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Maternal Instinct and Technology

2009 February 22
by DC

Surrogacy. IVF. Adoption. It seems that through the advancement of technology there are now various avenues to motherhood. These technologies enable women who are barren or who are without a partner to become mothers. Over the winter break I watched a 20/20 special on extreme motherhood. Topics ranged from the taboos of breastfeeding to women who make surrogacy a career. But one topic in particular intruigued me–Reborn baby dolls. For women who are unable to bear children and do not have the funds procure a surrogate, an IVF treatment, or an adoption, Reborn dolls, which are life-like baby dolls, help fill that motherhood void. When I was a child I had many dolls but none of them were as engaging as my life-like baby doll Pinky, named so because her outfit was pink. Needless to say, she was my favorite. I guess the reason for this favoratism was because she could speak baby talk you know, “googoo gaga”. Whenever my friends and I played “House”, Pinky was always included as the baby of the family. In retrospect, I can’t help but think of the way she couldmake us feel like mothers with her baby nonsense. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder whether dolls, especially baby dolls, are the quintessential toy for young girls. If so, what are the implications? Is this so called “maternal instinct” encoded in our DNA or is it conditioned through the use of props such as baby dolls? I think that perhaps this “instinct” has little to do with genetics because when I grew out of my doll phase, I stopped feeling any emotional attachment to babies–real or doll. Now when I see a baby, even if I know the mother, I don’t suddenly have the urge to hold or to “googoo gaga” at him/her. However, there are many women who, with little regard to risk or cost, would become mothers *artificially*. Please note that I use the term “artificially” not to say that these mothers who opt for surrogacy, IVF, adoption, or Reborn baby dolls are fake mothers but rather that these mothers did not/could not choose the traditional path to motherhood–sex. These women, through the help of various forms of technology, are willing to pay top dollar to fill this void. This leads me to my next question, er, set of questions: Does being a complete woman mean becoming a mother? In Ancient Greece, I believe, the lives of women during the times of their bachelorettehood were considered insignificant. Women were only considered women when they married, and I suppose from implication, when they bore children. And what about men? Do some men feel the need to become fathers the same way some women feel the need to become mothers?

Reborns: Dolls Made to Look Real

One Response
  1. Ruth Goodlaxson permalink
    February 22, 2009

    This NY Times article sort of addresses some of your questions – it talks about the evolutionary advantage of cuteness, and how we are genetically programmed to respond to something being cute because it keeps us taking care of our babies:

    I’ve never really understood, though, why so many people opt for costly fertility treatments (or apparently buy Reborn dolls) instead of adopting or fostering children. I wonder if some people just respond better to their own genes?

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