at the first woman as an egg donor and/or you could look at the second woman as a gestational surrogate (a woman pregnant with and giving birth to a child she is not genetically related to). But that’s not what the women involved intend to be, for neither egg donors nor gestational surrogates generally intend to be mothers. (Indeed, there’s a well known CA case, KM v. EG, where the lower courts treated the first woman as an egg donor who therefore had no parental rights. This result was reversed on appeal.)
There’s a certain appeal to the tidiness of it. Each woman ends up with a “natural” claim to parenthood–one claims pregnancy/birth (the traditional route to motherhood) while the other claims DNA/genetics (the traditional route to fatherhood). This is a circumstance under which, according to a comment on that earlier post about the NY case, the courts in NJ will issue a pre-birth order that each of the women is a parent.
At the same time, this is a circumstance only women can create. There’s no possible equivalent procedure for men. It also must be far more expensive (and intrusive) than simple assisted insemination using donor sperm, and so is practically unavailable to many women.
I’m sure women choose to travel this route for a variety of reasons. In some instances it may be medically indicated. (I’m thinking here of instances where one woman can produce healthy eggs, but cannot support a pregnancy, while the other woman can support a pregnancy but lacks healthy eggs.) In other instances, as in the New York case, the parties may wish their child to reflect a partner’s particular genetic heritage. And in still other instances, the partners may wish to give each some special tie to the child.
I do not wish to question the individual motivations of the women who choose this route. But I do find the publicity that surrounds these cases within the lesbian/gay community somewhat troubling. I fear that admiration for this tidy solution (which really is available to only a small number of women) ratifies the idea that one is somehow more of a parent if one has either the genetic connection or has given birth. The problematic implications of this for the vast majority of gay men and lesbians are obvious–many who raise children with a partner will have neither claim.
Perhaps this isn’t about the differences between men and women. Perhaps this is about a more broader need to reexamine parenthood for all of us.