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Being a parent is more than mere biology, is a phrase oft-bandied about in the culture wars surrounding same-sex marriage and parenting and it’s an assertion which has more than a grain of truth in it. Tragic cases of abuse and neglect demonstrate that being a biological mother or father does not guarantee immunity from whatever factors drive one to inflict deliberate cruelty upon a child, nor will biology automatically prevent neglect. Neither are adoptive parents an inferior species or lesser parents because they do not have the biological link with their children.

Biology is not what makes a good parent, but neither can its existence be denied, which is what drives most adoptees to want to seek out further information about their birth parents, in a universal human quest to come to terms with identity and heritage. Who am I and where do I come from, are fundamental questions for most of us at some point when searching to find our own individual place in the world.

From a parenting perspective, while the biological imperative is not everything, it should not be ignored or thought to be of little consequence. Both biology and blood ties go a long way to ensuring that a child has a far better chance of thriving thanks to the instinctive bond that exists between parent and child. Even where one parent has a severe psychological impairment which may affect bonding, the importance of particularly mothers and children staying together is thought to be so important, that every effort is made to treat the cause of the ailment while ensuring the child’s safety, in order that a secure parental bond may be established. A condition such as post-natal depression can severely affect bonding between mother and child, meaning that on some occasions the father has to step in and perform much of the maternal role, but nonetheless professionals involved in case-management will not remove the child of an incapacitated mother, preferring to reinforce and extend the existing tie between mum and her baby, providing encouragement and support.

The biological imperative means that every baby has an intuitive need for their mother; within the first hour of birth, the baby is able to distinguish 50 individual markers which single her out. A mother is literally a baby’s world, she has been all they have known for the past 40 weeks, she is known intimately to the baby and the realisation that they are separate entities is estimated to occur at around the nine month mark. If placed upon their mothers chest at birth, a baby will intuitively inch up towards her breast and root around, searching for milk. Standard guidelines in every single maternity unit is that a baby ought to be placed naked skin to naked skin against the mother’s chest as soon as possible after birth.

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Despite 4 cesarians and 5 children this was the first time anyone had actually attempted to put the baby anywhere near me in the moments post birth. Looking at this photograph still evokes an enormous emotional response.

This biological imperative extends beyond the delivery room. While every contact the mother has with the baby consolidates that pre-existing bond and baby’s sense of security, it is also what keeps the mother sane and functioning when the demands of tending to baby stretch her physical and emotional endurance to the limit. It’s biology which helps a woman to exercise self-restraint when her infant has been howling non stop for 24 hours, it’s biology which sees a woman blearily rouse and feed her baby in the early hours of the morning, it’s maternal instinct which is thought to prevent breast-feeding mothers from rolling over and squashing their babies if they choose to co-sleep (though guidelines should be adhered to) and it is maternal instinct which drives a woman to be able to decipher the various cries of her baby. It is maternal instinct, which prevents most women from snapping and doing something terrible to their baby, when their physical and emotional reserves are at their lowest ebb, having to function on minimal or no sleep. It is maternal instinct which rewards a woman when her baby allows her a smile or snuggles in close to her. It is maternal instinct which will reduce a mother to a quivering wreck if she cannot satisfy the insistant increasingly anguished mewls of her newborn. 

There isn’t a single day goes by without yet more proof or research confirming what we already know. Only this week, I came across a piece explaining why mothers literally find the scent of their babies heads addictive, there’s a reason why I am constantly sniffing my newborn’s head. It stimulates the pleasure centres in my brain in a way which releases more dopamine than eating a favourite food, sex, alcohol or drugs!

And the biological imperative is not merely confined to mothers. Another feature this week identified paternal post-natal depression as being widely under-diagnosed and un-treated. One contributing factor is thought to be women who subconsciously act as maternal gate-keepers, not allowing men to co-parent by sharing in the responsibilities of childcare, such as feeding and changing of the nappies. It was admitted that fathers do not enjoy the bio-chemical headstart of mothers and thus the bonding process can take longer.

Without wishing to dismiss the issue of paternal post-natal depression, I suspect the issue has far more to do with modern societal and cultural expectations, than over-zealous women. If a woman breastfeeds her child, there is little a father can do to assist with the process aside from ensuring his partner is comfortable and has enough to drink. While a woman ought to allow the father opportunities to carry out tasks like nappy changing and bathing in order to encourage bonding, both parties need to accept that the baby will have a strong preference for their mother the majority of the time and it’s best just to suck it up, remembering that this phase shall too soon pass. We shouldn’t forget that women have the same mothering and protective instinct towards their offspring as every other mammal. We tend to leave animals just to get on with things with minimal intervention, so if a woman wants to retreat into her cave with her newborn for a few weeks, she ought to be left to get on with it, without the pressure of having to ping instantly back into shape or worry about whether or not she’s doing enough to stave off her husband’s potential post-natal depression. Frankly the man has to accept that while not as directly involved in the hands-on care of the child as the mother, his role in supporting her whether by helping with housework, caring for other children, or doing what he needs to do to keep the pair safe and secure is every bit as vital.

You couldn't stage a better photo, as an example of paternal instinct in action

You couldn’t stage a better photo to capture the essence of fatherhood

Paternal biological imperative obviously fuels the desire to be hands on and involved, but it can also be manifested in other ways and accounts for why surrogacy cases can be quite so messy. Speaking at an event in Tralee last week in advance of the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage last week, John Waters discussed the case of a friend of his, a gay father who agreed to act as a sperm donor to a pair of lesbians. Once the child was born he found it absolutely impossible to stick to his previous agreement and stay out of the life of his child. It was clear that he had not known precisely what it was he had been consenting to, once the child was born, he felt compelled to be involved in their life as a father figure. Eventually a judge agreed and defined the terms on which he was to be allowed regular contact, but sadly the women absconded to a different and faraway country before arrangements could be legally formalised, leaving him bereft and dependent on annual visits.

