Maternal Ambivalence

Exploring Hidden and Uncomfortable Emotions Surrounding Motherhood

Twiblings! What next?

What will the science of human reproduction come up with next?

The cover of the New York Times Magazine for Sunday, January 2, 2011, carried a picture, from its lead story, of two chubby adorable children, one a boy and one a girl, created by four women and one man, but ultimately parented by one of the women and the man. These children are called twiblings, a new phenomenon in reproductive practice.

The article is written by Melanie Thernstrom, the women who, with her husband, Michael, will ultimately raise these children. Melanie and Michael married when she was 41 and he was 36. She wanted children very much, but trial after trial of attempts to aexhausted by her failed attempts at pregnancy. But she could not give up her desire for children. Attempts of adoption did not bear fruit and she felt that it was risky in a variety of ways. Her ultimate solution was to find an egg donor and two surrogate mothers, each to carry one baby fertilized by her husband. This involved a great deal of work and money, but the egg donor produced viable eggs and nine months after in vitro implantation into the two surrogate mothers, two babies were born, five days apart. They are fraternal twins from the father's side and siblings from both sides, hence twiblings!

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When I showed this article to my husband, he opined that this was another example of ‘baby greed', a phenomenon I discuss in my recently published book "The Monster Within; The Hidden Side of Motherhood." (The Octomom and Angelina Jolie are examples of women with"baby greed.") Only very wealthy families can afford to do this kind of procedure and furthermore, why wasn't one baby enough? After all, the mother is not young and has some health problems. It had to be greed that drove her to this solution. I think he has a point, but it is more complicated than that. There are always risks having twins and the percentage of neonatal problems is greater than with a single birth. Secondly, if this mother wanted two children and could do it this new way, why shouldn't she? I have a close relative whose wife has had twins by an in-vitro pregnancy. These children are now 18 years old, wonderful boys from a happy family. But the second born twin almost didn't make it and this is not an uncommon story.

Melanie, the mother who will raise these children has a vigorous personality and a very strong will. She doesn't give up easily! At the time of this story, she and her husband are raising the babies, but the birth mothers are still nursing them. All the "parents" are friendly and seem to wish each other the best.

My interest in this story stems from my interest in maternal ambivalence, the subject of my book. I am also a mother of twins, now grown, but I remember what it was like taking care of two babies, then two toddlers, and, I should add, a two years older first child. It was exhausting! I think maternal ambivalence, although a forbidden subject to today's perfectionistic mothers, is an inevitable part of parenting, no matter how devoted the parents are. The needs of babies and small children are different from the needs of adults and this inevitably leads to conflict in the parents, especially the mother. This mother went through so much to obtain these babies that I imagine her ambivalent feelings will be difficult for her to accept, that she will feel she shouldn't have them. But, the birth mothers won't be around forever. They have their own families, and she and her husband will have to do most of the managing, even if they can afford help. I wish them well! And I wonder what is next, as babies become an even more desired event in modern culture-triplings? Quadruplings?

Barbara Almond is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in Palo Alto, CA.

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