The Phenomenology of Gravidity: Reframing Pregnancy and the Maternal through Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Derrida 1783486899, 9781783486892

The Phenomenology of Gravidity explores the particularity of women's engagements with gestation, linking the denial

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The Phenomenology of Gravidity: Reframing Pregnancy and the Maternal through Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Derrida
 1783486899, 9781783486892

Table of contents :
Feminism and the Mat ernal
Representing Gravidity
Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology
The Ontology of Gravidity
Alterity and Maternal Flesh
Gestati onal Hospitalit y
Medical Hospitality
Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto
The Phenomenology of Gravidity
The Politics of Gravidity
Rethinking the Gestational Relation

Citation preview

The Phenomenology of Gravidity

Continental Philosophy in Austral-Asia Series Editors Simone Bignall, Senior Lecturer, Indigenous Strategy and Engagement, Flinders University P. Diego Bubbio, Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, University of Western Sydney Joanne Faulkner, Lecturer in Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies, University of New South Wales Paul Patton, Scientia Professor, University of New South Wales The Continental Philosophy in Austral-Asia series transports a tradition of thought understood as belonging to one place—‘the continent’—to places that were transformed in its image through colonisation: Australia, New Zealand, East Asia and South Asia. The series aims to explore and showcase the diverse ways in which European philosophy has been interpreted and put to use according to the contexts and questions particular to life in even further, stranger and more ‘exotic’ continents.

Titles in the Series Young and Free: [Post]colonial Ontologies of Childhood, Memory and History in Australia by Joanne Faulkner The Phenomenology of Gravidity: Reframing Pregnancy and the Maternal through Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Derrida by Jane Lymer Unsettling Alternative Food: The Politics of Food, Land and Agriculture in Australia by Christopher Mayes (forthcoming)

The Phenomenology of Gravidity Reframing Pregnancy and the Maternal through Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Derrida

Jane Lymer

London • New York

Published by Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd. Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd. is an affiliate of Rowman & Littlefield 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706, USA With additional offices in Boulder, New York, Toronto (Canada), and Plymouth (UK) Selection and editorial matter © Jane Lymer 2016 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: HB 978-1-7834-8687-8 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is Available ISBN 978-1-78348-687-8 (cloth: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-78348-688-5 (pbk: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-78348-689-2 (electronic) ∞ ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America

For my mother


Acknowledgementsix Introduction1 Part I: Feminism and the Maternal


1 Representing Gravidity


2 Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


Part II: The Ontology of Gravidity


3 Gestational Accouplement71 4 Alterity and Maternal Flesh


Part III: Gestational Hospitality


5 Medical Hospitality


6 Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


Part IV: The Phenomenology of Gravidity


7 The Politics of Gravidity: Bonding and Attachment


8 Rethinking the Gestational Relation


References199 Index217 vii


The first people I wish to thank are my children, Chrissi, Ian, Tim and William because without being your mother, I would not have embarked on this project. I also owe an extra special thank you to my partner, Tim Allen, whose love and unwavering support, along with his morning coffee, has made this book possible. Thank you Fiona Utley for your friendship, your thoughts and ideas, and comments on earlier chapter drafts. Many of the ideas in this book have foundations in both our published and unpublished collaborative work. To Denise Russell, thank you. You have mentored me and been an inspiration in my life since supervising my PhD. I enjoy our friendship very much and your feedback on my work has been invaluable. Thank you to Joanne Faulkner for your assistance in thinking through my initial proposal and with early chapter drafts and also to Jack Reynolds and Simone Bignall for their assistance with comments and clarifications.



It was Christmas Day in NSW Australia, 2009, and Brodie Donegan, 32 weeks pregnant, decided to go out for a walk to stretch her legs. She was not far from the home she shared with her son and partner when a woman, under the influence of drugs, drove her minivan onto the footpath and struck Donegan. She was badly injured and remained pinned between trees and partly under the vehicle for the three hours it took emergency services to free her. Her unborn daughter, whom she had named Zoe, was still alive and remained so for up to two hours after her arrival at the hospital. When a regular check detected a fading foetal heartbeat, Donegan was given an emergency caesarean. However, tragically, her daughter was stillborn and could not be resuscitated. The woman driving the van was charged with Grevious Bodily Harm, under a section of The Crimes Act 1900, which had been amended in 2005 to include ‘the destruction (other than in the course of a medical procedure) of the foetus of a pregnant woman, whether or not the woman suffers any other harm’. In accordance with this legislation, the destruction of the foetus was listed as one of the injuries suffered by Donegan. Under Australian Law, ‘Zoe’ had to take a breath for there to have been a charge of manslaughter brought against the driver, what is called the born alive rule. Had she drawn a breath, the Act would then have recognised the offence which happened prior to the birth because the neonate would have been pronounced to have existed independently to the mother. For Donegan (2013), describing ‘Zoe’s death’ as ‘the destruction of a foetus’, understood as a part of her body, and as an injury to her, was insufficient acknowledgement of her loss: She was not my injury. She was my baby. I felt her move; I’d had been to check-ups, ultrasounds, and had pictures of her. I had bought clothes for her, 1

2 Introduction

set up a room for her, and carried her for 8 months. We held her after she was born. We willed her to wake up. Her loss was harder to recover from than my other injuries. It did not heal as my other injuries. Her loss was felt by the entire family – Zoe was a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, granddaughter, great granddaughter. She deserved her own charge.

This book aims to explore and explain the phenomenology surrounding the relation a woman has with a foetus and the ethical implications of that relationship. In Australia and according to the born alive rule, Donegan did not meet Zoe as a person until after she was born and by then she had already died and so legally, she was never a person, never ‘alive’, at least not in a legal sense, she was stillborn. Yet, for Donegan, Zoe had lived, her grief, she says, was equivalent to losing a child, and her position and subsequent campaign for Zoe to be recognised as a person was well understood by the public. The court’s findings in this case sparked a public and media outcry which resulted in the commissioning of a review of the legislation, undertaken in 2010 by the Hon. Michael Campbell QC., who ultimately deemed the current legislation to be appropriate, suggesting that no changes be made to the born alive rule. When personhood is bestowed on an individual, a sociolegal protection is evoked that entails privileges and rights that are fused into the concept of citizenship both politically and legally. Recognising personhood as the quality of being an individual person attributes moral status through an individuated and autonomous interaction with the law (Mills 2012). Human personhood is thus an attribution and there are differences of opinion as to the precise time when human personhood should be said to begin. In the case of Donegan, it is this question, the one that asks ‘is Zoe a person?’ that is centring the debate. Although Campbell’s finding was supported by most of the legal and medical professional boards, it proved to be controversial among some politicians, many religious groups and those in the general public who felt the justice system did not properly reflect the foetus as an entity separate to that of the mother. In an attempt at reparation, NSW Christian Democratic Party MP Reverend Fred Nile tabled The Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2013 (the 2013 Bill), a Private Member’s Bill which he introduced in the NSW Legislative Council arguing for an amendment to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (Crimes Act). The change he sought involved an insertion into the current definition of Grievous Bodily Harm, a new offence: the causing of death or serious harm to ‘a child in utero’. This Bill was introduced and named after Zoe without informing Donegan or seeking permission from her or her family and it was immensely broad, including negligence and covering the entire pregnancy, it would have made any termination for any reason and at any stage of gestation a criminal offence. Donegan, who identifies as pro-choice, concerned about the direction this law was heading, drafted alternative



legislation that exempted all early terminations and late abortions performed for medical reasons. On the 29 August 2013, Liberal MP Chris Spence tabled this as a second Private Member’s Bill: the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2013 (NSW), also naming the Bill after Zoe. Although ultimately defeated, the Bill initially passed the NSW Legislative Assembly (on the 21st November 2013), by sixty-three votes to twenty-six, despite opposition by the New South Wales Bar Association and the Australian Medical Association. The impact of this Bill, if it had passed, would be to have Grievous Bodily Harm to the foetus recognised in law by conferring personhood on the foetus. Instead of personhood (for the purposes of the Crimes Act) coming at the time a neonate takes her first breath, a foetus would be defined as a person from 20 weeks gestation, or, if age cannot be determined, then from 400 grams in weight – a definition derived from that of ‘stillbirth’ in the Births Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995.1 Following the defeat of this second Bill, a third was tabled by Nile in late 2013, also defeated, and currently Spence is working on a fourth. How personhood is understood in each of these proposals varies enormously. Traditionally, the concept of personhood is closely linked to the belief in the notion of the soul, a metaphysical concept that argued for the existence of a non-corporeal or extra-corporeal dimension to human being that bequeathed personhood to the body. In this classical dualist account, personhood is a soul which might or might not be entombed within the corporeal, the ethical task being determining the time of entry. While above we see Rev. Fred Nile adopting the view that the soul enters the body at conception, in general, religious fractions have disagreed on this. Christian theologian Marsilio Ficino for example (citied in Martin and Sielaff 2008), sighted Genesis 2:7, ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’ as an indication that ensoulment occurred with an infant’s first breath. Outside of direct religious discourse, there is still disagreement. While Hippocrates for example, argued that the human soul was created at the time of fertilisation, Aristotle took a more middle road, believing the soul developed gradually due to the time it took for the active male substance to fully animate the passive female substance. The dispute over foetal personhood also surfaced in the preparation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 where several tabled proposals for the provision of explicit protection for the foetus where only narrowly rejected (Martin et al. 2001). While in the United States of America (US), Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) provides that the right to life must be protected ‘in general, from the moment of conception’. Within Continental philosophy and among those theorists who have presented challenges to classical dualism, the notion of the soul has been

4 Introduction

replaced with understandings of the ‘self’ as intersubjectively and culturally created. At the forefront of this movement was Michel Foucault (1970, 1977) who famously mocked the possibility of an existence that could be understood outside discourse; the soul, he wrote in Discipline and Punish, was the prison of the body, his project in The Order of Things to make the concept of ‘the individual’ obsolete. Inspired by a resurgence in phenomenology, current research has also become sceptical of the existence of the soul and more concerned with understanding how individuation develops through interaction (see Gallagher 2001, 2012; Zahavi 2001, 2011; Szanto and Moran 2015). In phenomenological understandings of personhood, subjectivity is a concept that has its roots in the lived body of animate creatures situated in varying contexts (Merleau-Ponty 1964, 1964a, 1968; Jonas 1966; Varela, Thompson and Rosch 1991; Sheets-Johnstone 1999, 2009). Thus, the question of when does the soul enter the body has morphed into either ‘at what point does the foetus or infant develop sufficient awareness to be called a person or say that they have selfhood?’ if we take an intersubjective approach, or, following Foucault, ‘at what point do we proclaim the individual a person?’ Both questions came into legal play when in 1973, Harry Blackmun wrote the court opinion for what has become the seminal abortion case, Roe v. Wade, saying ‘We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate.’ Yet despite this U.S. legal precedence and at the time of writing, thirty-eight States in the United States now legally recognise a human foetus as an ‘unborn child’ who can be the victim of a crime and it is fair to say that there is currently a worldwide trend towards the legal protection of the foetus (Feldman 2013). Some U.S. states are going so far as to enact laws specifically defining human life to begin at fertilisation, with North Dakota, for example, approving a law in 2003 that prohibits the killing of a foetus with a heartbeat (Feldman 2013). The trend towards foetal protection has raised deep concerns among feminists that in giving a foetus the status of person, even if only in specified criminal cases such as Donegan’s, the opportunity exists for this legislation to be applied to the woman herself (see Alongi 2008 for a review). As Lymer and Utley (2013, 249) identify, ‘These cases … [push] courts to … respond to growing community concern for the foetus, regarding its purported rights, the question of “who” is harmed, the recognition of what is lost when a woman loses her foetus [or this part of herself] in traumatic circumstances, and thus the bigger question of whether this entity has rights.’ In this book, I am going to examine the issue of the moral status of the foetus through a different lens because, I will argue, constructing the argument around personhood leads to the wrong sort of questions being asked



and that ethically we would learn much more if, rather than enquiring about the moral status of ‘the foetus’, we instead asked ‘why does Donegan feel this loss “as if” this foetus had been born and known to her?’ and ‘why do we sympathise so readily with this loss?’ Donegan and her family did not meet Zoe until after she had already died. She was not ‘known’ to them in the same way that they are known to each other. Yet if we take Donegan at her word, and I see no reason to avoid doing so, then Zoe was loved before she was born, before she lived, ‘as if’ she was a daughter who had been born alive. This phenomenology, when we come to think about it, is both strange and powerful, and I do agree that there seems to be something wrong with saying that ‘the destruction’ of Zoe was an injury to Donegan. Yet, I would just as readily object to the attribution of personhood to a foetus and the flow on implications this might have for women’s autonomous decision making during gestation and the right to abortion on demand. The key to better understanding the nature of the gestational relation is through Donegan’s grief, and yet we also do not seem to question how odd this phenomena of grieving ‘as if’ Zoe had lived and been a child. If we think that it is a hoped for-future that Donegan grieves, then we cannot legitimately say that she grieves for Zoe the person. Conversely, if we take Donegan at her word that her grief is for Zoe who she experienced as her child then how do we explain this ‘experience’ because how one ‘knows’ a foetus differs significantly from the way that one knows their own child. In what sense did Donegan know this child that, in fact, she did not meet – how do we explain the ‘as if’? It seems to me that this debate around Zoe’s personhood seeks to explain the importance of this woman’s relationship with her foetus by attributing something to the foetus, like personhood, which would then make sense of the emotive response her death evoked; we then logically grieve because what is lost is a person, a daughter, a sister, a grandchild. However, what is important here, and centrally so, is that in attributing personhood to the foetus, as a way to rationalise Donegan’s grief and understand our own, we avoid what I will argue to be an important question – ‘how does a gestational woman, and others around her, come to feel so affectively connected to a foetus?’ Asking this question leads not only to a better understanding of why we respond to Zoe as we do but also to further questions about how we come to be individuated and the ethical implications of our gestational relationship to who we are as persons. That is, in better understanding the nature of the relationship that we have to women in the state of gravidity, and the relationship that gestational women have with their foetus, we learn much about our own origins and our capacity for self-reflection, for recollection. Asking this question has led me to understand Donegan’s grief in a way that situates the ethics of gestation in the nature of the relationship that is created between the woman and the foetus, in the gestational bond, rather than in any attribution that an individual foetus

6 Introduction

(or the woman) might have. This bond, I will argue, grounded as it is in a phenomenology of gravidity, does not begin to emerge until the quickening, the time when a woman begins to experience her foetus as other, and its ethical import is based in the implications that a conscious maternal engagement has on foetal flourishing. Thus, my project is to introduce into Continental philosophy the phenomenology of gravidity as a project of maternal emancipation and philosophical enquiry in response to what I see as the need for a voice that speaks of and for the phenomenology of gravidity. Before moving to further outline the arguments I will present in this book, let me begin by setting the stage through an introduction of the terminology that I will use throughout. What my research has uncovered is that a woman’s embodied gestational phenomenology can be so divergent from the social imaginary that attempts to guide how she experiences and understands herself and what others bring to bear on their understanding of her – that I use the term gravidity to name the state of a woman who has conceived. Once a woman can produce a positive pregnancy test that woman is in the state of gravidity. I do this in order to give more weight, to take seriously, an alternate way of seeing and thinking about gestation as an embodied ontology dissociated, as completely as possible, from the metaphors of maternity and foetal personhood that currently permeate social and philosophical understandings of gestation. I have approached the phenomenology of gestation in this way in order to examine more closely, and in doing so acknowledge the way that a woman brings a foetus to term through her embodied and affective engagement, rather than simply being a maternal environment where her job is one of care and nurture, to provide hospitality for this guest who grows inside her of its own accord. Accordingly, I use the term ‘gestation’ to describe the way that a woman might intentionally engage in her state and with her foetus, either in the enactment of a maternal identity and/or, in the latter stages of gestation, phenomenologically. I say ‘might intentionally engage’ to leave open the possibility for a woman in the state of gravidity to disengage from her condition either through denial or dissociation. As I will show, women can and do gestate, and a gravidity can be gestated or gestational, in the process of being gestated. Throughout this book, I also take care in bringing to bear the term ‘pregnancy’, a metaphor that supervenes importance or weighted meaning to conception. As we shall see, for many women, a gravidity is neither weighted nor meaningful, a condition that has happened by accident that must be sorted out. Within the framework of what I present here, only those women who gestate, who bond, will be ethically bound to a gestational process. I also avoid use of the term ‘maternal’ which assumes without asking that a woman in the state of gravidity is always and already in a maternal state in an affective sense, a trope that puts undue weight on women who wish to terminate their gravidities, and I completely avoid terms such as ‘mother’,



‘baby’ and ‘child’ when referencing the state of gravidity. For the purposes of this analysis, a women is not a mother and a foetus is not a baby until after the birth of a live infant and even then the term ‘mother’ may not apply – as we have already seen, neonates can be stillborn, or adopted. In cases of surrogacy, a woman in the state of gravidity might avoid, as much as possible, a maternal identity. As Sarah LaChance Adams (2014) has argued, maternity is an ambivalent affair contingent on negotiating the interrelated yet separable interests of the self and the other, an interrelation that she describes as morally productive. Finally, I use the term flourishing to describe the health of the foetus and child in the sense of thriving and/or to develop at an optimum level both physically, psychologically and socially. To argue that gravidity should be understood in relation to maternity as a trope is not to say that a woman will not take up a maternal identity during gestation; many women are keen to do just this, but rather I do not wish to assume. Throughout this book, a women is a woman until she intentionally – mentally or in the embodied sense of performatively – takes up a maternal identity and the foetus is a foetus until she is someone’s baby or child, which may or may not be during the gestational period or even after a live birth, again, I will not assume otherwise. I will also employ a new way of writing what has traditionally been noted as the maternal/foetal relation as the woman;foetal relation where the semicolon signifies something more than a woman, rather than the forward slash used to divide and thus define the elements of a dualism (instantly implying an opposition). This term, woman;foetal, I will apply only to gravidities where phenomenologically a woman would have been likely to experience her foetus as other, as something more than herself but less than an Other – where the distinctive capital letter indicates that the other in question is a unique entity who manifests apart from my initiative. Prior to the quickening, a woman is in the state of gravidity. Only after she has phenomenologically experienced the foetus move will I refer to the existence of a woman;foetus relation bearing in mind that for some women this never eventuates.2 To theoretically undertake the task of distinguishing the interrelationship between gravidity as an ontology from maternity as either a metaphor and/ or an identity, I also wish to acknowledge the influence of feminist debates that have informed my thinking but which do not appear in the arguments I present in this book to the degree that they perhaps warrant. Most important have been the classic debates surrounding the relationship between concrete bodies and representation which underpin much of the argument in this book. As Simone de Beauvoir (1949/1974, 301) famously stated in The Second Sex, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’. This tenet, Judith Butler (1986, 72) describes as a ‘formulation [which] distinguishes sex from gender’, such that gender refers to the variable social characteristics,

8 Introduction

masculinity and femininity, whereas sex is related to biological sex which is fixed. Particularly through the work of Judith Butler, and primarily in the Anglo-American tradition, a critique of this sex/gender division has created a focus on representation as the recourse to an understanding of women as biologically maternal. In Gender Trouble (1990, 6), Butler argues that feminism had historically erred in sustaining the assertion that ‘women’ were a group with common characteristics and interests, a mistake that performed ‘an unwitting regulation and reification of gender relations’ which reinforced a binary view of individual identity. Butler notes that in rejecting the idea that biology is destiny, but then developing an account of patriarchal culture which assumed that masculine and feminine genders would inevitably be constructed around ‘male’ and ‘female’ bodies, feminists reinstated the very categories they wished to destabilise. One could say the same for the maternal. Just because the body is pregnant does not necessarily mean she is, or ever will be, a mother, or even maternal in an affective sense. For Butler (1990, 7), the response lay in ‘those historical and anthropological positions that understand gender as a relation among socially constituted subjects in specifiable contexts’. Drawing upon J. L. Austin’s (1962) theory of performativity through speech acts whereby certain declarations do things (such as naming an infant or pronouncing a couple married), Butler (1990, 25) concludes, ‘there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; ... identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results’. As Claire Colebrook (2001, 77) identifies, ‘If men and women are always already cultured and gendered then it makes no sense to ask about any essential or natural basis for difference.’ Biological reductionism can be avoided through an understanding of gender as a central explanatory and organising category that has no necessary connection to biological sex. That identity might be free-floating, a performance that is disconnected from any ‘essence’, opened into feminist theory immense possibilities because it suggests that the confines of any identity can potentially be performatively reinvented. For feminists who have taken up Butlers’ work and applied it to the notion of maternity, the focus of feminist enquiry centres on what we say and how we represent maternity, how the cloak of maternity that I described above creates a maternal body (see for example, Moncrief and McPherson 2007). A maternal identity as performative can be performed by anyone or, alternatively, not be taken up by those who are biologically in the state of gravidity. However, this is easier said than done and although Butler’s notion of gender performativity is insightful, particularly in the way it instructs us to closely examine just how deep cultural inscription lies and in the challenge she makes to notions that there is something that we can call a ‘core self’, there are some pieces missing that are most clearly highlighted by the



phenomenology of gravidity. The first issue can be found in the arbitrary disconnection between the material body and the lived identity of an individual, an issue identified originally by Moira Gatens. In ‘A Critique of the Sex/Gender Distinction’, Gatens (1996, 139) describes Butler’s position of an absolute cultural inscription as the ‘unreasoned, unargued assumption that both the body and the psyche are post-natally passive tabula rasa’, a claim she argues to be not only false but also potentially giving naïve hope that resocialisation or degendering could realistically attain woman’s liberation. As I shall show, we are not born tabula rasa. Rather our embodiment begins in utero where the very foundations of our neurology are not just formed as structures but also as a style of negotiating our ipseity (the first person givenness of experience) as a divergence from the alterity (the experience of something as other to myself) that is the woman who embodies us. Thus, Gatens (1996, 64) is correct to observe that the lived body is not a passive entity, but rather the ‘passive mediator’ of social inscription where sexual difference, in fact difference per se, is neither ontologically fundamental nor ‘arbitrarily connected’. Our identity is not a mental overlay but rather emerges through the way that a particular body will negotiate within the world. For Gatens, the link between sex and gender can be best understood through an analysis of how some bodily experiences and events become privileged sites of significance in most cultures, in ways that create an embodied reality that mediates the way in which we are able to perform gendered characteristics. Gatens (1996, 178) draws upon Lacan’s notion of ‘imaginary anatomy’, where the body ‘varies with the ideas (clear or confused) about bodily functions which are prevalent in a given culture’. In other words, the way that we represent the body (through language and imagery) is linked to actual bodily functions in ways that are not entirely arbitrary but rather ‘socially and historically specific in that it is constructed by a shared language; the shared psychical significance and privileging of various zones of the body (e.g. the mouth, the anus, the genitals); and common institutional practices and discourses (e.g. medical, juridical, and educational) on and through the body’ (Gatens 1996, 180). It is the imaginary body – what is sometimes called the body image – that regulates the sphere of possibilities within which a particular body can perform through a complex network of signification that includes the matter that we are, as well as the body’s historical, psychological and cultural manifestations. As Gatens (1996, 177) insists, although Simone de Beauvoir’s claim that ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ is true, the kind of ‘woman’ one becomes is mediated by the type of body one is born with, or as in the case of gravidity, acquires, and the concrete experiences that are particular to that body. Women live in a world of ‘culturally shared fantasies about biology – that is, they are manifestations of and reactions to the (conscious and unconscious) ideas we share

10 Introduction

about our biology’ and nowhere is this more so than with the gestational body (Gatens 1996, 183). Where Gatens’ focus is on sexual difference, Christine Battersby (1998) argues the imaginary of woman to differ qualitatively with regard to reproductive capacity, which historically, she argues, has been more the anchor for difference than sex. As Battersby (1998, 4) claims, the dominant Western metaphysics has ‘been developed from the point of view of an identity that cannot give birth, so that birthing is treated as a deviation of the “normal” models of identity – not integral to thinking identity itself’. Taking birth as an ontology, Battersby distinguishes an Aristotelian unknowable and immaterial metaphysics from Kant’s descriptive metaphysics, where the analysis is focused on what it is to exist within the parameters of a world that is structured through human understanding (sense, imagination and reason). Rather than a ‘relationality between “self” and “other”’ within space and time parameters, Battersby (1998, 8) argues that it is the ‘ontological dependence of the foetus on the mother’ that links ‘the female’ subject position to ‘a set of relationships in which power-dependencies and inequalities are basic’. Read in terms of maternity, what this suggests is that there is a contingent (but not arbitrary) relation between the pregnant body and discourses of maternity where the maternal is the site of the historical and cultural specificity of the body in gravidity. If we take the imaginary female body to be the maternal body, then we pass over too quickly the fact that at the level of the imaginary body, ‘maternity’ corresponds to ‘the state of gravidity’ as a lived body more forcefully than it does to the sexed body. To say that the pregnant body more forcefully corresponds to maternity than sexual difference in other senses is not to say that the ‘never will be pregnant’ woman will not live maternity. Eva Kittay (2013) is correct in her observation that every woman must negotiate the imaginary that defines fulfilment in terms of motherhood. Yet, in the first chapter of this book, where I examine woman’s metaphorical place in the trope of maternity, I draw on the work of Kelly Oliver (2013) to argue that social and economic dynamics into the twenty-first century have supervened on traditional discourses of maternity to recreate an imaginary anatomy. Today, where society waits – albeit impatiently – to see if, or when, this woman will become pregnant, the body in gravidity is far more likely to experience the force of the social and personal significance of maternity than the non-pregnant woman who may escape, or at least limit, discourses of maternity much more than her historical counterparts. Primarily this is because today we need women to be economically as well as reproductively productive, and there is conflicting social coercion between the two. Patriarchal/capitalist concerns of today and into the future will likely have far less to do with sexual difference than reproductive difference, as motherhood becomes less attractive to working



women; those who do become mothers are carrying the burden of the foetus as the nation’s future, which places her in potential conflict with her foetus, often from conception. A situation made more concrete in places where the foetus has legal protection. This book is divided into four sections that cover the analysis and argument from two perspectives. Sections one and two examine the relationship a woman has with her foetus, while sections three and four seek to place this phenomenology within a medical, legal and ethical context. In the first section of this book, I argue that there is an unacknowledged undercurrent to debates surrounding foetal personhood, abortion and that nature of a woman’s relationship with her foetus whereby what is being fought over is not the moral status of the foetus per se but rather the question that Donna Haraway (1992, 312–3) asks, ‘Who speaks for the fetus?’ – a question which relies ‘on a political semiotics of representation … The authorship rests with the representor, even as he claims independent object status for the represented.’ How the foetus is represented (because it cannot represent itself) reflects more the ground of representation as the realisation of the representative’s view of the foetus than the moral status of the foetus. Hence MP Reverend Fred Nile thinks it appropriate, as a male, to table a parliamentary Bill purporting to speak on behalf of the foetus ‘Zoe’, without Donegan’s consultation or consent because he wishes his representation of the foetus, as a person from conception, to be enshrined in law. Perhaps more interestingly, Donegan also claims to speak on behalf of ‘the’ foetus rather than ‘her’ foetus, downplaying the clear dependency that this foetus had on her for her survival in order to claim that the justice she seeks is for ‘Zoe’. In the first chapter, I trace the historical and contemporary representation of the foetus as an entity in and of itself, arguing that the most entrenched metaphor for the relationship a woman has with her foetus, both philosophically and culturally, is that of hospitality – foetal guest to a maternal host. I examine how imagery of a maternal/foetal hospitality forecloses a phenomenology of gravidity, cloaking a woman’s body in maternity long before her body reveals to her an other within and how some feminist philosophers speak of the maternal from conception without questioning the interrelationship between maternity as an identity as opposed to gestation as an ontology. In this first chapter, I begin the process of thinking through what is at stake in the evocation of metaphors and an imaginary of maternity as hospitality, philosophically, epistemologically, ethically and politically. Drawing upon Marguerite La Caze’s (2002, 45) The Analytical Imaginary, I outline how the trope of hospitality guides philosophical arguments about the nature of the gestational relation by ‘provid[ing] a framework within which the debate is constructed’, a framework that limits the questions that can be asked. I begin to think outside the framework of hospitality and, drawing on empirical research

12 Introduction

for support, I aim to understand gravidity as a relationship between the matter that pregnant women are, and the imaginings and metaphors of maternity that construct how a gestational woman might understand herself, and how others understand her – particularly in the early stages of gestation. I conclude that continuing to conflate maternity with gestation silences the voices of women who find themselves ambiguously or unwantingly in the state of gravidity because it removes the opportunity for ‘choice’ to be culturally encoded as normative. Applying the trope of maternity to gestational embodiment also devalues the consent of women who unambiguously, even enthusiastically, desire maternity, dismissing their embodied and creative engagement as either ‘normal’ or nothing more than patriarchal compliance, a position which perpetuates the devaluation of maternal life as lived experience, a position that suggests the term ‘maternal feminist’ to be an oxymoron. In chapter two, I deepen this initial examination of the phenomenology of gravidity through an analysis of a woman’s embodied relation to her foetus as an experience of alterity in recent feminist work which engages with the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas’s notion of welcome and the maternal have recently been employed to frame an understanding of the ethical nature of the maternal;foetal relation. Drawing primarily on Francis Gray’s (2013) chapter ‘Original Habitation: Pregnant Flesh as Absolute Hospitality’ along with Jennifer Rosato’s (2012) article published in Hypatia, ‘Woman as Vulnerable Self: The Trope of Maternity in Levinas’s Otherwise Than Being’, I argue that to claim gravidity as a Levinasian ethical encounter, as these philosophers do, is to erroneously assume, as a premise, that foetal alterity is experienced by the maternal body, that a woman experiences the foetus as something Other than her own body. I identify within these accounts a tendency to avoid the question of a phenomenological alterity and thus they fail to define at what stage and in what way can we say that a foetus (or an embryo if we want to go further) becomes separable enough from the gestational woman, albeit within her body, to warrant a claim for an experiential alterity – the basis of the ethical encounter in Levinas’s philosophy. I conclude this chapter by situating this analysis along with insights from the previous chapter to slightly modify Lisa Gunthers (2006) justification of an ethical termination in The Gift of the Other, my primary insight being that until the quickening, the time when a woman will experience her foetus as a foetus – but even then, not yet an Other – we cannot bring a Levisonian ethic to bear on a woman’s decision to terminate a gestation. The second section of this book is in part a response to the second issue within Butler’s notion of identity as performative – that it fails to properly accommodate the role of intercorporeality in identity. In chapters three and four, I propose a positive thesis where I use a phenomenology of gravidity in conjunction with Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the flesh in order to identify



the maternal body as a particular and ontological alterity that opens the foetus into subjectivity. Through the inclusion of the embodied experience of gravidity, I am able to show how the landscape upon which basic understandings of ipseity and alterity shift and nuance into clarity once the phenomenology of gravidity is taken seriously. As the argument in this book builds, what we shall see is that what develops during gestation is not a relation of hospitality but rather one of what Merleau-Ponty terms accouplement, whereby the body attempts to incorporate the foetus into its bodily habituations, not as an absolute alterity, but as a familiarity, as an imperialism that is essential to foetal flourishing – a colonisation that we call bonding and/or attachment. While it is no doubt true that the foetus begins the process of individuation in the womb, it is not the case that this emergence becomes sufficiently strange to warrant a relation of hospitality in the ethical sense that Levinas suggests. In chapter four, I situate the claim that the woman;foetal relation is characterised by accouplement within a phenomenology of adoption to conclude that the flesh of which Merleau-Ponty speaks is the flesh of the gestational woman whose body has scaffolded the development of our own. The process of gestation, I claim, leaves an imprint or what I call after Luce Irigaray, a watermark, that the adoptee can more easily discern due, most likely, to the radical reformation that must be undertaken in body schematic development when the gestational bond is unavailable after birth. The need to reattach to a primary caretaker in order to remain scaffolded through to the development of alterity in the adoptee leads to a divergent developmental pathway that, although still normal, can be somewhat rocky, especially within a culture that expects an adoptee to develop ‘normally’ and so codes difference as pathology. In the third section, I shift focus from articulating a woman’s embodied and affective creation of foetal ipseity to the hospitality that a woman receives upon discovering herself in the state of gravidity. Drawing upon the structures of hospitality as understood by both Derrida and Levinas, I show how the reduction of gestational phenomenology to a metaphor of hospitality has had wide-ranging concrete resonance in policies and practices that cannot hear the voice of the pregnant woman. This is especially so in regard to maternal consent to treatments while gestating, birth choices and the rise of the concept of foetal rights, which threaten to degrade a pregnant woman’s autonomy. This work I then carry into the final section, where I once again situate the phenomenology of gravidity within a feminist framework to produce an ethics of gravidity that takes as core the notion of bonding and attachment as that which should have ethical import. Situating an ethical imperative within the nature of the bonded relation, as an affective engagement that sustains foetal flourishing, acknowledges the woman who gestates and births an infant both physically and metaphorically as creator rather than nurturer – whether or not she will, or has already, become this infants’ mother – and takes more

14 Introduction

seriously than current discourse does, that an infant or child cannot be ‘saved’ from her mother, ever, even though at times she may need to be removed. An ethics of gravidity based in bonding theory does not diminish the particular and original ontology of gestational experience and the gestational relation, but rather places procreative emergence at the very centre of our ethical relations as the foundation of our cognitive capacities for experiencing ourselves and others as radically other. In chapter eight, I finalise the claim that the foetus is not a radical alterity that demands equal moral consideration in and of itself, until birth. I begin with an ethics of birth where I essentially cite agreement with the argument proposed by Gail Weiss (2013, 109) in her recent chapter ‘Birthing Responsibility: A Phenomenological Perspective on the Moral Significance of Birth’ that it is not until the time of birth can we say that the ethical face-to-face encounter that Levinas speaks of can be said to have been evoked. In the second section, I modify aspects of Marguerite La Caze’s (2013) thesis in her book Wonder and Generosity: Their Role in Ethics and Politics with the notion of corporeal generosity developed by Rosalyn Diprose (2002) in order to articulate the significance of wonder in how a woman in the state of gravidity is ethically approached. I outline how women in the state of gravidity are often approached with wonder, and how, as Luce Irigaray identified, this wonder is the recognition of alterity. The pregnant woman evokes wonder because she represents the origins of the self; she is the difference we hold within ourselves. Thus she, introspected as the Other in ourselves, embodies the human capacity for self-reflection, for recollection. My conclusion is that it is not until the birth of the infant that we can say the face-to-face encounter in a Levinasian sense has occurred – and this means that the born alive rule is the correct ethical response in Donegan’s case. However, the experiential intercorporeal relation that occurs from the perspective of the woman in the state of gravidity, usually during the final trimester, does warrant ethical consideration as a relation, because of the impact it has on the flourishing of maternal identity and the style of social relations being fostered. This is not to say that the foetus should be given personhood status or a position of moral worth in and of itself, but rather that the intercorporeal relationship between woman and foetus, the bond in which, particularly the gestational woman, but also others, will have invested, warrants ethical consideration because it extends beyond the woman herself, impacting upon future maternal and foetal flourishing. To become a mother means a woman must engage in a project which will literally change who she is and her place within her culture, the welcome she receives – a process and an emerging relation that societies should be ethically bound to recognise and support. Yet societies also have an ethical responsibility to respect the capacity and willingness of a women to engage positively with her foetus(s)



and to give due consideration to individual circumstances before legislating intervention. While we can be made to do, we cannot be made to feel, and it is an affective engagement that supports the flourishing of both woman and foetus in the state of gravidity. Thus, the road to the most positive outcome is through the development of respect and support for the reproductive choices and the desire and capacities of individual women to undertake this task, or not. notes 1. The Bar Association notes the introduction of ‘stillbirth’ in the Births Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 was an addition aimed at allowing for a stillborn foetus to be given a name and registered to assist with grieving. The purpose was not to impact or change criminal law, where abortion still remains an offence in some Australian states. 2. Throughout this book, I will draw upon the phenomenon of denied gravidity where a woman does not realise she has gestated until she births (see Lundquist 2008).