Similarly in another case this week, a woman lied to her ex partner about having aborted his baby and set up an elaborate surrogacy pretence in order that she could financially profit from giving the child to a gay friend of hers. The woman is now facing imprisonment and the biological father has taken rightful custody of his child, despite the fact that they split up when the woman was three months pregnant. Speaking of the effect of this appalling deception upon this child, the biological father said that he didn’t think that there was any sentence high enough to justify what they have done to her. The judge commended the father in these terms “I can’t fail to be impressed by the vigour and stamina that has been required of you to get matters this far; the complaints you’ve made and the letters you have had to write to get people to take this seriously as a criminal complaint.”

Biological imperative and paternal responsibility drove that father to ensure that his child was being properly cared for and the law inherently accepted that his blood ties made him a more appropriate figure with her best interests in mind, than either her biological mother or putative father, both of whom had treated her as little more than a commodity. When falsely informed that the mother had miscarried the child, he mourned for her, despite the fact that he was not in a relationship with her and such was his innate desire to be a father to his child, he undertook a lengthy and draining process while in the throes of a new relationship to a woman who has now become his wife and who will also share in the raising of the child.

What the above case demonstrates is that sometimes paternal biological imperative often, in extreme circumstances has to replace maternal care, but why is this used as proof that all a baby needs is human love and care irrespective of provider.  One has to be delusional or in willful denial of anthropology and the science of human development to claim that babies are neutral when it comes to needing their mothers. Where someone takes over the maternal role, the baby has to learn to adapt and will experience trauma and potentially attachment issues.

So why then, is it women, often mothers themselves, who are so keen to deny the compulsions of this biological imperative? That’s what I intend to explore in part 2.

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The white-hot incandescent anger induced by the case of the mother whose baby was removed from her by two men, has been replaced by an overwhelming grief and sadness.

Reflecting on the matter further, there are other disturbing factors which have come to light  which ought to be brought to wider attention. Unfortunately, the mother is gagged from being able to talk about which is in itself a worrying development. She ought to be able to tell her story, given this is a matter of enormous public interest, without facing jail. Lib Dem candidate for Birmingham Yardley John Hemming, a campaigner for openness in the courts, said:

‘How will it benefit the child to gag the mother? It benefits the court because it stops her from criticising the court.

‘For people to understand and trust the workings of the courts they need to know what is going on.’

Similarly the Tory candidate and former MP for Esher has said that it is a cardinal principle of British justice that it is not just done, but also seen to be done.

One of the many disturbing factors of this case is that the mother was criticised by judge Allison Russell, for her conduct in court. It wasn’t only the need for interruptions to express milk (obviously the judge has never experienced the unpleasantness and pain of spontaneous erruption, full breasts can be extremely painful – talking or thinking about a loved child can often stimulate an embarrassing and uncontrolled reaction) but what piqued the judge was that the mother interrupted the proceedings to make comments or question statements or representations far more often than the men, whose behaviour was cool, controlled and utterly reasonable.

Firstly there seems to be an issue of misogyny in that the mother was attacked for being ‘emotional’, which is hardly surprising when one considers what was at stake for her here. What leapt off the page for me when reading the judgement, was her utter desperation not to be separated from her vulnerable young baby. It was like a mother polar bear attempting to defend and protect her cubs and ward off any attackers, a typical mammalian reaction.

Secondly, unlike the two men, the mother had no lawyer or legal counsel and was representing herself. Had she been properly represented, she would no doubt have been briefed and advised of how to conduct herself and present her case before the judge, to be honest she seems like a client whom the lawyer would advise to keep as quiet as possible, but the judge doesn’t seem to have taken this inequality into account when critiquing the mother. And because the woman represented herself in the family court, the judge noted that she seemed articulate, passionate, engaged, able to account for herself and not therefore any sort of victim.

The law firm representing the two men was Natalie Gamble Associates. The leading experts in the field when it comes to family law, drawing up surrogacy agreements and self-described champions of assisted reproduction and fertility law. Every time a similar surrogacy mess rears its head in the mainstream media, up pops Natalie Gamble claiming how this is proof that commercial surrogacy needs to be ‘regulated’, i.e. legalised in the UK. Unsurprising coming from a firm whose sole source of revenue and profit is derived from surrogacy or fertility issues, but one can hardly claim she’s impartial on the matter.

So here we have a legally unrepresented mother fighting not to lose custody of her child, versus a firm of hot-shot lawyers and the judge negatively contrasts her demeanour with that of the two men in her conclusions about the woman’s character and passes an order banning the woman from ever being able to talk about it.

I am not defending all of the mother’s actions, from what has been reported it seems as though she did her best to frustrate contact with the baby’s biological father, which is unacceptable. If indeed she did tell lies about the male couple, this is not to be commended, however these  were the painfully transparent actions of a mother who was desperate and therefore fighting tooth and nail, not to lose her baby daughter.

One of the things that she was attacked for was unnecessary visits to the hospital and doctor when her child did not require treatment. The judge concluded that this was to smear the men, but on one occasion the child was diagnosed as having a viral infection; on another, the baby was found to be fine, but the mother was worried that she may have dehydration, just having come back from an overnight visit, where of course she would have been unable to have been breastfed.

One might draw one’s own reasonable conclusions as to whether these visits were wise or even necessary, but then again, how many of us have taken our children to the GP or even to the hospital because of an urgent niggle, only to be reassured that everything is fine? I know I certainly have and have always been told by the professionals to trust instinct and that’s better to be safe than sorry.

Another issue is that she posted numerous threads on Mumsnet in which she repeatedly changed her story on several occasions, which had then to be removed when the administrators realised that she was going through the courts and the story might hit the press. She had alleged history with regards to telling untruths about her ex-husband in order to frustrate his contact with their children.

So the woman is clearly not a saint; she needs some sort of external involvment, not least counselling in order to ensure that her children are not deprived of the opportunity to build a strong relationship with their father. The same goes with the father of her baby, clearly some sort of intervention needed to be had to ensure that a relationship could develop.

As to whether or not she is guilty of the greatest thought crime of the twenty-first century ‘homophobia’, I’d say this is unlikely given her original friendship with a gay man and agreement to enter into a surrogacy arrangement. It’s difficult to ascertain precisely what happened, but it seems as though initially she had contributed a large sum of her own money into the deposit on a house where all three of them were going to live together and she would take a role in the raising of the child. There were even emails about the baby sleeping in the mother’s room with her in a cot. But then something happened and the relationship, especially with the father’s partner, soured.

