Inconceivable Conceptions: Psychological Aspects of Infertility and Reproductive Technology

By Jane Haynes; Juliet Miller | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

Women's work

The practice of donor insemination amongst some lesbian women

Jane Haynes

Jane Haynes is a psychotherapist and writer.

Amongst my friends and acquaintances who are lesbian, and who grew up, as I did, between the mid-1940s and early 1960s, I do not know any lesbians who became mothers except as a result of heterosexual relationships that, to begin with, were accompanied by marriage. Amongst these friends are those who would have liked to have children, but did not desire heterosexual relations, or were afraid of parental and/or social disapproval, who are now reconciling themselves to another loss-they are growing old without the company of their grandchildren. Some of these women now look upon the evolving generative mores in lesbian culture with envy and admiration for women who were determined not to allow society to sacrifice their wishes to become parents. Even in the world of psychoanalysis, supposedly a world in which we are trained to understand difference, until a few years ago, when the Institute of Psychoanalysis adopted an Equal Opportunities policy, lesbians reported difficulties in being accepted to train as psychoanalysts (Ellis 1994).

Attitudes to generativity, gender and the politics and kinship structures of families have changed as a result of feminist politics during the 1970s and 1980s, followed by the social and political activism of gay groups. Then the politics of AIDS cemented gay and lesbian society and thrust homosexuality into the collective imagination. Many lesbian women now feel able to become mothers, via donor insemination, without entering into a known relationship with a man. Donor insemination, which is one of the oldest techniques in reproductive medicine, was introduced into Britain about one hundred years ago, although it is probable that it has been practised surreptitiously throughout the history of civilisation.

The first known documented case of donor insemination occurred in 1884 when an American doctor who worked in Philadelphia, Dr William Pancoast, inseminated a sedated woman with a medical student's sperm without first obtaining her permission. It is exceptional in so far as, amongst assisted reproductive technology, it is a procedure that, despite dire warnings of the professionals, can be practised in a non-medicalised setting. (I shall return to a fuller discussion of the official status of donor insemination at the end of the chapter.)

With the development of the concept of single-parent families there have also been significant changes in the ways in which lesbian women now feel comfortable

-143-

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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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