Part I

Feminism and the Maternal

Chapter 1

Representing Gravidity

In this first chapter, I want to begin to think through what is at stake in the evocation of metaphors and the imaginary of maternity – phenomenologically, epistemologically, ethically and politically. In particular, I aim to understand gravidity as a relationship between the matter that pregnant women are, and the imaginings and metaphors of maternity that construct how a gestational woman might understand herself, and how others understand her, particularly in the early stages of gravidity. As I shall show, the phenomenological interplay is complex – complicated even further by how women’s experiences of gravidity have been opportunistically employed metaphorically in ways that either dismiss the lived experiences of actual women or reduce their experience to metaphysical concepts that purport to speak for her. As Sarah LaChance Adams (2014, 92) argues, ‘When philosophers make metaphors about pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering, divorced from any serious dialogue with those who have lived through it, they don’t come to understand women’s bodily experience, they appropriate it, and often very poorly.’ That the imaginary moulds and sculpts how we think about ourselves and how others perceive us is undeniable. As Michèle Le Doeuff (2003, xvi) identifies, ‘There is no intellectual activity that is not grounded in an imaginary,’ and to attempt to pass off the use of metaphors and tropes of gestation as an aspect of the maternal, as merely ‘illustrative’, is to deny their place and their force in the political order. Yet because the imaginary is so intertwined with social perceptions, one cannot simply deconstruct, remove the metaphorical veneer to reveal the ‘truth’, the ontology or the essential nature of gestation, but rather one must convincingly replace one imaginary with another. This is the overarching aim of this book – to create a convincing imaginary of gravidity that can be understood as a state that differs from maternity. I begin this chapter with a discussion of the various philosophical approaches to maternal imagery, 19


Chapter 1

highlighting how these debates are structured through particular allegories of gravidity. In particular, I challenge the conception of the woman;foetal relation as one of hospitality and, in doing so, begin to lay the ground for the argument that imagining gestation as a relationship between a woman who houses and nurtures a foetus as something other than herself cannot be phenomenologically or empirically supported, yet medical and legal institutions ethically rely on the trope of hospitality. I will argue that the condition of gravidity, the state of a woman as having conceived, prior to the quickening – the time when a women might begin to physically interact with her foetus – is an imaginary relationship; a world created through a phenomenological engagement with cultural narratives, epistemologically supported by visual technologies, and narrated through medico-legal discourses which focus predominantly on foetal outcomes. I argue that a maternal emancipation requires us to keep in mind that a woman in the state of gravidity is not yet a mother, and may never embark upon the project of motherhood. In later chapters, I will show how motherhood requires a phenomenological identification that some women will be most enthusiastic to adopt, while others cannot. Providing a hiatus between gravidity and maternity gives women permission to choose to be maternal, a phenomenology, I argue, that needs to be reflected back to women through cultural imagery that supports her decision to become a mother, or not, in whatever form that may take. Contemporary representations which draw upon the woman;foetal relation as one of hospitality assume a woman in the state of gravidity as already a mother, a position which naturalises maternity and codes abortion as an opting out, rather than thinking of gravidity as a state which opens the opportunity for a woman to opt in, to take up a maternal identity, a way of thinking about maternity that acknowledges the ethical weight of opting in. For a woman who wishes to give birth and become a mother, maternal metaphors are immensely appealing – particularly in the way they can bring to life experiences and excite expectations through the creation of an enveloping subculture. The maternal imaginary acts as a platform for inclusion, provocatively offering comfort and a sense of normality for women who feel launched into the unknown or a sudden experience of approval where previously there had been objectification1 and herein lies an appeal that is integral to its manipulative power. For the newly gestational woman who often feels unchanged, unable to yet experience her ‘condition’, maternal imagery guides her self-knowledge. Narratives of what it is like to be pregnant direct and scaffold her interpretation of herself, moulding an exciting imaginary relationship within an imaginary future and an imaginary baby – a world constructed through and by a cultural mythology and ideology that ties gravidity to maternity so tightly that we find it hard to imagine ourselves otherwise.

Representing Gravidity


The Maternal Imaginary In The Analytic Imaginary, Marguerite La Caze (2002, 45) discerns how images and analogies used to guide philosophical arguments ‘provide a framework within which the debate is constructed’, a framework that works ‘forcefully on the level of persuasion’. To exemplify, La Caze (2002, 45) selects the topic of abortion and Judith Jarvis Thomson’s analogy of the ‘famous violinist’, describing how that particular analogy – to which I will turn shortly – has structured what is and isn’t talked about in the ongoing debate about the nature of the relationship a woman has with her foetus while simultaneously ‘obscur[ing] a number of tensions’. La Caze’s analyses of the woman;foetal relationship in Thompson’s argument I take as a good starting point to examine current philosophical engagement with metaphors that posit the woman;foetal relation as one of hospitality. In the next chapter, I will apply this analysis to feminist work that employs host imagery to understand the ethical nature of the woman;foetal relation but for now, my aim is to expand on La Caze’s already insightful analysis in order to show what is foreclosed, what is silenced and what is excluded in the use of this imaginary. Thomson’s famous violinist is an analogy that Thomson drafted with the intent of shifting the focus of debate around abortion away from arguments for foetal personhood to the importance of maternal bodily integrity and autonomy. In order to make this clear, she begins with the following premise: I propose, then, that we grant that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the foetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the foetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed. (Thomson 1971, 47)

Thomson then asks the reader to imagine that you have woken one morning to find that a dying, famous violinist has become parasitic upon you for survival. Should you remove the famous violinist, he will die, but if you don’t remove him, you will die within the month. The analogy supports the conclusion that if you do not commit murder by unplugging the violinist, then you also do not commit murder if you abort a foetus, at least in instances where the pregnant woman’s life is at risk. In cases where a woman’s life is not at stake, Thomson (1971, 73) draws upon the notion of hospitality where the maternal body, as a woman’s house, is that woman’s property, stressing ‘that the mother and the unborn child are not like two tenants in a small house


Chapter 1

which has, by an unfortunate mistake, been rented to both: the mother owns the house.’ La Caze (2002, 5) describes how the famous violinist has become philosophically famous, sparking an ongoing debate about abortion structured around ‘terms of self-defence and killing, individual rights, and overriding principles’.2 The premise that abortion is a form of killing, for example, restricts the debate to one of degrees: Is this murder (a direct killing as in premeditated murder) or is it self-defence? Taking up this challenge, John Finnis (1973) argues for premeditated murder on the basis that a late-stage abortion cannot be a simple euthanasia (implied in the imagery of being unplugged) but rather one that requires a craniotomy (a grisly process whereby a foetus is crushed and dismembered in order that it be removed piece by piece). Eileen McDonagh (1996, 35), in Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent, on the other hand, focuses on self-defence, arguing that ‘if a woman has the right to defend herself against a rapist, she also should be able to use deadly force to expel a foetus’. For McDonagh, an unwanted gestation is analogous to a woman being attacked by another human being, only from the inside, and therefore, she has the moral liberty to repel her attacker by killing the intruder. As La Caze (2002, 52–3) identifies, the image of a woman as owning her body where the foetus resides as guest or parasite, or can be an unwanted intruder, leaves us with a raft of tacit and unexamined assumptions ‘a number of worrying consequences from a feminist point of view’. Giving the body the status of property over which one is sovereign, a common liberal argument that La Caze cites as being most often used within analytical philosophy,3 endorses the view that women are foetal containers. While this imaginary can then support the idea that we be permitted to hire out our bodies as we wish, endorsing contractual agreements involving the body such as surrogacy, this conception also denies any woman;foetal developmental relation beyond that of a clean home and good food.4 Being seen as a container encourages the view of women as objects, as a resource for foetal growth, and foetal development as something that happens inside, yet separate from, a woman’s body. Although La Caze doesn’t explore the history of this imagery, this way of thinking about women as containers has a long history that crosses medico-legal discourses, philosophical texts and folk understandings of the maternal;foetal relation. Irena Aristarkhova (2012, 13) in Hospitality of the Matrix describes how the maternal body has historically and even today been represented as ‘a space from which things and beings originate’ rather than the ‘place’ of creation. Philosophically, she traces this imagery back to Plato’s Timaeus where he describes the mother thus: Wherefore, the mother and receptacle of all created and invisible and in any way sensible things, is not to be termed earth, or air, or fire, or water, or any of

Representing Gravidity


their compounds, or any of the elements from which these are derived, but is an invisible and formless being which receives all things and in some mysterious way partakes of the intelligWible, and is most incomprehensible. (quoted in Aristarkhova, 2012, 13)

Walking through the philosophical and medical/legal historical discourse on maternity, Aristarkhova discerns how this conception of the female body has permitted an appropriation of her body as the vessel which houses a foetus created by a ‘Father of the World’ – Plato’s Craftsman, Christianity’s God, or for the atheist, biological naturalism. As only space, Aristarkhova argues, woman, all women, become potential incubators for God’s (variously imagined) projects, reducing her to the backdrop, the one who provides the resources for that created by Him. Akin to Aristarkhova’s research, Karen Newman (1996) unearths images of foetuses sitting inside spatial uteruses as early as the ninth century and medical models and waxworks of eighteenthcentury foetuses resembling either miniature adults or infants of 2–3 months of age within container like wombs. Woman as space is carried into contemporary medical thought through anatomical imagery that ‘depict much more space in the womb than is actually available’, which Aristarkhova (2012, 28) suggests as, ‘almost … anticipat[ing] the foetus before it actually lodges itself in the womb’. Women as having the space for the foetus also informs the idea that one can ‘rent a womb’, just a womb, a space where commissioning parents might grow their biological child. However, as Aristarkhova identifies (and as shall become clearer as the argument in this book builds), this notion is a rendering, a fantasy, as the womb, even the pregnant womb, never contains empty space, it is not a cavity, nor a receptacle, but rather layers of tissue that are capable of separation that can stretch and alter shape to encase growing matter, be that a foetus or a tumour. The foetus also does not sit inside the womb but rather needs to be deeply imbedded into the woman’s tissues for a gravidity to be sustained, a fusion that, as we shall see, does not leave the foetus biologically separate or separable from the woman. In fact, the depth that the human conceptus (a fertilised egg) must attain is an anatomical anomaly shared only with the great apes and a point of medical curiosity (see Burton and Jauniaux 2005). La Caze (2002) identifies how Thomson’s famous violinist also assumes gestation to involve two individuals (in this case, adult strangers) who can potentially have interests and desires that conflict. In concert with the womb as property, this imagery sets up, and advocates, the notion that the womb is something which can be discussed in terms of debatable ownership, an argument often framed in terms of competing rights to property: ‘Abortion [can thus be conceived] in terms of the woman and foetus as rivals, fighting for their lives’ (La Caze 2002, 54). This imaginary allows Thomson to question


Chapter 1

the idea that foetal rights to life will always and necessarily take precedence over those of the woman. Yet, where the competition is about competing survival, couching the abortion debate in terms of the relative value and degrees of rights over sovereign property reduces the debate ‘to fairly simple for and against positions’ where one must either be for or against abortion as a specific right rather than examining the notion of choice within individual and particular cases as a relation of dependency and intersubjectivity (La Caze 2002, 54). Should the foetus be an aspect of the woman’s body, then it would seem that it is the woman’s autonomy that must be respected. However, should the foetus be a separate individual, then under liberal theory, the rights of the foetus to life are going to always trump the rights of a woman to choose whether or not to become a mother after she finds herself in the state of gravidity, a situation that is not logically remedied by Thomson’s claim for maternal autonomy, especially when adoption is a viable option. A woman who finds herself in the state of gravidity after risk-taking intercourse could also, in Thomson’s analogy, find herself solely responsible for the life of the foetus because, as La Caze identifies, the analogy only works where the foetus can be thought about as an unexpected intruder into one’s home – rather than a jointly owned home. The trope implies a notion of responsibility where ‘if a woman engages in sex without contraception, then she must take responsibility for the foetus’ (La Caze 2002, 58), a way of thinking that silences debates about male responsibility for gestation and assumes that responsible decision making around abortion is only ever about the needs of the mother, that the lives of both sexual parties and their extended socio-economic networks and medico-legal structures will not play very important roles in the morality of her or their decision making. Thinking about those extended socio-economic structures surrounding the abortion debate, Lisa Featherstone (2008, 454) argues that understanding the woman;foetal relationship as one involving two persons in a competitive relationship has emerged out of ‘social, political and economic discourses stressing the need for population growth’ (Featherstone 2008, 454).5 Focusing in particular on the Australian context, Featherstone outlines how just before the turn of the twentieth century, the birth rate of white Australians fell by over 20 per cent, a decline that was perceived by the Australian government as a crisis in the imperative to maintain a white Australia and the British Empire. Featherstone argues that there is an identifiable link between the regulation and moral condemnation of abortion and anxieties about nationhood and the reproduction of whiteness. For example, she cites the Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth-rate (1904a; 1904b) in NSW as describing how doctors were becoming increasingly concerned about the popularity of abortion among specifically white women, only in the context of the declining birth rate. For most of the 1800s, it would seem that early medical and

Representing Gravidity


self-induced abortions appear to have been performed regularly and were generally considered to be a moral and reasonable response to an unwanted pregnancy, particularly for single women (McLaren 1977, 75). In fact, rather than abortion, the focus of moral condemnation fell on single mothers to the degree that one of the recommendations to emerge from the Royal Commission cited above was to address the public perception of illegitimacy as a way to increase birth rates. As one Sydney surgeon argued, ‘An illegitimate is just as good a unit in the community as one who is born in wedlock, and will help pay the National Debt just as well’ (quoted in Featherstone 2008, 454). As we shall see in chapter 4, the eventual solution to both problems was to condemn abortion and to force single women to have children that were then placed for adoption, a policy and practice outlined in the 2002 NSW report into forced adoption practices titled Releasing the past: Adoption practices 1950–1998. Featherstone (2008) also traces the emergence of foetal personhood as tied to the project of nation building. Prior to the introduction of foetal imagery, which she grants as informing a significant shift in thinking about the foetus, nationalist imperatives to populate during the late nineteenth century saw Australia begin to value the health of white infants as a government mandate. Where previously foetal and neonatal well-being had been in the hands of the mother and her family, the introduction and funding of initially paediatrics and subsequently antenatal care as separate medical disciplines – along with government campaigns that encouraged breastfeeding – grew out of concern for foetal outcomes amid nationalist agendas aimed at decreasing infant morbidity. Evidence that this concern was nationalistic and racist can be found in the way that the poor health of Indigenous Australian children was not only ignored, but it was also the subject of legislative policies of child removal and assimilation, a programme designed with the written intention of eliminating dark-skinned individuals from the white community (Featherstone 2008, 452). It will be my argument that discourses of nationalism and the reproduction of whiteness in countries such as Australia, that are still experiencing declining birth rates, continue to underlie contemporary constructions of maternity in ways that amplify the impact of visual technologies, a topic I will turn to shortly. For Thomson, however, the assumption is that the foetus is a person, and although Thomson’s move is not to argue for foetal personhood in absolute terms, but rather to appear to give a worst-case scenario in order to strengthen the claims she wishes to make, the continued use of the analogy covertly supports such a claim. One of my concerns is that in adopting this premise, debate is directed away from the issue that should take centre stage, the nature of the woman;foetal relation, because all other claims grow out from this one, including how to understand and represent the phenomenology of gravidity in ways that give due regard to women’s emancipation. Most ignored in the host


Chapter 1

or container imaginary that Thomson presents is the way that woman;foetal engagement has developmental import, an ontology that needs to be taken seriously rather than ignored by both medicine and philosophy alike. To ignore the creative power of women and the impact of their affective lives on foetal flourishing is to leave the representation of gravidity in the hands of the patriarchal institutions within which actual women must negotiate their embodiments. So, most importantly, missing from Thomson’s analogy is the gestational woman’s contribution to foetal flourishing, an area that La Caze also did not cover in her otherwise comprehensive analysis. As Aristarkhova identified above, women’s bodies have been appropriated as the space in which the foetus will flourish, given the ‘right’ sort of container. However, foetal growth and development does not just happen, and there is now a growing empirical literature that shows maternal emotions to be deeply implicated in foetal flourishing. It has been known for some time that stress and trauma experienced by the woman in the state of gravidity can impact foetal development. Prenatal depression, stress and anxiety, for example, are associated with spontaneous abortion and pre-eclampsia (Kurki et al. 2000; Nakano et al. 2004). Stress experienced by a woman in the state of gravidity has also been related to prematurity and smaller than normal head and abdominal circumferences (see Hedegaard et al. 1993; Mancuso et al. 2004 and Rondo et al. 2003 for the causes of preterm delivery and Henrichs et al. 2010 in regard to negative growth). However, the relationship between how a woman feels about being pregnant and foetal outcomes has been less publicised. Sable et al. (1997), for example, studied the responses to a survey of 2,828 mothers where the wantedness of a pregnancy was assessed according to whether the pregnancy was either mistimed and/or unwanted in otherwise healthy women. How each woman felt about her pregnancy while she was pregnant was also measured. These researchers found that ‘mothers of very low birth weight infants were significantly more likely than those who had a normal-weight baby to report that they had felt unhappy about the pregnancy (odds ratio of 1.53)’ (Sable et al. 1997, 76). While one might think that these outcomes could well be the result of poor personal care due to the unwanted pregnancy, this was not found to be the case. Caroline Lundquist (2008), in her paper ‘Being Torn: Toward a Phenomenology of Unwanted Pregnancy’ describes a similar interrelation. Drawing on the phenomenon of denied pregnancy, where women do not realise they are pregnant until they go into labour, she notes how, very often, neonates born out of a denied pregnancy suffer from low birth weight. As LaChance Adams (2014, 60) observes, this is especially interesting because the human species is one where ordinarily the mother will suffer nutrient deprivation in favour of the foetus she carries, yet in denied gestations, the foetus can and often ‘will be deprived of vital nutrients, even when

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there are enough for both’. A further study of denied pregnancy by Brezinka et al. (1994) has also found that from a sample of twenty-seven women who did not know they were gestational until labour contractions began, four foetal deaths and three cases of prematurity occurred. None of the women committed infanticide and all were otherwise physically healthy. From this phenomenology, it seems difficult to sustain the view that a gestational woman is a passive receptacle that houses a growing foetus, which, like a parasite, will simply extract its needs. It would seem that a conscious engagement is likely more important to foetal flourishing than previously acknowledged. Taking this possibility seriously, giving it a central place in understanding the women;foetal relation and examining the ethical consequences of acknowledging the existence of a conscious and affective woman;foetal relation are the central aims of this book. Should a woman need to consciously and affectively engage with her foetus in order to preserve foetal health and well-being, then we need to think carefully about the possible impact of encouraging women to become mothers who do not, or cannot, willingly engage in this relationship. What also needs to be given closer attention is the impact of foetal flourishing when medical care becomes foetal focused, rather than supportive to the woman;foetal interrelation. Finally, in this section, I want to add to this analysis an examination of how maternal host or container/receptacle imagery invites the notion of foetal agency even when this is explicitly denied or couched in terms such as interests and/or intersubjectivity rather than rights. This analysis will then be drawn upon in the next chapter where I critique recent claims that a Levinasian host imaginary can be employed without the ethical consequences of liberal individualism by Frances Gray (2013), Jennifer Rosato (2012) and Lisa Guenther (2006). Within an imaginary that positions the woman as host or receptacle, the guest or the parasite comes from outside, tapping into a woman as a source of sustenance not its own, an imagery that encourages conception and the conceptus to be viewed as separate entities to the woman they enter. While this way of thinking about conception is common, it cannot be empirically supported but is rather a consequence of the narrative of conception – the way the story is told. As Emily Martin (1991) argues, the story of fertilisation is one where the male sperm is portrayed as intentional, active and foreign, a framework that sets the logic for a parasitic maternal foetal relation because the embryo becomes the product of sperm, introduced into the body by either man or science in a way that preserves sperm integrity. Examining the gendered assumptions implicit within the language of medicine and science when describing the behaviour of human gametes, Martin (1991) identifies how eggs are described as large and passive objects that are transported, swept


Chapter 1

or drifted along the fallopian tube. Sperm, on the other hand, are said to be streamlined, strong and active with a velocity that is often remarked upon; they are living creatures with a sole life intention to penetrate the egg so that their genes will be the one to activate the developmental programme – a narrative that still holds sway despite the discovery in 1985 that sperm are incapable of thrust and that sperm/egg fusion is more about proteins and chemical receptors than semen athleticism (Baltz and Cone 1985; Ainsworth 2008). As Aristarkhova has noted, the womb is an organ, not a container, anatomically there is no ‘space’ in the uterus for either sperm or the conceptus to move of its own accord. Rather, the conceptus is absorbed into a woman’s body by the woman’s body, usually her uterus but also possibly her fallopian tubes and potentially other bodily organs and linings such as the abdomen wall.6 The fallopian tubes, lined with layers of folded mucous membrane, which are in turn lined with cells that secrete fluids and have fine hairlike structures called cilia, move the sperm and the egg into place through the swaying motion of cilia along with rhythmic peristaltic contractions of the fallopian tube’s wall. In other words, women do the moving, yet take, for example, the following excerpt from a 2008 paper published in Nature that describes conception as a male-dominated sexual encounter (possibly even a rape): ‘Broadly speaking, fertilization happens in two main phases: in the first, a sperm recognizes an egg, sticks to its jelly-like coating and strips to reveal parts of its cell membrane’ (Ainsworth 2008 emphasis mine). Martin’s concern that ‘stereotypical imagery might also encourage people to imagine that what results from the interaction of egg and sperm – a fertilized egg – is the result of deliberate “human” action at the cellular level’ not only becomes a reality in these narratives but also transforms the embryo and then the foetus into an intentional being while the gestational woman remains the passive recipient. The following extract from a gynaecological medical text is another good example: The foetus, in collaboration with the placenta, (a) ensures the endocrine success of the pregnancy, (b) induces changes in maternal physiology which make her a suitable host, (c) is responsible for solving the immunological problems raised by its intimate contact with its mother, and (d) determines the duration of pregnancy. (Findlay 1984, 96)

There is much being said here about foetal agency even though the claim falls short of using the notion of personhood. Note that the foetus is in active partnership with its placenta (not his or her mother) to effect changes within the maternal ‘host’. The representation of the mother as raising immunological problems, which the foetus must solve, turns her into a hostile host. Not only is this foetus attributed agency but also a will and an ability to take

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responsibility for his interests. In sum, this foetus is an autonomous agent.7 The maternal host, on the other hand, remains passive and resistant. Take this image just one step further and it is not difficult to see how motherhood begins to be defined by the needs of the foetus to which a good mother will comply. Thus, although evading the discourse of foetal personhood directly, the representation of maternity proposed by host narratives such as these, along with Thomson’s, is one of hostility, of conflicting interests and of the moral responsibility and possibly future legal obligations of the mother to comply with foetal needs. Another argument for thinking of the conceptus as separate and separable from the women who will absorb it is the genetic distinction between herself and this originally formulated group of cells. However, biologically, genetic difference does not prevent foetal absorption, and the most striking evidence of this is the way that one foetus is able to absorb another. A phenomenon known as ‘vanishing twin syndrome’, or twin embolisation syndrome, is where a foetus, in what was initially a multiple gestation, will be either partially or completely absorbed into the remaining twin (Landy and Keith 1998). In such cases, we do not describe the absorption as an implantation of one foetus into another, and the absorbed foetus is certainly not spoken about as though it embedded itself into the absorbing twin.8 Yet, the process is analogous to implantation which we describe in terms that attribute agency to the conceptus.9 In some instances, foetal absorption may result in the sharing of bodily substances and, as we shall shortly see, this is also the case in a healthy gestation. In 1953, for instance, a human chimera was reported in the British Medical Journal when a woman was found to have blood containing two different blood types, the result of her twin brother’s cells living in her body (Dunsford et al. 1953). More recently, a study found that such blood group chimerism is not all that rare (van Dijk et al. 1996). Teratomas, usually benign tumors believed to be present from birth, can contain hair, teeth, bone and more complex organs such as eyes, torso, hands, feet or other limbs and are also thought to be foetus in fetu – cases of entire foetal absorption by a twin (Chua et al. 2005). There are also instances of women having early ultrasounds which detect an embryo and at times a faint heartbeat, yet subsequent ultrasound examinations reveal an empty amniotic sac even though the woman has not experienced any bleeding. What is relevant in these examples is how we narrate the story of conception could be logically told in ways that enhance, rather than foreclose, a women’s subjectivity and agency in the process: For example, a woman could be seen to accept certain sperm and reject others, moving forward only those found to be favourable to meet the already positioned and waiting egg which will accept only one sperm before being returned to the woman’s body, from whence she came. Taken in, the fertilised egg will be created in this woman’s image


Chapter 1

over the ensuing months. Such a narration is just as logical and reasonable as contemporary patriarchal representations. Gravidity and the Social Imaginary Along with framing philosophical and public debate, maternal imagery also informs the social imaginary which more recently has seen a shift in how women in the state of gravidity must negotiate their embodiment. In the foreword to the recently published collection of essays Coming to Life, Eva Kittay (2013, xi) observes how every woman is faced with maternity as an aspect of her subjectivity through the idea, introduced in her imagination, that her pleasure lies in ‘producing’ children: a process that Luce Irigaray (1985, 30) states, ‘amounts to bending them to the values of production, even before they have had an occasion to examine their pleasure’. For Irigaray (1985), metaphors of maternity act to silence a woman by reducing her to a productive body, subsuming her subjectivity beneath the exigencies of birth. As Irigaray identifies and as I have already outlined, capitalism intertwines with a patriarchal imagery of maternity that constructs the production of white babies as a national imperative. In this section, I will show how and why this national imperative is failing and how this failure has resulted in shifts in the public perception of a woman in the state of gravidity. In light of falling birth rates, Australia, along with other developed nations, has been, for some time now, echoing the post–World War II mandate by then Prime Minister John Curtin to ‘populate or perish’ in order to support an ageing population. Yet, simultaneously in countries such as Australia there is also the need for women to undertake the production of income (a situation that was, until the late 1900s, seen as conflicting with maternal duties), a side effect being that women in advanced stages of gestation are increasingly, and more normatively, visible in the public sphere. In conjunction with the trend towards attributing personal and legal value to each individual foetus, the foetus has become the site of a cultural fascination that increasingly justifies cultural surveillance and public management of women in the state of gravidity. The cumulative result is a public gestation where the foetus is increasingly seen as public and medical property. . Today, it is not uncommon to hear women speak of strangers who feel entitled to touch their stomach without permission or approach a gestational woman in public with advice on what she should or should not be doing (see chapter 8 for more discussion of this phenomenon). Those who dare to smoke or drink alcohol have found themselves the target of public vitriol. The now prolific image of the unborn foetus has also opened the private world of the female body to public view such that many of those who

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approach a gestational woman in public no longer speak to the woman but to the foetus. As Dwyer (2006, 1–2) observes, ‘I was especially shocked by the shift from having a body that people gave scant visual attention, to having conversations with people who barely looked at my face. My “bump” became a constant source of visual and verbal attention.’ One of the consequences of the continued decline in birth rates throughout the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)10 has been an increased demand on welfare and healthcare accompanied by a reduction in taxation revenues as a smaller proportion of the working population support a larger proportion of longer living retirees with the health costs associated with extending life expectancy (Martins et al. 2005). As Neilson (2003, 163) states, These changes in age profile threaten the economic viability of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation-states, tearing at the fabric of their once liberal notions of citizenship, constitutionalism, and social contracturalism. ... Population aging places a glacier-like pressure on the nation-state, slowly but surely eroding its centralized apparatuses for managing the production and reproduction of life.

While a focus on nation building through population expansion in these OECD countries remains hopeful,11 current policies and practices aimed at birth rate increases seem not be as successful as hoped in incentivising couples to create families. As Neilson and Rossiter (2005) identify, while the reasons for this are complex, the general trajectory is nonetheless clear. The post–World War II form of state-centred national health systems, social security and strong employment and economic growth has given way to what Cerny (1997) has called the Competition State with a focus on privatisation, deregulation of markets and the attraction of finance capital, conditions which have seen a devaluation of the workforce to enable countries to achieve global competitiveness. The 1950s family model of male breadwinner and full-time mother has likewise given way to the two-wage family in the face of deregulated wages and the increased cost of everyday life (Martin 2002). As Catherine Waldby and Melinda Cooper (2008) note, ‘These changes dramatically increase the economic and emotional costs of reproduction, and lead women, especially middle-class women, to delay childbearing or avoid it altogether.’ Speaking of the situation in the United Kingdom and in 2006, Susan Hogan describes how during the 1970s and into the 1980s, a mother who did not work was thought of as lower class, uneducated and the antithesis to feminist ideals. Currently, however, where women may work out of economic necessity, choosing to stay at home has, for some, become a prized and desirable position usually reserved for the rich. Thus, government narratives expounding the


Chapter 1

national duty for women to reproduce will be unlikely to find much purchase in a ‘feminist-influenced civil society’ and where a middle-class lifestyle necessitates a two-income family (Waldby and Cooper 2008, 57). It is evident, then, that one of the unintended consequences of neoliberalism has been the state’s loss of traction in coercing reproduction. In concert with this loss of control over reproduction has been a loosening up of the moral discourse surrounding the presence of the pregnant body in the public domain. During the nineteenth century, domestic ideology or the cult of domesticity as it is sometimes called, viewed women as ‘naturally’ more religious and moral, giving them a special place within society even as it demeaned them by tying that superiority to their incapacity to participate within the public world. Particularly confronting in the public sphere was the gestational body, which, as Mary Douglas (1966) describes, challenged everything that the public arena holds as sacred. The obviously pregnant woman manifests the capacity for one to become two, disrupting the notion of the autonomous individuated being as an ideal, confounding the stability of the one body, one subject rule, and disrupting subject and object boundaries. Her immanent labour, which could happen at any time, threatens the civility of containment and her fluidity, the moral of dryness. She is, according to Julia Kristeva (1982), ‘abject’ in her ability to disturb the patriarchal social order through her ambiguous ontology, a deviance historically rendered invisible through confinement to the private sphere and/or tent-like clothing, moral discourses of modesty and maternal asexuality. In contemporary society, where there is a growing need for women to be economically productive as well as maternally productive and where working women seem to need to be enticed into maternity, the image of motherhood has been given a facelift and a sexy marketing campaign. As Kelly Oliver (2013, 243) reflects, ‘It is curious that during the era when women were defined primarily in terms of their capacity to give birth, public images of the pregnant body were taboo, while now that women continue to break barriers in business and politics, images of pregnant women are regular staples of television, movies, and magazine covers at supermarket checkout stands.’ In Australia, this phenomenon evolved predominantly throughout the 1990s as women remained in the public sphere until late into their gestations, possibly due to increasing financial need. The visual presence of the heavily gestational woman became increasingly common and increasing sexualised. The image of a naked and 7-months-gestational Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine is just one, albeit striking, example of how the conservative gestational body was replaced with what Oliver (2013, 251) describes as ‘the objectification of the pregnant body as sex object’ with all the issues inherent to being seen as an object for another’s gratification. In Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down (2013), the title derived from a website called ‘knocked-up

Representing Gravidity


knock-outs’, Oliver undertakes a comprehensive media analysis of the contemporary construction of gestation, describing bikini contests for pregnant women, along with the emergence of terms such as ‘hot mammas’, ‘MILFs (mother I’d love to fuck)’, ‘yummy mummies’ and ‘momshells’. Pregnancy pornography appears to no longer be talked about as though it’s strange and with ‘the paparazzi … constantly on the lookout for celebrities’ tell-tale “baby bumps”’ (Oliver 2013, 241) we might even say that pregnancy has become somewhat of a cultural fetish. Yet, as Oliver (2013, 262) concludes, although pregnancy has come out of the home and into the public sphere, ‘what seem to be new representations of pregnancy and childbirth also work to conserve traditional conceptions of gender roles and ideals of family. They [still] suggest that a woman finds true fulfilment and finally satisfies her deepest desire (whether she is aware of it or not) by having a baby.’ The discourse of choice and abortion, Oliver notes, is particularly appropriated. Examining the way that film narratives deal with abortion she notes that, almost overwhelmingly, women thinking about having an abortion change their mind and end up being relieved at their decision not to abort, or if they go ahead, the abortion either goes badly or is regretted. Demi Moore for example, in If These Walls Could Talk – 8 years after her appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair – ends up desperate and haemorrhaging after procuring an illegal abortion. This type of traumatic imagery is not atypical – although choice is acknowledged, it is rarely represented as having a happy ending. Oliver (2013, 262) concludes that beneath the surface of what appears to be progressive representations of gravidity lies ‘a deep-seated ambivalence toward pregnancy that makes most of these films [that deal with gestation and childbirth] both interesting and frustrating for feminist viewers’. Coupled with narratives that promote family and domestic bliss is the already identified shift in the way that value is attributed to the declining number of foetuses. In most OECD countries and as discussed in the introduction to this book, there have been debates around the need for legal protection of the foetus, especially in situations where deliberate actions, or actions incidental to criminal activity, cause the death of the foetus in utero. The growing dependence on foetal imaging both diagnostically and in the public imagination has created what Catherine Mills (2008, 61) describes as a ‘visual bioethics’ that must take more seriously than it currently does, ‘the affective impact of images on ethical intuitions’. Photographic foetal imagery began when Lennart Nilsson’s 1966 iconic image of the foetus floating in space graced the front page of Time magazine. Since that time, the foetus has become a part of our world, with public appearances on newsagency stands, in doctors’ surgery waiting rooms and now in apps for gestational women. The image typically is that of a 12-week-old foetus


Chapter 1

alone in space, the pregnant woman and even the pregnant woman’s body is absent, represented as dissociated, even superfluous. As Mills (2005, 427) argues, the power of imagery such as this lies ‘in the emotive effect that seeing the foetus induces’ (Mills 2005, 427). Citing Julia Black’s documentary My Foetus, a controversial film on abortion, Mills admits that ‘if anything is to lead her to take an anti-abortion position, it is this capacity to see the foetus, particularly as it is performing activities normally associated with babies, such as thumb sucking’ (Mills 2005, 427). For the purposes of this section, the issue most relevant is the way this image represents the foetus as ‘in’ rather than a part of, as separable from and independent of, the gestational woman. In concert with the introduction of the foetus to the world is an increase in the focus on biomedical research and what Waldby and Cooper (2008) term the marketisation of biological vitality. The deregulation and privatisation of reproductive technologies has seen medically assisted reproduction become a huge global business particularly aimed at middle-class couples to facilitate conception late in a woman’s reproductive life, once they have achieved economic security, or to ‘outsource’ the gestational process. In Australia, the number of both pregnancies and live births involving reproductive technologies trebled between 1994 and 2003 (Waters, Dean and Sullivan 2006). Waldby and Cooper (2008, 58) also identify how ‘increasingly, access to ART [artificial reproductive therapies] and donor gametes is through reproductive tourism, the purchase of fertility from poor women in the developing world’, promoted through the ideology of woman as foetal container which informs the notion, what I will argue in chapter seven to be the fallacy, that one can ‘rent a womb’ – just a womb. The Hand of Hope To date we have seen how a woman in the state of gravidity has historically and even today been erroneously deemed the container into which God or nature place their creation, the foetus. When situated within a culture where declining birth rates coexist with economic imperatives to compete on a global scale, we have seen how the value of each individual foetus potentially comes into conflict with a gestational woman’s value and consequently, her autonomy. In this last section, I intend to focus on a visual example, a photograph entitled The Hand of Hope (see figure 1.1) – an image that initially went viral on the internet in 2000 but has since seen a cyclic resurgence – depicts a 21-week-old foetus, named Samuel in the accompanying narrative, who, while undergoing surgery to treat spina bifida, supposedly reached through the uterine incision and ‘grasped’ the surgeon, Dr Bruner’s finger, as

