Inconceivable Conceptions: Psychological Aspects of Infertility and Reproductive Technology

By Jane Haynes; Juliet Miller | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

The battle with mortality and the urge to procreate

Michael Pawson

Michael Pawson is a former consultant gynaecologist with specialist interest in fertility.

What is it that makes a gynaecologist take up such a speciality and reflect on mortality and procreation? I am conscious that my motivation to do medicine and then to specialise in women's health and well-being, initially in pregnancy and childbirth, was the positive and creative nature of producing a healthy baby. Probably a deeper and more complex reason was associated with the fact that I had no communication of any sort with my father from the age of 6. This made me interested in parenting and, having seen, understood and taken part in the care of pregnant women, I became aware of the pain of those who were unable to conceive. I became progressively more interested in the problems of infertility and started a clinic within the NHS in 1970 dedicated to those with fertility problems.

My own childhood experiences led me to ask these patients about their experiences of parenting in their childhood and in particular about their mothers. I was soon surprised to find repeatedly a story of a poor relationship with the mother. Time and again, when asking women about their mothers, I got evasive or frankly unhappy replies. It was a similar story in the general gynaecology clinic, which suggests that it may be a widespread problem. I began to reflect on whether there was not a more powerful psychological undercurrent than I had perceived, and that perhaps my dualistic, traditional medical education had faults.

My generation was taught to keep the patient at arm's length at all costs, that a line was drawn in the sand between patient and doctor that one could not cross. This dualism goes back to Descartes, the 'architect of scientific thinking'. Descartes believed that science needed to explain mechanisms and functions at what he called a 'micro level', at what we might call today a quantum level. He was a reductionist who believed that all function could be reduced to the mechanism of the smallest possible particles. But there was a caveat: all can be explained in this way in all things which are 'devoid of thought and mind'. Descartes addressed this by dividing the world into the three-dimensional physical world, and the thinking world. This led to the widely-held dualistic approach which divided the world into a physical, objective, visible world on the one hand, and a subjective, thinking, feeling world of values and aesthetics on the other. Science and the spiritual were divided. This dualism has been a problem ever since and the mind-body problem remains. It was in this tradition that my generation was taught medicine. When

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Inconceivable Conceptions: Psychological Aspects of Infertility and Reproductive Technology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements x
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 3
  • Chapter 2 - Assisted Reproductive Technology and the Fertility Clinic 11
  • Experiencing Infertility 17
  • Chapter 3 - Clinical Waste 19
  • Chapter 4 - One Man's Story 27
  • Psychological Aspects 31
  • Chapter 5 - Eros and Art 33
  • Notes 45
  • Chapter 6 - Mourning the Never Born and the Loss of the Angel 47
  • Chapter 7 - The Battle with Mortality and the Urge to Procreate 60
  • Bibliography 72
  • Chapter 8 - Myths and Reality in Male Infertility 73
  • Bibliography 84
  • Chapter 9 - Love, Hate and the Generative Couple 86
  • Changing Patterns of Kinship 103
  • Chapter 10 - The Story of Seth's Egg 105
  • Chapter 11 - Seth 109
  • Chapter 12 - Gifts of Life in Absentia 120
  • Chapter 13 - Women's Work 143
  • Bibliography 165
  • Chapter 14 - Egg Donation 166
  • The Shadow 179
  • Chapter 15 - Dark Reflections 181
  • Afterword 205
  • Chapter 16 - Afterword 207
  • Appendix 217
  • Glossary of Terms Used in Art (Assisted Reproductive Technology) 219
  • Index 227
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