It does then cast the judge’s decision that the baby should go the the male couple, because that is where she was always intended to be, her ‘natural family’,  into doubt.

The mother’s registering of the birth, choosing a name for the baby and baptising the child are all things which she was legally entitled to do as the baby’s mother.

The male couple obviously had their legal options lined up, claiming that they were being utterly reasonable and had been forced into taking action, despite the fact the mother had broken no laws. Another horrific facet of this sorry tale is how the mother was forced to have regular meetings with a lactation midwife in order to plan how she could stop breastfeeding by the time the baby had reached 9 months, with the aim that the baby could commence overnight visits.

The problem with this, as any breastfeeding mother knows, is that with demand-led feeding it goes on for as long as both the baby asks it and the mother is content to feed. Breastfeeding is entirely between mother and child; though the child is non-verbal they are still able to communicate their need for the breast to their mother. It is absolutely not for anyone, let alone state agents to determine how long a mother ought to be feeding, in order that her baby may be prepared for handover and get used to sleeping alone in strange unfamiliar surroundings without the scent or comforting presence of their mother.

I was reminded of the dreadful cases of pregnant women in Nigeria or other Islamic countries, sentenced to death for alleged adultery with the execution stayed until the child has been weaned from the breast. No wonder the mother was as keen to delay taking the child off the breast for as long as possible; I know I would too, and equally I would not let my children stay overnight at anyone else’s house until they were at least beyond the age of 3. This is exactly what is advocated by child psychologists; to split their time between two houses and sets of parents is confusing and unsettling for children.

What leaps off the page is, is a mother desperate enough to go to silly lengths to keep her baby and whose fear of having her child removed led her to some rash actions, which ultimately counted against her.

The story seems to have touched several personal nerves for me, perhaps because I adopt similar parenting styles so critiqued by the judge and used as justification for removal of the child. I breastfeed, I wear my babies in a sling, I co-sleep, I am predominantly a stay-at-home mother. Over the years I too have been accused of being an unfit parent on the grounds of projected moral deficiency, I’ve had trolls and stalkers attempt to tell me that I am not fit to raise my children and am causing them harm, either by neglect (thanks to being able to type quickly and turn out long considered blogposts ) or thanks to my religious and social beliefs. I too, have been branded harmful and the welfare of my children been called into question by random internet strangers. It isn’t too hard to envisage a socially conservative woman finding herself at the centre of similar proceedings, with her children deemed to be ‘at risk’ from homophobia or indoctrination, if her parents do not hold liberal conformist views.

And there’s one final and as yet undiscussed aspect to this whole sorry mess. We are constantly informed that women need more representation in politics, in business and on the judiciary. Here we see a female judge who has chosen to pursue a career instead of a family attacking and unnecessarily removing the child from the care of a woman, because she is completely unable to empathise with another woman, or understand the rationale behind her mothering. She has imposed her own vision of what motherhood ought to look like (one completely devoid of evidence) onto another woman and punished her and her child, for falling short. Is this really the sort of female representation that we should be aspiring towards?

It is clear that no harm was being caused to the baby. It was arbitrarily decided that the baby girl would fare better in the care of two men based on the subjective negative impression that the judge formed of the woman, for being ‘emotional’, too involved,  too ‘homophobic’ and that the baby would have a better, healthier and more balanced future with two men.

It’s an awful mess and while I want to scream at the injustice of it all, I also want to weep for a little child, removed from the comfort, warmth and welcome of her mother’s breast and bed and instead placed into, no doubt a beautifully attractive and immaculate wooden cot, in a room all of her own, in a house without a woman.

Feminists wake up

I’ve written about this case at length on a piece pending publication on Conservative Woman, so I’ll keep my comments here brief. Basically a woman who conceived her own child on behalf of two gay men, one of whom was her friend, reneged on the agreement and decided to keep her own child.

The child has now been removed from the mother at around the age of 15 months and handed into the care of the two men to raise. The judge, a dour childless old boot by the name of Allison Russell, has displayed zero insight into the benefits for mother and baby alike, along with a complete lack of understanding of the logistics and difficulties of expressing milk.

She has decided that the mother’s desire to breastfeed was manipulative. designed to keep the baby away from their father  and thus ‘harmful’ and attacked the mother in the judgement for wearing a baby in a sling, for co-sleeping and crucially for having no plans to return to work.

A fifteen month infant is not capable of speech, may not even be walking, cannot feed itself without help and yet, the judge has decided, it needs to learn to be independent and not solely reliant on the comfort of its mother. Wake up baby, it’s time to face the big wide world, you need to learn your place is to fulfil the needs and demands of adults and develop at a timetable to suit them, not your own. 15 months? It’s time you were spending 40 hours a week in a noisy room full of strange children and busy adults instead of enjoying the reassuring comfort and routine of home. Your mother has no business indulging you. She ought to be ought working to pay for your upkeep.

Over the weekend, in a moment that melted the world’s hearts, Prince William took the 21 month old baby George to visit his newborn sister, and setting down the child to walk on the pavement, George instantly signalled his displeasure and reached up his pudgy arms for his dad to give him a carry. According to Judge Russell, His Royal Highness is doing it all wrong, a child’s need for closeness with a parent is all about the fact that the parent has enmeshed the child in an inward looking environment which is all about serving the adult’s needs. If the judge is to be believed, breastfeeding, baby-carrying, co-sleeping, hey all that shebang is mere parental selfishness, designed to serve their neediness, requiring absolutely no self-sacrifice and of being no possible benefit to the child, whatever the evidence to the contrary.