Representing Gravidity


Figure 1.1  The Hand of Hope. This photograph was taken by Michael Clancy on August 19, 1999, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN. Source: http:// Reproduced with permission from the photographer.

if in thanks for his life.12 The image, taken in 1999, was initially published in a number of newspapers in the United States and around the world, including  USA Today and Life magazine. The event has been referred to in two medical TV series: House and Scrubs and in the political drama TV series The Good Wife. Subsequently, the photographer Michael Clancy wrote a book, Hand of Hope: The Story Behind the Picture, published in 2011. Then, in 2013, a similar image of the hand of a newborn grasping the finger of the doctor during a caesarean section birth became viral through social media, again with an accompanying story of how the operation saved the life of the ‘child’. This image visually encapsulates the current metaphorical position of the gestational woman within the contemporary understandings of gravidity outlined in this chapter, each of which I will discuss in turn: the increasing value placed on an individual foetus, the place of woman as foetal container and finally, the cost to a woman’s subjectivity and autonomy, to her value, that these sorts of images endorse. The narrative that accompanies The Hand of Hope tells us that ‘Samuel’ has been diagnosed with spina bifida, a diagnosis which historically would have likely resulted in the woman/couple being offered a termination. In this instance, however, the option of ‘saving’ the foetus has been placed on the table, and although we would expect that


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risks to have been explained, in simply allowing such an option, the foetus becomes more concretely defined as a bona fide patient for whom there is a separate set of risks and benefits distinguishable from those of the mother, which medical professionals will, from here on in, feel morally compelled to at least offer (Fleischman et al. 1998). Experimental surgeries for non-lethal foetal malformations such as spina bifida extends the options available to parents of foetuses diagnosed with a range of disabilities, despite the risks this type of surgery holds for the woman. The image of this foetus also extends the notion of foetal personhood beyond the original 1966 Nilsson image on the cover of Life magazine while sustaining the context of masculine power and success and nationalistic agendas. On the cover of Life, the foetus found company with the spaceship Gemini, a helicopter-gunship over Vietnam and Frank Sinatra, nationalistic and institutional imagery of war, conflict and discovery, amid which the foetus floating in space presents a ‘haunting symbol of loneliness’ (Duden 1993, 7). The absence of the pregnant woman’s body (represented as empty space) ‘extends an invitation to man to rescue, to medicine to “discover”, to explore and perhaps even to conquer’ her space (Lymer and Utley 2013, 263). The Hand of Hope evokes a similar deconstruction. The foetus here is situated in the surgery, a place of technology, discovery and rescue, a patriarchal institution. The war being fought is not with the North Vietnamese but rather with ‘mother’ nature herself, who holds Samuel cruelly captive; the prison in this image is the womb, Samuel, a hostage with no hope of release from his painful existence without medical rescue, which we discern that he seeks, because he is reaching his hand through the incision in the womb as a plea for contact, a plea for release. The pregnant woman who will bear the risks of this procedure does not appear in this image, and (unlike her foetus) her name is not a part of the narrative. Rather, ‘her pregnant body [is] reduced to primarily a severed uterus, and then some flesh that seems indistinguishable from the operating table’ (Lymer and Utley 2013, 263). It is Samuel and Dr Bruner who are the participants in this drama, it is they who share a fraternal relation; the mother whose name we do not know and whose body is represented as muscle and viscera does not affectively appeal to us in the same way as ‘Samuel’ and so, in not seeing her, both actually and metaphorically, we are not ethically drawn to have concern for her. It is Samuel who commands us to respond and it is to him, like the title implies, that we give our hopes and goodwill. The manner in which this kind of imagery presents the privacy of a pregnant woman’s internal body as a universal and generalisable public space, as an operating table, invites us to imagine women’s bodies as universal, as nature, a silent, compliant resource – the substratum upon which life takes place. The absence of her subjectivity from the imagery and thus from the position of

Representing Gravidity


a singularity, whose particular embodied experience warrants consideration, denies her both a voice and a place in this unfolding narrative. As we shall see in the next chapter, she is reduced to maternity as the space upon which, or within which, the event of gestation takes place, a maternal substratum, the foundation for another life. The result is a representation of gestational embodiment that universalises pregnant experience, generalising particular women’s gravidities and opening these to public discourse and scrutiny, ultimately vulnerable to the coercive and regulating moral judgement of a public that witnesses her gravidity (Lymer and Utley 2013, 265–266). As Aristarkhova (2012, 4) observes, the absent maternal body, historically obscured through semantic, philosophical and biomedical discourses, eschews the role that ‘empirical’ women are expected to play in their gravidities. Imagined as a space that is ‘already there’ and ‘naturally given’, maternal acts are rendered invisible through the replacement of the maternal environment with indifferent environments like surgical tables or foetal incubators which imagine the womb as an enclosed space that can be opened to ‘save’ foetuses either through surgery or court-ordered caesarean sections, rather than a ‘porous, intimate connection between viviparous mother and foetus’ (Aristarkhova 2012, 96). I will come back to Aristarkhova’s insightful understanding of the cultural conflation of space and mother in later chapters when I accompany her in the task of making visible the work of maternal hospitality. Finally, what I want to note from The Hand of Hope is that also silenced here is the woman’s embodied risk, her heroic consent, her ‘gift’ to this foetus and the scars that she will bear both physically and psychically – scars that in this new wave of sexy motherhood will render her maternal body as less than perfect, thus negating not only her voice but her cultural value. As Rosalyn Diprose (2002, 8) identifies, ‘It is in the systematic, asymmetrical forgetting of the gift, where only the generosity of the privileged is memorialized, that social inequalities and injustice are based.’ In societies and institutions that privilege individual sovereignty, property ownership and the social contract, those who deem their talents to be the result of their sovereign achievements often claim those achievements or that property through the denial of the gifts of others. Land ownership requires the removal of indigenous peoples, man’s economic success requires the private unpaid work of women and man’s autonomy requires an unacknowledged and often reviled dependency upon the alterity of their mother (see chapters five and six for a more detailed discussion of maternal alterity). In The Hand of Hope, the gift of life is claimed by Dr Bruner who credits his rescue to his surgical skill, ignoring Samuel’s mother, the woman who is not only gestating Samuel but who has also risked her health and well-being so that Dr Bruner might claim this ‘gift’. The Hand of Hope also illustrates how ‘the asymmetrical evaluation


Chapter 1

of different bodies . . . [leads to a situation whereby] some bodies accrue value, identity, and recognition through accumulating the gifts of others and at their expense’ (Diprose 2002, 9). In patriarchal economies, where property and value accrue towards men ‘women’s generosity in the constitution of intersubjective relations is likely to be disregarded at their expense’ (Diprose 2002, 10). And so it is here, where Samuel is imagined as the product of Dr Bruner’s labour rather than his mother’s risk. Yet, at 21 weeks this foetus, who has been named, is not yet conscious, his brain may only be starting to respond to his world intermittently. This foetus is not yet a subject and given his condition at this time, may not have lived – he is not viable, his life far more reliant on the woman, who may become his mother, than on Dr Bruner. Locked into her system as he is, ‘Samuel’ was anaesthetised at the time this image was taken, and so ‘the seemingly grasping hand is a form of rhetorical play, an act of persuasion to an ultimately sentimental sociality …. What our emotive responses overlook, is the propaganda’ (Lymer and Utley 2013, 265). Like most propaganda, this image has had political import, cited as it was during congressional debates on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which passed in the United States in 2000. Clancy’s 2011 book Hand of Hope: The Story Behind the Picture featured in the pro-life movie, The Gift of Life, hosted by U.S. Governor Mike Huckabee, the World Premier, held in Des Moines, Iowa, on 15 December 2011, was attended by four Republican Presidential Contenders (Clancy 2013). The story has also been mobilised to raise money for research into foetal medicine after a 3-year-old Samuel answered questions posed by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., chair of a U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee’s examination of recent advances in surgery conducted inside the womb, where his evidence comprised the statement, ‘They fixed my boo-boo’ (quoted by WND, 2003). To bring into existence a category called ‘foetal medicine’ rather than something like foetalology (akin to neurology or nephrology, as the study of a part of the body), in and of itself identifies foetuses as individual patients separable from the women whose bodies they occupy. As Catherine Mills (2012) has argued, claiming the foetus as an individual patient, as a person, is not an appropriate term to describe a foetus. Personhood, she claims, is performative in the sense that to say someone or something is a person is a declarative statement in the sense that J. L. Austin (1962) describes as attributing that which is proclaimed. Applied to a foetus, ‘Personhood’ is not a matter of the accurate attribution of the concept ‘person’ on the basis of objective properties of the foetus, with the change in moral status depending on these changing properties. Rather attribution of personhood

Representing Gravidity


immediately and in itself changes the moral status, and this attribution may occur independently of the actual properties of the foetus. (Mills 2012)

Like most declarative statements, the gravity of the declaration will depend on the authority of the person making the statement. As Mills points out, the felicity of the performance depends on the statement being made by someone with appropriate institutional legitimacy. In the case of the foetus, this legitimacy is enacted by tabled parliamentary Bills, informed by visual technologies and narratives of foetal stories like The Hand of Hope, along with legislation and court decisions that support a claim for foetal personhood. Claims of foetal personhood and the associated argument for foetal rights, based on the declaration that a foetus is a person, undermine a woman’s bodily autonomy. Where a woman makes choices that are to the detriment of, or place at risk, the flourishing of the foetus, the attribution of foetal personhood automatically creates an adversarial relationship between the woman and this foetal ‘person’. The result, Oliver (2013, 243) notes, is that, ‘while for centuries women have been held responsible for the detrimental effects of their imaginings on their developing foetuses, recently, they have been held criminally responsible for physical “abuse” to “unborn children”, and there are various pressures on pregnant women, including increasing concern for natural or home birth’. Throughout this book, I will aim to distance the state of gravidity as an ontology from notions of maternity as a project in order to open a temporal space within which a woman has the opportunity to be maternal as an identity rather than rendered invisible if we wish to promote the flourishing of both foetuses and women. It is my hope that as an active and creative centre of development whose affective state cannot be ignored – because it impacts foetal flourishing – her gift and how she is experiencing her gravidity will become most respected. This is not to suggest that matter and metaphor can be separated but rather that the matter that a pregnant woman embodies should not always and already be tied to maternity as a lived and embodied identity that renders her contribution invisible. In this chapter, I have shown how metaphors and imagery that conceive of a woman in the state of gravidity as a foetal host structures understandings of the woman foetal relationship that entice us to think of women as receptacles, containers in which the foetal person is supported to grow and develop. As the host to a foetal guest, her job is not one of creation but rather a duty to provide. In the next chapter, I fold this analysis into feminist engagements with the theory of what Jacques Derrida calls hospitality, as espoused by Emmanuel Levinas. In particular, I focus on Frances Gray’s (2013) paper


Chapter 1

‘Original Habitation: Pregnant Flesh as Absolute Hospitality’ along with Jennifer Rosato’s (2012) ‘Woman as Vulnerable Self: The Trope of Maternity in Levinas’s Otherwise Than Being’ to conclude that although these attempts to reconcile a feminist agenda with a trope of hospitality reveal important insights into the woman;foetal relation, they nonetheless reinstate the very imagery that they deem problematic. notes 1. Iris Marion Young (1984) speaks of this experience in ‘Pregnant Embodiment’. 2. La Caze (2002) cites the following philosophers as having cited Thompson’s argument. Baruch Brody, Nancy Davis, John Finnis, R. M. Hare, F. M. Kamm, Rosalind Hursthouse, Catriona Mackenzie, Hugh V. McLachlan, Steve L. Ross, Michael Tooley and Mary Anne Warren. 3. In the next chapter, I draw upon Francis Gray’s (2013) use of this analogy within Continental philosophy. 4. I will not be engaging in an analysis of the morality of surrogacy. I raise the issue here to show how the imagery of the body as a container supports this conclusion as moral. Were the framing of the argument one that emphasised a more intercorporeal woman;foetal relation, then this would prove a more difficult stance to support. 5. I wish here to acknowledge the assistance of Fiona Utley in thinking through the relevance of Featherstone’s work to this project. 6. The foetus can implant itself anywhere, but because the placenta is so large, it is always attached to gut or omentum somewhere. Other common sites are the pouch of Douglas, her broad ligament, where it is attached to her uterus, the wall of her pelvis and on an ovary ( 7. See also Johnson & Everitt 1988: 265 for a very similar description that also contains an emphasis on foetal separateness, agency and independence. 8. In fact, the process is sometimes referred to as cannibalism. 9. Epigastric heteropagus, is where foetal parts or organs from what is called, a parasite foetus, are attached to the abdomen of a viable foetus. This is a rare condition where the absorption of one foetus by another is incomplete and so parts of the absorbed foetus continue to develop, although they are usually incompletely formed, small and completely dependent on the autosite (the viable foetus). One of the possible causes is the absorption, ‘possibly after death of a malformed foetus that remains attached and vascularized on the other twin’ (Anca et al. 2015). 10. Countries who are members of the OECD are democratic countries that support free market economies. The OECD’s origins date back to 1960, when 18 European countries plus the United States and Canada joined forces to create an organisation dedicated to economic development. 11. It is worthy of a note here that this discourse continues despite the obvious recourse to immigration. In Australia, in particular, immigration from countries outside of the United Kingdom is seen as less desirable than an internal population

Representing Gravidity


expansion or British immigration. While there is a reluctance in Australia to accept increasing numbers of immigrants and the overt rejection of refugees, there are also policies and practices such as baby bonuses, focused on encouraging the expansion of the existing, predominantly white, citizenship. 12. For an early examination of this image, see Lymer (2010). See also Lymer and Utley (2013) where this original deconstruction was extended to include the theoretical framework of hospitality.

Chapter 2

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology

In the previous chapter, I have shown how metaphors that employ gestational experience tend to be grounded in imagery that fails to fully recognise the active and negotiated role of women in foetal and infant development. In particular, attempts to conceive gravidity through metaphors of hospitality (as maternal host and foetal guest, or parasite) create imaginings that encourage notions of foetal personhood and understandings of gestation as a single linear narrative which places the newly gestational woman as always and already a mother. In doing so, metaphors of maternal hospitality not only foreclose possibilities for understanding gravidity otherwise they also appropriate, and badly, women’s bodily experiences. This chapter aims to deepen this initial examination of the phenomenology of gravidity through an analysis of a woman’s embodied relation to her foetus as an experience of alterity in recent feminist work which engages with Emmanuel Levinas’s understanding of hospitality. The trope of maternity in Levinas’s oeuvre has been found to be useful by several feminist philosophers in attempting to articulate the maternal;foetal relation. However, within these accounts, there is a tendency to avoid the question of alterity, or, at what stage can we say that a foetus (or an embryo if we want to go further) becomes separable enough from the pregnant woman, albeit within her body, to warrant a claim for an experiential alterity. This does not need to imply that the foetus is a separate being but rather that the maternal body experiences the foetus as something Other than her own body – where the distinctive capital letter indicates that the other in question is that unique one who manifests apart from my initiative. It will be my argument that, as a metaphor for maternity, hospitality is at odds with the embodied phenomenology of gravidity for at least half of the gestational relation, and this has ethical import when situated within a Levinasian reading of gravidity. I begin this chapter with a more detailed analysis 43


Chapter 2

of hospitality, paying particular attention to the way that alterity is understood. I then examine how Levinas’s notion of welcome and the maternal has recently been employed in the work of feminists to understand and articulate the nature of the woman;foetal relation. Drawing primarily on Francis Gray’s (2013), ‘Original Habitation: Pregnant Flesh as Absolute Hospitality’ along with Jennifer Rosato’s (2012) article published in Hypatia, ‘Woman as Vulnerable Self: The Trope of Maternity in Levinas’s Otherwise Than Being’ I argue that to claim gravidity as a Levinasian ethical encounter is to erroneously assume that the foetus is perceived as Other by the maternal body; an unsubstantiated claim that the phenomenology of gravidity does not support. I conclude this chapter by returning to the issue of abortion to combine insights from the previous chapter in a slight modification to Lisa Guenther’s (2006) justification of an ethical termination in The Gift of the Other. Heeding Marguerite La Caze’s (2002, 45) analysis that images and analogies ‘provide a framework within which the debate is constructed’ which work ‘forcefully on the level of persuasion’, I show that the call of the other of which Levinas speaks, cannot, in the situation where a woman finds herself in the state of gravidity, be the call of the Other because a foetus is not radically Other until birth. The ethical evocation experienced at the time of finding out that one is pregnant is not elicited by a face in the Levinasian sense but rather through cultural narrative and imaginary. Levinas: An Ethics before Ontology In Totality and Infinity, Levinas proposes that the foundation of our political and social life is sustained through the notion of welcoming and being welcomed by others, what Derrida (2000) terms a treatise on hospitality. According to Derrida (1967, 111) ‘Levinas does not want to propose laws or moral rules … it is a matter of [writing] an ethics of ethics.’ By an ethics of ethics, Derrida means an articulation of the conditions of possibility that forms the foundations to an ethical response, which Levinas explores primarily through an examination of intersubjectivity. For Levinas, an ethical life is not to do with fulfilling personal obligations or balancing my personal needs and desires with those of others, but rather, being a particular sort of self that can encounter another person with an affective openness that receives them as they present rather than through a conscious projection or judgement of who they are. Critical of what he sees as a tendency in Western philosophy to subordinate ethics to ontology such that moral responsibility is derived from a definitive knowledge (which always leaves questions about whose knowledge is right), Levinas argues that there is a structure of responsibility inherent in human intersubjectivity that precedes other forms of relating such

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


as knowing or perceiving – a foundation that informs his claim of ‘ethics as first philosophy’. One of Levinas’s overarching philosophical aims is to articulate the nature of an experience of otherness that does not rely on the initiative of a conscious subject – an experience that receives the Other prior to imperialistic judgements about their needs and desires which, for Levinas, will always be tainted by my own prejudices. To approach the Other ethically, I assume a mode of experience whereby I remain completely passive, allowing you to show yourself as yourself in a way that gives rise to a ‘sensibility’ that pre-empts and makes possible representational experience which is not itself ‘a moment of representation’ (Levinas 1969, 136). As a pre-representational sensibility, the subject experiences another individual as radically other (as both infinitely transcendent and yet sensibly intimate), whereby this Otherness refers not to other minds or other persons but rather to a phenomenological experience of the Other as transcendent, as existing apart, as being beyond or surpassing my perception and comprehension. This experience of the alterity of another person, according to Levinas, is shocking in its newness and because it is unexpected, what Levinas (1969, 73) calls the ‘traumatism of astonishment’ that arises before we try to comprehend through characterisations and stereotypical totalisations (what I will call in chapter eight the astonishment of wonder). It is this ‘beyond’ that is the experience of Otherness as transcendence – an experience that Levinas calls ‘the face of the Other’. This ‘face’, the experience of an others ‘Otherness’, is most likely elicited in the face-toface encounter because for Levinas (1985, 86), it is the face that ‘stays most naked, most destitute. It is the most naked though with a decent nudity … the face is meaning all by itself … it leads you beyond.’ The undergirding ethical structure of the face-to-face encounter with the Other is an irreducible and asymmetrical responsibility, the importance of which lies in the way the lived intersubjective relation is the means by which I become a self or subject. For Levinas (1969, 168–174), the way that subjectivity is formed is through a radically passive relation of hospitality towards the Other, and this is to the degree that he describes subjectivity as ‘being hostage’ (Levinas 1978, 202). Ethical responsibility begins for Levinas when I am hostage to the other in the sense of being delivered to myself only through, first and foremost being delivered to the Other. Therefore, for Levinas, ‘ipseity, in the passivity without arche [beginning or origin] characteristic of identity, is a hostage’ (Levinas 1968, 66). Ethical subjectivity emerges through the traumatic exposure to alterity, an uncomfortable experiential vulnerability, an accusation, the affective consequence of being always and already responsible to and for the Other prior to any conscious calculation or reflection. The subject is, as he puts it, always One-for-the-Other. Feeling responsible or being obliged arise inadvertently and affectively, as a felt sense


Chapter 2

of the vulnerability of a self in its ethical relation with an Other – a unique, passive intentionality whereby I am open, exposed, vulnerable to the Other as a passive directedness, an experience that Levinas describes as ‘the call’. The Other, in this instance, is not a perception but rather an affective presence that calls the whole self into relation with the Other as a being ‘for-the-other’ – that is susceptible to the Other’s initiative. For Derrida (2000), Levinas’s oeuvre can be spoken about in terms of hospitality whereby the ethical encounter with the face can be described as unconditional hospitality, a welcome into the home of the host that demands nothing of or from the guest. The emergence of subjectivity, of naming this guest crosses the boundary, the border, between the ethical and political. The political domain is where conditions are set on the welcome that someone will receive, where their subjectivity emerges in their naming as host, guest, foreigner or refugee. Already in this short exegesis it can be seen how Levinas’s oeuvre of hospitality might appeal to philosophers trying to articulate the nature and ethics of the relation that a woman has with a foetus. The wonder and fascination (or the horror and dread) at finding oneself with a positive pregnancy test is certainly experienced as a call. But whether or not we can say it is a call of the Other in the sense that Levinas means and not simply the call of a potential future, and imagining of possibilities, or a realisation that this hoped-forevent can happen to me or the sinking feeling that this has happened (perhaps unwantingly) is debatable. I have no doubt (because it has also been my experience) that the feeling can be one of newfound responsibility that seems to surprise with the discovery of each gravidity. In fact, it can surprise in its ability to surprise; one would think that you would get used to situations that repeat in one’s life, but certain events remain surprising, perhaps because the change they herald is so profound. And certainly there is a resonance of this experience in Levinas’s understanding of the call. The experiential change in subjectivity, the way that one now perceives the world, often changes irreversibly from events that elicit this surprise. However, we need to be careful here to be clear about what is eliciting the affective response that a positive pregnancy test seems to evoke, glorious or dreadful as that might be. The call of the Other in Levinas creates an ethical obligation such that to not heed the call, to ignore the call, is an unethical act. This emerges out of the way that the transcendental claim that we are a response to the Other, we are constituted by them, grounds a normative claim that demands a way of responding.1 Transcendence in Levinas does not translate to incomprehensibility – the other is transcendent in the sense of alterity, in the way that one experiences an unknowable, a beyond that is more than the self or the familiar. This alterity discloses an ethical responsibility in the face-to-face encounter because we cannot help but affectively recognise the moral value of the other as Other, prior to any claim to ‘know’ the other. As Joshua James Shaw

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


(2008) states, this makes clear that Levinas is not saying that the other as such can’t be known. Rather, Levinas is saying that the proper relation to the other isn’t a knowing relation, it’s a normative one. The normative dilemma created in applying Levinas to the state of gravidity is that it questions the possibility of an ethical abortion, a situation that we shall shortly see is exactly the issue facing Gray, Rosato and Guenther. Before moving to that debate, I firstly want to examine more closely what Levinas means when he describes ethics as occurring in the face-to-face encounter with the Other. Ethics, for Levinas (1985, 87), arises in and through our capacity to respond to this ‘call of the Other’, our level of responsiveness to specific appeals for care that the face demands; as he states, ‘The face speaks. … The first word of the face is “Thou shalt not kill.”’ This ‘thou shalt not kill’ is an order, a commandment. The human capacity to reduce others to categories that justify killing, or the legitimation that failing to care for others is reasonable, involves avoiding the face because once engaged its pull is of humanity itself. To kill the face can thus be read as unethical, even a crime against humanity. In the face-to-face encounter, what I experience predominantly is a jarring discontinuity. The other calls into question my current agenda, the security that is experienced when we become complacent with and within ourselves and our ways – when we become uncritically at home with ourselves, set in our ways. For Levinas, self-critical analysis is not a natural phenomenon that one undertakes voluntarily, or metaphysically as an isolated self; I would never voluntarily offer an altruistic gesture. Rather, I must be drawn out by the call and only in doing so, I become confronted by decisions, the realm of responsibility, whereby I must experience the uncomfortable appeal of the other in the need to decide to what and to whom I give priority. How my subjectivity develops will be determined by and through how I position myself in relation to the numerous calls that will yield enjoyment and yet, at the same time, be a source of self-persecution and self-accusation because I can never answer all the calls that I encounter. Living an ethical life is to live with this suffering. Rather than sit in this suffering, it is much easier to ignore the face of the Other or to reduce the face to a category. In an encounter with an Other, the exposure to the others vulnerability is an uncomfortable nudity that either party might attempt to camouflage with clothing and grooming. Camouflage invites the witness to reduce her humanity to categories such as gender or class. In the ethical experience, I refuse this countenance by taking care not to violate or destroy the Otherness of the other through such a reduction; I avoid objectification, judging her according to her bodily parts or her social status (Levinas 1947a). Instead, the aim is to recognise and respect her space through the exposure of my vulnerability, which opens an opportunity for intimacy. Avoiding the face is facilitated through representation, propaganda that encourages categorisation before the face-to-face encounter can be


Chapter 2

engaged, a strategy which can often fail. During World War I, for example, a story often told in ethics classes goes like this: a private in the British army, Henry Tandey, encountered a wounded German soldier attempting to retreat from the battle ground but he was slow due to a wound. Making his escape as quickly as he could, he turns to look at Tandey in recognition that he was in his rifle sites. Tandey’s response was to drop his rifle and spare the life of a man the records now suspect was 29-year-old Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler. This story is told to help us think through a Levinasian ethics as opposed to that evoked in utilitarianism – did Tandey do the right thing? Yet the example itself shows the power of the face. Phillip Knightly (2004) describes in The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq, the difficulties that soldiers have in killing, particularly in bayonet fighting which requires close physical contact, and how war propaganda, particularly the use of dehumanising imagery (Germany in World War I, for example, was portrayed as a huge, ugly and violent gorilla) is the tool most often employed to elicit compliance, to attempt to foreclose the face by encouraging the soldier to unconsciously categorise. Perhaps because of his personal experiences with wartime propaganda, there is a tendency in Levinas to be wary of this sort of imagery.2 In general, it would be fair to say that for him the image is dangerous because in putting into form, the face is rendered, if not invisible, then at least distorted. The face of the Other can only be properly understood in strongly phenomenological terms as the elaboration of the modalities through which entities appear, not as entities themselves. That said, Levinas does nonetheless identify the possibility of an ethical representation, the key to which lies in a failure to direct or artificially elicit responsibility or create values. Put simply, the representation cannot be designed to be affectively directive but rather should open the possibility for ethics through its expressive qualities. In ‘The Other in Proust’, Levinas discerns a ‘Proustian reflection ... that is governed by a sort of refraction’, where the work succeeds in the inability to unify meaning whereby the ‘success of knowledge would precisely abolish the proximity of the Other’, concluding, ‘the mystery in Proust is the mystery of the other’ (1947a, 164). Levinas is equally admiring of Blanchot who he describes as managing to effect an ‘exteriorising’ of language, an unintentional ‘undoing’ of the subject that opens the possibility for an ethical encounter. What Levinas discerns here is that at least some works of art have that the capacity to open us indeterminately, and so ethically, while others are propaganda. Recall for example the image entitled The Hand of Hope (a photograph taken during open uterine surgery for spina bifida or myelomeningocele (MMC), performed in this image on a 21-week-old foetus) that I discussed in chapter one (see Figure 1.1). Foetal surgery for MMC before 26 weeks’ gestation may preserve neurologic function and reverse hindbrain herniation,

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


a condition that can be fatal to the foetus after birth or result in permanent and irreversible brain damage (Adzick 2012). However, foetal surgery is also associated with significant risks to the woman, related to the uterine scar and premature birth (Adzick 2012). This image, which appeared in numerous worldwide magazines, went viral on the internet and now the subject of a book and a film (see chapter 1), shows the hand of a foetus reaching through a uterine incision and grasping the finger of the surgeon; the epigraph suggesting the foetus, named ‘Samuel’, was thanking the surgeon Dr Bruner, for saving his life. The tiny hand in this image is telling, signifying an absolute vulnerability, passivity and helplessness – his innocence denotes him as undeserving of this fate, justifying the risk and cost of his rescue. Yet, as Joanne Faulkner (2011, 50) describes, the innocence of childhood is a cultural middle-class fetish in the Freudian sense of ‘an illusion that substitutes for a lack’. Outlining how the notion of childhood innocence coevolved with capitalism and the division between the public and private spheres, Faulkner argues that childhood innocence has become a valuable cultural commodity, worthy of legal and state protection. Repositioning children in the private sphere and away from the means of production at the time of the industrial revolution created the concept of ‘childhood’ as a period in one’s life that is a priori and distinctive from the political world of self-sufficiency, competition and corruption, ‘a cherished lost period of integration and self-possession’ (Faulkner 2010, 109). The notion of the ‘innocent child’, according to Faulkner, is largely the product of an advertising industry invested in the commercial enterprise of creating a blissful hearth as the product of ones’ labour. Thus, at least in part, our pull to save Samuel is the pull of the now culturally privileged notion of ‘the innocent child [who] furnishes an image of pleasure and beauty (without trouble or toil) that each of us seeks’ (Faulkner 2010, 110). In The Hand of Hope, this cultural fetish of innocence is grounded in the concept of vulnerability; ‘Samuel’ is facing death. Condemning what he sees as the common European view of death as heroic and romantic, as the next stage of the spiritual journey, Levinas (1969, 234) understands facing death as the ultimate encounter with the Other that ‘threatens me from beyond. This unknown that frightens, the silence of the infinite spaces that terrify, comes from the other, and this alterity, precisely as absolute, strikes me in an evil design or in a judgment of justice.’ Because death comes to me from the Other, death for Levinas is always murder, an ethical murder that comes as an absolute alterity, set against me. This approach of death indicates that we are in relation with something that is absolutely other, something bearing alterity not as a provisional determination we can assimilate through enjoyment, but as something whose very existence is made of alterity. My solitude is thus not confirmed by death but broken by it …


Chapter 2

[contrary] to the view of contemporary philosophy which remains attached to the self’s solitary death. (Levinas 1947, 43)

Rather than draining all meaning from life, death for Levinas (1969, 236) is the most fundamental experience of interrelation, it is the epiphany of the face because death dares me to be indifferent. Being that which most compels us to turn away, because we are helpless to answer such a call (we cannot save people from dying), yet knowing that to neglect the call is to murder the Other, the compromise is ‘I cannot let the Other die alone’ (Levinas 1982, 104). ‘Samuel’ in The Hand of Hope represents not only his own death but that of all foetuses who are threatened with death in utero; he represents the ethics of innocent foetal death. The face that this image appropriates acts as a powerful call for the world to respond, to be responsible for foetal death. As we have seen in chapter one, this image is propaganda. The call it makes is constructed to elicit a particular response and it needs to enlist powerful signifiers because as a re-presentation of the face, its call is compromised; it can never be the same as the face-to-face encounter and so hyperbole is necessary – all the signifiers must be gathered together in order to elicit a call that simulates as close as possible the face that ‘is the very mortality of the other man’ (Levinas 1986, 186). The Hand of Hope is not a face but rather a representation of the face, what Levinas (1948, 141) terms, a shadow of reductionism, ‘a dimension of evasion’, that is ‘essentially disengaged’ – a rendering that distorts the irreducibility of the ethical demand. Images such as these hold me hostage to the foetuses in them whose faces call me to answer for their death and we need to remain wary of potential for political manipulation of re-presented faces, especially those of foetuses who we cannot see other than through imagery and imagination. The relevance of this exposition is twofold. There is of course the question of foetal imagery in relation to the actual capacity for a foetus to be a face, and I will begin here. The second related question that I move to is to do with the common interpretation of the command ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to imply that we should not abort foetuses. What is often left out of this debate is the possibility of death as an ethical response to the call of others amid the call of a foetus who is not yet a face. The Foetal Face When it comes to understanding the ethical relation between a woman and her foetus, within Levinas, there are two, not clearly separable, concepts that need to be added to the exigesis so far: the first is the image of maternity that Levinas presents and the second is his account of feminine alterity.

