Today I happened across a blog post that led me to a January 7, 2010 news story from the Jerusalem Post. It reports that many of Israel's rabbis now believe a child of donor egg is Jewish only if the egg came from a Jewish egg donor. This is a reversal of their earlier opinion that a child is Jewish if born to a Jewish mother, regardless of whether she used a Jewish egg donor.
I am not Jewish, and do not pretend to understand the importance of establishing Jewish heritage for a child of egg donation. If that's you, I refer you to Melissa Ford's excellent analysis at her blog.
What struck me about this rabbinical opinion is its implication that the egg donor is considered to be the real mother of a child born of donor egg IVF.
A mother or would-be mother of a donor egg child spends a lot of time thinking about the nature and experience of motherhood. Given that she shares no genes with the baby, will she feel like the baby's real mother?
This is not the emotionally self-indulgent question it appears to be at first glance. It would be a grave sin against any child to become its mother, without the ability to bond emotionally with the baby. This was my greatest fear before becoming a donor egg mother: That I would not feel like my baby's real mother, and would not be able to love my baby as I should.
In Mothers and Children, writer Susan E. Chase discusses how reproductive science has divided the concept of motherhood. No longer must it be embodied in one woman. Today, a child can have a genetic mother (the egg donor), a gestational mother (who carries the child), and a social mother (who raises the child).
Who then, is the child's real mother?
With regard to establishing Jewish heritage, rabbis say it's the Jewish egg donor. Some adoptees, who have a a deep need to find their birth parents, might agree with this even when when they love their adoptive parents dearly. And literature abounds with stories based on the King Arthur fantasy, that the parents we know are not our true parents. In these stories, real parents are those of blood and bone.
I do not deny the role that our egg donor has, and will always have, in my daughters' lives. She is their genetic mother. I do not flinch from the word mother when I think of her, with such gratitude for the gift she gave. If my girls want to know her when they are grown, I will support that choice.
But I am my daughters' real mother. Not because I am their gestational and social mother, but because I love them, deep in my blood and bone. And because I will care for them to the best of my ability, for the rest of my life. It is that simple.
So with thanks to Margery Williams for the paraphrase, let's listen to the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit.
"What is real?" asked the Rabbit one day.
"Real isn't how you were made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, really loves you, then you become real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse. "When you are real, you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once?" the Rabbit asked.
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of you has been loved off, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."