Let’s be clear here. A woman has been attacked and vilified for fulfilling innate maternal desires. No good will has been imputed towards her, it is claimed that her breastfeeding is nothing but self-interested manipulation and the way she was raising her child does not meet with the approval of a childless judge. Even her need to take frequent breaks for expressing milk was attacked, the judge not understanding that the human female is not the equivalent of a dairy cow. Expressing even the tiniest bit of milk can take a long time for many women, and it is recommended that in order to stimulate production a woman is calm, comfortable and relaxed, i.e. not clock-watching under pressure in the lavatory of public courtroom, where the fate of one’s child is in the balance. Neither did the judge understand that the woman’s inability to express milk when her child was solely breastfeeding, was outside of her control. The milk didn’t suddenly ‘magically’ appear when the child began weaning, the mother was not withholding her ability, but simply that she had excess supply. Child starts solid food, takes less milk, the body takes time to catch up and will therefore produce a surplus. It’s not rocket science.

Whatever the behaviour of the woman, which might well have left a lot to be desired, it seems clear that she was prepared to go to desperate measures to keep her baby. Of course the child had a right to contact with her father, however, as leading child psychologist Penelope Leach notes, under the age of 4, children ought not to have sleepovers away from their main care-giver, the constant to-ing and fro-ing is bad for their psychological development, causing instability and anxiety. Of course a baby who has been exclusively breastfed and is used to sleeping with the comfort of her mother is going to be distressed by a night away in the solitary confinement of a cot in the house of two strange, if benign men.

This woman has had her child removed (and one cannot begin to image the turmoil, trauma and anxiety experienced by the baby) because she refused to parent her in order to facilitate the desires and needs of two men.

This is case which cries out to high heaven for justice. The feminists ought to be all over this like a cheap suit. Where is this woman’s autonomy, why is her mothering under attack when its acknowledged that the child is at no risk of harm? Heck, even heroin-addicted mothers are allowed to parent their babies under supervision. Since when does breastfeeding and if the judge is to believed, casting aspersions about the father’s behaviour in attempt to keep the child, justify the removal. When you look at the allegations made by the mother, though unpleasant, they aren’t homophobic, rather they raise questions about the nature of the relationship between the two men and whether it was a suitable environment for a child.  It seems to have been the judge who drew the correlation between what the woman was alleging about this couple and deciding it implicitly applied to every gay couple.

Removing a child for the supposed moral deficiency of the mother, is precisely the outdated attitude displayed by the mother-and-baby institutions of yesteryear. Catholics continue to be attacked by those supporting same-sex parenting for the way some religious sisters behaved in giving away their babies to richer, more stable couples and not allowing the child to bond with the mother, which caused years of heartbreak for so many and yet this is exactly what is being advocated here. “How dare you bond with a baby which doesn’t belong to you and which you have no right to parent, even if you have given birth to her.”

Commercial surrogacy is still illegal in the UK – why on earth are the courts attempting to accommodate this. Surely a better message would have been to allow the mother to keep her child, which would have been in both of their best interests, with  frequent contact, ordered for the father?

When are the feminists going to wake up to the fact that just because men are gay, it doesn’t make them any the less capable of using women as exploitable objects to serve their own gratification, than straight ones. The exploitation may not be sexual, but expecting women to be passive breeders, grateful for the cash they receive in return for relinquishing their bodily autonomy and motherhood and attacking them if they do not fulfil the demands of the contract to the letter, is every bit as  abusive and harmful. This is the inevitable consequence of gender blurring and claiming that the roles of mother and father are interchangeable. Women and babies are hurt, treated as consumer goods to be traded for the whims of men and backed up by the highest court in the land.

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Ask me what comes to mind when I think of a ten year old girl and I immediately picture my own, recently-turned-eleven, daughter. Her school has just transitioned into summer uniform and so I imagine her in her striking and smart tartan dress with puffed sleeves and a white collar, a red wool blazer and fetching straw boater with school badge and red ribbons. I image her spindly legs in white ankle socks, think of the tangle of hair that she’s not very adept at brushing, the knots I have to tease out for her and I think of her mannerisms and personality. Sometimes desperately childlike, mad on chocolate, overuses the word ‘adorable’ (especially when referring to dogs and babies), sometimes socially awkward, shy and introverted, sometimes the polar opposite, photo-bombing at every opportunity, sometimes the stroppy, lazy adolescent that she potentially will be in a few years time and sometimes an incredibly mature, thoughtful and considerate young lady. One who will pro-actively shepherd her younger siblings up to bed, into their pyjamas, brush their teeth and read them a story at bedtime, in an attempt to help, as she sometimes did when she spotted that mummy was exhausted in the latter stages of pregnancy.

What doesn’t come to mind when you ask me about a ten year old girl is the image of a pregnant woman. Such a thing is just too dreadful to contemplate, not simply because of the loss of innocence, but because for such a thing to have happened would mean that my little girl had been through a brutal, violent and phsyically agonising ordeal which her little body is not ready to take and which no child should ever have to endure. A pregnant ten year old is the victim of child sex abuse and what mother or father ever wants to envisage their child in that situation? As for were she to be pregnant – I’d be terrified that her little body would snap and break under the ordeal.

Naturally then, this case of a pregnant ten year old in Paraguy, raped and pregnant by her step-father fills the world with horror and repugnance, not only at what the poor child has been through, but at what lies in front of her, be that a late-stage abortion or childbirth. When we think of ten year olds, we don’t think of women but of underdeveloped girls, most of whom bear no outward signs of womanhood and who have not undergone puberty. I’ve only recently been through pregnancy again myself; the relentless sickness, the crippling tiredness and the embarrassing intimate problems. It’s nine months of discomfort, of confusing symptoms, complete abandonment of control and of tremendous emotional and physical upheaval. For the most part in today’s society the experience is rendered more acceptable because  it’s a freely undertaken choice with a desired outcome. An adult means to an adult end. Not an ordeal inflicted upon an ill-equipped, vulnerable young child.

But then how much of this is projection? While most Western 10 year old girls have not yet reached puberty, evidence suggests that not only is puberty beginning earlier, hence the drive for sex education at an ever-younger age, but also that different ethnic groups, such as African and Hispanics, may start puberty at around the age of 8. The idea of a pregnant child ought to continue to horrify us, but put very crudely, if a 10 year-old is actually able to conceive a child, presumably her body ought to be sufficiently developed to bear it? I can think of a few children within my daughter’s peer group who unbelievably already tower above me height wise, who have begun puberty and who most definitely look older than their years. It might be that this poor abused 10 year old is actually physically capable of delivering her child.