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


In Otherwise Than Being, Levinas develops an image of the maternal body as the model for ethical selfhood, the metaphor for his account of ethical responsibility as ‘substitution’. Here, an ethical subject is required not only to fulfil certain obligations but to become a ‘complete being “for-the-Other”’ wherein ‘the oneself’ is emptied of its egoistical intentionality in order to develop as a conscious self that is free insofar as it directs itself towards ethical living (Levinas 1997, 108). Put simply what this means is that in the discovery of ethical responsibility, I find myself constituted as a self, in relation to an Other who calls me to put myself in her place and to become responsible for attending to her needs as though they were my own, brought about through my behaviours – ‘the other is in me and in the midst of my very identification’ and because my subjectivity is constituted ‘by-the-other’, I become a ‘forthe-other’(Levinas 1978, 199). Maternity, in this account, is associated with passivity and employed to illustrate the vulnerability required in order to live such an ethical life whereby one becomes a ‘hostage’ to another person – which, for Levinas, is where I become capable of fully human and fully ethical selfhood. Maternity, according to Levinas, ‘is the ultimate sense of this vulnerability’ (Levinas 1997, 108). Jennifer Rosato in ‘Woman as Vulnerable Self: The Trope of Maternity in Levinas’s Otherwise Than Being’ states that, ‘the maternal body functions as a metaphor for the intimately sensible way in which I encounter another self who is genuinely other; it gives us an image of that encounter or experience in itself’ (2012, 353), an image that, for Rosato, is paradigmatic to an experience of the vulnerability of a self in its relation to an Other whereby I am exposed to the Other prior to intentionality – a passive directness towards the other. Maternity is a perfect image of vulnerability in Levinas’s sense because of the physical susceptibility of a mother’s body to the ‘other’– that is, the baby – whom she carries. Without any initiative on her part, the baby forms himself within her, making her responsible for his needs. Like the Other in his encounter with the self, it is the baby who seems to take the initiative; he shows himself as the pregnancy progresses, while the mother remains the passive, vulnerable recipient of these changes in her own body. … In pregnancy, the mother finds her body literally rearranged so as to make way for the needs of the growing foetus. ... Because a maternal body actually is fully susceptible to the ‘alterity’ within, insofar as it does provide nourishment from the bread it consumes, Levinas suggests finally that such a body can be thought of as this one-foranother, this Other-animating self. (Rosato 2012, 353)

As we can see here, Rosato advocates the image of a woman in her relation to the foetus as particularly apt for understanding responsibility as substitution where, in fully attending to the needs of the foetus, the woman substitutes for her ‘baby’. Thus, Rosato (2012, 357) concludes that ‘the activity and


Chapter 2

growth of the foetus, from which the mother suffers, provides an example of a situation wherein the mother is, in a sense, responsible for what the other within her does, even though the baby’s change, growth, and motion do not immediately stem from her free choice.’ Looking back to the previous chapter, we can discern that this conclusion rests on a specific imaginery. That is, the foetus as a ‘baby’ separable from a woman’s body (a radical alterity) and the woman as already a mother in the sense of maternal that Levinas means. The ‘baby’ is an active hostage, the ‘mother’ an unconditional host, endorsing the trope of women as the passive recipient of sperm, and subsequently foetal activity, an understanding of gestation that we shall begin to see more and more clearly, is simply propaganda, especially during the first two trimesters where foetal alterity relies exclusively on imagery and cultural narratives of gestation. Frances Gray (2013, 72) in her chapter ‘Original Habitation: Pregnant Flesh as Absolute Hospitality’ also supports Levinas’s notion of welcome as a metaphor for pregnancy as the ‘original host–guest relationship’ which she claims is ‘ethically primitive’. To be pregnant for Gray (2013, 72) is not to be a host who offers her hospitality to a pre-existing guest, but rather as an act of embodied intentionality, understood as hospitality, in a Merleau-Pontian sense of habituated pre-conscious action – as an ‘actualising of being, an enabling of life that has not previously existed’. Substituting the Levisonian ‘stranger’ who comes from the exterior with Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology as a primal intersubjectivity that emerges through a ‘dehiscence or fission of its own mass’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 146) – that is, a self-forming in relation with an environment (a concept that will be discussed more fully in section two); Gray manages to stave off the problem of the embryo/foetus being conceived as a visitor or, as described in the previous chapter, as the product of an intentional sperm. Rather, she speaks of a host–guest emergence where ‘the doubling of flesh both delimits and embodies the suspension of subjectivity: woman as pregnant flesh is two subjects, yet one subject’. As such, for Gray (2013, 72), ‘pregnant flesh is the model, prototype (and archetype) of hospitality: the original relationship(s) expressed in pregnant flesh are primitive hospitality of inter-subjective one-ness and simultaneously, twoness’. The foetus is a second subject, one that is ‘a subject other than, but simultaneously the same as, the woman’s flesh, a subject who inhabits her body, a separate consciousness created in, and as a result of her bodily environment’ (Gray 2013, 72). Thus, ‘the pregnant woman as host participates in a hospitality that potentially models a temporary abandonment of her self in pursuit of the interests of a dependant, immature being’ an understanding of hospitality that means ‘to be human is to be a product of [this] unconditional hospitality’ (Gray 2013, 75). Employing host imagery in conjunction with Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the flesh whereby life comes into being through a

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


‘dehiscence or fission of its own mass’ within a maternal environment, as an embodied ethical relation, unfortunately, only partially avoids the issues with an imagery of hospitality. Although Gray attempts to describe an emerging maternity, nonetheless put aside are the gestational woman’s creative engagement and involvement in foetal development in favour of foetal alterity, the foetus as an Other that emerges through dehiscence of its own mass. The primary issue in Rosato and Grey’s accounts is the place of foetal alterity that both philosophers propose, but do not explain. For Levinas, in order to be an ethical being, I must recognise the intersubjective nature of human existence, and thus the core of Levinas’s (1969, 39) notion of welcome is grounded in his analysis of alterity, of the ‘stranger … who disturbs the being at home with oneself’, a disturbance which the ethical subject cannot ignore. The strangeness of the stranger, this alterity ‘comes from the exterior’ and through this disturbance, this Otherness ‘the very epiphany of the face is produced’, and in exceeding any possible preconceptions, calls into question the subject’s ‘joyous possession of the world’(Levinas 1969, 51). While the neonate can be a face, an alterity, an Other that calls me to ethically respond, I will argue that the foetus cannot, because during gestation it is always, at least in part, my body that moves and grows. In fact Levinas (1990) was himself critical of Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology, identifying that the alterity of the Other, as he conceives it, cannot be accommodated within Merleau-Ponty’s notion of intersubjectivity in the flesh. Although Levinas was mistaken in his interpretation of Merleau-Ponty (an issue discussed in chapter four), he is nonetheless correct to say that the sort of other to emerge from a dehiscence or fission of one’s own mass relies, at least initially, upon a perception rather than an experiential difference which he argues, ultimately structures the other as a type of knowledge rather than a felt experience of the unknown. Applied to the phenomenology of gravidity, foetal alterity as a conscious imperialism is inescapable because, and particularly in the early stages, the Otherness of the foetus is representational, it is an imaginary and very often propaganda in the Levinasian sense described above. The foetus exists for the woman through cultural imagery, photographs and drawings of foetuses on hospital and medical walls, on internet sites and apps that women can download to show them what their foetus looks like now. Gray (2013) attempts to sidestep this issue by arguing foetal alterity to be an experience of preconscious embodied intentionality, and so it is not necessary for the woman to be consciously aware of foetal movement in order for a radical alterity to exist in a Levisonian sense. The woman is responsible for the development of the foetus in an unconscious embodied sense of responsibility, as being needed in order for the foetal developmental process to occur, prior to being responsible for the baby in a finite sense. It is not uncommon to be up to 12 weeks gestation before the gravidity is confirmed and during


Chapter 2

this time, foetal bodily structures will have grown almost to completion as a direct result of processes occurring in the woman’s body, the result of what Gray (2103, 73) refers to as her ‘life-will’. However, to extend this claim to one of foetal alterity to argue this development to be the result of a relation of hospitality whereby the woman is responsible for an Other in a Levinas sense is a different claim – it presumes that a developmental observation can be translated into an account of unconscious embodied responsibility which carries an ethical imperative. To assert this is to rely upon, in fact the claim is premised upon, the notion that the foetus, from conception, is an existent alterity and a radical alterity at that, an Other. It is here that both Gray’s and Rosato’s accounts run into some difficulty because how can we possibly know that the body approaches the foetus as an Other? On what basis and in what way does a woman’s body do this? Probably the most common argument for foetal individuation is genetic. This sounds logical and the conclusion is understandable but only if we take account of folk understandings of genetics. A geneticist would be unlikely to support a clear-cut claim that DNA is definitive of individuation because there are too many exceptions. As identified in chapter one, chimerism – a condition where one individual contains more than one set of DNA – was once thought impossible. However, we have suspected since the 1990s that it is not even uncommon, particularly in infants from multiple births (van Dijk et al. 1996). Chimerism can even change over time, showing how our genetic code is not fixed. Chromosomal mosaicism, which can also come and go throughout a person’s life, is a condition in which cells within the same person have a different genetic makeup, a condition that can affect any type of cell (Chial 2008). It is therefore possible for someone undergoing DNA testing to find that they have differing DNA structures in samples taken from, for example, their liver and kidneys. Retroviruses and some cancers are also capable of altering our DNA structures, and epigenetic changes to DNA expression can also vary throughout a person’s lifetime. Thus, to tie an argument for foetal gestational alterity based on the structure of DNA alone, is highly problematic. Also of particular importance to this discussion is how genetic expression is involved in answering the question, ‘Why a woman’s body doesn’t recognize the foetus as foreign enough to initiate an immune response?’ Should the foetus be a radical alterity, then why doesn’t the maternal body reject it like it does a foreign organ? The human immune system is made up of numerous ‘cellular patterns that constantly exchange information’ about foreignness or potential ‘non-self’ antigens that enter the body (Warshaw 1983, 200). Upon the recognition of a non-self antigen, the body’s immune system initiates an inflammatory response, which contains the foreign substance until T cells (those responsible for eliminating the threat, and any foreign substance is perceived as a threat) can arrive at the scene. The question of why a woman’s immune system does

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


not reject a foetus as it would any other foreign tissue is very instructive here, particularly when it does recognise sperm as foreign (Clarke 2008). The immune system is made up of two parts, an innate or humoral and an adaptive or cellar part. Normally when foreign tissue, such as occurs in an organ transplant, are introduced into the body, chemokines, which are a part of the humoral response, are produced, which in turn recruit various kinds of immune cells, including activated T cells, which accumulate and attack the introduced tissue or pathogen (Nancy et al. 2012). Chemokine activation is integral to the body’s immune response, a response that is genetically mediated. Up until recently, it was thought that a woman’s immune system did recognise the foetus as foreign (see, for example, Silberner 1986), but the placenta acted as a barrier preventing the immune response from reaching the foetus through the separation of the individual circulatory systems. But we now know that some foetal blood cells do end up in the maternal blood system and not only does the chemokine response not occur but also an epigenetic medication results at the time of implantation that changes the expression of the gene responsible for chemokine production to ensure consistency with future responses in a way that doesn’t change the hereditability of the gene mutation (Nancy et al. 2012). Put simply, what this implies is that not only does the ‘life-will’ of the body not recognise the embryo as foreign, but any chance of discerning the embryo or foetus as foreign in the future is erased at the time of implantation at the level of genetic expression. Even though the foetus will remain genetically different to the gestational woman, the woman’s immune system does not recognise that particular foetus as foreign. Rather, the pregnant woman takes on the character of mosaicism. In fact, in cases where the foetus is recognised by the gestational woman’s body to be foreign, such as in the case of Rh disease and in some cases of pre-eclampsia and infertility caused by pathologies in these systems, the risk of a spontaneous abortion or foetal death increases dramatically. In cases where a woman is Rh negative, for example, and her first baby is Rh positive, the woman will develop antibodies with the capacity to pass through the placenta to the foetus who, if born alive, will suffer Hemolytic Disease of the Foetal-Newborn (HDFN) which worsens in each subsequent gestation with an Rh positive foetus. I think it fair to say that this is a very good example of embodied maternal intolerance to a foetus that is not sufficiently like her, the consequence of which will be an embodied immune rejection of this radical alterity. That a woman’s body, prior to the quickening, the time when the woman will experience foetal movement herself, experiences the foetus as an aspect of her self is also supported by the physiology of gravidity. The womb, for example, does not contain any sensory receptors and the foetus sits inside a fluid filled sac, which we will see in the next chapter, encourages a woman;foetal synchronicity of movement that is imperative to foetal development. In order to


Chapter 2

experience foetal movement, the foetus must not only become strong enough to impact viscera outside the uterus but must also be large enough to not be simply rolled around by the woman’s movement which agitates the amniotic fluid. In a first gestation, where the uterus is fully toned, in cases of excess amniotic fluid, or in multiple pregnancies, where foetal space is compromised such that foetal movement becomes limited, among other conditions, sensing the foetus at any level is unlikely to occur until sometime in the second trimester, and for some women, it doesn’t occur at all (see Lundquist 2012). Although, as we shall see in the next chapter, unconscious maternal regulation of foetal movement does occur through uterine contractions in response to foetal movement, there is no reason to suggest that the regulating contractions that do this are the result of an embodied recognition of difference rather than a reflex. In the early stages of gravidity, until such time as the foetus begins to move him or herself in ways that resist the woman’s movement, I fail to see how a woman could possibly experience her foetus as radically Other even in an embodied unconscious sense and even after that time, the idea that foetal movement constitutes a radical alterity is highly questionable, especially when greeting the newborn clearly does come as the sort of shock of which Levinas speaks. Should Gray and Rosato wish to sustain their claim of foetal alterity, then we need to understand by what biological mechanism this occurs when the body’s immune system clearly recognises the foetus as an aspect of the woman’s body and the body cannot ‘sense’ the foetus? How can a woman’s body possibly intentionally host something that at least in the early stage, she ‘recognises’ as herself? Maternal Hospitality and Abortion Examining how feminist philosophers have approached the issue of reproductive choice, when employing Levinas’s notion of ethics, first requires a more comprehensive account of his concept of ‘feminine alterity’ or ‘feminine being’ – what Derrida refers to as the hospitality provided by ‘woman’ in the home. As Guenther (2006) notes, not every form of alterity in Levinas operates in the same way and in particular, he distinguishes the alterity of the masculine interlocutor, who calls me into question through the language of interrogation, from feminine alterity. For Levinas, feminine alterity is the feeling of being at home within oneself that keeps us grounded as ourselves when being drawn by the other. The feminine thus protects the emerging ego from erasure by the alterity of the face in the instance of unconditional welcome. (How this works in relation to bonding theory will be analysed further in chapter five.) For Levinas (1969, 79), the emerging ego is protected from erasure because he is already a ‘received host, [and thus] already a guest in

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


his own home, due to the presence of feminine being. Feminine being, or feminine alterity, is more deeply intimate and, according to Levinas (1998, 75), compares to ‘maternity, gestation of the other in the same. … Maternity, which is bearing par excellence, bears even responsibility for the persecuting by the persecutor .... The category of interhuman relationship is the relation not with the interlocutor but with feminine alterity’. As Guenther (2006, 33) identifies, ‘the feminine welcome is not yet ethics; for the feminine Other does not face me directly and command me to respond. Feminine alterity is what gives me the ability to possess while the absolute Other gives me the ability to respond – responsibility – by calling my possession into question’. By drawing the boundaries of possession, of inside and outside, which ‘give me the ability to respond,’ the place of the feminine remains underlying, like the pea under the mattress, the feminine is both beneath and troubling to the properly ethical sphere and the mastery and possession that it makes possible. In Totality and Infinity, Levinas (1969) describes feminine being, in terms of familiarity, intimacy and the interiority of the self. As the substratum to the welcome rather than an aspect of the welcome itself, ‘feminine being’ is neither a subject of this dwelling nor can she illicit a response of surprise, a ‘call’. She is a condition of subjectivity, a prerequisite required for the welcome to occur, and thus not ‘a face’, not an alterity capable of questioning my self-possession, a ‘discreet’ and ‘silent absence’ (Levinas 1969, 156–158). At the cultural level, and as Rosalyn Diprose (2002, 148) describes, ‘while Levinas does not put it this way, what he is admitting here is that, through “feminine hospitality”, women give time so that others have time for consciousness, labor, and hospitality’. While Levinas and Derrida are most clear in the proclamation that the feminine welcome, or as in Derrida’s case, feminine hospitality, does not have to be provided by actual women, what we shall see is that at the level of subjectivity, it was provided by one empirical woman – the birthing woman. The alterity that we find within ourselves, I will argue in chapter five, comes from the biological mother – so at least at the time of birth, the reference needs to be concrete. Culturally, however, and as Diprose (2002, 149) again identifies, feminine hospitality (particularly when conceived as epitomised by the maternal body), means, ‘a capitalist economy presupposes, without acknowledgment, that the ambiguous autonomy of the one who labors is dependent upon some stability and support provided by care of the affective, “encumbered” body in the home’. In this case, as a more generalised cultural conception, while feminine alterity does not need to refer to empirical women, as numerous feminist writers have made clear, it is usually the case that it does.3 Donna Brody (2001, 74), for example, argues that the link creates an unbridgeable gap between ‘the empirically feminine sex’ and the image of maternity, especially when compared to


Chapter 2

how Levinas conceptualises women in Totality and Infinity as excluded from the ethical encounter with an Other (see chapters 5 and 6). As Catherine Chalier (1982) notes, the focus on maternity in Otherwise Than Being, while an improvement in the ethical position of women from Totality and Infinity, nonetheless positions women as only able to enter into ethical life through maternity. Chalier is also concerned about the continued exclusion of women from the domain of culture, of language, knowledge and rationality, all of which carry forth traditional patriarchal categories that exclude women from full political participation. While Rosato (2012, 361) responds to these concerns with the reassertion that ‘these worries tend to presume or pursue too tight a link between Levinas’s metaphors and real, empirical women’ we need to stay mindful of Michèle Le Doeuff’s (2003, xvi) warning, from chapter one, that ‘there is no intellectual activity that is not grounded in an imaginary’ and to attempt to pass off the use of metaphors and tropes of gestation as an aspect of the maternal, as merely ‘illustrative’ is to deny their place and their force in the political order. This is particularly so in relation to the early stages of gravidity where imagery could well induct women into maternity long before their embodied phenomenology (as evidenced by unrecognised pregnancies). Levinas’s trope serves as a normative ideal that perpetuates rather than disrupts what he sees as a women’s proper social role. Rosato (2012, 361) also highlights how ‘the image of maternity simply does not suggest that the only ethical route open to women is motherhood in the empirical sense of the term [but] rather … that the only ethical route open to men and women is motherhood in the sense of ultimate self-sacrifice’. Lisa Guenther in her work, The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction, echoes this approach, paying particular attention to the notion of male maternity that Levinas evokes. For Guenther (2006, 7), Levinas’s expression ‘like a maternal body … opens up a gap between maternity as a biological fact and as ethical responsibility’, a position that at face value echoes the argument I present in this book. Like Rosato, Guenther thinks the metaphor of maternity should not be taken literally but rather as a manner of being that can be applied across genders. Thus, Levinas’s command to welcome the stranger in the manner of maternal hospitality can be understood as a mandate ‘to be feminized by the Other’ (Guenther 2006, 6). While this is true, it nonetheless sidesteps the complex network of signification, as well as the historical, psychological and cultural manifestations in which women are not just ‘like’ maternal bodies; they are bodies in the state of gravidity. What Rosato and Guenther ignore in maintaining maternity as a metaphor for ethical ‘human’ behaviour is the contingent but not arbitrary relation between the pregnant body and discourses of maternity outlined in chapter one, where the maternal corresponds to ‘the state of gravidity’ as a lived body

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


more forcefully than it does to the sexed body. In evoking the biblical story of Moses as an example of maternity, Guenther suggests that the image indicates that Moses should be guided in his ethical decisions by taking up a position ‘like’ the maternal body. However, this evocation assumes that Moses can know what this is like; that those who have never experienced being pregnant can know what it is like to gestate, give birth and/or breastfeed. Recall from chapter one how Moira Gatens (1996, 183) identified how women live in a world of ‘culturally shared fantasies about biology’ that hierarchically place behaviours within a network of social meanings where, as Christine Battersby’s (1998, 4) identifies, ‘ontological dependence of the foetus on the mother’ links ‘the female’ subject position to ‘a set of relationships in which power-dependencies and inequalities are basic’. What this means is that maternity as a metaphor will link to pregnant women in particular and, to a lesser degree, to women in general, much more closely than it will to men who will never have to risk the embodied reality of procreation. Social structures and hierarchies will foreclose the likelihood of men being able to be like a pregnant woman not only because they cannot (at least at present) become physically pregnant but also because their social position in the structures of hospitality as host and sovereign denies, or at least obstructs, their capacity for vulnerability, passivity and an all giving – morally coding such subjectivities as cowardly and irresponsible. Not only are men in patriarchal cultures socially situated to reject a maternal psychology in preference to the masculinity of entitlement, modes of maternity are expected of women, reinforced through social structures that ethically code good mothers and good women as vulnerable and passive (see Diprose 2002). Maternal imagery links metaphor to the physicality of the maternal body in ways that cannot be emulated by men because never being able to gestate renders any identification nothing more than musing. Guenther’s reading of Levinas recognises this asymmetrical hierarchy and so her analysis differs from that of Rosato (who claims the metaphor to be descriptive) in some important ways. Unlike Rosato, Guenther is interested in addressing more closely the inter-relationship between metaphor and women’s lived situations, as well as the biological fact of gestation and notions of the maternal as normative ethical behaviour. Rather than accepting Levinas’s oeuvre, Guenther (2006, 8) sets out to reform some of the issues about women and the feminine, that Levinas develops and to do so she enlists the notion of justice, ‘without a situation of reproductive justice – in which women have access to a meaningful range of reproductive choices that take into account differences in race, income, mobility, and sexuality – the ethics of birth [I outline] could have profoundly unethical and unjust consequences for women’. Identifying what she understands as a basic flaw in Levinas’s work that fails to recognise the social asymmetry that I identified above, she


Chapter 2

argues how easily this call to be like a maternal body mutates into a political bias that reduces women’s contributions to one of self-sacrificial duty and responsibility, a position that ultimately undermines the possibility of an institutionalised justice. We have already seen this in operation in The Hand of Hope (discussed above and in chapter one) where, as the medical profession becomes more and more interested in the foetus, and as the foetus is increasingly represented as a face, women become relegated to feminine alterity, to the silent foundation that substrates, but does not participate in, the ethical sphere. Here, the woman whose body is the site of invasive surgery, and who we only know as ‘Samuel’s’ mother, becomes positioned both stylistically and ethically as the foundation for an ethical engagement between the foetus as guest, as a face, ‘Samuel’, and Dr Bruner the host, the surgeon performing the operation. As feminine alterity, she supports the host (Dr Bruner) to offer hospitality to Samuel, her position in the social schema is subsidiary. So while ‘The encounter of the feminine beloved may be necessary for paternity, just as the welcome of the feminine in the home was necessary for ethics; however here, as before, the serious business of ethics is left to the men’ (Guenther 2006, 89). Yet justice is supposed to be governed by values of universality, equal treatment and impartiality, values that seem to negate the normative core of the ethical relation as Levinas sketches it. Guenther applies her appeal to justice as a way to balance the different modes of alterity, in recourse to the ethical position that this oeuvre places upon women, especially in contexts where women wish to terminate their gestations – an exposition I will return to shortly. In regard to the position on abortion, Rosato outlines how the ethical woman ‘should’ experience herself as infinitely responsible for the well-being of her foetus and she makes no qualification as to what stage of gestation this would occur. For Gray (2013), the solution is to found through an evocation of a rights based hospitality borrowed from Judith Jarvis Thomson (1971, 73) where she argues ‘that the mother and the unborn child are not like two tenants in a small house which has, by an unfortunate mistake, been rented to both: the mother owns the house’. Rosato argues specifically against a rightsbased approach to abortion highlighting how rights along with rights-based understandings of ownership and consent are at odds with the very notion of freedom that Levinas advocates. As Rosato (2012, 362) sees it, and she is correct to do so, ‘Levinas’s metaphor apparently suggests that a woman who does not sacrifice herself for her child is both less of a mother and less of an ethical subject, since she cannot be used as a model of a self who becomes fully vulnerable in relation to her child’. A mother cannot have the ‘right’ to choose because to do so is to advocate as ethical the very ethics of rational decision making that Levinas opposes. Rosato (2012, 363) acknowledges that

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


she must accept Levinas’s image of maternity as adequate to the realities of maternity and the maternal body as experienced by women, arguing, that it accords nicely with some anecdotal tales of maternal phenomenality: for example, the woman who could never find the willpower to quit smoking but who manages to abstain from nicotine during pregnancy for the sake of the baby, or the woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape but who still feels that the baby within is her responsibility … experiences like these seem to us more the norm than the exception, or because we admit that mothers as such do naturally tend to sacrifice themselves for their children in a way that can and should be a model for ethical behavior more broadly. On the other hand, if we find it hard to admit that maternity as such entails a mother’s vulnerability vis-a-vis a foetus, then perhaps this is because our assumptions about women’s sexual freedom have become too much like that account of ethical freedom Levinas aims to criticize over the course of his oeuvre: too much dependent on the initiative of an independent and sovereign individual and too much divorced from the real experience of human interrelatedness.

So for Rosato, an ethical gravidity requires us to replace our notion of freedom as autonomy (and consent) with an account of freedom as vulnerability and should a woman choose to terminate her gestation, she performs an unethical act. I am afraid that I am one of those feminists which Rosato cites as finding this account of maternity hard to accept as a legitimate position, not because I am attached to a rights-based notion of freedom but because this account of gravidity seems to me to arc back to notions of a ‘natural’ or ‘essential’ maternity where women find themselves performing these acts of unconditional hospitality uncoerced by cultural norms and practices – an understanding that the phenomenology simply doesn’t support should she look beyond the naturalised narratives of gravidity and maternity. She also takes for granted and without argument that the foetus is an Other and that gravidity at conception incurs the same moral standing as the neonate at birth. Put together these are both speculative and problematic in ways I have already shown. As Guenther (2006, 142) identifies and as I have outlined in the previous chapter, ‘To concede personhood to a foetus – let alone to concede Otherness to it, where the Other is one who commands me to infinite responsibility – would be to lose the battle as feminists, so long as we assume that the battle-ground is determined by competing rights’. Instead of taking a rights-based approach to an ethical termination, Guenther approaches the issue via a tack that emerges out of her central criticism of Levinas as being unclear in how his avocation justice and the ethical encounter are supposed to link together. The question of politics which deals with the distribution of resources, or justice understood as the equal distribution of


Chapter 2

resources is only possible, for Levinas, because there is a prior ethical duty and responsibility before the Other. There can only be political relations on the basis of that prior, more original and unconditional ethic, and not vice versa. The question of abortion must therefore be settled ethically, prior to the introduction of a political order. While Guenther (2006, 41) agrees that the question of abortion must be approached not through a weighing of rights, she nonetheless approaches the issue through an analysis of the proprietorship of the body arguing for ‘the possibility of a certain ethical responsibility for the prenatal Other that does not preclude the vital necessity of women’s political right to safe and accessible abortions’. Her position is that in order to correct the social asymmetry in alterity, the political must complete the ethical, rather than letting the ethical, as she understands Levinas, remain as the condition of the political. So for Guenther, the political (justice) must have the capacity to condition the ethical where there is an asymmetry in alterity. Asking, ‘What if we grounded women’s reproductive freedom not on the assumption of an autonomous subject who owns her body and therefore has a right to choose, but rather on the ethical sensibility of an always-already embodied self whose very exposure to the Other calls for justice and equality, and therefore for women’s right to choose?’ (Guenther 2006, 42). According to Tritten (2014), Guenther, in this evocation, performs a sleight of hand: because the cry for justice as equality does have ethical foundations, there must be a mediation to the political from the ethical but any mediation whether just or unjust ‘endangers the asymmetrical and non-reciprocal relation characteristic of the ethical sphere by concluding that, after all, this relation must of course actually be made symmetrical and reciprocal by means of the political’ (Tritten 2014, 110). Tritten is therefore correct when she concludes that to supervene the political on the ethical in order to facilitate justice leaves Guenther’s position on abortion only slightly more solid than a rights-based option. For Tritten, the options for an ethical termination are limited – ‘what precludes the possibility of concluding that pro-choice may very well be the best option politically, and hence also legally, but all the same that abortion still may be wrong ethically insofar as the Other [is that if]… responsibility must first be politically conditioned and mediated, then it is de facto rendered conditional rather than remaining unconditional’ For her, Guenther’s (2006, 49) conclusion ‘that the maternal responsibility that Levinas describes may only arise under conditions when women are granted the political space to imagine themselves otherwise, as mothers or not as mothers’ is an inversion between the political and the ethical that is contra Levinas rather than a modification. For Levinas, ethical obligations always condition good political judgement, and political conditions are not the sine qua non of ethics. While Tritten is correct to take Guenther to task on this, it is not necessary to conclude that a termination must be an unethical act. To understand this

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better, we need to turn to Jacques Derrida’s analysis of the conditions of hospitality and the gift and how these translate Levinas’s account of the ethical relation into a normative account of ethical responsibility and political justice. Most important here is the way that the conceptual is moved into a normative ethic. Firstly, if responsibility emerges in a relation of proximity to the face of the Other understood as both a scene and an experience of radical alterity, then, as Derrida (2002) argues, this is not a relation that can occur simultaneously with a physical co-presence, because the anonymity of this Other must be paramount. Secondly, for Derrida, hospitality is ordinarily represented as a gift, it is offered in exchange for something else which usually takes the form of adhering to certain behavioural requirements that are laid down by the host. Hospitality is therefore offered conditionally, by a host who must be sovereign in order to lay down the conditions of hospitality, the laws of hospitality that permit him to remain a host; usually, and for Derrida, this implies ownership of the home. This understanding of hospitality, according to Derrida, translates into an ethics of tolerance grounded in the need to establish and sustain the sort of political power that runs counter to the imperatives of ethics. Thus, Derrida identifies a clear conceptual opposition between conditional hospitality (the political) and unconditional hospitality (the ethical). While unconditional hospitality requires anonymity, hospitality can only be extended to a guest whose identity is already attributed. Unconditional hospitality is experienced as trauma, because the guest arrives without invitation, what Derrida describes as visitation (Derrida 2002, 362). So briefly, what Derrida identifies is that in essence, Levinas reduces the debate to one of the ideal over the practical, or the conceptual over the normative, or ethical responsibility as opposed to justice, an aporia that can only be crossed at the cost of reducing the unconditional to the conditional. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the case of abortion, the individual ethical encounter also precludes any collective form of relationship or politics as a calculated response to Others, because at its core this excludes what should be an unconditional extension of concern to others in general. What Derrida identifies is an aporia in the welcome as Levinas conceives it, an unconditional and a conditional version of the concept which are shown to be ‘irreconcilable but indissociable’, and ‘at the same time, but also by turns, inseparable and in contradiction with one another’, (Derrida 2001, 45; 2005, 100). However, while conceptually these concepts oppose, normatively our task is to ‘think together both this heterogeneity and this inseparability’ (Derrida 2005, 150). So while Trittens’ conceptual analysis stands, her application to Guenthers’ normative situation leaves out the possibility for thinking this aporia as a co-implication where one must sit in the ‘ordeal of the undecidable’ (Derrida 1992, 24). For Derrida, normatively, moral and political decisions need to recognise rather than disavow the ineluctable impossibility of


Chapter 2

reaching a fully just, hospitable, and forgiving or generously giving decision. Recognising this entails that we refrain from positing an ideal that reduces the moral complexity of issues, such as abortion, to simplistic answers that suppress tensions and contradictions. For Derrida, only from this position are we able to limit the inevitable violence of political decisions. Read back into Levinas, what we can say is that while the unconditional precedes the conditional, the political, as ‘first philosophy’ this does not mean that the unconditional takes precedence over the political in acts of hospitality normatively speaking but rather the ethical is not to be foreclosed in the political process. The ethical must remain within the political such that they are of equal weight. This is not to imply that the political need to exclude certain behaviours, and as a consequence certain people, is ethical, but rather to carry within every act of hospitality that excludes an experience that this is unethical. Ness (2003, 164 emphasis mine) explains this well, The problem is not that we can never live up to absolute, unconditional hospitality because we can never welcome everyone, because we must set limits to our hospitality. Obeying the law of conditions is not simply a concession to our finitude, to our limited capacities and resources, or else simply a concession to political expediency. It is recognition that hospitality, ‘real’ hospitality, consists in welcoming particular guests and not just anybody, particular guests and, as a result, not others.

In this reading, the unconditional hospitality that the face demands is an imperative, a weight of responsibility that is carried in its impossibility in the decision that must be made in order for us to host at all. This is the violence inherent in hosting that Derrida identifies: ‘A law that doesn’t exist effectively, a law that is not capable of ensuring, by force – by its force – that its decisions are respected, is not a law or right’ (Derrida and Stiegler 2002, 75). This affirmation indicates the significance of Derrida choosing the theme of hospitality as a topic through which to address questions of responsibility. Tritten, along with Rosato, assumes that any form of obstruction to unconditional hospitality to be unethical but this is not the case because to live in absolute hospitality is to erase the very condition for any form of relation at all because relations require the language of the culture, the language of conditions. Thus, to expect to live in unconditional hospitality is to erase the form of responsibility valued by both Levinas and Derrida. Responsibility is a radical separation in the relation of proximity, a relation in which the capacity to be called by the face is made possible. As Derrida (2000, 65) identifies, the complete erasure of boundaries would efface the threshold across which relating is made possible, and thresholds are the very scenes for the drama of responsiveness, hospitality and responsibility. This is why it is so important

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


that there be a definable and experiential boundary between woman and foetus before we can make a call for responsibility – until there is an experience of alterity, even at an unconscious embodied level, there is no hospitality and therefore no unethical ‘act’. Even if for a moment I situate myself alongside those who argue the woman;foetal relation to be an instance of hospitality, there are still issues in positioning a termination as unethical with that structure. As Derrida (1999, 32–33) also identifies, to attempt to live in unconditional hospitality devoid of boundaries would mean that the ethical subject should be indifferent to its own happiness or well-being, and also it would require that one ignores the claims of other subjects. Take, for example, the following story of abortion from, a website publishing women’s stories about why they chose to abort and their reasons: I am a mother of 3 and 21 years old. I had a failed marriage and things have been hard since then. I am currently in a relationship and we have a 8 month old together. I found out I was pregnant 3 weeks ago and I was shocked. I was on the birth control pill. I knew I wasn’t ready for another child. I was angry because I was taking care of myself and the pills failed me. I decided to have an abortion. I wanted to go to school and get a better job. I wanted to better myself so I could provide for my children on my own. I have always believed that men can leave you at any time. It was a painful decision. But I know it would have been more painful for that child. I am struggling as it is and I see my children struggling too. I didn’t want that for this child. My partner supported me and he agreed we weren’t ready emotionally or financially for another child.

What we can see here is a young woman struggling to meet the call of three faces, suddenly faced with information that soon there will be four, plus her partner. These are not the words of someone who is evading her responsibility but rather someone who is taking those responsibilities very seriously but who is only one person. Her decision isn’t black and white, to be responsible or not. Her concern is how many more can she be responsible for and still be responsible for those whose call she must already meet. We need to ask if having another child compromises the capacity for this woman to see the faces of her other children, is this abortion still unethical, or must we all be always open to all? If this foetus is not yet a face, but a face in temporal approach, then is not her call to the existing faces before her stronger? Derrida identifies in Levinas an implication that the self is completely malleable, able to turn oneself to the new faces that one encounters and in doing so neglect or negate all existing relations, promises and commitments in favour of new ones. Such an indifference, an openness to neglect existing others, is highly problematic as it denies that there is already a web of relations for which the ethical subject is presently responsible. We all are finite in our reserves and


Chapter 2

resources both physically and emotionally, even mothers, and so the borders, the boundaries that people set are very often not a denial of responsibility, a refusal to see the face but about how can one remain responsible to those faces already calling to me. As Ness identified above, ‘“real” hospitality, consists in welcoming particular guests and not just anybody, particular guests and, as a result, not others’. The woman quoted above says that her decision was painful, and I would suggest it was painful because she accepted that what she foreclosed was potentially a face like those she already substitutes for. Even Levinas (1985, 90) admits that ‘it is consequently necessary to weigh, to think, to judge, in comparing the incomparable. The interpersonal relation I establish with the Other, I must also establish with other men’. Ethics is about being open to all faces, and even though they may well appeal in different ways, there is nonetheless an equality in the call even if and when I cannot answer them all. So even if I do take the foetus to be a face (and I do not), it does not follow automatically that a termination is normatively unethical. As the argument in this book builds, what we shall see is that in many ways, Gray is right to speak about the bodily accommodation of the foetus, but what is developing is not a relation of hospitality but rather one that Merleau-Ponty terms accouplement, whereby the body attempts to incorporate the foetus into its bodily habituations, not as an absolute alterity but as a familiarity, as a necessary imperialism that we call bonding and/or attachment. While it is no doubt true that the foetus begins the process of individuation in the womb, it is not the case that this emergence becomes sufficiently strange to warrant a Levinasian relation of hospitality. notes 1. There is a criticism that Levinas lacks normative ethics and cannot offer substantive ethical advice. Joshua James Shaw (2008) argues that this conclusion emerges out of the ‘ineffability hypothesis’, whereby the face-to-face encounter reveals to us that the other is ‘ineffable’ or absolutely Other – transcendent. From this, it follows that no normative standards can be produced because to do so would be to identify the unidentifiable and thereby contradict the claim that the other is ineffable. But as Shaw argues, this would centre moral responsibility on an epistemic claim about the other as ineffable. In beginning with moral responsibility, Levinas does not derive ethics from any epistemic claim about the other’s ineffability. So, the ineffability hypothesis is wrong. 2. Levinas was born into a Litvak family and received a traditional Jewish education in Lithuania. He became a naturalised French citizen in 1931 and entered the military when France declared war on Germany. He was captured by the Germans in 1940 and spent the rest of World War II as a prisoner of war in a camp

Maternal Hospitality, Ethics and Ontology


near Hannover in Germany. Maurice Blanchot had helped Levinas’s wife and daughter escape capture and they spent the war in a monastery, spared from the Holocaust, but his father and brothers were killed in Lithuania by the SS (Bergo 2011). 3. See, for example, Derrida (1999), Diprose (2009), Chanter (2001), Perpich (2001) and Guenther (2006).

