A headline in the 2 January 2013 The Telegraph ran:
First baby born in France in 2013 has two mothers
The story informs us the birth mother is named Maude, while her live-in companion is called Delphine. The ex-fetus, miraculously made a human being at birth, is christened Sacha.
This headline, and the story which follows, is based on a false premise. A person cannot have two mothers; which is to say, the thing itself is impossible.
A child has but one mother and one father. This is not opinion, but the necessary scientific, biological conclusion given the sexual procreative nature of human beings. A man was involved in the creation of Sacha, just as her mother Maude was. The man we do not know; we are only informed he left part of himself at a “Belgian sperm bank.”
Now it often happens that a child will find itself in the company of a woman who is not its mother, but who cares for the child as if she were its mother. We have words for these people: step-mother, adoptive mother, aunt, nurse, guardian and so forth, all of which indicate the truth that the child’s birth mother is absent (through decease, flight, or mishap), and all of which mean, in the strictest sense, not-mother.
These are not quibbles if words are to mean something. If a word means just what each of us says it means, then communication becomes impossible, and each of us is transformed into a walking Tower of Babel. The dangers of allowing language to become a mere tool of politics are too well known to reiterate here.
France (at this writing) recognizes marriage as being possible only between a woman and a man. But suppose this were not so, and that the French government labeled the living arrangements between Maude and Delphine a “marriage.” Further suppose that on governmental paperwork Delphine is to be called (suitably translated) “mother.” Delphine would still not be Sacha’s mother. Nobody but Maude ever could be, if the word mother is to have any meaning.
If you think not, calling Delphine mother would be like if the government decided to call a spending increase a spending cut, and by this label hope everybody believes outlays have decreased. Such a crude tactic would only fool the simplest of minds; but even if this ploy conned every living soul, it would not change the reality that government outlays are now larger. Language must refer to reality as it is, not how we wish it to be.
Another strategy is to deny the word mother to anybody, and to call both Maude and Delphine (and, hey, whomever applies for the position) parent. The noun has no gender (in English). This excision works, to some extent, in that it removes the ability to form the thought of mother. If we want to refer to that now illegal and antiquated concept, we would have to invent tortuous phrases like female supplier of genetic components. Yet even with the word surgically removed, Maude would still be Sacha’s mother, even if nobody knew how to say it.
Some claim it is “hateful” to call a thing what it is; for instance, to say that Sacha has only one mother. This claim is nonsense (it is also circular). It may be (in some unfortunate scenario) best to keep the information from Sacha about who her mother is, but this furtiveness would not remove motherhood from Maude.
It may be the case that Delphine, or even some third woman, could love Sacha more than her mother. Doubtless this is so, but love does not make one a mother: nature does. And this argument is in any case on treacherous ground, for the moment you condition motherhood on love (or parental aptness) you are powerless against the argument that the State itself makes the best “mother.”
Still more claim that it makes them “feel good about themselves” to call Delphine a “mother” to Sacha, and who are we to deny them happiness? That people have the right to call a thing what it is not is granted. I may, in a fit of sheer jollity, call a 1987 Buick Skylark a scrambled egg. But that doesn’t mean I could eat the car with a side of bacon. The absurdity reaches its full height if I insist that you must also call the car breakfast, lest you hurt my feelings.
What of cloning? Well, there are no artificial human clones, which is the right answer. But what if I (a man’s man) could take a skin scraping and produce another wonder such as me? Who is its mother? Biologically speaking—and we have been speaking biologically since the beginning—it would have to be my mother, for she is the woman who supplied half of what is me, and my clone is genetically me. The argument that my mother did not actually carry my clone in her womb also carries no weight, for that (for example) would make the father of Sacha not her father because he did not consummate his relation with Maude.
But what if “science” could mix-‘n-match genetic material, or even create from constituent components, say from some advanced chemistry set, a human being? I don’t think they could, but what if they did? There is no human contributer to the genes which comprise this creature. It has no mother, and no father, neither. That is the answer, I think: no mother, no father. But this does not mean that those people naturally created are also motherless and fatherless.
Update The word artificial added where Micha Elyi suggested. Thanks.