For the avoidance of doubt, that a child is able to conceive, is not an argument to suggest that they should conceive or even deliver a child of their own – the late stages of pregnancy and childbirth exact an enormous toll on even a fully-developed adult woman, but there isn’t evidence to suggest that pregnancy for every single, pre-teen is life-threatening. In this particular dreadful instance, nobody save the clinicians knows the medical specifics and so all the talk about it being life-threatening is a mixture of understandable projection and hyperbole. We imagine ourselves or children we know and love, being pregnant at the age of ten and are horrified. Currently the UK’s youngest mother was a 12 year old, who conceived at the age of 11 and a quick Wikki search demonstrates that there have been some mothers as young as 9 and 10.

What we do know, is that this pregnancy was discovered when the child was 22 weeks pregnant. The short-term future is none too pleasant either way. The fetus, if we going to pander to the popular de-humanising euphemism, is already a fully formed human being, discernably a real person with a face, eyelashes, hair, arms, legs, fingers, toes who will be kicking, swallowing, smiling, sucking their thumb and whatever. There’s no ‘easy’ way to abort at that stage. There’s no pill to pop to bring about an early miscarriage and no quick suction procedure. We’re talking about a 10 year old being asked to deliver a deceased 22 week baby, or a difficult, gruesome, potentially dangerous surgical procedure. Afterwards the child can expect to experience her milk coming in and will have the trauma of a lost baby to deal with, as if she didn’t already have enough to cope with.

The other option is for her to give birth. Again, not something that one would wish to inflict upon a 10 year old. But given the stage in her pregnancy, taking at face value the assertions that her life is at risk (which don’t seem to be evidenced anywhere) surely the kindest, most compassionate thing to do would be to continue to strictly monitor the child and then deliver her baby via cesarian section, under general anesthetic, as soon as it becomes necessary.

In terms of whether or not the girl ought to raise the baby, that surely ought to be a matter for her. What isn’t being reported is what her feelings are on the matter, all we know is that the mother has requested an abortion for her daughter, although the mother has also been arrested for breaching duty of care and being an accomplice to child abuse. According to Fox News Latino, she reported that her daughter was being sexually abused last January and yet continued to live with the perpetrator. She has also provided a number of false clues as to his whereabouts.  We do not know and we cannot speculate on the mother’s motives, however it’s interesting to note that the mother’s wishes are being given weight or seen as taking precedence whereas in other cases in the UK of a pre-teen requesting abortion or contraception, provided the child is deemed to meet Gillick competence, the parents’ wishes would be overruled or they would not even be informed.

But it’s difficult to see how abortion could serve to make the issue any better in this unimaginably awful situation. Even had she been immediately granted a 22 week abortion, it would have been no walk in the park, however surely even a 10 year old, while she might lack the emotional maturity to cope with pregnancy, childbirth and a young baby, surely ought to be given the time to come to terms with the situation and have some input into the decision. Why would instantly whipping the baby out in a late-stage abortion have been the right thing to do, it would only have served to inflict more violence upon an already abused and hurting child and removed yet more autonomy from her.

And the elephant in the room is of course the unborn child, who is deemed to be of no consequence with no right to exist; their very presence being synonymous with atrocity. Why would it be so unfeasible for the child to be adopted and raised by a loving couple, or for the child herself to keep her baby, presuming this was what she wanted? Why is abortion being touted as the only solution in this instance?

I’m not denying that the pregnancy can not sometimes be high risk for adolescents, one of the factors being lack of prenatal care, I’m not advocating that ten year olds ought be having babies, I’m not assuming that a ten year old giving birth is like shelling peas, however what I am questioning is why it is being reported that the child’s life is at risk if she does not have an abortion. What health condition would the proposed abortion treat? As she is under the care of the authorities, then surely her pre-natal care will be better than for many others in her situation?

The other pressing question is why on earth Amnesty International have seen fit to get involved, what has this case got to do with someone being detained or imprisoned for their political beliefs? It is claimed that the girl is being forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, which is tantamount to torture and indeed no-one would want to inflict an unwanted pregnancy or child upon a child, however we are only being told that the mother requested the abortion for her daughter, not what the daughter’s thoughts are. Since when did Amnesty become an organisation about promoting pro-choice, abortion ideology instead of being about basic human rights, of which the right-to-life should be paramount? The word Amnesty is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘forgetfulness’, clearly the organisation has forgotten the Catholicism of their founder and there is to be no amnesty for the unborn children deemed burdensome due to potential maternal poverty.

Just as various groups exploited and politicised the tragedy of Savita Halapannaver to lobby for liberal abortion in Ireland, the same thing seems set to be happening in Paraguy.

What has happened is revolting and indefensible. It really is one of those compassionate hard cases for whom the Abortion Act in 1967 was devised. But it’s not clear how a latej-stage abortion performed upon a 10 year old girl by request of her mother, who happens to be married to her abuser, would go any way towards helping the girl on her long journey of healing.

Easy to say when it’s not my daughter, especially as I hear the strains of her earnestly practicing the piano floating up through the floorboards, bashing out Beethoven without a care in the world. But then I think of her cradling her baby brother, or tenderly helping her younger sisters and know that however terrible the ordeal she had been through, coaxing her to get rid of her own baby, even if it was with her best interests at heart, would not necessarily be the right answer. Please God, it’s something with which few mothers will ever be faced.

Many years ago an idle moment on google led me to discover a blog, written under a nom de plume, which had clearly been penned by someone who had attended my preparatory school. (Caution, while side-splittingly amusing in part, said blog is disparaging of religion and contains some fruity language).

Having avidly read through pretty much the whole thing in search of familiar names and a nostalgia fix, my mirth turned to horror when it dawned upon me who the author was (she left a trail of inadvertent clues) and I learned about precisely how dysfunctional her family and upbringing had been.