Part II

The Ontology of Gravidity

Chapter 3

Gestational Accouplement

Within the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the possibility of a gestational phenomenology is not given any consideration in an overt sense and yet, nostalgically, maternal imagery permeates his philosophy. This absence of a specific phenomenology of gravidity is perhaps more surprising for MerleauPonty than for other Continental philosophers, given his time as Chair of Child Psychology at the Sorbonne, the fact that he fathered a daughter and had, by all accounts, experienced a close relationship with his own mother. In his defence, this may be primarily due to the lack of available research into the world of the foetus during his lifetime and the decried place of maternity among female academic peers such as Simone de Beauvoir. While there were some early enquiries into foetal life being undertaken during the 1950s, this work was concentrated in the United States and it is unclear how disseminated the findings would have been. For the most part, any epistemology of human gravidity during this era would have developed with recourse to anatomical studies by embryologists who saw foetal life as overwhelmingly passive. Apart from some ‘aimless kicking’, which was believed to begin around the 5th month, ‘the foetus was a placid, dependent, fragile vegetable who developed quietly in preparation for a life which started at birth’ (Liley 1972, 99). Such an understanding of foetal development corresponds well with the notion of maternity as a time of waiting which is what women were mostly thought to be doing while pregnant. Also, concordant with this image of gestation was the regard of the foetus as a poorly functioning, incomplete adult, rather than the more recent understandings of the foetus as ‘a splendidly functioning baby’ (Liley 1972, 99) – a construction that echoes Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to explain infant and child behaviour in a similarly positive way. Nonetheless, it is still surprising that given his phenomenological project and his connection with maternal figures, Merleau-Ponty did not 71


Chapter 3

think to look to gestation as a place where our affective corporeality has its antecedents. With the introduction of the flesh ontology in his later writings, however, there is a sense that perhaps, given time, this may have come to be. Of course, from the perspective of many gestational women, that a relationship between her and her foetus evolves during pregnancy could be said to be a no brainer, and this is becoming more and more recognised within contemporary psychology. The acronym MFA (maternal foetal attachment) is now more commonplace, referring to the emotional tie or bond which often develops between a gestational woman and her unborn child, which has been found to have a variety of influences on the developmental trajectory of the foetus and the quality of maternal attachment post-partum (Condon 1993; Cranley 1981).1 Myra Leifer (1980) has identified three different styles of MFA after examining correlations between the attitude of the woman to her foetus and the maternal–infant attachments styles identified by Mary Ainsworth in 1973.2 Leifer’s MFA styles span from a continued ongoing attachment, which she describes as being expressed in a woman’s selfreference shift to ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ early in gestation, through a situation where a mother may not experience feelings of closeness initially but does so after the quickening, to no attachment, where the foetus is perceived as a disruption or invasion to a her subjectivity and/or foetal presence is denied or resisted (Leifer 1980, 447).3 More recently, an empirical body of research is also beginning to connect prenatal with postnatal outcomes. Van den Bergh and Simons (2009), for example, have argued that developing a relationship with the unborn child is key in a woman’s psychological adjustment to gestation and pending parenthood and her capacity to continue that bond into infancy. Brandon et al. (2009) and Lindgren (2001) positively associated foetal bonding with the well-being of the woman during pregnancy and the quality of postnatal maternal–infant bonding, which they highlight impacts upon the child’s later cognitive and social development. There are also recorded physical implications correlated with MFA quality. Maternal prenatal depression, stress and anxiety, for example, are associated with spontaneous abortion and preeclampsia (Kurki et al. 2000; Nakano et al. 2004). Maternal stress has been related to increased risk of preterm delivery and negative growth trajectories of, in particular, foetal head and abdominal circumference (see Hedegaard et al. 1993; Mancuso et al. 2004 and Rondo et al. 2003 for the causes of preterm delivery and Henrichs et al. 2010 in regard to negative growth). The empirical research cited here is much more aligned with women’s reported phenomenology, which I will cover in more detail as the chapters of this book build, and outlines a woman;foetal communication that has developmental import. However, there nonetheless remains the need to understand more fully how this relation functions, how it forms and the

Gestational Accouplement


clinical implications of its variations. At the present moment, there appears to be a failure to understand how it could be possible to transfer affect in utero between woman and foetus, especially when the foetus has little or no cortical function or awareness (so is unlikely to be capable of experiencing emotionally). It is to this topic that I now turn to with the aim of employing Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of embodied accouplement in the flesh to assist in conceptualising how a maternal foetal affective bond might unfold and how this relation could have developmental outcomes. Throughout this and the ensuing chapter on developmental alterity, I will show how Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is both ‘a strategic blindness’ not so much to ‘the status of sex’ but rather to the particular status of the gestational body and yet simultaneously, as Elizabeth Grosz (1993, 37) suggests, ‘as profoundly and unusually useful for feminist purposes’. His work does have elements of both and we shall see how a concrete inclusion of a phenomenology of gravidity in place of the evocation of metaphorical women and tropes of uterine latency allow an understanding of woman;foetal communication to emerge while simultaneously addressing issues within his philosophy that result from his denial of a phenomenology of gravidity. The conclusion that I draw in this chapter is that bonding is a process of uterine accouplement, an affective coupling that is facilitated through embodied gestures and movement. I conclude that it is the embodied accouplement that gestation demands that facilitates woman;foetal communication and this initially begins to emerge through the second gestational trimester but carries into infancy and possibly beyond. In the following chapter, I apply this understanding of bonding to a theory of foetal and infant cognitive development, focusing in particular on the emergence of ipseity in the foetus and alterity in the infant. Maurice Merleau-Ponty Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy culminated in an unfinished manuscript entitled The Visible and the Invisible which he was working on at the time of his premature death at the age of 53. Prior to the introduction of this text, the infant developmental trajectory that Merleau-Ponty (1964, 119) proposed can be traced in the following way: The development has somewhat the following character: there is the first phase, which we call precommunication, in which there is not one individual against another but rather an anonymous collectivity, an undifferentiated group life…. Next, on the basis of this initial community, both by the objectification of one’s own body and the constitution of the other in his difference, there occurs a segregation, a distinction of individuals – a process which, moreover, as we shall see, is never completely finished.


Chapter 3

Here, Merleau-Ponty argues that we begin life after birth in affective cohesion (syncretism) with others and then slowly, through exploration of ourselves, others and our world, we come to structure our experiences into habituated patterns of behaviour that form the beginnings of what Merleau-Ponty calls, the corporeal schema, that will underpin and ground self-conscious development. The ‘body schema’, ‘corporeal schema’ or ‘body image’, as it is translated in Phenomenology of Perception, is most often described as the manner in which humans can move knowledgeably, effectively and efficiently in the world while at the same time not being reflectively aware that we are doing so. The corporeal schema or body image is the general term or label Merleau-Ponty employs, for how it is that the body mediates our pre-reflective experience of the world through close integrative interrelationships between bodily sensations and affect, movement and perception. In 1986, Gallagher argued that within much of the current psychological and philosophical literature, there is persistent confusion in the concepts of body schema and body image and how they are defined. He suggested that firmer definitions were necessary in order for more nuanced understandings and applications of the concepts to be useful. More recently, Gallagher and Meltzoff (1996) through their work with differing kinds of body schema pathologies and infant imitation concretely apply this division between ‘body schema’ and ‘body image’. ‘A body schema’ they describe as, ‘a system of motor capacities that function without the necessity of perceptual monitoring’, while the body image ‘in contrast, consists of a system of perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs pertaining to one’s own body’ (Gallagher and Meltzoff 1996: 214). The body image for Gallagher and Meltzoff (1996) involves a form of explicit and reflective intentionality which includes, ‘(a) the subject’s perceptual experience of his/her own body; (b) the subject’s conceptual understanding (including mythical and/or scientific knowledge) of the body in general and (c) the subject’s emotional attitude toward his/ her own body’ (Gallagher and Meltzoff 1996, 216). The proposed division is thus primarily between having a conscious awareness of one’s own body and the pre-reflective performance of the body. In many ways, the division corresponds well with Husserl’s and Merleau-Ponty’s division between act and operant intentionality where one is concrete and the other abstract. The development of consciousness begins, for Merleau-Ponty, as an intentionality, understood as the ability of the body to locate and direct itself in the world. The experience of moving in habituated ways constitutes self-awareness through the sense of familiarity that repetition in movement provides experientially and the way in which habituated action permits one to experience a sense of bodily control prior to the development of reflective capacities. For Merleau-Ponty, this early form of self-awareness, this ipseity, is manifest through the way in which my body must become experientially

Gestational Accouplement


absent in order for me to move in intentional action as an outward focus that allows me to direct my way in the world. Ipseity, for Merleau-Ponty, is our most basic self-experience, a primitive form of self-awareness that experientially marks off the self from not the self through the capacity for self-directed movement. Conscious experience is that which appears to, or is given to, the body as it is immersed in an experiential world as a kind of structural unfolding, rather than the mind being a guiding light, as it appears in Cartesian dualist understandings of the mind. Actual self-awareness occurs between 15 and 18 months in a stage famously known as the ‘mirror stage’ because it is around this time that a toddler will begin to recognise her mirror reflection as herself – a sign that she has come to understand herself as temporally and meaningfully situated, as symbolically as well as experientially in the world. Self-reflection in the child thus emerges as an alterity, primarily through the specular image; guided through intersubjective encounters, the child comes to perceive her body as an object and thereby establishes her subjectivity selfreflectively (Merleau-Ponty 1964, 135). The specular body in the mirror that the child begins to recognise as herself is initially given from without as an image that is ‘mine’ rather than ‘me’ – it is an object in the world that I come to take as my own. In ‘The Child’s Relation with Others’, Merleau-Ponty (1964) outlines how the child must understand that like others and objects in the world, I can be objectified. This realisation emerges once the child can understand that there are aspects, parts of my body, which I can only partially see or to which I am blind and it is their opaqueness to myself that others witness. Thus, my body, understood as a complete image, only comes to acquire form, thickness and content for me through the reflection and affirmation from the way it is reflected back to me by others. ‘The central phenomenon, at the root of my subjectivity and my transcendence towards others, consists in my being given to myself. I am given, that is, I find myself already situated and involved in a physical and social world’ (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 360). Prior to then, the infant experiences herself in conjunction to others in a flowing exchange of meaningful gestures and situations that guide her development through a relation of reciprocity. Initially being born into a state of syncretism means that affect is transitive; ‘what happens in me can pass over into the other’ (Merleau-Ponty 1964, 121), and although a capacity to experience the affect of others is magnified during infancy, it nonetheless remains with us throughout our lives to varying degrees. The basis of this reciprocity is gestural, an affective transitivity that moulds and shapes my development as I mould and shape others. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty (1962, 185) speaks of how we are able to ‘blindly apprehend’ each other’s emotion through the sharing of our gestures. Rosalyn Diprose (2002, 95) describes how, for Merleau-Ponty, ‘affectivity


Chapter 3

arises through the ambiguity and generosity of intercorporeality, a generosity that transforms existence’. What we refer to as emotions, at their most fundamental level, are affective ‘habits’ that have solidified into set or culturally structured and recognisable ways of responding. Speaking of Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of affect and emotion, Sue Cataldi (2008, 165) describes how ‘over time, preferred responses become rooted in behaviour as emotional habits or dispositions, and these confer integrity or coherence, a personal emotional style, to our interactions or outlooks’. Emotional styles are formed adaptively within environments and with others, ‘moulded by situations which evoke them’ – situations that express the manner in which an individual has integrated or assimilated their behaviour, within rather than with their world and their intersubjective relationships (Merleau-Ponty 1963, 47) – as ‘affectivity where I am given to the field of the other’ (Diprose 2002, 95). A particular aspect of the corporeal schema relevant to gestational accouplement is the manner in which ‘objects’ can and very often are incorporated into the body’s schematic functioning and the implications this has for our affective experiences of some objects and the closeness we feel to others. For Merleau-Ponty, many artefacts and objects in our day-to-day lives get taken up within our normal body schematic functioning to varying degrees. He describes how: A woman may, without any calculation, keep a safe distance between the feather in her hat and things which might break it off. She feels where the feather is just as we feel where our hand is. If I am in the habit of driving a car, I enter a narrow opening and see that I can ‘get through’ without comparing the width of the opening with that of the wings, just as I go through a doorway without checking the width of the doorway against that of my body. The hat and the car have ceased to be objects with a size and volume which is established by comparison with other objects. They have become potentialities of volume, the demand for a certain amount of free space. (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 193)

Jonathan Cole and Barbara Montero (2007) in their paper Affective Proprioception relate differing experiences and reflections of patients who have become confined to a wheelchair. For these men and women, the degree that they are able to incorporate their wheelchairs into their body schematic functioning not only impacts upon their capacities for fluid movement but also how they experience being in a wheelchair as an obstruction to their ‘normal’ mode of movement. Cole and Montero describe how in order for movement to feel precise and harmonious in patients bound to wheelchairs, the wheelchair as well as the body must become phenomenologically absent (or pre-reflective) when the patient is intended towards a task. As such, the wheelchair must be experienced as a part of the body’s schematic functioning, and as an aspect of the corporeal schema, the experience will also entail an

Gestational Accouplement


affective integration. Cole and Montero describe how patients who struggle to incorporate their chairs into their body schema are those most likely to experience their condition as a frustrating disability. During my years of counselling practice, I recall the heart-wrenching story of a woman who suffered months of different forms of body schematic disruptions after the death of her 2-year-old son who had been ill since birth. Just towards the end of meal times each night, around the time when, for the past 2 years, she had sat and nursed her child until he fell asleep, her arms would physically ache from his absence. It has often been suggested that there are correlations and even causation between phantom limbs, where a patient continues to experience an amputated limb, and grief in that the pain is the result of grieving for the lost limb.4 In this instance, one could argue that the ill child had become so much a part of the mother’s own daily functioning and identity that she experienced his death as akin to the loss of a part of herself, quite literally. It is interesting that this is not an uncommon analogy – that losing someone close is often compared to the experience of losing one’s right arm, and deep grief will impact upon our ability to habitually go about in the world in the same way as prior to the loss. Affect can disturb our body schematic functioning and as we shall see by the end of this chapter, the implications of having our body schemas form in utero is that they are relational and intersubjective – affectively intertwined with our capacity for bodily functioning from the very start of their emergence. Throughout his work, Merleau-Ponty repeatedly exemplifies this relation between the mind and the body by drawing upon the reversible sensingsensed of the body that can be experienced in the way our hands, when placed one on top of the other, can alternate between touching and being touched. In the Phenomenology of Perception, he articulates this relation thus, I touch my right hand with my left, my right hand, as an object, has the strange property of being able to feel too … the two hands are never simultaneously in the relationship of touched and touching to each other. When I press my two hands together, it is not a matter of two sensations felt together as one perceives two objects placed side by side, but of an ambiguous set-up in which both hands can alternate their roles of ‘touching’ and being ‘touched’. What was meant by talking about ‘double sensations’ is that, in passing from one role to the other, I can identify the hand touched as the same one which will in a moment be touching. (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 93)

The hand touching itself represents the body’s capacity to occupy the position of both perceiving object and subject of perception in a relationship of dialectical reversibility. With the introduction of the concept of the flesh in The Visible and the Invisible, the developmental emergence of this affective, communicative corporeal schema that can take itself as an object


Chapter 3

is re-orientated and refined. Merleau-Ponty (1968, 140) describes the flesh as ‘a prototype of Being’, an ontology which provides the preconditions and grounds for the distinction between mind and body, subject and object, and self and others – the flesh is an elementary or primary term that is meant to ground their intermingling. Instead of a relation of dialectical exchange between the child’s behaviour and the world, where their inter-implication is emphasised and seen as founding the emergence of conscious experience, the flesh introduces a pre-discursive experience as the condition of this interaction – a common ground where subject and object appear as in relief. Through a critique of the ontology of transcendental subjectivity, Merleau-Ponty comes to the conclusion that the emergence of the self as a difference, which draws the infant out of syncretism, is one of discovery rather than the developmental capacity to alternate, through projection, the experience of sensing or being sensed that he describes above. Within the ontology of the flesh, the discovery of the sensing–sensed relation within our bodies occurs in an experience of alterity, as the hiatus that is the impossibility of coincidence in the sensing–sensed reversibility of the touching hands. Even though my hands are both mine, the hand touching never coincides with the hand touched when placed one on the other, and it is this experiential break in the continuity of the self, this gap, this alterity, that is discovered. Thus, Merleau-Ponty alters the relation that one has to oneself in The Visible and the Invisible from one of dialectical reversibility that is created through perceptual projection to one of the discovery of the flesh, through the shifting of our perceptions, as an alterity that was always and already there. Subjectivity in the flesh thus emerges as a dehiscence through the disparity between consciousness and the sensible body – it is the name given to the body’s simultaneous status as perceiving subject and object of perception, a status that can never be completely grasped in its reflexivity because of the hiatus. Together, the body as an intertwining, what Merleau-Ponty refers to as the chiasm, of synthesis and difference emerges as a cultural identity, a particular subjectivity as perception in momentum. What Merleau-Ponty refers to as the flesh is this inscription of difference in the same that can only ever be incompletely grasped in reflexivity. As he states, ‘Consider the two, the pair, this is not two acts, two syntheses, it is a fragmentation of being, it is a possibility for separation (two eyes, two ears: the possibility of discrimination, for the use of the diacritical), it is the advent of difference (on the grounds of resemblance …)’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 217). The implications of the flesh ontology introduced in The Visible and the Invisible are that the infant is born of the intertwining of the flesh that she must come to discover rather than needing to emerge from a homogenous existence. It is ‘by a sort of chiasm, we become the others and we become

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world’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 160). This change, from the infant being born into syncretism with others from which she must developmentally emerge through intersubjective engagements to being born of the flesh through a chiasmic relation whereby ‘I am given to myself’ (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 360), and need only discover alterity, is highly problematic. As we shall see in chapter six, the conception of a gifted subjectivity is an issue because as Derrida (1992, 173) identifies: ‘For there to be a gift, it is necessary that the gift not even appear, that it not to be perceived or received as a gift.’ The givenness of the self in terms of gift that gives itself, is, for Derrida, an aporia, the issue lying in the exposition of the flesh as anonymous and pre-discursive, anterior to the present, and defying representation, renders illegitimate the carnal body in its facticity. That ‘I am given to myself’ is also problematic when applied to a phenomenology of gravidity because it leaves begging the question of when and how does a foetus enter into the reversibility of the flesh during gestation. Not only is this question important in terms of understanding the ontology of being that Merleau-Ponty proposes, it also carries a heavy political weight. Should the zygote be self-forming through ‘dehiscence or fission of its own mass’ (1968, 146) and not an aspect of a woman’s body, her flesh, then we will perhaps need to ethically rethink our conceptions of when it is that we come into being and subsequently the policies and practices surrounding abortion and consent to treatments while in the state of gravidity. Should the zygote be one with the mother, then we must admit a point where syncretism is absolute and then we need an account of where in development divergence occurs. Mat Dillon (1990, 22) describes the flesh as meaning that there has been ‘a separation between us that has been gestating since my conception and becomes irrevocable at the moment of my birth. This separation is … a reality that transcends the consciousness of infant and adult alike, a state of affairs to which both must adjust.’ Although Dillon does not go on to think through the implications of what he is saying, the logical conclusion to draw from this statement is that a woman and her foetus are separate entities from the moment of conception. If this is what Dillon intends to claim, then it is indeed a strong and unsubstantiated claim, and many, including myself, would disagree for reasons that I have already begun to outline in the previous two chapters. However, what is important to note here is that, theoretically, Dillon needs to draw this conclusion because should we at any time return to MerleauPonty’s original position where there is a developmental point of syncretism, where self and other are indistinguishable, where the boundaries are not only perceptually blurred but also ontologically and biologically blurred, then we need an explanation for how one becomes two through dehiscence or reciprocity while remaining within the flesh ontology. We need to understand how this foetus gifts itself to itself. Dillon bypasses this problem by assuming


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that it is the fission of egg and sperm at conception that marks the point of entry into the flesh, and although this assumption is logical, as we shall see, it cannot be supported by the phenomenology of gravidity. The gestational Body Schema For Merleau-Ponty, accouplement is affective but the affect is in the behaviour and not something produced by the behaviour – the quality of the affect is an aspect of shared or coupled space, of the flesh, and so the level of cognitive capacity and even of cognitive awareness need not be present as a barrier. Through the synchronisation of movement, we are not only able to gain a pre-reflective comprehension of an other but also an affective communication and at no time is someone more coupled than during the final trimester of gestation. During gestation, the woman’s style of movement, the body to which she has become accustomed, her habit body, is gradually and incrementally moulded around the foetus such that the foetus becomes incorporated into her corporeal schema, through her flesh understood both metaphorically and metonymically. One of the most characteristic aspects of embodiment in late gestation is the manner in which a woman’s corporeal schema is constantly changing and shifting, which for many women can take some time to unfold. While working as a childbirth educator, I have heard women express concern that they felt no different upon discovering that they are pregnant, and often these women will express relief at symptoms of nausea or in seeing the scales incrementally creep as confirmation that the medical tests were indeed correct. For some other women, movement is not experienced until the third trimester and for some, they will not realise that they are pregnant until they give birth or might not have if it were not for medical interventions and technologies. For most women, however, by the third trimester of gestation, their body will begin to ‘appear’, to emerge out of the comfort of absence that pre-reflective movement permits and must be negotiated as an experiential foreignness. Slowly, I become alien to myself and the required redesigning of my world draws my attention inward and demands that I form new daily habits that incorporate and attempt to accommodate this strange me into my pre-existing sense of self as a reformation of a spatially, temporality and situated sense of self-capability: I wake early in the morning because the child in my womb is moving and I cannot get comfortable in bed – my old habitual sleeping position is no longer available to me. I attempt to get out of bed only to find that I cannot sit up but must slide to the edge. I bend to put on my slippers and then remember that I cannot reach my feet and I walk through the narrow doorway into my bathroom and am surprised when I bump my stomach on

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the edge of the door – it wasn’t that big yesterday. My bodily movements are constricted into certain attainable patterns and this becomes increasingly so as the foetus grows and I am called to negotiate the living physicality within me. We need to choreograph – he moves and then I shift to facilitate the pressure – I walk rhythmically and he lolls off to sleep. My body must incorporate this other ‘me’ in order for movement to feel fluid, and occasionally this negotiation obtains a degree of success as we fall into the steps of a choreographed dance. Only once each adjustment becomes a repetitive pattern can I begin to experience the situation as a smooth habitual flow – as the kind of ‘kinetic melody’ (Sheets-Johnstone 1999, 259) that allows a small reprieve from having to learn the steps, and in these moments, my body can recede into the pre-reflective and I can forget for a minute that I am in the state of gravidity and focus more fully on the task at hand. The manner in which the maternal and foetal body schemas come together will begin to form a communication that expresses the bonded relation that is born out of and through these embodied negotiations. These corporeal negotiations are affectively structured through the style of the movements themselves. Cataldi (1993, 115) describes affect as, by definition, a crossing and remaking of boundaries between oneself and the world. Should I willingly participate in movements that facilitate accouplement as a merging of bodily motion, the affective boundaries between myself and the foetus become blurred and I can, albeit momentarily, be taken up or become caught up in a metronomic world. This phenomenology, the bond of gestational accouplement, can therefore be affectively experienced by women in multiple ways. For Iris Marion Young (2005, 46), ‘the pregnant subject … is decentred, split, or doubled in several ways. She experiences her body as herself and not herself. Its inner movements belong to another being, yet they are not other, because her body boundaries shift and because her bodily self-location is focused on her trunk in addition to her head.’ Young (2005, 46) approaches this ambiguity within herself with grace, overtly situating her account of gravidity within the ‘technologically sophisticated Western societies’ and the limits of a planned and desired pregnancy, and so her affective engagement is one of curiosity and wonder. Where pregnancy is chosen in the sense offered by Young, the chiasm of pregnancy is envisioned as being inhabited by two subjects, and the phenomenological process undertaken by the woman is one of recognition – the mother experiences a ‘privileged relation to this other life’, as she emerges through and ultimately out of the ambiguity of her flesh until she is able, at the time of birth, to see for the first time the tiny flailing being whose existence has been a chiasmic negotiation between embodied and imaginary experience. Most women would likely desire to experience their gestation, as Young describes, however, throughout history it would be fair to say that this may


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not even be the norm and that multiple variations of gestational experience exist, even for the same woman – the narrating of which will no doubt uncover uncountable variations in both the degree of planning of the pregnancy and the level of desire. The challenge of beginning a phenomenology of unwanted, unplanned or denied pregnancy has been undertaken by Caroline Lundquist (2008, 141) who, drawing upon sources in literature and psychology as well as phenomenology, outlines stories which narrate a phenomenology of gravidity in terms of ‘a chiasm not of two subjects, but rather of a subject and some unwanted or menacing object, some less than human, perhaps monstrous creature, or the embodiment of the aggressor, in pregnancies resulting from rape’. Women who suffer through pregnancies that they do not wish would come to term experience the same basic biological processes as willing mothers, the accouplement, but the affective narration reveals a horror at the loss of themselves, at the need to renegotiate their embodied selves; should I resist my pregnant embodiment by fighting to hold stable my pre-pregnant bodily boundaries by sustaining my previous habits, then I must structure my affective engagement with my own body as resistant. How I respond to my gestational body will preface my sense of my own personal boundaries – where I begin and end and through the affect inherent within that negotiation, how prepared or willing I am to succumb to the synchronisation that will blur quite literally who I am. One story, narrated by Lundquist, draws upon a novel that was written following the Bosnian Civil War (1992–1995), by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic published S: A novel about the Balkans, which she based upon interviews with women who had undergone systematic rape. The subsequent pregnancies are described in terms of embattlement and experiences of invasion and war, ‘this is war, inside her, in her own womb. And they are winning’ (Drakulic in Lundquist 2008, 142). The discourse is one of seizure and domination from inside by a disease or an enemy, a feeling of still being held captive and S would physically limit and constrain the movements of the foetus; when the foetus shifted position, S would not move but rather resist, fight, hold tight her ‘self’, her personal boundaries as a resistance to the synchronisation of accouplement, as a resistance to being taken yet again. Lundquist (2008, 141) also, and importantly, identifies how since these women ‘cannot convey their pregnancy experiences in unequivocally positive terms, it makes sense that women undergoing unwanted pregnancies may suffer in silence, especially in cultures where motherhood is taken to epitomize the feminine gender role’. Cultural expectations, family dynamics, socioeconomic comfort and, as we shall see in ensuing chapters, the structures of hospitality offered to women by cultural institutions are all brought to bear through her style of accouplement, rendering an experience of gravidity, even for the same women, particular and unique. The potential import that this will

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have on foetal phenomenology is the topic of the next section and it is to this other side of the gestational relation that I now turn to. Foetal Movement and Development The pattern of foetal movement development described by researchers begins with the emergence of twitching and uncontrolled or spontaneous movement between the 6th and 10th week of gestation, to hand to head, hand to face, hand to umbilical cord and hand to mouth exploratory movements by around the 16th week (Tajani and Ianniruberto 1990). The vestibular system that informs proprioception begins to develop around the 8th week but will also not be complete until around the 16th week, the same time when the foetus will begin to display a reliable reactive listening behaviour to a pure pulse sound – a development that is especially significant, because the ear is structurally incomplete until around 24 weeks (Shahidullah and Hepper 1993). By the 10th week of gestation, regular mouth opening and closing and swallowing are all present and the foetus will move in response to stimuli such as the gestational woman’s laugh or cough. The following is an extract from the notes of Theodolinda Stocche and Carolina Funayama (2006, 430) taken during progressive ultrasound observations of foetal movements during the second trimester: In the second ultrasonic session, at 16 weeks, a great evolution was observed in the quality of the movements. The breathing movements were more evident, the suction and the deglutition, clearer and the motor repertoire appeared entirely. The differences in the behavioral characteristics of each foetus became more evident. In the 20th week, the segmental movements developed and they [be] came more diversified. They performed somersaults, kicked the uterine wall, caught the umbilical cord, swallowed amniotic liquid, presented sob, and the breathing movements were stronger. All that combination of movements seems private for each foetus. In the 24th week, the foetuses no longer floated … they were more contained, could have larger contact with the uterine environment. The patterns of the movements were changed; the free flotation from the beginning was substituted by the contact of the inferior members [lower limbs] with the uterine wall, appearing the denominated movement of stepping. This can be the beginning of the walking reflex.

In 1998, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) held an interdisciplinary conference to discuss the parameters and priorities to be undertaken in continuing foetal research because findings such as those articulated above were becoming commonplace and researchers were beginning to understand that each foetal development was individuated (Krasnegor et al. 1998). The Institute published findings that


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(a) foetal movement is a practiced foetal behaviour that provides important predictive information to the clinician; (b) that foetal habituated movement patterns constituted a form of learning that provided an important measure of central nervous system functioning and (c) that these movement patterns appeared to develop in relation to the gestational woman’s situation (Krasnegor et al. 1998). The foetal movements were described as structured bodily movements which were developed through habituation (the most common word employed was practising) that begin to appear around the 9th week of gestation (Krasnegor et al. 1998). These movements progress in complexity and appear to be adapted responses to the individual foetus’s situation. What these researchers are describing is an evolving relationship between the foetal body and the gestational woman as well as the external environment that is, at least initially, non-conscious, but nonetheless seems to have developmental importance. Although these researchers do not use the term, what they are describing is an emerging foetal corporeal schema which, according to their research, is regulated and practised from around the 9th week of gestation. The consensus that a foetus this young displays regulated movement patterns, which have been described by the NICHHD as practised, requires some elaborating because the proprioceptive structures, required for regulated movement, do not develop until around the 16th week of gestation. Therefore, an alternate explanation for the appearance of structured movement patterns is required. In previous publications, I have argued a response to this issue where I outlined two considerations that need to be incorporated into this phenomenology before a logical understanding can be posited (see Lymer 2010, 2011). The first is an argument presented by Sheets-Johnstone (1998, endnote 19) that ‘movement influences morphology’– an understanding of neurological development which is heavily influenced by the evolutionary neurobiology of Gerald Edelman (1992). In essence, the position is that there is an interrelationship between movement and neurological development such that bodily movement precedes and elicits the nervous system development relevant to that function. For Sheets-Johnstone (1998) cognitive function is movement driven – a view which remains consistent with Van der Meer and Van der Weel’s (1995, 259) claim that neurophysical changes in the brain result from the system as a whole adapting to new levels of organisation at more peripheral levels, rather than the neurological developments preceding proprioceptive capacities. Put simply, what these theories are suggesting is that foetal movement elicits and nuances foetal neural function and development rather than the behaviour flowing out of the required a priori neurology. Sheets-Johnstone (1998, endnote 19) places this concept within a foetal developmental paradigm and discovers that the morphology does indeed appear to follow along this trajectory:

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In particular, there is early beginning development (the 4th week of life) of the semicircular ear canals which, through vestibular sensations, provide a sense of balance or imbalance, and (at the foetal stage) of receptors in the muscles which, through kinesthetic sensations, provide a sense of position and movement. Though rudimentary, the sensory system for balance is in place by the beginning of the 4th month. By the beginning of the 4th month too, reflexive behaviour appears, which means that the movement of the foetus is coordinated in response to stimulation. The comparatively early development of neural tissue related to movement is of particular interest in conjunction with physiological studies suggesting that neural development of the motor cortex is stimulated by the body movements of the foetus itself. In other words, form does not develop solely on its own. Movement influences morphology. Myelination studies also show that motor neurons myelinate early and that acoustic-vestibular neurons myelinate next.

