Is the father of the child the one who donates his gametes? For a while now, this is no longer an absurd question. But another question: is the mother of a child the one who gave birth to it? What could be more natural and universal? It’s a strange question, isn’t it? For a short time now in the history of humanity, the mother is no longer necessarily the woman who gave birth to the child. Since science developed the new medical techniques of procreation this question has been raised. The discourse of civilisation is paved with the signifiers of science and capitalism. For a fee, it has become possible to rent a womb in order to become a father or a mother. It became necessary to legislate on the broadening of the concept of motherhood. Legislation in many countries has adapted. Legislators have had to “extend the basis of maternity to something other than the womb.” In this respect, in California, legislation on surrogate motherhood or maternity is particularly extensive. It relied on a precedent-setting event in which recourse to a judge was necessary in order to decide who would be the baby’s mother.
In this example, John and Luanna Buzzance, who are unable to have a child, appealed to Pamela Snell, a professional surrogate mother. As each partner is sterile, anonymous gametes – not those of the husband and wife – will be fertilised in vitro and by insemination, introduced into Pamela Snell’s womb, for a fee.
At eight months of pregnancy, the couple decide to divorce. John Buzzance wants to argue that their marriage had not produced any children. Luanna challenged her husband’s claim. The issue will be dealt with by the California Court of Appeals, which will argue “that a man who consents to his wife’s artificial insemination with a donor must be held to be the father of the child.” This provision exists in both Californian and French law. But what is new is that the court has extended this argument to the mother of the child. The most astonishing thing in this case is that it is by asserting the will – we would say the desire – of this woman that filiation will be decided. The court will take into account the desire of child and its judgement will set a precedent, at least in the United States at first but since in other countries, in Belgium and elsewhere.
“To make a child. To have a child. To give a child… What is the child in this sex trade? What does one give when making a child? To give life, we say, what kind of gift is that? To whom do we give to?” asks François Ansermet […] How is it that we do not have a single progenitor but a mother and a father in addition?
This assertion could be put to the test by the questions posed by the new medically assisted procreation procedures available today. Between sexual act, fertilisation, implantation, childbirth, filiation, adoption, descent, generations, everything that was hitherto linked can be dissociated. Does this change the place of the child as a product of the lineage?
To have children without sexual relations, without any link with the father, without any blood ties with the mother (who has become as uncertain as the father); to have two biological mothers (one genetic, providing the egg, the other uterine, ensuring gestation), and possibly a third one who then raises the child; to be able to save and wait several generations before implanting a fertilised egg, a frozen embryo, from the same family line, or from a different family – what systems of exchange are we talking about?
We are talking about child donation, egg donation, sperm donation. What type of donation are we talking about? Or is it, rather, abandonment? What is the place in the kinship system of those men and women who donate substances relating to filiation? Gamete donors contribute to the birth of children. These donations are publicised in the media, without direct contact, outside of sexuality. Everything passes through institutions: sperm banks, gynaecology departments, infertility units. What place do these indirect child donors occupy? What place is occupied by the doctor who operates this mediation, attentively transforming women into mothers and men into fathers?
The sperm or the oocyte find themselves managed far beyond the story of a man and a woman, leading to a strange mixture between the fact of the subject and social and ethical rules that are still poorly established. Blood ties, milk ties, the products of the body enter into a system of exchange that goes beyond the history of the subject as well as the biological constraints.”
The twenty-first century poses the question of the desire for children in a crucial way. In his essay on the artificial uterus, Henri Atlan asserts that “economic liberalism, the freedom to procreate by any technology whatsoever, without limits to the desire for children, leads to the market’s forceful entry into these technologies, which quite naturally become objects of consumption.” He refers to Gena Corea, who denounces the medical abuse of women in reproductive technologies, and who does not hold back in her predictions to promote “artificial wombs and … cloning, as inevitable human reproductive technologies.” According to Henri Atlan, Gena Corea’s thesis promotes “human reproductive cloning (which) could be presented as the elimination of men and their spermatozoon from the processes of procreation.”