In one post, (which I think has been deleted, it shows up on Google’s cache, but I am not going to link to it out of respect for the author’s wish for anonymity) she details her family history as follows. Apologies for the strong language.

child-stress

“A potted history of my family. You might want to go and have a wee first, or make a cup of tea, as this may take a while. And you might get to the end of it feeling a little uncomfortable, or maybe sorry for us. Don’t – it’s such a well-worn story now that it holds no emotions, and I’m not out for pity. Cash donations are always welcome, but pity ain’t.

It all started in the late sixties. My mother and my father were still married to each other (in my mother’s head this is still the case, in whatever weird parallel existence gets her through the day. She announced at lunch a couple of months ago that it would have been their forty-fifth wedding anniversary that day. They’ve been divorced for thirty-seven years but hey, who’s counting? If I had stayed at school I’d have been there for twenty eight years this year. It’s that sort of thing…) and my brother was born. He was followed by beloved sister Fifi, and then along came me in the early seventies. I was what’s euphemistically known as a band-aid baby, in that I was supposed to glue my parents’ marriage back together. However, me being me, this didn’t happen. Not even a bit. When I was two, my father ran off with the Avon lady, in a terrible middle-class cliche. Said Avon lady was married with a small daughter at the time. Not to be outdone, my mother hooked up with the Avon lady’s now-ex husband, and the fun began in earnest. I’m not entirely sure how much of this was known to any of the parties at the time; did my mother already have, ahem, knowledge of Avon lady’s husband even as she was getting it on with my father? Did any of them know about the other indiscretions? Was it all a big jolly liberated seventies wife swap? Of all the possibilities I like the last one the least. Uurgh. So, as is the nature of these things, decisions had to be made. Between the two couples there were four children, with another on the way (happily gestating away inside the Avon lady). This is another part of my history that I really don’t understand, particularly as a mother myself. There ensued a process that in my mind took the form of picking teams for netball. My father ended up with my brother, sister Fifi and the impending new addition. My mother gained me and the Avon-lady-ex-husband’s daughter. My brother was seven, Fifi was five, I was two and a bit. My soon-to-be-stepsister was four. So the adults, satisfied with the arrangements, all went off and set up home and got married, and concentrated on raising the kids with an eye to minimising any damage caused by the events of their early years. Well, my father and the Avon lady did anyway.

My mother and stepfather chose to either tell me, or to simply let me believe, that my father and stepmother were my uncle and aunt, and that my brother and sisters were my cousins, with my stepsister being my only “true” sister. We used to get together at Christmas and on a couple of other occasions throughout the year – lord only knows how that worked as far as the grownups went – a lot of polite small talk I expect. In addition to this familial obfuscation, my mother and stepfather set about drinking themselves into a coma at every possible opportunity. As their relationship worsened, so our evening and weekend routines evolved until my stepsister and I were cast in the role of peacemakers, endlessly placating and fruitlessly refereeing drunken rows. To this day I can’t sleep if there’s noise, only because part of me is still listening to make sure an argument doesn’t break out. I first heard the “c” word aged seven, when my stepfather burst into my room in the middle of the night to tell me I couldn’t go and stay with my school friend because I was a spoiled little cunt who thought I was better than him.

We weathered Christmases in which the only salvation was that my stepfather would pass out at four pm, and social gatherings where we were lucky to arrive home alive, such was the frequency of drunk driving. I have a vivid recollection of sitting in the back of the family car with my stepsister, as my mother complained bitterly that the car had broken down. My stepfather was unconcious in the passenger seat, having rounded off the evening at a schoolfriend’s parents’ house by collapsing backwards over a low wall, knocking it down and taking a garden bench with him. It transpired that the car was fine – my mother was simply so drunk that she was pressing the brake instead of the accelerator. Armed with this helpful knowledge, she changed feet and drove us home. This and a thousand other horror stories that I won’t bore anyone with now mean that I’m fairly sure that stepsister and I drew the short straw….

So, here we are. The Surly family tree contains a father who I don’t call Dad, a stepmother who has been more of a mother to me than my natural mother despite never living with me, a stepfather who I haven’t spoken to in nearly twelve years, a mother who I couldn’t even begin to describe, a brother, a sister, a stepsister and a half sister. My stepsister is everyone else’s stepsister as her father was married to our mother, and her mother is married to my father. My half sister is everyone else’s half sister, as she shares a father with me, my brother and sister Fifi, and a mother with my stepsister. My mother and stepmother are sworn enemies owing to my mother’s treatment of my stepsister when we were small. My stepfather has apparently gone a bit churchy in his old age. My mother is mental. My brother and half sister are the only children who haven’t been through some sort of therapy, giving all the parents a better than fifty percent strike rate in officially fucking their kids up.

It’s a wonder I’ve turned out so normal, isn’t it?”

This story has been playing on my mind an awful lot over the past few months as it could potentially do much to undermine my oft-stated narrative that where possible, children ought not to be removed from their biological parents and that young children need their mothers.

I’ve also been wondering what has happened to the blog author who tragically for her avid readership stopped blogging back in 2009. She regularly made the top ten lists of the most popular British blog and while her style may not be to everyone’s taste, since inadvertently discovering her blog, I’ve always fostered a sneaking sense of pride. She was in the year above me and  I remember her rebellious humour, sarcasm and curiosity even as a young child. What shocked me upon reading her story, was how, as children, we too had absolutely no idea what was going on behind closed doors in that family, even though my elder sister was best friends with her elder sister until the friendship petered when they went to different secondary schools. My parents were teachers at the secondary school the girls attended and never noted anything amiss with family – the mother by all accounts, was very good at putting on a front.

Anyway in this case, clearly all of the children would have been better off had the divorce not happened at all and the parents had attempted to work together for the good of their children, and arguably, my friend would have fared better remaining with her natural father and stepmother instead of the peculiar arrangement which did take place.

The whole thing is utterly mind-boggling and baffling, particularly as she notes, to anyone who has ever been a mother. How can children be divvied up as though they were chattels or possessions? How could anyone be so cruel? How could a mother use a romantic relationship or entanglement to justify parting with her young children in order for another woman to bring them up as her own? I get bad enough separation anxiety when leaving the children in the car to go and pay for petrol!