As Sheets-Johnstone (1998) points out, if we examine the foetal developmental curve, we can see that the structures required for proprioception and movement are the first to emerge and seem to structure consecutive development. Very early foetal movement in her description is being regulated by the initial emergence of the more primitive reflex structures which move in coordinated response to stimulation, and this is a claim that is increasingly supported.5 “However, there are two problems with Sheets-Johnstone’s (1998) explanation of foetal development. The first is how a foetus as young as 9 weeks gestation is moving in regulated ways.” Traditionally, theorists such as de Vries, Vissor and Prechtl (1982) describe early foetal movement as spontaneous and repetitive, which could well be logically attributed to a reflex response that has biologically and genetically unfolded. However, the contemporary addition by the NICHHD of movement regulation, and in particular the claim that regulatory movement is practised, suggest that something more than a mere reflexive response is involved. A reflexive movement pattern may logically be spontaneous and may be reliably repetitive should the presented stimulation be consistent and of equal intensity, but they are hardly regulated and one does not ‘practice’ reflexes. Second, is the question of how the reflexes required in order for a foetus to be able to respond ‘in coordinated response to stimulation’ initially developed. If Sheets-Johnstone (1998, endnote 19) is attempting to supersede the more traditional theories that the organisation of foetal behaviour is a direct and observable manifestation of central nervous system development (Prechtl 1984), then she has failed to sufficiently account for embryonic life. The result is that she has taken some aspects of each theory so that reflexes biologically unfold and develop to influence subsequent morphology. However, reflexes have morphology and pathologies and so one might expect that any account of movement development should in some way


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encompass reflex development as well, rather than taking reflex existence as a starting point. Put simply, within a ‘movement influences morphology’ framework movement appears to act almost like a mould that holds the form of the structure. So one needs to ask what moved the reflexes into morphology and I am going to argue, the gestational woman. What is providing the structuring and the basis for a movement appearing to be regulated and practised is the maternal corporeal schema. Movement does indeed precede morphology, but their development incorporates maternal movement. It then logically follows that the foetal response, situated as he or she is within a regulated and practised maternal body schema, may be regulated not because the foetus is regulating his or herself, but because the moving touching environment that stimulates and permits the foetus to experience touch is regulating. The movement will appear to be practised, not because the foetus is practising but because the moving maternal body is practised. The tactile encounter between foetus and mother thus elicits foetal movements in a manner that influences foetal morphology. Proprioceptive structures will thus form as a kind of imprinting from this proprioceptive-like movement. The semicircular ear canals and receptors in the muscles, which provide a sense of position, are thus developed in adaptation within a moving maternal body schema. Add to physical movement the regular maternal heartbeat, digestion and breathing, and we can see that the intrauterine world is not only a moving but also quite a rhythmic and regulated animate world. We should, perhaps, not be surprised then to see that within a ‘movement influences morphology’ paradigm, the structures for proprioception (which will not be mature before the 4th month) will be the earliest to begin to be aroused in adaptation to such an active environment. What also aids this development is foetal size in ratio to that of the amniotic sac and proportional to the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding the foetus at this age. Such a liquid, gravity-free environment facilitates free movement patterns that are consistent with the learning of proprioceptive capacities.6 The situation of a 10-week-old foetus within a fluid-filled womb within a moving body amid rhythmic beatings and breathing would facilitate a continuously moving, flowingly rhythmic world (see Figure 3.1). Within such an environment, the growing buoyant weight of the foetus would precipitate the rolling and rocking movements that are fundamental to develop capacities for basic homoeostatic bodily positioning such as upright and sideways. This notion of proprioceptive development as being situated and maternally facilitated is consistent with Merleau-Ponty’s account that habitual behaviours are those that we have formed in relationship with meaningful contexts, and the engagement within those contexts is likely to elicit a similar behaviour at a bodily, non-conscious level. Interestingly, it is these very types of flowing and rhythmic movements that are often employed in therapy

Gestational Accouplement


Figure 3.1  Ten-week-old foetus. This photograph was taken by drsuparna (username) on November 27, 2008, after a complete hysterectomy of a 44-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with carcinoma in situ of cervix (early-stage cancer of the uterus). The uterus (womb) was completely removed, including the fetus, to protect the health of the patient. Source: Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

for proprioceptive problems in children (see The Dance Therapy Association of Australia). Within Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy (1968, 146) of the flesh, this account of foetal phenomenology is problematic because it is not consistent with the emergence of the foetus as self-forming through ‘dehiscence or fission of its own mass’. Should the gestational body move the foetus in such a way as to morphologically elicit the earliest beginnings of the foetal body schema in the image of the maternal body schema, then it is the gestational woman, a particular woman, and not the anonymous chiasm of the flesh that lays the morphological foundations for the emulation of human body schematic form and intentionality that will be the template for the capacity to begin to ‘feel with’. Situated within Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, the early developmental process that I have described to date constitutes the syncretic beginnings of the maternal;foetal bond that moulds foetal development rather than the bond itself and this has political import. At this early stage, and up until at least the


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end of the second trimester, the foetus is, at least phenomenologically, much more an aspect of the gestational body rather than something that is divergent in a manner that requires a bond for a relationship to occur. In order to say that a bond has formed between the woman and foetus would require a reciprocal relation and so the foetus must be, in some primal way, a separate entity from the gestational woman before we could postulate a ‘bond’ between entities. This way of understanding the woman;foetal relation will also become important during later discussion of the role of reproductive technologies that purport to foster gestational bonding from the 12th gestational week. For now, however, it is to the development of the woman;foetal bond that I now turn to. The Woman;Foetal Bond During the second trimester of gestation, research suggests foetal habituation and learning are indicative of an increase in foetal independence and suggestive of a foetal environment that begins to extend beyond maternal mediation in the gross physical manner of the first trimester. Participants at the 1998 NICHHD conference, for example, cite studies which observed a change in foetal heart rate and movement patterns following vibroacoustic7 stimulation. The foetus observed reliably displayed a declining response consistent with the stimulus repetition (Kisilevsky et al. 1998; Kuhlman et al. 1988; van Heteren et al. 2001). Thus, as the sound is repeated, the foetus who initially responded with an immediate and sharp increase in heart rate (implying startle or stress) will not manifest an equivalent response to repeated sessions. This result was read by the researchers as indicating a capacity for familiarity which manifests as a declining anxiety (as indicated by foetal heart rate and movement) to a repeated experience that was initially foreign to the foetal environment. Habituation was also inferred based on similar alterations in foetal heart rate to airborne sound (Kisilevsky and Muir 1991). Note within this body of literature that foetal behaviours are not being described in terms of biological unfolding but rather as habituations within a specific environment that extends beyond the bounds of the womb. What makes the foetal environment is thus highly variable and not just in terms of the gestational physicality. While the height, weight, uterine shape, posture, diet and the muscle tone of the mother will all heavily impact upon the immediate foetal environment, so too will the practices and lifestyle that she undertakes on a daily basis: the noises she encounters, the train ride to work, the quiet afternoon nap. Actual independent foetal movement doesn’t begin to emerge until around the 22nd week of gestation when kinematic patterns within foetal movement start to become consistent with intentional, goal-directed bodily action – actions that were previously only broadly directional up to 18 weeks

Gestational Accouplement


(Zoia et al. 2007). By this time, hand reaches become straighter and more accurately aimed with acceleration and deceleration phases of the movement predicated on the size and sensitivity of the target. These movements in particular are highly suggestive of independent action as their strength and trajectories cut through, rather than employ as an aspect of the movement itself, the moving gestational body. The mark, at 22 weeks of intentional action, suggests that the foetus has developed a sense of ipseity – a sense of self and not a self that is displaying sufficient consistency that the foetus can discern an object to be intentional towards and the only available objects are either self or the gestational woman. Thus, the beginnings of an interconnectedness of sensitivity and motor response that will be foundation to a style of body schematic functioning now begins to display. Although not cited within the literature, the findings by Zoia et al. (2007) that by 22 weeks onwards, foetal action is much more deliberate and forceful will also be a factor in feeling foetal movement by the gestational woman, both consciously and within her body schema. Thus, this 22-week foetal transition also marks the beginning of a different level of woman;foetal engagement or what I will call, the woman;foetal bond. The woman;foetal bond begins to manifest as a bond, or as reciprocity, when there is maternal engagement with intentional foetal movement. This developmental trajectory is consistent with Merleau-Ponty’s notion of body schematic intentionality as not requiring self-consciousness beyond the ipseitic, or self and non-self in Dennett’s (1991) don’t eat thyself kind of way. Recall that consciousness for Merleau-Ponty originates through the chiasm of the flesh as an alterity experienced as perceptual dehiscence in the form of pre-reflective consciousness as the familiarity that I have with myself as I engage in the world. What the woman;foetal bond provides for the foetus is just this engagement. It is then relevant that foetal EEG readings begin concurrently at around the 22 nd week of gestation, at about the same time as the connection between the spinal cord and the thalamus completes. Following very closely afterwards, at 24–26 weeks thalamocortical connections will have begun to grow into the cortex.8 Thus, once again we can see the ‘movement influences morphology’ paradigm quite literally acting out developmentally, a process that requires the presence of, and is facilitated through, the gestational body. Research by DiPietro et al. (2004) also supports this thesis. In 2004, this group of researchers set out to examine the possibility of maternal to foetal stress transfer and found something that they did not expect – foetal motor activity affected maternal functioning measured in terms of both heart rate and skin conductance. The detected time lags indicated a heart rate response after 2 seconds and skin conductance after 3 seconds and remained consistent from mid- to late-gestation. In other words, what they


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found was that the foetus had a capacity to affect the gestational body. This became more perplexing when they realised that the women only detected as few as 16 per cent of the movements suggesting that ‘the maternal sympathetic response is evoked in the absence of perception of movement’ (DiPietro et al. 2004, 518). There was also no apparent association with the gestational woman’s stress or arousal. Put simply, a woman’s body responds to foetal movement in a corresponding manner that occurs below the level of perception, that is, unconsciously. A woman does not need to feel her baby move in order for her body to respond to changes in the foetus. This is consistent with the notion that the woman–foetal bond operates at the level of the body schema. DiPietro et al. (2004, 518) suggest that an explanation might entail a mechanism ‘through which foetal movement may generate an autonomic response [which] involves the perturbations to the uterine wall. The normal response of the uterus to distension is contraction.’ They suggest that the sympathetic maternal response may be regulating or limiting the degree of contraction in relation to the foetal movement. Should a foetus experience anxiety, it will move more and thus the uterine rebound contraction will increase. This rebound will stimulate the woman’s sympathetic nervous system to tighten the uterine contraction and thus restrict the foetal movement. Even within such a mechanistic affectively free stimulus-response reading of the research as DiPietro et al. provide, what is clearly undeniable is the link between foetus and the gestational woman, one that both surprised and perplexed the researchers. They suggest, ‘A distal, but intriguing question is whether maternalfoetal synchrony sets the stage for postnatal synchrony in maternal-child interactions. Are women who are more physiologically responsive to foetal movements more responsive to infant behaviour?’ (DiPietro 2004, 519); they leave the question open. In this chapter, I have been critical of the work of Merleau-Ponty, describing how his understanding of the flesh denies a phenomenology of gravidity as founding the birth of cognition – a position that I develop further in the ensuing chapter on developmental alterity. Yet, I have also employed the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty to develop an understanding of woman;foetal bonding as an instance of affective accouplement, which is empirically supported. Thus, as Elizabeth Grosz (1993) has identified, Merleau-Ponty’s work neutralises the voices of gestational women through a ‘strategic blindness’ to the uniqueness of gravidity in its gendered embodiment and his denial of women’s gestational experiences as having philosophical importance has created problems in the account of ontology that he proposes. And yet, simultaneously his work has proved to be ‘profoundly and unusually useful’ in grasping an understanding of the very phenomenology which he denies.

Gestational Accouplement


notes 1. In chapter seven, I will argue that bonding is what occurs during gestation, whereas attachment is a post-partum phenomenon. 2. Ainsworth (1973), a colleague of Bowlby’s, developed attachment theory by examining qualitatively the differing styles of bonding behaviours that mothers and infants display. Ainsworth then correlated these differing styles of interaction to particular psychosocial outcomes. 3. The refer to the possibility of ‘no’ attachment, to a situation where a gestational woman who does not wish to be in the state of gravidity is devoid of attachment to a foetus, is misleading because to have an antagonistic relationship with one’s gestational body is not a lack of attachment but rather, a rejection of, or resistance to, the developing corporeal bond that is unfolding. 4. See C. M. Parkes (1973) ‘Factors determining the persistence of phantom pain in the Amputee,’ Journal Psychosomatic Research, 17: 97–108, J. Katz and R. Melzack (1990) ‘Pain “memories” in phantom limbs: review and clinical observations’ Pain, 43: 319–36 and K. Fisher and R. S. Hanspal (1998) ‘Phantom pain, anxiety, depression, and their relation in consecutive patients with amputated limbs: case reports’ British Medical Journal 316: 903–904. 5. Although research into this relation between foetal movement, growth and development is in its infancy, there has nonetheless been some research undertaken on limited aspects of this thesis. For example, since the 1970s, there have been growing suspicions that foetal movement is essential to the development of healthy bones and joints. Over the past decades, this understanding has gained credence. Historically, and for example, a poor-muscle-toned twin would have been thought to be due to competing nutrition. However, this understanding is now questioned. Contemporary research suggests that conditions such as amyotrophia congenita, which is basically poor muscle tone and even wasting in a newborn infant, may be more related to how, as a foetus, he or she moved in utero. That pregnancy involving multiple foetuses would entail restrictions to foetal movement seems, by Occam’s Razor, far more logical and minimally explanatory than a competitive nutrition thesis (Liley 1972). In regard to bone development, Bagnall, Harris and Jones (1977) studied the development of the ossification centres in the foetal vertebral column and suggested: Foetal movements may account for the particular sequences of neural arch ossification described in the present study, and it is suggested that the ossification patterns may be related to the development and function particular groups of muscles. In particular, those muscles concerned with the primitive ‘grasp’ reflex, may influence and perhaps determine, the pattern of neural arch ossification in the proximal [nearest] part of the spine (Bagnal et al. 1977: 802).

More contemporary research has found how restricted foetal jaw movement affects condylar cartilage development (Hasina et al. 2006) and development of the articular disk in the temporomandibular joint (Hasina et al. 2007). Reduced foetal movement has been found to be a common pathogenic mechanism in clubfoot (Hester et al. 2009) and in the development of hip joints (Kihara et al. 1998). Hip joint development


Chapter 3

and movement is relevant to the common occurrence within breech foetuses and those from multiple pregnancies, of a condition colloquially termed ‘clicky hips’, which is a specific malformation of the hip joint that can result in hip dysplasia (Wald 1983). This body of recent research seems consistent with Liley’s observation that, ‘The foetus who is severely constrained in utero like a pound of deep frozen sausages with extreme oligohydramnios presents an assortment of compression deformities with severe restriction of joint range movement’ (Liley 1972: 101). So the thesis that gives primacy to movement over morphology in terms of developmental outcome appears to be holding ground within the empirical research and theory that is currently unfolding. 6. Our proprioceptive senses differ from that of kinaesthesia, although they are often considered together. Kinesthesia is the sense of muscle, joint and tendon position relative to a particular situation. Kinesthetic memory in an aspect of the corporeal schema as it involves learning specific body positions and the sequence of shifts in these positions for rote, repeated movements (such as gymnastics). Proprioception however is more dynamic in that it allows continuous accommodations and adaptations to a shifting environment (such as in dance or moving through a crowded room). 7. Vibroacoustics may be defined as the process of hearing sound vibrations through the body. 8. See K. J. Anand and D. B. Carr (1989), F. Torres and C. Anderson (1985) for EEG readings and K. J. Anand and P. R. Hickey (1987) for cortical connections.

Chapter 4

Alterity and Maternal Flesh

The project that I embark upon in this chapter is an enquiry into the role of the gestational body in the development of alterity in the foetus and subsequently, the child.1 In the previous chapter, I described the woman;foetal relation in terms of accouplement – an embodied coupling entailing an affective substratum, which moulds foetal ipseity. I also identified that within Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, the place of a gestational woman’s alterity in the development of foetal ipseity is underestimated. There is no requirement, within MerleauPonty’s theory of infant development, or his ontology of the flesh, for the gestational woman to be a primal alterity that scaffolds the development of the foetus. In this chapter, I attempt to explore the notion that the gestational woman is a primal alterity and what this might mean for Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology and our understandings of foetal development more generally. As we shall see in this chapter, it is the common misnomer that gestational women are passive and all giving mothers are foetal containers where Merleau-Ponty most errs in his assessment of developmental alterity. In the Sorbonne lectures, he describes pregnancy as ‘an anonymous process which happens through her and of which she is only the seat’ (Merleau-Ponty 2010, 78). Being the passive recipient, the container in which the foetus grows through the power of nature, denies the necessity of gestational interaction and engagement with her foetus as necessary for foetal flourishing. I begin by drawing on maternal–infant bonding and attachment theory which recognises that a mother or primary caregiver is required in order to support the development of alterity in the child. It has been accepted since the 1950s that children need a particular carer with which to form an affective bond in order to cognitively flourish (see Ainsworth 1973, Bowlby 1969). Through the study of institutionalised children, John Bowlby, the pioneer of bonding theory, was able to show that children not given the opportunity to 93


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bond develop autism-like symptoms, which increase in severity the longer a child is isolated from family life (a condition now referred to as reactive attachment disorder or RAD). Infants are most at risk of permanent cognitive impairment, should they remain institutionalised beyond the 6th month of age. Maternal–infant bonding has been thought to develop from birth, so when a child is adopted, early placement within the adopting family is advocated in order to facilitate the bonding process. However, it has been identified that, although the cognitive impairment experienced by institutionalised infants is usually avoided by adoption, adoptees nonetheless take a different developmental pathway than their non-adopted counterparts. Although only recently acknowledged, psychologists have long suspected issues with adoption after a series of studies, which date back to the 1970s, correlated adoption with psychological vulnerability and learning difficulties (Bohman and Sigvardsson 1979, 1980, 1990; Brodzinsky and Schechter 1990; Brodzinsky et al. 1998; Cohen et al. 1993; Miller et al. 2000; Verrier 2004; Wertheimer 2006). Just why adoptees might developmentally face more obstacles than non-adopted children remains unclear, and although the research does indicate that there is ‘something’ about being adopted that sets the adoptee apart, just what this ethereal something is, is yet to be clearly defined. I think Ronald Nydam (1999, 10) describes adoptee phenomenology best when he states that ‘adoptees can grow up well, but they grow up differently. They must inevitably follow an unusual developmental pathway as they attend to the sound of that dissonant echo.’ In this chapter, my primary concern with adoptee phenomenology is to begin the process of trying to understand this ‘dissonant echo’, and one of the conclusions that I draw is that the experience of alterity both in the self and of others in the adoptee disrupts the ‘at birth’ notion of infant bonding and attachment, leaving us with questions about the role of the gestational woman in the development of foetal and infant cognition. From the outset of this project, I want to make it clear that it is not my intention to pathologise adoptee phenomenology. Although sadly, disproportionate percentages of adoptees experience difficulties growing up, it is unclear if this is the result of the presumption, both medically and culturally, that an adoptee ought to be ‘normal’. The failure to recognise ‘adoption’ as an alternative embodiment could in and of itself contribute to the psychological vulnerability identified, making life far more difficult than it might otherwise be for those who have been adopted. Many personal accounts of adoptee experience, such as Jeanette Winterson’s (2012) biography Why be Happy when you can Be Normal, tell of adoptees who negotiate their difference, their sense of ‘abnormality’, in reflective and insightful ways. As one researcher discovered, adoptees do not suffer lower than average intelligence and often will be high achievers (Marinus et al. 2005). What appears to cause

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the greatest amount of difficulty is in the negotiation of alterity, both within the self and with others, and the awareness by many adoptees that they are different to their counterparts without knowing why. In terms of this project, what I wish to take from adoptee phenomenology is the premise that something is different, that this something appears to be founded in the adoption process and results in differences and often difficulties in the negotiation of alterity both within the self and with others, even in cases where adoption has occurred at birth, where family life was healthy, and sadly, where all too often, the adoptee will only discover later in life that they were adopted. In the final section of this chapter, I situate this phenomenology back into Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology. Drawing upon Luce Irigaray’s (1993) critique of The Visible and the Invisible, I agree that Merleau-Ponty appropriates the gestational body in his model of the flesh, and that it is this denial that allows us to imagine ourselves as individuated, but I question Irigaray’s claim that this translates into an overarching denial of sexual difference, if only because we are all born and we all forget our birth. For Irigaray, the inability to see the other sex within phallocentric philosophies in general emerges out of the invisibility of the corporeal prenatal condition and the inability to see the mother as the source or origin of existence underpins the inability to acknowledge the existence of a sex different from, and incommensurable with, the subject. Drawing upon metaphors of fluidity and absorption rather than a womb which nourishes through amniotic fluid, and in giving precedence to vision over touch, Merleau-Ponty, according to Irigaray, appropriates, yet denies the gestational body which encases and nourishes the foetus, a relation that for Irigaray leaves a ‘watermark’ etched into the subject’s body. In acknowledging foetal and adoptee phenomenology, I conclude this chapter with the speculation that perhaps this watermark, of which Irigaray speaks, might well be what Nydam describes as a dissonant echo, and if so, this leaves us with the question of whether Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology is actually a phenomenology of gestation. In other words, the question of whether the woman;foetal accouplement that I have described is the ontology which Merleau-Ponty (1968, 148) claims as ‘a prototype of Being’, a flesh that includes not only the flesh of bodies but also the flesh of the world – a primordial intersubjectivity that subtends cognition, an ontology that provides the possibility for intersubjective communication. A close examination of the phenomenology of gestation and adoption provides us with a simulacrum of this flesh. Merleau-Ponty and Gestational Alterity Recall from the previous chapter that within the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty it is through perception that we have access to the world as a relation of our embodied consciousness with the social and the organic situation in which we


Chapter 4

discover ourselves as selves. As situated, neither our world nor our consciousness is uniquely private, but shared, in that it is only as both perceiver and perceived that I exist. The substratum of this interaction is what Merleau-Ponty, in his final unpublished text, The Visible and the Invisible, names flesh. The flesh is not a genetic but rather a description, a name for the way that we experience ourselves as both sensing and sensed as intertwined and reversible within ourselves and with others. Merleau-Ponty most often exemplifies the flesh by the way our hands, when placed together, can alternate between touching and being touched, each in turn but never in coincidence: ‘Either my right hand really passes over to the rank of the touched, but then its hold on the world is interrupted, or it retains its hold on the world, but then I do not really touch it’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 146). The temporal gap between the touching and being touched is alterity, generated by a doubling of the flesh back upon itself, ‘by dehiscence or fission of its own mass’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 133). As a primordial intersubjectivity that subtends cognition, it is flesh, within Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, that provides the possibility for an inter-communication with both ourselves and with others that preserves the alterity of the other. The descriptions of our experiences that we give as subjective are reflections from a certain vantage, a certain spaciality – they are given from our individual perspective within the flesh. Like the touching hands, I cannot assume more than one vantage point at any given time, either I am touching or being touched. Similarly, I cannot see through the eyes of another and should I attempt to move to their position, I can only do so through the passage of time. The time that it will take to shift position opens up an unbridgeable gap between my experience and that of another, a radical alterity that can never be closed even though we share the same world. Alterity as an immanent experience of ourselves as other develops sometime during the second year of life at what is commonly known as the mirror stage. As we come to recognise ourselves as situated, we discover ‘an anonymity innate to myself’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 133). For Merleau-Ponty, it is through the mutual crossing over and intertwining of the touching with the tangible and the visual with the invisible that difference within the self is discovered through the non-coincidence between the corporeality which the ‘I’ inhabits (ipseity) and the ideality that I recognise others are witnessing. Because I cannot see the body which I experientially inhabit, I come to see myself as situated through the fold or cavity that allows me to experience myself through the things that I see. Therefore, in order for us to perceive the world through the eyes of a self, we must render invisible the radical alterity of the other, subsuming her into our corporeal rootedness as an imprint of the other within the self in a narcissistic moment. Once again, the flesh we are speaking of is not matter. It is the coiling over of the visible upon the seeing body, of the tangible upon the touching body, which is

Alterity and Maternal Flesh


attested in particular when the body sees itself, touches itself seeing and touching the things, such that, simultaneously as tangible it descends among them as touching it dominates them all and draws this relationship and even this double relationship from itself, by dehiscence or fission of its own mass. (MerleauPonty 1968, 146)

Thus, a mature alterity requires the emergence of a double-sided otherness whereby the sense of immanent alterity becomes in some ways the condition for the possibility for the perception of a transcendent alterity and vice versa. It is thus ‘by a sort of chiasm, [that] we become the others and we become world’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 160). Merleau-Ponty (1964) first outlines how the infant developmentally comes into herself in ‘The Child’s Relations With Others’ where he describes how she is born into syncretism, where self and other are indistinguishable – a bodily possession that he thought could not begin until around the 8th month of age. In the previous chapter, we saw how before being able to phenomenologically engage in the world, for Merleau-Ponty, the neonate must emerge out of being the passive beneficiary of experience to possessing herself through the capacity for embodied intentional movement – a skill which ultimately grounds perception as situated; the body or postural schema that sit below our level of conscious thought; ‘that is, a global consciousness of my body’s position in space, with the corrective reflexes that impose themselves at each moment, the global consciousness of the spatiality of my body’ (Merleau-Ponty 1964, 122). Postural schematic movement is what permits us to experience a sense of possession over our bodies as spatially situated concomitant with and through an experience of alterity. Although Merleau-Ponty never formally revised this thesis, in his later writings, there are indications of a rethinking of the developmental process outlined in ‘The Child’s Relations with Others’. In the Sorbonne lectures, for instance, he states that even though the neonate does ‘not remember the fact of birth, he conserves a memory of discomfort and can imagine the wellbeing that preceded this period’ (Merleau-Ponty 2010, 85), a description that suggests that something is carried from the womb into the world or perhaps even that he was beginning to suspect that intrauterine life is our first world. In the previous chapter, I also indicated how the flesh ontology of The Visible and the Invisible, which Merleau-Ponty describes as ‘a prototype of Being’, potentially alters the possibility of an absolute neonatal syncretism. The implications being that alterity is no longer experientially developed, but rather discovered as already and always there, a claim that I will soon show was a very insightful modification to his understanding of infant development. However, the key to this modification is in the recognition that the body schema develops in utero through exposure to a gestational woman’s alterity,


Chapter 4

and this Merleau-Ponty could not have known, simply because the empirical research was not available at that time. From the previous chapter, we can now see that the body schema develops during gestation, and that gestational emotions may leave their imprint on neonatal neural structures. Interestingly, suspicion that maternal emotions impact upon foetal personalities dates back to World War I, when Lester Sontag (1941) detected similarities between maternal emotional characteristics and infant behaviour. In particular, he noted how mothers whose husbands were at war and at risk of death birthed babies that seemed to be nervy, restless and difficult to settle. More recently, we have seen studies that have shown gestational emotions to be deeply implicated in foetal flourishing. Recall how Sable et al. (1997, 76), for example, found that ‘mothers of very low birth weight infants were significantly more likely than those who had a normal weight baby to report that they had felt unhappy about the pregnancy (odds ratio of 1.53)’. Caroline Lundquist (2008), in her paper ‘Being Torn: Toward a Phenomenology of Unwanted Pregnancy’ describes a similar interrelation. Drawing on the phenomenon of denied pregnancy, where women do not realise they are pregnant until they go into labour, she notes how, very often, neonates born out of a denied pregnancy suffer from low birth weight. A second study of denied pregnancy by Brezinka et al. (1994) showed similar results. Although I was unable to find any studies on pregnant women whose infants were to be adopted, one might legitimately wonder if the outcomes would show a particular pattern, especially as it has been identified, at least in Australia, that the vast majority of adoptions that historically occurred in this country were coerced if not forced (NSW Parliament 2000). For Merleau-Ponty (1962, 154), alterity is a distinction between self and other that begins to emerge as a ‘lived distance’ through the creation of a perceptual space that pushes others farther away, opening a space for the child to exist as individuated. This pushing away, for Merleau-Ponty, not only creates the felt sense of spatial separation but also an affective space and so, as alterity develops, the space between the child and others is not just seen but also affectively negotiated. Applied to foetal phenomenology, what can be seen from the previous chapter, is that the foetus has evolved from moving with the gestational body in syncretism to a pushing away as intentional movement that opposes the gestational woman’s movement, action and emotion by the 22nd week of gestation. The gestational woman, who, prior to the quickening, may well have enjoyed imagining her foetus (a manifestation that could only ever be temporal, obscure or for some, not there at all), may now begin to concretely experience this other through an engagement with perceived foetal movement. In late pregnancy, I often played with my foetus by pushing my stomach in order to illicit a kick back, a game I have heard many women speak of playing, as is the use of particular movement patterns or classical

Alterity and Maternal Flesh


music to sooth overactive or nocturnal foetal movement. Some women report their foetus waking and moving in response to a call from their partner or having likes and dislikes of certain sounds. Foetuses also use the gestational woman’s responses to modify their own. For example, foetuses have been shown to adjust their response to unfamiliar noises based on the gestational woman’s response to that noise (Graven and Brown 2008, 188). Through these engagements, the foetus that began as a part of the gestational body is beginning to create a lived distance within the body of a women who, in order to go about her day, will continually attempt to incorporate her foetus into her bodily habituations. This embodied negotiation between woman and foetus has developmental import, because to experience ipseity, the foetus needs an experiential alterity and so can only gain the lived distance required for individuation in the presence of a gestational woman, which is simultaneously a familiarity and an alterity. At this stage, alterity is thus a necessary imperialism that forecloses the possibility of the foetus as a radical other because during gestation it is always, at least in part, my body that moves, even if only to regain a comfortable position that accommodates that foot in my ribs. A very startling ‘pushing away’ will of course occur at birth when the foetus becomes the neonate, launched into a world where the body schema that formed in utero will no longer serve. As Iris Marion Young says (2005), seeing your baby for the first time can come as a shock, the reality and relief are enormous. It is a difficult feeling to describe, seeing the reality of what was within you manifest without. There is recognition yet profound strangeness – it is wonder, it is radical alterity. Like an astronaut launched into space, the infant must now learn anew where she is in this vast spatiality, fluidless, unrestrictive of her movements and devoid of embodied maternal alterity that I will discuss further in chapter eight. How much of the uterine body schema will remain after induction into this new world is very unclear. However, what has formed are the cognitive structures that will in some way influence a ‘style’ of being, a watermark that will stylise the infant’s intersubjective communications in the world. Neonates who have assumed different positions within the womb will have different yet identifiably ‘normal’ neurological structures and those who have shared the womb with a twin, especially one of similar size, will at this early stage share both movement and affect similarity (Coon and Mitterer 2010, 412). In fact, even if these twins are to be separated at birth, should they meet again in later life, they will still share a striking similarity in their styles of movements and emotional dispositions – a phenomenon that has also been observed in adoptees reunited in their adult years with their biological mothers (see Triseliotis 1973). If the foetal body schema has been moulded through the gestational body, then one might ask about the need for a developmental continuation of this ‘style’ of body schematic movement after delivery in order to sustain the


Chapter 4

cognitive development that the foetus began in utero. Yet, the foetal body schema seems to be situated, purpose built for the inter-uterine world and not particularly well designed for life after birth; thus, adaption is required whether or not the gestational body schema remains available. A more cautious conclusion would be that at least some aspects of the foetal body schema do remain and these can be seen in the way that infants are calmed by swaddling and will draw to the mother as a source of familiarity in what is now an alien world and in the particularity, the personality that each infant embodies. It also seems to explain some discrepancies in the debate surrounding neonatal imitation as infants imitate their mothers more readily than strangers in imitation trials.2 As they grow, securely attached infants rely on their primary caregiver for ‘reality checks’ modelling their emotional reaction on his or hers – insecurely attached infants do this less so, instead either selftesting, often to a dangerous degree, or fearing to move from close proximity to their primary carers (Ainsworth et al. 1978).3 The securely attached child will slowly, over time and with guidance from her carer, begin to test the world on her own terms, pushing her carer further and further away, opening a space for herself as a self. Perhaps in this developmental story, it is not too far a jump to speculate that within the adoptee something of a trace, a watermark, from the biological mother might be carried into this infant–world interaction, a trace that will leave her always a bit further away than the child who can better synchronise, form a tighter accouplement, with her primary carer. Understanding the importance of this primary third, the biological mother, also leads me to suspect that what might occur at the mirror stage of development is the internalisation of this primal alterity, what has up until this time has been an external alterity which supports self-experience in the child. As Jack Reynolds (2002) has identified, it is the experience of asymmetry in our relations that founds our capacities to perceive the absolute alterity of the other as a sphere of incomprehensibility that emerges out of the asymmetry. Thus developmentally, immanent alterity may not be an internal divergence nor might it result from the visible body becoming internalised as a captivated body image as Merleau-Ponty suggests. Rather it may be the discovery that this primary (m)other, who is also a part of me, bonded to me, folded over me, is a radical other who can leave me and who I will never truly comprehend. To discover that the biological mother is an alterity that is both within and yet distant from the self could open the fissure, the écart that would enclose the circuit of reversibility within the self, and in doing so, permit entry to the flesh in maturity. To take the mother, my primal alterity into me as an aspect of me and not of her is to be able to carry forward without her there to support my sense of self, and perhaps this is why a good attachment relation is so important in the first 2 years of life and less so beyond those years. It also explains, at least phenomenologically, why it is that we forget our birth, absorbing the

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very condition of our existence, our mother’s gestation, into our individuation as an alterity, an écart, a blindspot or perhaps the feminine alterity of which Levinas speaks (more on this in the next chapter). However, before finalising this argument, I wish to introduce a phenomenology of adoption into the discussion, to better argue the claim that something from the uterine environment seems to remain as an aspect of how we develop and ultimately experience ourselves as selves.

Bonding, Attachment and a Phenomenology of Adoption In March 2012, the Australian NSW Government released a final report into adoption practices in New South Wales. The report entitled Releasing the past: Adoption practices 1950–1998 was commissioned in 2000 and outlines the policies and practices within NSW Hospitals that facilitated the removal of an estimated 150,000 newborn babies, primarily from single mothers during the past half-century. The release of the report sparked a media controversy in Australia, culminated in more State enquiries, and ultimately it was the basis for the 2013 Australian Government’s apology to those affected by forced adoption. The overall findings have been that many mothers who gave up their children for adoption were denied their rights and that many hospital practices of the time were unlawful and unethical. While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to examine the adoption practices themselves, what is most relevant about these findings is that the more controversial actions undertaken by adoption workers and hospital staff were strongly motivated by maternal–infant bonding and attachment theory: Such theories developed the notion that children could be placed with other, unrelated families and be ‘saved’. Studies on attachment and bonding suggested that the child could completely bond to another person, and suffer no ill effects, provided that person was available shortly after birth. (NSW Parliament 2000, 18)

Attachment theory was developed by Mary Ainsworth in 1973, as an extension of the initial work on bonding carried out by Bowlby that I outlined in the introduction. Through an examination of the qualitatively differing styles of bonding behaviours that mothers and infants display post birth, Ainsworth was able to define different styles of maternal–infant interaction and correlate those with particular psychosocial outcomes that graduate along a spectrum. A secure attachment is characterised by positive psychosocial outcomes in that the child is able to develop independence while also seeking intimate


Chapter 4

and satisfying personal relations and friendships with others. An avoidant attachment style is correlated with antisocial and often violent behaviours in later adult life due, according to Ainsworth, to the failure within the child to properly develop empathic connections to others. Anxious or ambivalent attachment styles display varying degrees of both a secure and avoidant attachment style. An attachment style, for Ainsworth, is thus a description of the nature and interactive features of a particular maternal (primary caregiver) and infant bond.4 During the 1970s, Klauss and Kennell (1979, 1981v) took up and moulded the research by Bowlby and Ainsworth with the aim of bringing into hospital policy and practice a set of concrete criteria aimed at facilitating the development of secure maternal–infant bonds. Drawing upon animal studies of imprinting Klauss and Kennell argued the need for a reduction to the crucial time period for secure bonding to around 24 to 48 hours post-birth and developed a set of bonding behaviours that mothers should implement in order to facilitate a secure ‘at birth’ bonding process. Controversially, Klauss and Kennell also added to Bowlby’s thesis, the need for a secure bond to be established in order to facilitate good maternal behaviours. Should a mother or mother substitute not securely bond with her infant, then she risked neglecting the child in the same way that animal mothers will reject young who have failed to imprint. Klauss and Kennell also conflated bonding and attachment theory when they applied Bowlby’s findings of cognitive retardation as a potential risk to children who were not securely attached, a finding that Ainsworth did not report.5 The work of Klauss and Kennell in particular, and perhaps unfortunately, has been very influential to the policies and practices of maternity hospitals throughout the Western world, even though the basis of their claims has come under much scrutiny. Crouch and Manderson (1995, 841) in ‘The Social Life of Bonding Theory’, conclude, after examining a decade of research findings, that there are simply too many inconsistencies in the empirical research to support the sorts of claims that Klauss and Kennell make. The use of such a general concept [as bonding] in research inhibits the investigation of specific circumstances, particularly since the ambiguity of ‘bonding’ (as both process and result) conflates the descriptive and explanatory functions of propositions containing the term. The circularity inherent in such reasoning may be attractive at an intuitive level since it neatly rounds up a straggly line of questions into a ring of generalizations – but it hardly advances our understanding of particular conditions that affect the relationship between children and their parent.

