Great expectations for designer babies

Yvonne Roberts says there is no such thing as
a perfect child, even if it’s a designer baby.

Shahana and Raj Hashmi have won the right to
screen their IVF embryos to ensure that their new baby is a genetic
match for their son Zain, who suffers from a rare blood disorder.
The decision has inevitably triggered a debate on designer babies –
children created to generate spare parts for their siblings.

One of the issues raised is the nature of the
relationship between the Hashmis and their new child. How will they
explain their decision to conceive? And what if the new child fails
to save Zain?

The Hashmis will have to exercise a degree of
emotional honesty that patently does not exist in many families.
How many social workers, for instance, have been faced with the
conundrum of a mother with three daughters, each allegedly raised
in exactly the same way, two of whom have grown up as a credit
while the third is destructive of herself and her parent?

At the risk of simplification, among the
possible causes might be bullying or sexual abuse. What is is less
widely broached is what psychotherapist Rozsika Parker has called:
“The experience of maternal ambivalence.”

In Torn in Two,1 she
argues that love and hate are normal ingredients in a mother’s love
for her child but society represses all mention of the negative –
sometimes at an enormous cost. Parker argues that it’s not
ambivalence that is the problem, but how mothers manage the guilt
and anxiety it provokes. And what happens when hate dominates,
disguised as love?

Sometimes, this maternal hatred is based on
the fact that the child is too like the mother; another cause may
be because the parent sees her own critical mother in her
offspring. In fairy tales, Parker points out, magic intervenes on
behalf of the hated child. In real life, the child is defenceless,
portrayed as bad.

Psychotherapist Melanie Klein wrote: “We so
much dread hatred in ourselves that we employ one of our strongest
defences by putting it on to other people – to project it.” So, the
mother perceives her child as her “malevolent opponent”.

Inadvertently, the Hashmis have underscored
that what’s required in all families is a more open and less
idealised account of modern day motherhood. Long before IVF
designer babies become the norm, we were already deeply wounded by
the myth of the perfect mother and child.

1 Rozsika Parker, Torn
in Two: The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence
, Virago,

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