Same-sex couples would be completely justified in using stories such as these to point out that sometimes heterosexual parenting can fall extremely short. Being in a male/female relationship doesn’t guarantee that you aren’t going to make a disastrous hash of parenting.

But actually what this sorry tale shows us is that children do actually fare better when they are brought up by both biological parents who have an interest in them. What happened in this situation, as in so many cases of divorce is that the adults selfishly put their own needs first and the children became an afterthought, which is hardly surprising. No doubt they went through all kinds of mental sophistry in the process of self-justification, surely no parent could be so blind or callous to think that the children wouldn’t be affected in some way?

I am reminded of the compelling book Jephthah’s Daughters, edited by Robert Oscar Lopez (noted academic and author of the English Manif blog) in which several children brought up by same-sex parents give their testimony as to what life was really like growing up deliberately removed from one biological parent. They report similar tales of abuse, alienation and anger as adults, when they realise how damaged their childhoods were and their poor resulting mental health.

I am not saying that the above fate will inevitably happen to every single child brought up by same-sex parents, nor am I claiming that every child of divorce will have such a calamitous experience, but that the above account is what happens when adults choose to put their own perceived romantic or relationship desires above and beyond the emotional needs of their children.

Divorce, as I know, is always disastrous for kids and any subsequent action is always about mopping up or attempting to mitigate against the negative consequences. Sometimes situations do require a civil divorce, not least for reasons of safety, but this is still not as ideal as a stable, loving couple in a long-term committed permanent relationship raising their biological offspring together. The caricature of the evil step-parent exists for a reason, the Cinderella effect is an uncomfortable reality. In several countries, stepparents beat very young children to death at per capita rates that are more than 100 times higher than the corresponding rates for genetic parents. My friend’s experience is not that uncommon; step-parents or partners of biological parents are far more likely to be perpetuators of physical or emotional abuse. A potentially embarassing and difficult admission for someone in my position – my husband is a loving and doting stepfather to my eldest daughter. I’ve said before, that from her perspective it would have been preferable had her parents been able to stay together and both of us have had to work very hard to ensure that she has not been forced to unduly suffer as a result of her genetic parents’  folly.

Re-reading what happened to my old friend (whose blog is still out there) I wondered whether or not the ‘families come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes’ narrative would have been trotted out as justification by these archetypal and surreal seventies wife-swappers?

But the purpose of this post is not to use an example of disastrous hetrosexual parenting to attack same-sex couples, if anything it shows how male-female parenting is equally capable of going horribly wrong. Here we have a case of children being instrumentalised, used as commodities, treated as possessions way before the idea of surrogacy, gamete donation and IVF to create same-sex parents was even possible, let alone accepted by the mainstream.

What it does demonstrate is what happens when individuals put their own individual wants and desires above everything else, including child welfare and attempt to obfuscate or deny the good of the traditional family unit or the need of a child for their biological mother and father. As my friend’s situation demonstrates, quick, easy no-fault divorce was the harbinger of doom in terms of bringing about situations where children could be treated as irrelevant or as of secondary importance to the rights of adults to do what they pleased. No sooner had legislation been passed recognising that children had basic human rights and ought not to be exploited in factories, workplaces and up chimneys and should be entitled to an education, then we promptly undermined it by saying it was acceptable for them to be deserted by their mothers or fathers in their pursuit of personal happiness.

This week Cardinal Nichols talked about how the Synod on the Family ought not to be thought of as a battle, because collateral damage is one of the worst and most tragic consequences of hostilities. When it comes to the issue of divorce, children are the collateral damage and tragedies such as the one so bleakly outlined by my friend on her blog, occur. Which is why the 461 priests were right to publicly uphold the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. When permanence ceases to be a fundamental part of marriage or its key purpose of child-rearing is ignored, it is children who are the innocent and unwitting victims, even if the intention is supposedly a good or merciful one.

I do hope my friend is alright. I wonder if she’s deleted various entries after being alerted to various searches on it over the past few weeks? Last I heard she had embarked on her second marriage, as had her step-sister and natural sisters. None of them were speaking to her mother who had split up from step-father  almost twenty years hence.

She mentions that her step-father has now become ‘a bit Churchy’ in his old age? What message would it send to her and her family were the Catholic Church to extend a vision of mercy which effectively said that the past actions of these deeply flawed and selfish adults did not matter one iota and the destroyed lives and relationships were irrelevant? All that matters is their current happiness and sense of not feeling ‘excluded’?

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

We would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please leave your name and your diocese in the comments box below, or if you prefer email them to me or to one of the coordinators:

Mark Lambert (mark@landbtechnical.com) or Andrew Plasom-Scott (andrewplasom_scott@me.com)

The Letter:

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald.

As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

 Yours faithfully,

A few days ago, Laura Keynes asked on Conservative Woman, “who wants to be the monster who denies the woman a chance of a healthy baby” while describing many of the problems with mitochondrial transfer – the technique which has just been approved by the House of Commons which paves the way forward for 3 parent babies.

That role fell to me on ITV News, and since then I’ve been replaying the conversation in my head and thinking about what I would say, if I had the opportunity again. Probably, not much different aside from pointing out that the procedure would not have any impact on any of the babies who have so tragically succumbed to this disorder; it would not have saved their lives or spared them the ordeal, rather it would have meant that they would never have been born at all and replaced by other, supposedly healthy children.

But hindsight is a wonderful thing and when you are there, faced by a woman who has lost a child to this cruel disease and who is desperate for a way of conceiving her own healthy child, who is genetically related to her, it’s incredibly difficult to sound notes of caution or disapproval while at the same time exercising compassion for her situation, and of course before I had even opened my mouth, I, along with anyone who might disagree, had already been accused of the ultimate twenty-first century taboo, namely ‘judgementalism’.