Frank Hatch and Lenny Maietta (1991) also identify shortcoming in ‘The Role of Kinesthesia in Pre- and Perinatal Bonding’ ascertaining the

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definition to be so broad and unclear that whenever the concept is empirically researched, too many varying interpretations and applications are permitted. William Arney (1980, 547) extends his criticism into the political claiming in ‘Maternal–Infant Bonding: The Politics of Falling in Love with Your Child’ that ‘one can understand the widespread acceptance of bonding theory and its rapid development in obstetrics, only by concentrating on the political uses of the theory.’ His conclusion is that bonding theory has been an unsubstantiated political tool employing discourses of biological naturalism aimed at ‘keeping women by the hearth’ (Arney 1980, 567). Applied to cases of infant adoption, a theory of bonding as occurring ‘at birth’, facilitated by certain sorts of behaviours, such as the degree and length of time an infant experiences skin-to-skin maternal contact, particularly within the first 48 hours (and beyond), meant that hospitals emphasised procedures that ensured that the maternal–infant bond did not occur with the biological mother at birth. As one can imagine, these were very often traumatic: I was pushed down and a pillow was shoved in front of my face. I had no idea why. I thought it must have been because I had given birth to some kind of freakish monstrosity that they didn’t think I could bare (sic) to look at … I didn’t know that the pillow in front of your face was a common hospital policy to prevent mothers from bonding with their babies. (NSW Parliament 2000, 98)

Yet, despite these extreme precautions, and although adoptive parents report at times extra-ordinary efforts to attach to their new charges, many adoptees seem to have experienced difficulties forming secure attachments with their new parents, as per Ainsworth’s criteria – difficulties that would support the criticisms aimed at bonding theory developed through the Klaus and Kennell model. Kirschner (1990), a social worker, describes how there is typically a shallow quality to the attachments formed by the adopted child and a general lack of meaningful relationships in both infancy and their adult lives. The child often reports feeling ‘different’ or ‘empty’ and seeks solitude from others. Many seem to live in their head, in a fantasy, a phenomenology that Kirschner came to label ‘the adopted child syndrome’. Kirschner provides a rather grim view of the adopted child’s prospects for healthy development, of particular concern is the overrepresentation of adopted children who have stood trial for murder in the United States. Kirschner argues that although adopted children commit murders more often than commonly believed, there is resistance to making an issue of this fact, primarily due to the secrecy associated with many adoptions and the failure of criminal justice agencies to record the nature of an offender’s family background. From a legal posture, an adopted child is simply the child of his adoptive parents, and the psychodynamics of adoption are easily overlooked in forensic mental


Chapter 4

health evaluations. He states that 500 estimated serial killers in U.S. history, 16 per cent were adopted as children, while adoptees represent only 2 or 3 per cent of the general population. Adoptees are fifteen times more likely to kill one or both of their adoptive parents than biological children, issues that Kirschner argues to be the end result of the continuing neglect to understand the nature of adoption and the particular issues adoptees face, leaving some to develop serious psychological illness. Triseliotis (1973, 43), a psychiatrist who studied adoptee phenomenology, quotes adoptee no. 1 from consultation notes: ‘I look in the mirror and cannot recognise myself,’ and adoptee no. 4, ‘I never really felt I belonged. I feel empty and I find it difficult to make friends or be close to people.’ In the NSW Australian Government report cited above, the Committee identifies how, for many adopted people, their identity has been shaped by the fact of their adoption and many can trace this back to before they were aware that they were adopted. One adoptee explains how adoption is ‘at the core of my very being … It has had more than its fair share into who I am, my life experiences, my personality, attitudes, feelings about myself and about others’ (NSW Parliament 2000, 154). Erika Berzins, to cite a second example, told the Committee how, Adoption is, and will always be, a part of who I am because it is such a fundamental part of my life experience, and as such adoption will quite often play a part in my attitude to values and belief systems in daily life as well as in response to life’s stresses. (NSW Parliament 2000, 154)

Andersen (1998), an adoptee himself whose research focuses on the need for adoptees to search for their origins, suggests that feelings of isolation, of solitude, of never having been really attached to their adoptive family and never having the feeling of real belonging, underpin the obsession some adoptees have with finding their biological mothers, and I would note that it is the mother that adoptees most often seek. Even more interesting is recent research that allows a comparison between the psychological outcomes of children who are not biologically related to their parents in differing ways. In a 2013 study by Golombok et al. parenting and children’s adjustment were examined in thirty surrogacy families, thirty-one egg donation families, thirty-five donor insemination families and fifty-three natural conception families. Children’s adjustment was assessed at ages three, seven and ten. The results disclosed that although children born through reproductive donation obtained scores within the normal range, surrogacy children showed higher levels of adjustment difficulties at age seven than children conceived by gamete donation. Thus, ‘the absence of a gestational connection to the mother may be more problematic for children than the absence of a genetic link’ (Golombok et al. 2013, 653).

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Foetal developmental phenomenology and adoptee phenomenology, taken together, raise questions about the place of the gestational woman in the development of our intersubjective relations after our birth and the possibility for an alternate ‘normal’ developmental alterity – one which holds within the self not one, but two alterities, or perhaps a primal bond and a secondary attachment. The question that interests me most is: Is it possible that the echo of which Nydam speaks is a trace of the gestational mother? Has she left an imprint of herself inscribed in our neurological structures through the moulding of our movement experienced as an aspect of our identity? Is that even possible? What does this mean for an understanding of the self as forming from the dehiscence of ipseity and alterity in the flesh as Merleau-Ponty describes? If as Merleau-Ponty advocates, being produces itself through a body rooted in the sensible world, through a chiasmic intertwining of the body with itself, then what is this echo and why does it result in an embodiment that holds others further away? Irigaray and Primal Gestational Flesh Luce Irigaray (1993) is interested in the denial of the sexed body within philosophical theory. Her aim is to carefully and clearly articulate how sexual difference is foreclosed by the way that phallocentric philosophers employ metaphors drawn from the gestational body to ground masculine models of being while simultaneously disavowing their maternal origins. In the case of MerleauPonty, the gestational woman becomes nature and maternal nurturance merely another infant–world interaction. As Tahlia Welsh (2013, 139) highlights, Irigaray’s claim isn’t just that ‘pregnancy is a subject area that can and should be discussed by phenomenology, but rather that pregnancy is at the heart of the phenomenological project.’ In this last section, I wish to show both the error and the consequence to understanding humanity as devoid not only of gestational origin but also of maternal interaction. In keeping with this project, what I wish to propose is the possibility that Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology is an absolute appropriation of gestational phenomenology such that the flesh refers to a phenomenology of gestation that occurs in the bodies of actual women. Outlining how Merleau-Ponty utilises a whole series of metaphors that are embedded in and derived from maternity, metaphors that are the conditions of possibility of his understanding of the flesh, which is itself the condition of possibility of intersubjectivity, Irigaray identifies the maternal as the unspoken underbelly of the flesh. Couched in terms of vision, of the strand and the sea and of immersion and emergence, Merleau-Ponty, according to Irigaray (1993, 153), renders invisible the womb, leaving the maternal unacknowledged in his flesh ontology:


Chapter 4

If it was not the visible that is in question here, it would be possible to believe that Merleau-Ponty alludes here to intra-uterine life. After all, he employs the ‘images’ of the sea and strand. Of the immersion and the emergence? And he speaks of the risk of disappearance of the seer-seeing and the visible. What doubly corresponds to an existence in the intra-uterine nesting: who is still in this night does not see and remains without any visible ... Especially without memory of that first event where he is enveloped-touched by a tangible invisible out of which even his eyes are formed but which he will never see: without seeing, neither visible nor visibility in this place.

Also the target of critique for Irigaray (1993, 164) is the way that MerleauPonty describes being as self-generating like the embryo, a description which clearly denies maternal interaction, origins and nurturance. Merleau-Ponty’s chiasm becomes ‘another world, another landscape, a topos or a locus of the irreversible’ (Irigaray1993, 153). She identifies in Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions, especially of the visible, a morphology that echoes the archaic state that one ‘remembers without remembering thematically’ (Irigaray 1993, 164) – a dimension of ourselves kept in the depths of our corporeal prehistory, etched into our bodies as a ‘watermark’. Interestingly, the term ‘watermark’ is also used by Merleau-Ponty, and although Irigaray does not specify a connection, the appropriation is not without reference. In his course notes from the Collége de France, Merleau-Ponty (2003, 207) describes the organism as an ‘enveloping phenomenon’ whereby, ‘between the microscopic facts, global reality is delineated like a watermark, never graspable for objectivizingparticular thinking, never eliminable from or reducible to the microscopic’ and how ‘Alltäglichkeit [everydayness or commonplace] is always in the in-between world, always as a watermark’. Finally, ‘the concern is to grasp humanity first as another manner of being a body – to see humanity emerge just like Being in the manner of a watermark, not as another substance, but as interbeing, and not as an imposition of a for-itself on a body in-itself’ (Merleau-Ponty 2003, 208). I have no doubt that Irigaray’s use of the term ‘watermark’ is a play on these descriptions of humanity as a watermark of Being; substituting the uterine environment for Being, Irigaray writes the gestational body back into the picture, rendering this watermark of Being, a bodily inscription left by the uterine fluid in the womb rather than the imprint of an anonymous Being. Although Irigaray’s identification that Merleau-Ponty appropriates the womb in his flesh ontology, leaving the mother unacknowledged is well placed, I do not think that this appropriation is as clear a denial of sexual difference as Irigaray suggests. I think LaChance Adams (2014) is correct when she claims that while it is true that Merleau-Ponty has no theory of sexual difference, many theorists critical of Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology,

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including Irigaray, make the mistake of conflating anonymity with universality. As she states, ‘the body [in Merleau-Ponty] is always situated within a biological, social, and historical context, even in its anonymous mode. This means that sex and gender will necessarily be a factor in embodied experience’ (LaChance Adams 2014, 126–127). He also does not completely deny the importance of the woman;foetal relation. He does after all ask us to ‘do a psychoanalysis of Nature: it is the flesh, the mother’, and he clearly identifies that the infant’s relation to the mother is one of total identification in ways that exceed her relation with others (Merleau-Ponty 1964). It is not so much the inscription of the mother that is missed but rather a failure to grasp the significance of this inscription for developmental alterity. In The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty (1968, 146) writes that ‘[i]n spite of all our substantialist ideas, the seer is being premeditated in counterpoint in the embryonic development; through a labor upon itself the visible body provides for the hollow whence a vision will come.’ Also, ‘[w]hen the embryo’s organism starts to perceive, there is not a creation of a For itself by the body in itself, and there is not a descent into the body of a pre-established soul, it is that the vortex of the embryogenesis suddenly centers itself upon the interior hollow it was preparing – A certain fundamental divergence, a certain constitutive dissonance emerges’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 233). What can be seen so clearly here is the denial of the necessity of gestational interaction and engagement with the foetus as necessary for foetal development and flourishing, reducing the gestational woman to a passive environment within which an active foetus can do the work of developing within the flesh – an imaginary that I have shown to be painfully familiar. This oversight is core, not only to understanding how foetuses develop but also in acknowledging that the flesh, as a prototype of Being, does not form through exposure to the ‘natural’ ontological chiasm of the world but rather through the chiasm that is moulded by and through a woman’s engagement with foetal matter. That a pregnant woman is not passive but rather engaged in foetal development is the position taken up by Frances Gray (2013) in her chapter ‘Original Habitation: Pregnant Flesh as Absolute Hospitality’. As previously discussed in the chapter two, Gray (2013, 72) grounds the Levinas/Derrida notion of unconditional or absolute hospitality in Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology, to argue pregnancy to be the ‘original host–guest relationship’, which she claims is ‘ethically primitive’. To be pregnant for Gray (2013, 72), is not to be a host who offers her hospitality to a pre-existing guest as a gift, but rather as an act of embodied intentionality in a Merleau-Pontian sense of habituated pre-conscious action, which facilitates an ‘actualising of being, an enabling of life that has not previously existed’. Gray’s substitution of the Levisonian ‘stranger’ who comes from the exterior with Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology as a primal intersubjectivity is insightful. However, her preservation


Chapter 4

of a foetal emergence as a ‘dehiscence or fission of its own mass’ and her description of the foetus as a second subject, one that is ‘a subject other than, but simultaneously the same as, the woman’s flesh, a subject who inhabits her body, a separate consciousness created in, and as a result of her bodily environment’, somewhat waters down the degree of maternal engagement to that of a preconscious bodily facilitation (Gray 2013, 72). The preservation of foetal development as a dehiscence that unfolds in a woman’s bodily environment, albiet a more active environment than Merleau-Ponty proposes, nonetheless preserves the notion of gestation as devoid of maternal subjectivity, and as previously identified, this opens her thesis to questions about the development of alterity within the flesh because without the mother as a primary other, the foetus could not sustain the ipseity required to develop consciousness. In fact Levinas (1990), in a critique of Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology, has himself identified that the alterity of the other cannot be accommodated within a flesh that develops through a relation of reciprocity as a fission. For Levinas, while dehiscence might explain the presence of an imminent alterity, the alterity I find within myself, it fails to account for how the infant comes to recognise the radical alterity of others in the world as different to that found in the self. In fact for Levinas, the only possibility relies upon a perception rather than an experiential difference which, he argues, ultimately structures the other as a type of knowledge rather than a felt experience of the unknown. This forecloses the possibility of an absolute alterity of the other because the other is thereby reduced to a product of consciousness, an imperialistic projection of ‘me’ as being like ‘you’. While Levinas does not dispute the role of perception in sensing immanent alterity, that is, the reversible alterity of sensing–sensed within our bodies that Merleau-Ponty exemplifies with the way our hands can be perceptually altered from touching to being touched when placed one on top of the other, he finds problematic a move that MerleauPonty makes in The Visible and the Invisible to extend this phenomenon to an analogy of a handshake between individuals. In assuming this generalisation, Levinas argues, the otherness of the other becomes a projection of personal experience, of one’s own immanent alterity, and this forecloses the possibility of an absolute alterity of the other because the other is thereby reduced to a product of consciousness, to a projection of ‘me’ as being like ‘you’. Claude Lefort (1990) and Dorothea Olkowski (2006) have also highlighted that a relation of reversibility and dehiscence fails to show how, developmentally, the child comes to experience the radical alterity of others as different to that within herself. Each philosopher in their own way insists on the necessity of something beyond the infant–world relation as necessary to scaffold the development of self-recognition. For Lefort, what a relation of reversibility and dehiscence cannot take into account is how, developmentally,

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alterity is, at least in part, moulded by a culture, what he calls (presumably after Levinas) the third party. Lefort echoes somewhat Levinas’s critique in that he too assumes that the apparent ‘immanence’ of the sensing–sensed relationship is superimposed or projected upon the relation with the other as a sort of transcendent alterity, but in Lefort’s version, this projection is mediated by and through a radical alterity that is a world that has already been named. ‘The other’, Lefort (1990, 9) claims, ‘gives names, and in a certain sense, introduces the child into the sphere of law whenever he says “this is red, and not yellow”, or “this is a house, and not a boat”’. As such, the issue for Lefort (1990, 10) is not a form of imperialism as Levinas claims, but rather the recognition of an ‘original and irreducible transcendence … [from which] we cannot escape from being named and bearing the mark of some heritage, the mark of debt and law’. This naming for Lefort is not reducible to a relationship of reversibility and this is especially revealed developmentally because for the child, the adult is not an alter ego, at least not at first. Rather, the relation is asymmetrical in that the child is dominated from the start by adults, a domination that will leave its traces, even when the child has grown up and become an adult herself. As he states, ‘The infant is immediately, and even before coming into the world, taken into a web of wishes, expectations and fears of which he will never possess the meaning’ (Lefort 1990, 10–11). Thus, he concludes that ‘what in general is not taken into account is the other, the third one, the representative of otherness’ which forms an ‘otherness in myself … imprinted on me and at the same time bound to remain outside me, above me’, an asymmetry in that ‘the other ... gives something to be seen from above’ (Lefort 1990, 9–10). Olkowski’s critique is similar, only for her, it is maternal nurturance and care that is the missing link, appropriated and reduced to the status of a ‘natural’ event within Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. Like Irigaray, she argues that Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology strategically erases the role of the mother in order to preserve understandings of development that support a masculine fantasy of liberal individuation that we saw in chapter one. There have been several well-placed responses to these critiques that support Merleau-Ponty’s thesis. The most common response to the Levinas/ Lefort critiques has been to argue that the child is born into and of the flesh such that ‘otherness … is constitutive of ipseity itself’ (Madison 1990, 31). For Dillon (1990), the child develops through the discovery of otherness both within herself and of others, an otherness that is already and always there. As Dillon (1990, 22) identifies, Merleau-Ponty’s ‘critique of the ontology of transcendental subjectivity led him to posit the divergence of my body from the other’s as a difference that is discovered rather than projected’. This discovery occurs in the experience of alterity as the impossibility of coincidence in the sensing–sensed reversibility of the touching hands. Even though my hands


Chapter 4

are both mine, the hand touching never coincides with the hand touched when placed one on the other and it is this impossibility, this gap, which constitutes an experience of alterity. In The Visible and the Invisible, the example of the touching hands becomes the prototype not only for the experience of alterity in the self but also in others. In my relations with others, I cannot move from the sensing to the sensed as I do within myself but rather I am restrained to the same side of the reversible relation and the gap, the hiatus, between the one sensing and the one who is sensed is a radical alterity that can never be closed even though, just like my body, we share the same flesh. As MerleauPonty (1968, 148) claims, I do not hear myself as I hear the others, the sonorous existence of my voice is for me as it were poorly exhibited; I have rather an echo of its articulated existence, it vibrates through my head rather than outside. I am always on the same side of my body; it presents itself to me in one invariable perspective.

Merleau-Ponty is not suggesting here that the relation with the other is a projection of the sensing–sensed embodiment that I find within myself as Levinas and to some extent Lefort has charged, but rather that the sensing–sensed relation of reversibility that I find within myself is seminal for relations with others. Reversibility also need not be necessarily symmetrical and so the asymmetry between the adult/child relation, that carries within its character an asymmetrical cultural inscription, does not prove as problematic for the flesh as Lefort claims. In fact as Reynolds (2002) rightly identifies, it is the experience of asymmetry that founds our capacities to perceive the absolute alterity of the other as a sphere of incomprehensibility that emerges out of the asymmetry. The naming of which Lefort speaks is therefore not inscribed onto the body of the child but rather is constitutive of the radical alterity which Lefort claims it denies. The asymmetry in this understanding founds the bodies sociality and so, as David Michael Levin (1990, 37) argues, being born into the flesh means that rather than beginning life as joined with others we are now able to understand how “the human body has-is-an order of its own, an immanent logos of the flesh … [an] order [that] is already geared into the mutual recognitions of social interaction: it is already prosocial’ and the incomprehensible as an absolute alterity is an aspect of the very foundation of the social. While I agree that some time before birth, the foetus emerges out of the flesh of the gestational woman with, as Levin (1990) so beautifully describes, an immanent logos of the flesh, the path to this development remains very unclear. I have already identified how for Dillon (1990, 22), alterity is ‘a separation between us that has been gestating since my conception’, and I have identified the logical conclusion to be drawn from this statement is that

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woman and foetus are separate entities from the moment of conception. Dillon bypasses the problem of emergence by assuming that it is the fission of egg and sperm at conception that marks the point of entry, and although this assumption is logical, as we have seen, it cannot be supported by the phenomenology of gestation. While these responses rightly address some misinterpretations of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the flesh, they nonetheless do not adequately respond to the developmental issue because should the child always and already be for itself an other, enclosed within Levin’s (1990, 37) ‘circuit of reversibilities’ then left begging is the question, when and how did this occur gestationally? The solution I have shown is that the self is formed within and out of the alterity of the gestational woman, an absolute alterity that is constitutive of the ipseity that our postural schemas embody – an alterity that will eventually come within but remains outside of our infantile phenomenal world. In Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, being produces itself through a phenomenal body, situated in the world, orientated through the mutual crossing of the touching with the tangible and the visual with the invisible. Through the intertwining of touch and vision, the embryo develops into interaction, not through the dichotomy of this interaction but as a reversibility situated within the flesh. The flesh is an excess produced in this intertwining, a generation of difference that is the non-coincidence between corporeality and ideality. The body, for Merleau-Ponty (1968, 135–36), is a ‘difference without contradiction, that divergence (écart) between the within and the without that constitutes its natal secret’. Because I am blind to the body from which I see the world because it is from the body that I see, vision of myself is a fold or cavity that allows me to see myself only through the things that I see. As Cecelia Sjoholm (2000, 95) puts it, ‘The way that we perceive the world, therefore, presumes the suppression of an invisible other, a radical form of alterity making its imprint on our corporeal rootedness.’ Many philosophers have criticised Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy as giving an inadequate account of radical otherness due to the way we seem to integrate and suppress the other into our self. For Emmanuel Levinas, this integration forms a kind of imperialism that denies the capacity to perceive radical alterity. For Claude Lefort and Dorothea Olkowski, it leaves unaccounted the narrative of development – just how do we get from syncretic infant experience to the flesh without social scaffolding? For Irigaray, this understanding of alterity explains how phallocentrism relies upon the integration and suppression of what should be a visible other, into our own being so as to sustain a masculine world through the rendering of this radical other (the other sex), invisible. In the last two chapters, I have examined the place of alterity in MerleauPonty’s flesh ontology from a different angle again, arguing through a


Chapter 4

phenomenology of gestation and adoption that the flesh of which MerleauPonty speaks is the flesh of the gestational woman – a real woman who has supported our development. An actual woman whose imprint has left us with a watermark that the adoptee can more easily discern due, most likely, to the radical reformation that must be undertaken in body schematic development when this support is removed and a new one created that will never fit quite the same. As Winterson (2012, 5) explains, That isn’t of its nature negative, the missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void. It can be an entry as well as an exit. It is the fossil record, the imprint of another life, your fingers trace the space where it might have been, and your fingers learn a kind of Braille.

This Braille, this watermark, the trace of the biological other that remains, explains well adoptee phenomenology, while simultaneously creating problems for bonding at birth theories of infant development. For Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology, from the perspective of thematics, not much needs to change, we do not even really need to do a psychoanalysis of nature, but rather simply insert the prefix ‘gestational’ before the term ‘flesh’. notes 1. The argument in this chapter also appears in Lymer 2015. 2. This debate is ongoing and the majority of studies do not identify the relationship between the adult model and the neonate. See, for example, E. Ullstadius ‘Neonatal imitation in a mother-infant setting,’ Early Development and Parenting 7 (1998, 1–8) and A. Vinter ‘The role of movement in eliciting early imitations,’ Child Development 57 (1986, 66–71) for the argument that the neonate is emulating familial movement patterns rather than imitating. For a review of the debate, see E. D. Ray and C. M. Heyes ‘Imitation in infancy: the wealth of the stimulus’ Developmental Science available at Ray%20&%20Heyes%20supplement.pdf. Last accessed 29/3/15. 3. Infants seek and use emotional expressions especially those provided by primary caregivers to disambiguate potentially dangerous situations and to guide their own behaviour. Securely attached infants differ in their social referencing as compared to insecurely attached infants as-reflected by Ainsworth’s Strange Situation behaviour test. Securely attached infants reference their mothers when faced with uncertainty and decrease the frequency of their referencing as they become more comfortable with the situation. In contrast, insecurely attached infants may either (a) reference little in novel, uncertain situations, or (b) reference persistently because of their continued uncertainty with the situation. See also S. Feinman, D. Roberts, K. Hsieh, D. Sawyer and D. Swanson, ‘A critical review of social referencing in infancy,’ Social Referencing and the Social Construction of Reality in Infancy, Ed S. Feinman

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New York: Plenum 1992, 15–54 which shows how infants seek and use emotional expressions especially those provided by primary caregivers to disambiguate potentially dangerous situations and to guide their own behaviour. James F Sorce and R. N. Emde, ‘Mother’s presence is not enough: Effect of emotional availability on infant exploration,’ Developmental Psychology, 17, (1981, 737–45), tested to see how maternal emotional signalling affected the behaviours of 1-year-olds on the visual cliff where the child is placed on one side on a man-made cliff with a perspex bridge to the mother. Sorce et al. placed the infants on the shallow side of the visual cliff apparatus and had their mothers on the other side of the visual cliff eliciting different emotional facial expressions. When the mothers posed joy or interest, most of the babies crossed the deep side but if the mothers posed fear or anger, most of the babies did not cross the apparatus. In the absence of depth, most of the babies crossed regardless of the mother’s facial expressions. 4. A further attachment category, reactive attachment disorder (RAD) was included in DSM-III in 1980 and applies to children who are unable to form an ongoing bond with a particular caregiver most often due to institutionalisation, abuse, neglect or frequent disruptions in primary caregivers. Unlike those bonded children who Ainsworth studied, RAD children have experience deprivation to the degree that they exhibit not just a behavioural style of social interaction but cognitive, physical and social-emotional delays. RAD criteria includes symptoms such as failure to thrive, a lack of developmentally appropriate social responsiveness and apathy. These children can improve but often suffer permanent cognitive delay. I have not referred to this category in any detail in this paper as it seems fairly conclusive that this condition develops as a consequence of post-partum circumstances. See M. M. Richters and F. R. Volkmar ‘Reactive Attachment Disorder of Infancy or Early Childhood,’ American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 33 (1994, 328–32). 5. See Jane Lymer The Phenomenology of the Maternal-foetal Bond’ PhD Dissertation University of Wollongong Australia 2010 for this argument.

Part III

Gestational Hospitality

Chapter 5

Medical Hospitality

Up until this chapter, I have described the phenomenological relationship between a woman and her foetus with a focus on the role of alterity in foetal development. I have questioned recent feminist literature that has supported the notion that a woman’s relationship with her foetus can best be conceived as one of maternal hospitality, stressing instead the need to dissect gravidity from maternity in order to divorce the role of mothering from gestation as a phenomenological state, opening a space where women can normatively make the decision to either become, or not to become, a mother. I have also shown how representing a woman’s relationship with her foetus as one that can best be understood as hospitality erases the very active role a woman, as affective subject, plays in foetal development, reducing her engagement to the passiveness of hope and expectation that this future person will flourish inside her womb conceived as an Other – herself, a house or vessel within which something nature or God creates will grow and develop. As we have seen in section two, foetuses are not gestated by wombs, they are gestated by actual women living and negotiating situated and affective lives, which impact on foetal flourishing. Through a relation of accouplement, foetuses are moved into not just being, but a style of being that emerges through how this particular woman engages with this particular foetus situated in her particular world. The style of engagement that a woman assumes imprints, remains, as a watermark, etched into the embodiment of the neonate. To reduce the relation that a woman has with her embodied gravidity to something that happens inside her womb is not only to reduce gestation to an ontological state that denies a woman’s embodied and psychological engagement in her activities but also, and perhaps most importantly, denies the impact of each woman’s social and personal situation on the flourishing of the foetus she is gestating. In this way, responsibility for foetal outcomes 117


Chapter 5

are reduced to her alone, her task assumed to provide the needed resources so that this foetus might be given optimal food and shelter, a job that she can undertake either willingly or begrudgingly, the state does not really care. This mode of thinking renders coercion as ethical and, simultaneously, absolves both state institutions and others in the woman’s life from any impact, and thus responsibility, for either foetal or a gestational woman’s health and well-being. In this chapter, I examine more closely the impact of this thinking on the experiences of women who seek medical hospitality during their gestations and how this heralds the need for feminists to rethink before they continue to employ the metaphor of hospitality to gestation. Should we wish to maximise the health outcomes of a population both physically and psychologically, then we need to re-examine how the trope of hospitality structures the style of care offered to women who find themselves looking at a positive pregnancy test. If, as we have seen, a woman’s affective and situated life impacts foetal flourishing, then we could predict that the most positive outcomes for the woman, the foetus and the state would be obtained by respecting and supporting a woman’s willingness and capacity to affectively engage with her foetus and to welcome women into the state institutions that she may now encounter. In the first section of this paper, I will outline concerns within academia, midwifery and on social media that the style of hospitality being offered to women once they are pregnant is becoming increasingly disrespectful, to the degree that some are describing their birthing experiences as ‘birth rape’. Although within most OECD countries, women have the legal right to determine the course of their own medical care, a notion deeply rooted in value systems which prioritise individual freedom, increasingly, women are finding it difficult to assert their right to autonomy throughout the gestational and child-birthing process, and the legal system is being employed as leverage to extort consent from gestational and birthing women, rather than protecting their right to determine their own medical care. Recently, the situation has become so serious that, as Sonya Charles (2011, 51) identifies, medical institutions ‘need to pay attention to obstetrical practices that inadvertently contribute to the problem of violence against women’. In the second section, I return to feminist work on the relation between hospitality and women in the state of gravidity. In particular, I examine Irena Aristarkhova’s (2012) Hospitality of the Matrix, where she argues that the structures of hospitality will support a feminist project of maternal emancipation while simultaneously recognising the issues with the notion of woman as vessel. For Aristarkhova, the metaphorical feminine in the structures of hospitality have unthought foundations in particular maternal acts and like Gray (2013) she sees gestation as an active rather than a passive process, yet still argues for the maternal to be conceived as the originary ‘first home’. Arguing

Medical Hospitality


that were we to acknowledge the mother as place rather than space, then she would become more concretely welcomed as the ‘first home’, Aristarkhova believes such a welcome to be possible if we could better recognise the experiences from which the metaphor of the feminine emerges. Although what Aristarkhova proposes is attractive, and in many ways I will agree with the arguments she presents, ultimately I conclude that she fails to fully recognise how the structures of hospitality are overtly deployed to silence a woman in the state of gravidity. Rather than being unthought, the silencing of pregnant women is implicit in the conception of the woman;foetal relation as one of host/guest. The most central issue is one of control. Conceiving the woman;foetal relation as one of hospitality, I will argue, leaves women vulnerable to relegation within a medico-legal context focused on foetal outcomes – a situation supported through metaphors that give permission for these institutions to see gestational women as a homogenous feminine being (Lymer and Utley 2013). From the moment a woman in the state of gravidity enters the public realm, and in particular should she seek either medical or legal hospitality, the foetus becomes positioned as institutional guest, the woman is reduced to feminine being and because the structures of hospitality are essentially patriarchal, the power to appropriate and (re)present a woman’s phenomenology is not in the hands of pregnant women (Lymer and Utley 2013). As the constructor of the conditions of hospitality and within states experiencing falling birth rates, ageing populations and increasing medical expenses, patriarchal institutions benefit from metaphors that implicitly and explicitly reinforce both maternal and hospitality imagery. I will carry this critique into the next chapter where I argue that the path to emancipation for gestational and birthing women must be through the development of an alternate trope than that of hospitality. Only through an alternate representation can gestating women find the respect they warrant. Invitations, Visitations and Birth Rape Heather Joy Baker (2009–2010) in her paper ‘“We Don’t Want to Scare the Ladies”: an investigation of maternal rights and informed consent throughout the birth process’ published in Women’s Rights Law Reporter outlines how a contemporary culture of surveillance has normalised a raft of medical practices that are inherently violating to childbearing women – ‘The induction of labor, over-performance of caesarean section surgery, use of episiotomy, and veritable denial of vaginal birth after caesarean section are all examples,’ Baker (2009–2010, 541–42) argues, ‘of a paternalistic system devaluing women’s rights at a sensitive and critical time’. In examining Baker’s accounts, what emerges most clearly is the specific foetal focus within the


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medico-legal system that I have already identified. Even when all goes well, the conception of a pregnant woman as a foetal vessel informs and justifies this surveillance because the determination that ‘all is going well’ is assessed through the visualisation of what is happening to the foetus inside the gestational woman rather than with the woman herself. The quality of medical care a woman receives is thus increasingly conceived as concomitant with the degree of internal surveillance she undergoes and the state of foetal welfare; a lack of internal surveillance becoming synonymous with a lack of care; an understanding employed to code home-birthing practices as highly dangerous despite statistics to the contrary.1 Ultimately, as foetal vessel or host, woman are finding that it is not they, but rather their foetuses who are being offered medical and legal hospitality and they are increasing being expected to assume the role of feminine being and coded as negligent mothers when they refuse (Lymer and Utley 2103). As Baker (2009–2010, 542) identifies, there are ‘permanent and devastating consequences of a negative or violent birth experience’, yet the number of interventionist medical procedures now deemed ‘normal’, in concert with the pathogising of natural birth, has led to a dire situation for birthing women that legal systems seem ill equipped to regulate. Although most prevalent in the United States, there is nonetheless mounting pressure in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom for courts to make determinations that support medical interventions, usually deemed necessary for foetal welfare, in the face of the gestational women’s refusal to consent.2 Patients have the right to refuse medical treatment, but a gestational or birthing woman who refuses an advised procedure creates an ethical dilemma for medical attendants in a climate where, at best, the moral value of the foetus is indeterminate. Indeed, in the United States, women who have damaged their babies through cocaine addiction have received lengthy prison sentences (12 years in one recent case).3 As Lymer and Utley (2013) also identify, obtaining a stamped court order that demands a pregnant woman’s compliance can only be an act of violence because when the court awards permission to perform a forced caesarean section on a woman, custody of the foetus is temporarily granted to a stateappointed guardian, who then consents to treatment in the interest of the foetus even though the foetus remains within the gestational woman’s body. Such a process, in its enactment constructs the foetus as individuated, independent of an adversarial gestational woman. Thus, a dissociated relationship is forcibly established between a woman’s subjectivity and her embodiment. Baker (2009–2010) cites the following case as exemplifying the U.S. trend: a first-time mother Baker calls V.M., arrived with her husband at Saint Barnabas Hospital in New Jersey in labour. Upon admission she is asked to sign consent forms, and she consents to an episiotomy,4 intravenous fluids, an epidural, foetal heart monitoring and antibiotics, but she refuses to consent

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to a caesarean section on the basis that there was, at that time, no apparent reason to believe she would need one. Although she indicated that she would consider a caesarean section should her situation change, when pressure to give consent at that time gained no traction, V.M. was subjected to a psychological assessment to determine her capacity to refuse to sign the consent. Although she was considered autonomous and she subsequently gave birth without consequence to a healthy baby girl, the hospital reported V.M. to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), who, based on her refusal to consent to a caesarean section informed V.M. that they were seeking custody of the baby, which they achieved, ultimately separating mother and infant for the next 5 years. The Division succeeded in showing ‘that the child was abused and neglected and the child was “in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of the parent or guardian as herein defined, exercising a minimum degree of care in supplying the child with ... surgical care.”’ (quoted in Baker 2009–2010, footnote 12). According to DYFS, the ‘surgical care’ denied to the ‘child’ was the caesarean surgery that might have been required but later proved to be unnecessary. The court however reasoned that ‘with the mother’s life and baby’s life in balance, I think it was negligent ... not to accede to what the doctors requested’ (quoted in Baker 2009–2010, footnote 15). Ultimately Honourable James S. Rothschild, J.S.C., signed an order to show cause granting DYFS’s request.5 According to the American Council of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), ‘these actions and policies have challenged the rights of pregnant women to make decisions about medical interventions and have criminalized maternal behavior that is believed to be associated with fetal harm or adverse perinatal outcomes’ (ACOG 2005). Reflecting on the jurisprudence of English courts, which has a very strong persuasive authority in Australia, the principle of informed consent holds greater sway but is increasingly coming under pressure; as early as 1992 an English Family Law judge authorised doctors to perform a Caesarean section upon a competent and nonconsenting gestational woman when she was in obstructed labour, and the medical opinion was that the foetus would not survive unless the surgery was performed (Anolak 2015, 62). It is the growing number of cases such as these that has given rise to the controversial term ‘birth rape’, a term that since at least 2000 has grown in use within social media and public debates to do with the medical management of pregnancy and birth. More recently, the term has been the subject of academic discussion (see for example The British Journal of Midwifery 2006, vol. 14) and in 2006, Routledge published a book by Sheila Kitzinger titled Birth Crisis which documents cases of birth experienced as rape and the increased incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) endemic among newly delivered women. What interests me most about the increasing use of


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the term ‘birth rape’ is not so much the ethical appropriateness of deploying rape imagery to birthing experiences, although that debate will be touched upon, but rather the phenomenology – the existence of a growing group of women who feel that this term best describes their experiences of medical hospitality. The term has been in use for over a decade now, possibly longer, and is gaining a growing online and international presence. Below is a definition of birth rape from the website Birth Trauma Truths, which is less emotive than other definitions in circulation but not atypical: A vulnerable woman, who is powerless to leave the situation, is at times held down against her will, has strangers looking & touching at private parts of her body, perhaps without appropriate measures being taken to acknowledge her ownership of her body or to preserve her comfort levels. Perhaps she has fingers or instruments inserted without her consent, and sometimes against her consent, invading and crossing decent boundaries. She is fearful of what is happening to her and perhaps for the wellbeing of her baby, and receives no reassurance that either she or her child are ok. 

