“Are you my mummy?”*: Diverse notions of “motherhood” in the IVF era

Back in autumn 2017, I was asked to be a contributor at the Edinburgh Biomedical Ethics Film Festival on the Ethics of Surrogacy. As part of the weekend we watched the 2016 documentary Future Baby, and the 1990 film version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

It was during my preparation for that event that I found myself ruminating on the diverse tasks that constitute being a mother. The anniversary of IVF brings this back into my thoughts.

There are, in essence, three contributions that a mother would naturally make:

  • producing the egg which provides half of the chromosomes for the resulting child (plus nutrients and some other genetic material via the mitochondria),
  • offering the womb in which the baby will develop (whilst receiving both nutrition and epigenetic influence on gene expression), and
  • caring for the infant after birth, and as they grow on to eventually attain their own independence.
motherhood too

Motherhood can now be subdivided into different roles (cartoon inspired by Morparia original)

These phases could be summarised as the genetic, the gestational and the nurturing dimensions of motherhood (the term “social” is sometimes used in the literature to cover this third category, but I prefer to the notion of nurture). Continue reading

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Want to edit The Biochemist?

Teams of students have until 15th December to enter the competition (click image for more details)

The Biochemist is the magazine of the Biochemical Society. It carries a variety of interesting articles on molecular bioscience in themed issues, for example: poisons and antidotes, new types of microscopyscience and the media, and ethics (access to these articles is free, but you may be required to give an e-mail address the first time you visit). I think it is an excellent publication (conflict of interest declaration: I am on the editorial board).

The October 2010 edition on epigenetics was edited by a team of students from Oxford University who were picked from a short-list in an open competition. They’ve done such a good job that the competition is running again now, with the chance to edit the October 2011 edition. Teams of undergraduates, postgraduates and/or postdocs are invited to propose a theme for the magazine and suggest some topics that would be included. It is worth avoiding topics that have been covered recently or are to be covered in the next 12 months, including synthetic life, systems biology, the biochemistry of food, marine biology and gut metabolism. The deadline is 15th December 2010; contact editorial@biochemistry.org to register interest.