In fact the whole introductory package and agenda was similar to that on Radio 4’s Today programme, instead of examining the facts of the matter, the debate was emotionally loaded with footage of a baby destined to die together photographs of Claire’s (the other speaker) baby taken a week before he passed away. What staggered me was the level of scientific ignorance on display, not only from ITV’s own health correspondent but also from GP-turned-MP Sarah Wollaston and everyone’s favourite cuddly Groucho Marx lookalike, IVF pioneer, Sir Robert Winston. Mitochondrial DNA, they argued, only consists of 37 genes out of 22,000, it doesn’t affect inherited characteristics which are contained within nuclear DNA, and stealing an argument straight out of the LGBT lobbyists’ playbook – it takes more than a tiny bit of DNA to be a parent. Particularly fatuous was Robert Winston’s assertion that mitochondrial transfer was equivalent to topping up the red blood cells in an anaemia sufferer or a blood transfusion. Neither of those things have a potential affect on the germ line and future generations.

No concession was given to the undisputed fact that epistasis, the study of how different pairs of genes may interact with each other, is in its infancy. Research (argued here by Ted Morrow, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sussex) is beginning to demonstrate that mitochondrial DNA may well affect inherited characteristics, such as personality, intelligence and so on – every individual has unique DNA and therefore the effects of mixing up two different sets of DNA, one in the mitochondria and one in the nucleus of an ovum or embryo is far from clear. It’s certainly of concern to various scientists who would otherwise have no objection to IVF or embryonic cell research, both ethically and scientifically. ( Dr Paul Knoepfler is no friend to the pro-life community but at least he hasn’t succumbed to the omerta of most of his peers).

And of course, that’s why I was selected to go on the news and cast in the frame of religious antediluvian bigot, who must stonily tell a woman that it is God’s plan that her baby should suffer and die, because it says in the Bible that we can’t eat shellfish! What would I know compared to Sir Robert Winston and various ‘big-name Nobel prize winning scientists’? Striking a note of caution, not least in terms of mentioning that every single other country in the world has banned 3 parent-embryos both on scientific and ethical grounds is clearly a handy peg on which to hang my bigotry. Mentioning that the FDA, who dwarves the HFEA in terms of size and scope has refused to licence the procedure on the grounds that not enough is known, a lot more testing is needed, that experiments on animals have yielded some concerning results, that China, not known for its human rights record, banned the technique following a disastrous experiment in 2003 (triplets were produced, one was aborted, the other two stillborn), all that, well who cares, it’s just convenient fuel for my prejudices.

The irony is that in a post-Christian world, where enlightenment values have replaced religion, it is clear that devotees of Science, who has replaced God, are every bit as inflexible and intransigent in their views. So faced by the prospect that babies produced by mitochondrial transfer may actually be more prone to cancer, developmental delays and learning difficulties, that one problem may be prevented only to be replaced with a different set of problems, what was the response? Well you’ve got to take a chance haven’t you? Science holds the answer to everything and if it doesn’t work, we need more of it.

And of course, it’s impossible to point out to a grieving mother the selfishness of potentially altering the human germ line, of introducing multiple ancestors, to potentially prevent just a handful of sufferers from being born. One of the things that I was dying to ask, and couldn’t, was whether or not these mothers ever regretted having their children and wished that they had never been born. When we were both in make-up, Claire was discussing how something positive had come out of her experience, that now she works for a mitochondrial awareness charity and how she goes into schools to talk about the condition and the fund-raising she does. Shortly after the news appearance she was off to Parliament to listen to the debate before coming back for a slot on the evening show. Clearly her life was fulfilling, had meaning and purpose despite and one could perhaps argue, thanks to, the fact that she had endured this heart-breaking experience and survived.

That’s not to argue that it’s a good thing that her son died, she would much rather he was born without the condition, but were that to have happened, it wouldn’t have been him, but a different person. Which is the conundrum that parents of terminally ill children face. They don’t want different children with different personalities or appearances, they just want the same ones – disease free. I have met more than one family who have lost their children in similar tragic circumstances and yet they are more balanced and less outwardly emotional about what has happened to them, than perhaps I am. While dearly wishing that their children were still alive and healthy, the experience of watching of children degenerate and die, while tremendously painful has not been without moments of joy and happiness and  even hope. Perhaps you only truly appreciate what you have, until it is threatened and there is nothing like the illness of a child to bring out the goodness inherent in fellow human beings.

I’m not advocating that we ought to celebrate child terminal illness or even accept it, more research needs to be done, but the research needs to help those who are already suffering to overcome their illness and live full lives, not simply prevent their births.

While what I might have said was not necessarily the most compelling as far as arguments go (though I challenge anyone else to be in that situation), one thing I don’t regret is standing up for the rights of the human lives, created only to be destroyed in the process. Slippery slope arguments may be cliche, or considered passe but the reality is that we genuinely don’t know how far this technique may be taken, who is to say that in a generation we won’t see children with 6 or 7 parent ancestors in order to circumnavigate diseases such as cancer.

The process of procreation as being completely divorced from sex has now reached its zenith with the concern that two embryos will be created, only to be chopped and spliced and a third created from their spare parts, being relegated as irrelevant. The idea that these are unique human lives, seen as luddite. IVF has created the principle that human life in its earliest form is dispensible, ours to play about with and manipulate to suit our will; – meaningless compared to the joy brought to individual couples.

It demonstrates how successful incrementalism has been as a strategy for genetic scientists, in that now, the general public no longer cares to think long and hard about the ethics of creating life in a laboratory or the wholesale disregard for human life before it is discernibly a baby. Never mind that we all started out as a unique blastocyst or embryo, so long as we aren’t the ones selected for rejection. No wonder pro-choicers go into spasms of apoplexy every time a common sense measure such as the outlawing of gender-selective abortion or impartial counselling is proposed – they know that anything which could point to the existence of human life threatens to undermine their entire mantra surrounding reproductive choice.

All in all it’s rather depressing but I guess it bears out one of the key principles behind Catholic Voices which is sometimes, it is the witnessing, not the winning that’s important. We can only hope that the House of Lords allots more than a mere 90 minutes than the House of Commons allowed, when they scrutinised this measure. The proceeding debate on telephone and broadband access in rural areas being given 3 hours. Who cares about the genetic future of the human race or whether or not potential sufferers of certain diseases should be allowed to live. Fast access to Facebook is all that matters.

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