Do mothers matter? Having no mother was -- at least until recently -- widely agreed to be a tragedy. Psychiatric case studies, Disney movies, and well-known spirituals such as "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" have testified to the importance of mothers and the pain of mother loss. But such views have not meant that every child has lived in a society that affirms the importance of the child's bond with his or her mother. Children have been denied their mothers because of class biases (see, poor); racial and ethnic biases (Indian, Aborigine); as part of severe civil conflict (Argentina, Dirty War); amid widespread, institutionalized human rights abuses (slavery); or because their mothers were rightly or wrongly perceived to be unfit (see: history of adoption, good, bad, and ugly).
Yet even as the broad history of helping ourselves to other people's children continues to be probed and largely condemned (except in the case of adoption, where most reasonable people agree that such an institution must exist in order to find loving homes for children in need of them), a newer and notably deliberate form of mother loss has sprung up, one that receives relatively little debate and is often presented as benign or even good, without question. I am referring, of course, to the practices of surrogacy and egg donation.
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Based on a representative sample, in "My Daddy's Name is Donor" we reported that most sperm donor-conceived persons strongly object to anonymous donation of sperm. Nearly half feel troubled by the role of money in their conception. Most want to know about their biological father's family, and they wonder if that family would want to know about them. Compared to their peers raised by biological parents, sperm donor-conceived persons are more likely to struggle with delinquency, addiction, and depression.
Clearly, at least some of these kids are not really all right. It seems entirely plausible that at least some conceived never to know their mothers might share the feelings of the sample in our study. For decades we have debated whether fathers matter. Must we now debate whether mothers matter, too?
Celebrating Mothers' Day: Reflections
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