But, in the end, what is it to want a child?
Let’s try a few nuances. To want a child is to desire a child.
Is every child necessarily desired? To ask the question is obviously to answer it. Let’s look more closely at the question of desire.
This question has been approached in a very detailed manner via the clinic in an article by Yves Vanderveken that we cannot recommend too highly: “Desired child, wanted child.”
Yves Vanderveken describes the situation of a woman who says she really wanted her child, but she can say no more than that. “This child I really wanted.” The author emphasises that in order to exist as a speaking being, it is necessary for it to be named by the Other and to be spoken about. And as Lacan remarks, only in this way will it be born of a desire that is not anonymous.
Here we are. What becomes of the desire for a child today? Does Lacan teach us about the desire for a child, in the mother and in the father?
As early as 1969, in his “Note on the Child”, Lacan points out that the symptom of the child “is in the place of responding to what is symptomatic in the family structure […] The symptom, in which lies the fundamental fact of analytic experience, is defined as the representative of truth. Thus, the symptom can represent the truth of the family couple.”
No matter how a family is structured, no matter how a child is conceived, no matter how two germs meet, one thing does not change: the child as a parlêtre, child who will be welcomed – or not – by a couple as a parlêtre, “will have symptoms.” In this respect, in 1974 in Nice, Lacan specifies that the child is prefigured as a trace of his parents’ desire. And he adds that the symptom of the child is the inscription, at the level of the real, of the screening, of the projection of the sayings of two spouses.
To make a child alone? But what then becomes the desire of child for a woman?
Jacques-Alain Miller offers the following clarification: for a woman, “the fact that the child is the equivalent of the phallus or that the desire of child substitutes itself to the Wunsch of the penis, only succeeds in failing. It succeeds only if it does not screw the subject (the child) to the phallic identification but, on the contrary, gives it access to phallic meaning in the modality of symbolic castration. This requires that the not-all of feminine desire be preserved.” The not-all of feminine desire, this is the essential. “Respect for the Name of the Father (by a mother) is not enough. It needs that the not-all of feminine desire must be preserved and that the infantile metaphor does not repress in the mother her being as a woman.”
Desire of child, desire of mother – whatever modalities are used to reach it, the important thing so that the child has the chance to inscribe itself under the Name of the Father; the important thing is that its mother remains divided between mother and woman, that she also is a woman and that she desires to remain so with regard to the Other.
In this respect, it is also important that on the side of her partner – man or woman – she raises the question for him: “What am I for her?”
“A man, Miller continues, only becomes a father if he consents to the not-all that structures feminine desire. In other words, the virile function is only fulfilled in fatherhood if the father consents to the other as Other, that is to say, to desire outside oneself.”
He concludes: “It is good that desire be divided.”
Tr.: Janet Haney
Proof reading: Tracy Favre
Picture : ©Nathalie Crame.
 Iacub M., L’empire du ventre. Pour une autre histoire de la maternité, Paris, Fayard, 2004, pp. 271-275.
 Ansermet François, Clinique de l’origine, Lausanne, Édition Payot, 1999, pp. 32, 33.
 Atlan H., L’utérus artificiel, Paris, Seuil, mars 2005, p. 94.
Corea G., The moter machine, New York, Harper and Row, 1985, cité par Atlan H., op. cit, p. 143.
Atlan H., op. cit, p. 147..
 Vanderveken Y., « Enfant désiré, enfant voulu », La lettre mensuelle no 154, décembre 1996, pp. 17-19.
 Lacan Jacques, « Note sur l’enfant », Autres écrits, Seuil, Paris, 2001, pp.373.
Cf. Lacan J., « Le phénomène lacanien », conférence au Centre universitaire méditerranéen de Nice, le 30 novembre1974, Les Cahiers cliniques de Nice, juin 1998, no 1, p. 29.
 Miller J.-A., « L’Enfant et l’objet », La petite girafe, n°18, décembre 2003, pp. 6-11.