In reading accounts of ‘birth rape’, and the discussions surrounding the term, what is most clear is that the term is being deployed as a call to hold medical institutions responsible for their behaviour towards women in their care as opposed to the more normative term ‘birth trauma’ which centres the experience of trauma within the woman’s psychology – in descriptions that use the rhetoric of ‘birth rape’ there are victims and perpetrators rather than sufferers. As in the response cited below by Lindsay Beyerstein (2010), those against the use of the term want to sustain the good intentions of the medical profession over the way a woman experiences those intentions: The concept of birth rape is unhelpful and misleading. If a doctor performs a procedure without informed consent, that’s malpractice and possibly a crime, but it’s not a sexual assault. Calling these abuses ‘birth rape’ implies that medical care is sexual. In order for an assault to be rape, the crime has to be somehow sexual in nature. It’s not just about which body parts are involved. A kick in the groin could be a simple assault or a sexual assault, depending on the context. The problem with the ‘birth rape’ rhetoric is that lumps clear-cut criminal offenses and blatant malpractice in with any intervention that the woman finds traumatic. It’s an emotionally loaded term that invites the demonization of well-meaning doctors and nurses. As Amanda Marcotte notes at Double X, the definition of rape should be rooted in the motives of the rapist.

The claim, and it is not an uncommon one in this discussion, that ‘the definition of rape should be rooted in the motives of the rapist’ is highly problematic, taking us back to the days when what a woman wears or how she behaves can be read by a man as an invitation that the words ‘no’ do not

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counter. ‘Well-meaning’ is also not always indicative of ethical action as was shown in cases of Australian Government sanctioned forced adoptions discussed in the previous chapter or the motives of the Australian Government in policies that ordered the removal of Indigenous Australian children from their families so they might be assimilated into the white culture or even in the actions of Saint Barnabas Hospital in New Jersey, described above, who cited their actions against V.M. to be at least in part motivated by defensive medical concerns.6 The very term ‘well-meaning’ also suggests a justified patriarchal intervention which historically tends to apply to, and impact upon, marginal or vulnerable groups of people without collaboration and/or against their will. That medical care is always asexual is also problematic, the danger here is in thinking that a clear boundary can be drawn between what is and what isn’t misogynistic when a patriarchal institution interferes without consent with a sexually specific body. Take for example, recent concerning reports that compared with non-Asian women, Asian women in Australia, ‘were significantly more likely to have an episiotomy; … sustain a third- or fourth-degree perineal tear … [and] were less likely to give birth in an upright position’, the latter being recommended to avoid perineal damage during childbirth (Dahlen and Homer 2008). These authors cite further Australian research which has shown a high prevalence of maternal health problems, up to 6 months after birth, in women who had an episiotomy and/ or instrumental birth with one report outlining how 94 per cent of women in general experience related health problems from perineal damage – pain and sexual problems being the two most commonly cited (Brown and Lumley 1998). Yet these procedures are considered ‘normal’ practice and the reasons behind the prevalence among the Asian community could not be determined. To simply assume that medicine is free from sexual or racial taint is at best, naïve. One of the most telling aspects of the debate and the birth stories narrated is the way women position themselves within the medical welcome, and how that positioning impacts upon their experience. Women who describe themselves in terms of foetal carriers or vessels more readily and more often appear to see their role as submissive, as feminine hospitality. They present themselves willingly as a maternal sacrifice, fulfilling the role of caring mother with some pride. As one blogger identifies, ‘by virtue of choosing to deliver at the hospital I felt as though I had put my trust in them and given them permission to do what was necessary to safely deliver my baby’ (Robertson 2010). Those women who enter into medical hospitality with expectations that they are the guest, will more likely experience themselves as hostage in situations where medical hospitality relegates them firmly to the feminine. Below is an interesting extract from an article in the Huffington Post (2012), written amid a debate about the term ‘birth rape’:


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I remember begging, in my weak and vulnerable state, to be allowed to walk around the room continuously, but the interruptions always came in the form of checks and tests. They seemed never-ending. At intervals I was told that I had to be strapped to this machine, lying down, else how will we know if your baby is okay?... And this is how it happens. The term ‘birth rape’, used by women whose bodies are treated like machines when they are most vulnerable to other people’s wills. Labouring women whose minds and wishes are not respected or consulted. The power is taken from mum’s hands to gloved hands the second you enter the ward, and you cannot take it back … Personally I think I managed to avoid all of this by submitting to the medics around me instead of fighting back, but partly it came down to luck. I told myself that I didn’t mind the ebb and flow of midwives coming and going, of their scrutinising, unfamiliar faces – a different face every hour – and the constant prodding and poking, the restless obsession with monitoring. In fact, my mind coped well with it all (Zion Lights, co-editor of Juno magazine 2012).

Notice how this woman copes by placing herself, accepting the role, of feminine hospitality, in order to avoid what she nonetheless sees is a legitimate battle for birthing emancipation. Her birth was not something she felt supported through, or assisted in, she was not cared for nor cared about, but rather experienced the birth of her child as degrading, a process which she was able, through absolute submission and luck, to survive and cope with. She didn’t foreclose the possibility for an experience of birth rape but rather tells of the way she feels she avoided the feeling of being raped during her birth. For other women, however, the experience is far more traumatic. Sheila Kitzinger (2006, 544), in an article for the British Journal of Midwifery, describes how for some women the term ‘birth rape’ does seem to be more apt in that it best reflects how those who have experienced a particular type of traumatic birth that involves non-consensual intervention, often accompanied by derogatory rhetoric. Kitzinger identifies how women who have traumatic birth experiences often use the same language as survivors of rape. Also, as with rape, many cases are hidden from the statistics, because women feel they are not justified in going to the doctor. In fact, when birth is experienced as institutionalised rape, women describe feeling in a double-bind whereby they are supposed to thank the very people who violated them, leaving them psychologically caught between horror and gratitude. Kitzinger (2006, 544) describes how ‘many traumatised women, spoke about shame and disgust with themselves and their bodies, about guilt that they had in some way caused the violence, and how they felt different from other women, and isolated. They were haunted by similar images of being trapped, overpowered, physically assaulted and mutilated, and had flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks.’

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Kitzinger (2006, 544–45) quotes the following cases from her research notes: The birth of my baby was horrendous. I feel I was isolated. I can’t face going back to the hospital to talk to anyone there about it. I can’t even drive past the hospital without breaking out into a sweat ... I have nightmares and flashbacks to the birth, as if it were happening all over again. I feel I haven’t any control over anything. They decided on a trial of forceps. I told them, ‘Please try and tell me what is going on’. The nurse who seemed to be in charge said, ‘Are you a doctor? Mind your own business!’ I felt like I was being attacked. I went to my GP afterwards because I needed to talk about it. I felt I had been assaulted. And I was still so sore down there making love was out of the question. He told me I had psychosexual problems and that I was depressed. I said, ‘I am not depressed. I am bloody mad! I don’t know where to turn for help’.

These women have imprinted in their psyche the details of vivid events in which all control was taken from them. As one woman describes, ‘giving birth was as if she was trapped in a machine and spat out at the other end with a baby’ (Kitzinger 2006, 545). Psychological research suggests that one in twenty women suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to some degree after birth (Kitzinger 2006, 545). Partners or friends/family offering birth support may also be traumatised, feeling as though they colluded in this act of violence, they can blame themselves for not intervening. These cases are not limited to the United States. In Australia, the recent establishment of HELD, a program of The Australian Birth Trauma and PTSD Treatment Centre, cites ‘the increasing need for women and men to have a specific, trauma focused service dedicated to birth trauma rather than being lost within mainstream mental health services’ (Held 2016). Australian research also reveals that while professional codes for medical practitioners clearly identify a medical duty to abide by the consent of the pregnant woman, the interdependent relationship between the pregnant woman and the foetus leads many medical practitioners to feel that when it comes to the actual actions that a particular circumstance demands, these may be problematic (Kruske et al. 2013). In particular, GPs and Obstetricians feel ethically entitled to act coercively towards gestational women in regard to their decision-making processes due to the perception that they see themselves as being more competent and ultimately legally responsible for the health of the foetus (Kruske et al. 2013). Overall, the study found that ‘maternity care providers have a poor understanding of their own legal accountability, and the rights of the woman and her foetus’ (Kruske et al. 2013). Obstetricians often proffer the threat of litigation as why they advise several ultrasound examinations, elective caesareans, inductions or continuous foetal monitoring as a ‘just in case’ obstetrics and the issue upmost in an


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obstetricians’ or institutions’ mind when they seek court-ordered interventions with surveys indicating that up to 98 per cent of responding physicians admitting to defensive medicine practices (Ball 1971; Summerton 1995; Studdert et al. 2005). The legal climate reinforces this dynamic. ‘No one gets sued for doing a C-section,’ obstetricians famously say according to Lake (2012). They do get sued, for not intervening. Mello and Brennan (2009) describe how the threat of litigation drives a medical culture where a skewed threat of risk has become normative, despite research that has continually provided evidence that many interventions that have become more or less routine (as opposed to those required in life-threatening situations) yield little or no health benefit and can in many instances be harmful, continuous foetal monitoring and elective caesarean sections among those cited (Kitzinger 2006). Such disparities matter. Caesarean sections, for example, are far more expensive than vaginal births and they carry significant risks. When compared with vaginal birth, ‘caesarean delivery increases low-risk women’s chances of certain rare but potentially life-threatening problems, such as hemorrhage, blood clots, and bowel obstruction’ (Mello 2006, 2). More frequent risks include bladder damage, infection and enduring pain. There is also an increased risk of complications in future pregnancies, including uterine rupture, placenta previa and placenta accrete or placental separation the uterine wall. Women are also less likely to successfully breastfeed and are at an increased risk for depression and post-traumatic stress (Kitzinger 2006, Lake 2012). Infants also face risks; they have been cut or can be asphyxiated if the medical team has difficulty pulling them out (Lake 2012). Those born by caesarean have higher instances of respiratory distress, asthma later in life and controlled studies have found increased rates of obesity among American babies born by caesarean section (Lake 2012).7 The foetus of a mother who has already had one caesarean will also be at an increased risk because the dangers increase with each surgical scar.8 Normalising the use of invasive practices increases the perception that women require these interventions, further positioning a gestational woman as a foetal carrier, a situation that could well explain why ‘only 47 per cent of births in England are listed as “normal”’ (Kitzinger 2006, 545), a pattern that perpetuates a cultural view of women as incapable of birthing and a woman’s own confidence in her body. If these interventions, when undertaken routinely rather than restricted to life-saving situations, have been repeatedly shown to have no health benefits and possibly negative health outcomes, and, if the cost of litigation is only one factor influencing the cost of health care, then these practices do nothing more than encourage the perpetuation of a disrespect for the autonomy of pregnant women. In fact, as Thomas et al. (2010, 1578) argues, ‘“physicians” efforts to avoid malpractice litigation—by ordering marginally useful tests, performing marginally useful procedures,

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and prescribing marginally useful medications—can add billions of dollars to our national health care bill’. Relegated to the feminine the women will not possess subjectivity, nor will her voice be heard and so she becomes the site of foetal visitations – official visits for the purpose of inspection or examination, traditionally thought of as of a bishop to a diocese or in this case the medical profession, to ensure the health and safety of the foetus. Procedures that see and/or hear the foetus independent of maternal information produce compelling ‘evidence’ of a particular foetus (our son or daughter), which evoke deeply ingrained emotive, valuational and intellectual responses which quite literally act, through a kind of culturally imbued physiology, to shape the felt alterity of the foetus before the mother’s first felt movements, illustrating the narrative of this particular life (Lymer and Utley 2013). Ultrasound imaging therefore plays a profound role in constructing the foetus as individuated in ways that shape and guide a woman’s pregnancy (Rapp 1997, 1999, 2011). The sheer pace of the development and uptake of biotechnical advances also means that contemporary technologies such as ultrasound examination are today used ‘unreflexively’ throughout the developed world to the degree that the routine of testing itself enacts an endorsement of the tests (McCoyd 2010, Potter et al. 2008: 362). Thus, ‘care’ becomes synonymous with a myriad of tests that yield little information because they are considered not only routine but also imperative (Muggli and Halliday 2004: 470). These stories reveal an overall attitude towards the health and well-being of gestating and birthing women which is deeply disturbing. Gestational and birthing women are ethically entitled to the same care and support offered to the population in general. Birthing woman should not need, as my own daughter so aptly expressed it, ‘to go into battle’ to preserve their autonomy, every time they encounter the medical profession when in the state of gravidity. For my daughter, who attended Wollongong Hospital in NSW, Australia, for the birth of her first son, her ‘battle’ began when she discovered that she had been ‘booked in’ for an elective caesarean section without comment or discussion, the reason given that the foetus was large. During her labour (which I supported after she refused the elective caesarean section), I was dismayed to see how, as each new midwife came on duty, boundaries had to be re-established. Every newly attending midwife attempted to perform a procedure without discussion, assuming that if my daughter didn’t object to a procedure already being undertaken then this would constitute consent. I was also not permitted to speak on her behalf and so by the time she was in advanced labour, I had lost count of the times she had had to say ‘no’ in a voice that demanded they stop, and rather than supporting her decision to labour we endured their constant concern at her attempt at a natural birth; she should have, according to these midwives, taken her doctor’s advice and had


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a caesarean section because, they constantly seemed to need to say, this is a big baby. Compared to the research I have undertaken, this was a low level of coercion and my daughter was able to maintain control of the situation and ultimately feel that her birth choices were her own. However the question remains, why should gestational women need to feel that they are ‘going into battle’ when coming into contact with medical hospitality? As I have shown, and described above, these battles are not without injury, distress and in a growing number of cases, leave women to care for their infants while suffering PTSD. We have to ask how this situation has been allowed to develop and on what basis do these professional people think that they are being ethical and caring in their practice? Interestingly, and most relevant to the above discussion, we can find at the end of Of Hospitality, two stories, drawn from the Bible, which Derrida (2000, 151) gives as an example of ‘where not only is hospitality coextensive with ethics itself, but where it can seem that some people, as it has been said, place the law of hospitality above a “morality” or a certain “ethics.’” The first story Derrida tells is from Genesis, that of Lot and his daughters, a dilemma which Derrida compares to the ethical issue of lying raised by Kant’s (1797) ‘On a supposed right to lie out of humanity’ which asks, if one should rather lie or hand over one’s guest to be murdered? Lot, in this case, hands over his two virgin daughters for ‘penetration’ by the men of Sodom in order to protect the two angels to whom he had offered his hospitality. In the second scene, on Mount Ephraim in Judges, after an old man welcomes a pilgrim, a Levite, with his entourage, into his home, he is visited by the Benei Balia a, who wish to penetrate the pilgrim. In response, the old man also offers his virgin daughter saying, ‘No, my brothers; I implore you, do not commit this crime. This man has become my guest; do not commit such an infamy. Here is my daughter; she is a virgin; I will give her to you. Possess her, do what you please with her, but do not commit such an infamy against this man’ (quoted in Derrida 2000, 154). When the men refuse, the Levite offers his concubine whom they abuse throughout the night. In the morning, when she is returned, the Levite cuts her into twelve pieces and distributes her body through the land of Israel, instructing the Israelites to ponder on this. After recounting the stories, Derrida finishes Of Hospitality with the following, Are we the heirs to this tradition of hospitality? Up to what point? Where should we place the invariant, if it is one, across this logic and these narratives? They testify without end in our memory.

What Derrida identifies here, is how adhering to the law, the conditions under which hospitality will be offered can legitimate and normalise highly

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unethical actions. While Derrida fails to note that these examples show the normalisation of violence against women, the sexual specificity of the link is not lost on Rosalyn Diprose (2009, 144–45), who argues how, in giving priority to hospitality over ethics, both Lot and the old man ‘preside[s] over an appalling injustice toward women’ – an injustice that for Diprose will end up being sexually specific due to the cultural positioning of actual women in the role of feminine alterity or feminine being within the structures of hospitality. When applied to the above cases, what we can discern is that in prioritising the hospitality that the medical profession offers the foetus, and in expecting absolute compliance (severe conditions of hospitality) to be met by gestational and birthing women, a state-sanctioned appalling injustice is being perpetrated on women in the state of gravidity. Aristarkhova and Feminine Hospitality Irena Aristarkhova (2010, 177) too takes up the violence against women inherent within hospitality in relation to maternity, charging both Levinas and Derrida as ‘begin[ing] their deliberations with an inhospitable gesture toward the maternal that denies it any place and acknowledgement within hospitality’. Pointing out that the maternal relation, in its actual performance, comprises a series of hospitable acts that demonstrate the possibility for conceiving the ethical play between conditional and unconditional hospitality otherwise, Aristarkhova (2010, 176) argues that welcoming the mother unconditionally, would ‘empirically instantiate [maternity] as a moment in the femininity of hospitality enabl[ing] us to reconstitute the mother as a hospitable space, and to reconnect hospitality as an ethic of the maternal body’ – restoring what Aristarkhova refers to as the maternal-feminine from its position as dominated and repressed. What would be required in order to make this move, she argues, is an understanding of the mother as place rather than space. In this section, I am going to argue that although I have found Aristarkhova’s insights immensely valuable in thinking through the possibility for a gestational hospitality, her faith that a metaphor of hospitality can be preserved and remodelled to reflect a creative gestational relation fails to take full account of the political malleability described in the previous section, that can return a gestation woman to feminine being once she enters a patriarchal institution. I will conclude that the hope of resurrection for gestational women cannot be found in the trope of hospitality. Recall from chapter one, how Aristarkhova traced the historical representation of the womb as the space to be filled by Gods, man or nature’s creation. Drawing on her research we have seen, as Dennis Hollier (1995, 156) has described, the historical idea that women should be the site of a caesarean


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section, ‘scissipated’ from the primary function of creation through ‘the economy of science whose primary function is the forgetting of the maternal body.’ It is also the case, as Aristarkhova (2012, 28) claims, that we need to think of gestational women ‘in relation to space and matter rather than as space and matter’ and that the failure to understand the difference leads to a conflation between ‘the categories of woman, feminine, and mother’ through the misleading premise that gestation ‘is about “where” one hosts and nurses the child’ rather than the acts themselves. Aristarkhova thus rightly claims that the trope of hospitality subsumes the female body as a matrix into the foundation of hospitality, but I disagree that this is without giving thought to the possibility of maternity as creational.9 It is not the case that Levinas (1998, 67) has remained silent on the maternal body and, even with the force of culturally normative ways of thinking acknowledged, I find it difficult to accept the possibility that thinking about maternity otherwise has escaped his scrutiny. After all, Levinas does argue the maternal body to be the exemplar of ethical responsibility. He also specifically preserves the Platonic vision of a maternal vessel for divine production, modelling the absolute welcome of humanity as a welcome into the house of God as always open and as one’s first home, calling the facilitator of this welcome the feminine – signified as that of ‘the conformity of nature with the needs of the separated being’ (Levinas 1969, 155). Being an avid believer in an Almighty, theoretically Levinas must have grappled with the problem of maternity. Notwithstanding that his work has proved immensely useful for feminist thinking, including my own, in the volume Feminist Interpretations of Emmanuel Levinas (Chanter 2001), Levinas’s position on the place of women is best described by Diane Perpich (2001, 28) in the opening sentences to the above book, Readers have found Levinas’s conception of the feminine problematic from its first appearance in his 1947 works Existence and Existents and Time and the Other. The first work introduced the idea the ‘the other par excellence is the feminine’, while the second added that otherness or alterity is the very ‘essence’ of the feminine.

The notion of welcome that Levinas develops incorporates this understanding of the feminine into its foundational structure, a positioning of women that has drawn the wrath of feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir (1949/1974, xlv), who writes, ‘I suppose that Levinas does not forget that woman, too, is aware of her own consciousness, or ego’, and Luce Irigaray (1991, 112) who observes that Levinas ‘presents man as the sole subject exercising his desire and his appetite upon the woman who is deprived of subjectivity except to seduce him’. In stripping the feminine of her subjectivity through

Medical Hospitality


his endorsement of the ‘rock of patriarchy’, Levinas’s philosophy, according to Irigaray (1991, 113), ‘falls radically short of ethics’. Thus, as Perpich identifies, those of us who choose to attempt to negotiate with Levinas, seeing value in his rejection of essentialism and reduction as a way to understand humanity, must grapple with the ever-present patriarchal placing of women as a constant thorn. While I do agree that his work is immensely valuable in ways that I will articulate more clearly in the ensuing chapter, for now, and in response to Aristarkhova’s claim that the feminine is unthought in Levinas’s work, all I can say is that I doubt that very much. Diprose (2009) outlines how the structures of hospitality, as patriarchal, are designed to preserve the power of the host through a layering that is slippery and malleable. The structures of hospitality permit and legitimate state manipulation through the definition and regulation of boundaries that define the degree of welcome that someone will receive through the linguistic positioning of that person in relation to an already established conditional welcome. For the pregnant woman, it is the place that she is given either through the severity of the conditions that she will receive when she seeks medical hospitality, or, in the worst case scenario, the rendering of her body to feminine being (so that her foetus might be welcomed) that reflects whose subjectivity will be recognised within that relation (Lymer and Utley 2013). The pregnant body, understood and thus seen as a vessel, as foetal incubator, places the woman as feminine resource once the foetus becomes the medical guest – a positioning inherent once surveillance techniques are employed and the focus of care becomes foetal centred. A situation where, in the state of gravidity, a woman as subject is able to be placed outside the linguistic structures of medical and increasingly, legal, hospitality where welcome is given to the foetus. Unfortunately, retaining an imagery of gestation as a relation of hospitality does not disrupt this positioning, nor does it detract from the medical focal point of foetal care. While I grant that what Aristarkhova proposes could well inform a respect for gestational women in a cultural sense, once a woman enters a patriarchal institution such as a hospital or a courtroom, preserving her place as host to foetal guest is going to prove problematic. Take for example, a second case described by Baker (2009–2010 546): Amber Marlow presented at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in Pennsylvania in the United States for a regular antenatal check-up and was given an ultrasound examination to determine the size of her foetus after the doctor suspected a large baby. Calculating the foetus to be thirteen pounds, a caesarean section delivery was recommended and booked even though Marlow refused to consent. Marlow was a mother of six children, all born vaginally and all around twelve pounds each, she was confident that this delivery would present no difficulty for her. Her refusal to consent to the surgery prompted the hospital to gain a court


Chapter 5

order whereby the hospital became the legal guardian of Marlow’s foetus. Marlow however had left the grounds for an alternate hospital and only discovered that a court order had been granted after she had already delivered a healthy eleven-pound baby girl in a quick and easy delivery. In a second 1984 case, a Chicago hospital forcibly tied a Nigerian woman to her hospital bed with leather wrist and ankle restraints after she declined the recommendation for a caesarean delivery (Gallagher 1987). Her very real concern was that she was moving home to an area of Nigeria where caesarean sections were not available and so to have a caesarean section with this, her first child, would put her at a much higher risk of complications with subsequent children and she wished to have a large family. Her choice was therefore to endure a more difficult labour this time around in order to limit the possibility of major complications such as uterine rupture with subsequent deliveries. Her reasoning went unheard; she was sedated by the hospital staff and a caesarean section delivery performed after it was decided that the increased risk to foetal outcomes of a difficult labour carried more legal weight than this woman’s voiced objections (Gallagher 1987).10 In each case, medical hospitality is foetal-focused and at no time is the point in question to do with these women’s creative interaction with her foetus. These medical and legal institutions could well have acknowledged these women as place and not just space and still proceeded exactly as they did. So while Aristarkhova is correct to argue that understanding gestation as woman, rather than God’s, creative process will go some way towards reconstructing women’s respectful place as creator, as I have concluded before, there is nothing in this construction to prevent this newfound place from being usurped through the application of severe conditions of institutional hospitality once that woman comes into contact with state institutions who can then take the foetus as having interests of her own (Lymer and Utley 2013). Also and contributing to the issue is that while essentialising hospitality as the maternal by welcoming the mother overtly into the structure of hospitality, as Aristarkhova suggests, might go some way towards disrupting the maternal as vessel, and so perhaps assist in the reclamation of the maternal voice, it does not disrupt the norm of sacrifice whereby it is expected that women will, even as subjects, choose to give over their own interests (and their bodies) as an aspect of their hospitality. In fact, Jennifer Rosato (2012) along with Lisa Guenther (2006) speak of maternal sacrifice as an inherent aspect of maternal hospitality. Recall from chapter two that for Rosato, the image of the mother in her relation to the foetus is a particularly apt image for responsibility as Levinasian substitution because she believes that in fully attending to the needs of foetus the ‘mother’ substitutes for her ‘baby’. For Rosato (2012, 357), this means that ‘the activity and growth of the foetus, from which the mother suffers, provides an example of a situation wherein

Medical Hospitality


the mother is, in a sense, responsible for what the other within her does, even though the baby’s change, growth, and motion do not immediately stem from her free choice (in the sense of finite freedom)’. For Guenther (2006, 111), the maternal body welcomes an Other whom she did not make or cause; she bears this other who remains a stranger despite her bearing, unseen and perhaps even violent: kicking at her ribs, altering the shape of her body, sifting her bones from within. She bears the pain of the Other for the sake of the Other, in this bearing, she becomes responsible for the child, for the child’s responsibility, and even for the pain the child inflicts.

To couch the pain and discomfort of gravidity in heroic terms is to construct a mythology of maternal suffering as normative and to deliver this as a moral instruction. Through such mythologies, the maternal body as substitution, as silent and sacrificial, as the ultimate hospitality, normalises and moralises medical expectations of compliant suffering – the danger of course being that a woman’s voiced pain is read as unattractive or trivial or, even worse, as cowardly. Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in a recent public debate that emerged after a well-publicised case of obstetric malpractice, Skol v Pierce (2012) when, in 2009 a Chicago woman, Catherine Skol, filed a civil suit against obstetrician Scott Pierce, M.D., for his treatment of her during the birth of her daughter 9 months previously. Skols regular obstetrician was on vacation when she went into labour. According to her complaint, the doctor who attended her birth performed a rough vaginal exam, refused her an epidural and told Skol when she complained of her pain that ‘pain is the best teacher’ and to ‘shut up, close your mouth, and push’. After permitting an uncontrolled birth – a term given to a birth that results in perineal tearing due to lack of regulation of the speed at which the foetal head crowns – Peirce then demanded Skol’s husband hold her down while he ignored her pain and stitched her without adequate anaesthesia, only to later hear Pierce say that Catherine Skol deserved to feel that pain because she had not called before coming to the hospital. Pierce was fined US$500 and given a year’s probation. The Skols, however, have had to endure the wrath of the public through social media and commercial media debates for lodging the malpractice suit. Accusations range from introducing a frivolous lawsuit and causing malpractice premiums rates to soar because, according to one commenter, ‘she looks fine the baby looks fine, end of story’ to ‘the family should be grateful because they could have real problems. Right?’ Comments that suggest Skol needs to ‘get over herself’ not only normalise what were clearly abnormal and unnecessary levels of pain in childbirth but inform a cultural expectation that women should suffer such abuse silently. As I have identified along with Fiona Utley,


Chapter 5

In extending medical hospitality to the foetus as a welcome that recognises the foetus as singular, the particularity of pregnant embodiment is rendered as expected, predictable and known; the welcome extended to the mother of this foetus is curtailed and she is expected to support the conditions of medical hospitality, to not disrupt but rather provide the resources for the fraternity of others. Her invitation to the medical profession, provided through her consent, to participate in her pregnant embodiment is put out of play. In the terminology of hospitality, she is rendered as a resource to another’s experience of feminine hospitality. (Lymer and Utley 2013, 263)

Although feminine hospitality is supposed to be metaphorical and as such does not refer to particular women or even women per se, the metaphor of hospitality, particularly when situated within traditionally masculine fields such as medicine or the law, continues to work to delimit the possibilities and opportunities for actual women. As the above cases show, pregnant women are being routinely silenced through the way the welcome can be shifted and priority given to the conditions of hospitality over and above those of ethics, a situation that is supported rather than thwarted through imagery that imagines a woman in the state of gravidity as an instance of hospitality. Once a woman in a state of gravidity enters a state institution, she no longer hosts but rather is the carrier of the guest, like the reed basket in which Moses is delivered unto Pharaoh’s daughter (who, by the way is not named in the Bible), it is the foetus who is delivered into state care. Within the subjective structures of medical hospitality, a woman’s power to choose what happens to her body means she must retain a position of full citizenship once she enters medical or legal institutions, as guest. Only in doing so can she preserve the power to accept or not, the institutional conditions placed upon her welcome. Only through informed consent is one able to protect one’s sovereignty over one’s embodiment. While Aristarkhova is correct to argue that the place of woman needs to be rethought, I cannot see how a rethinking that reinstates a maternal host/foetal guest imaginary is capable of the reclamation of a woman’s sovereignty within the structures of an institutional hospitality concerned with falling birth rates and escalating medical costs, where foetuses are currently seen as the future and as such, far more valuable to society than the sovereignty of the women who bear them.

notes 1. ‘In 2010, throughout Australia, there were 2,206 foetal deaths reported to the NPDC, resulting in a foetal death rate of 7.4 per 1,000 births. There were 2,202 foetal

Medical Hospitality


deaths in hospitals and other facilities. There were 4 foetal deaths at home births in 2010. Of babies born at home 99.7% were live born (1350 babies).’(Hilder et al. 2014, ix). 2. There is currently no case law in Australia regarding the refusal of treatment to save an unborn child’s life. However, it is likely that if the issue ever arises, the courts will follow the precedent set in the United Kingdom, where there have been several cases of women refusing to undergo caesarean sections that were necessary to save their unborn child’s life (Re MB (Medical Treatment) [1997] 2 FLR 426; Rochdale Healthcare NHS Trust v W [1996] 2 FLR 613; Norfolk and Norwich Healthcare NHS Trust v S [1998] 3 WLR 936.) In each case and where a woman was seen to be competent to consent, the law focused on the mother’s right to self-determination, however, it is important to note that in a number of cases, the mother’s capacity for consent is challenged on the basis that she is in labour. 3. See State V McKnight. Supreme Court of South Carolina. 2008. 4. A surgical cut in the muscular area between the vagina and the anus (the area called the perineum) made just before delivery to enlarge your vaginal opening. 5. Baker reports that on 20 April 2006, DYFS filed an order to show cause and verified complaint pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 requesting custody, care and supervision of [the baby]. The final result was that V.M regained custody on appeal to the Superior Court 5 years later. 6. Defensive medicine is the deviation from sound medical practice to avoid the threat of malpractice litigation (Baker 2009–2010, 548). Generally attributable to the rise in medical malpractice insurance and fear of litigation, a study by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has revealed that 93 per cent of physicians practice defensive medicine; that is, they order tests and procedures based on self-preservation rather than medical necessity (Studdart et al. 2005). 7. ‘Babies born vaginally receive a coating of immune-boosting microbes, and their intestines are more likely to have early colonization with beneficial bacteria— protections that babies delivered surgically miss out on. A bacterial deficit in babies’ guts, some scientists speculate, may even be the factor that accounts for the higher obesity rates among those born by caesarean’ (Lake 2012). 8. In 1985, after reviewing the percentage of pregnancies with complications best resolved by C-section, The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that a cesarean rate of 15 per cent was ideal—about one-half the current U.S. rate. WHO has since modified this specific recommendation, stating in 2009 that ‘the optimum rate is unknown,” but that ‘both very low and very high rates of cesarean section can be dangerous.’ Optimally, they suggested that OECD countries target lower cesarean rates to prevent the growing number of related childbirth injuries and deaths (Lake 2012). 9. I wish to acknowledge and thank Fiona Utley for her assistance in thinking about this issue when we were working on a joint but unpublished paper. 10. See in particular where Gallagher relates how the woman became combative and was placed in full leathers. Despite her restraints, the woman continued to scream for help and bit through her intravenous tubing in an attempt to get free. See also In re Fetus Brown, 689 N.E.2d 397,400 (III. App. Ct. 1997)

Chapter 6

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto

There is no doubt that a relationship exists between a woman and her foetus for the vast majority of women in the state of gravidity, and I have shown how the nature of that relationship will often be reflected in the flourishing of the foetus. Due to the intertwined and ambiguous nature of the woman;foetal relation, I have been critical of theoretically constructing and representing this relation as one of hospitality. Within the structures of hospitality, too easily can a woman in the state of gravidity be dematerialised into metaphor and appropriated as silent resource or turned into nothing but the material means of production, as that from which sons, workers and a patriarchal future emerge. To shift the tectonic plates of hospitality away from the power of the patriarchal host, the master of the house, the state and the union of brotherhood, in order to open a space for women to be or not to be a mother, as a feminist manifesto, is an enormous challenge that continuing to view women as maternal hosts will foreclose regardless of the reconfiguration. In this chapter, I explore this challenge in the context of what I have argued so far, pulling together some of the threads that to date I have left dangling. While I have argued the woman;foetal relation should not be viewed as one of hospitality, I have also outlined how it is nonetheless a bonded relation of accouplement that unfolds a potential future, and as we saw with Donegan in the introduction to this book, this is not without ethical import for many women. In this chapter, I begin to explore more concretely the nature of this relation, concluding that we focus less on the ‘reality’ of foetal ‘existence’ that must develop and more on the embedded emergence of the relation that will found foetal ipseity that, although begins within a woman’s body, must always and already extend beyond her. Foetal flourishing requires that a women physically and affectively and willingly engage with her foetus, the phenomenology of which I begin to unpack here. Her capacity and/or 137


Chapter 6

willingness to undertake this task not only requires that she wishes to be in the state of gravidity but also that she is given both time and support to engage or not engage. Thus, the flourishing of a communities’ children, a healthy state, cannot fall to women alone but must also depend upon the nature of the intersubjective relations that radiate around her. As we shall see in the next chapter, this has potential implications for reproductive ‘services’ such as surrogacy and child welfare practices that remove infants from their biological mothers at birth thinking that to do so has little or no consequences to child development. My conclusion will be that these practices are not, in and of themselves, unethical but rather require much closer scrutiny especially in regard to the potential developmental outcomes for the infants. Here, I begin with a phenomenology of gravidity which then unfolds into an account of how we might better understand a maternal identity. In the final section, I proffer a feminist manifesto that takes up, rather than assumes, that women in the state of gravidity may or may not become maternal. Merleau-Ponty and the Ontology of an Affective Bond To be a human being is to be incarnated. I experience only through what I touch, smell, see and hear; what I perceive and how I move about in the world. The shape of my body, my height, the length of my limbs and having hands allow me to engage in experiences that differ from organisms with different appendages and different body types, and so, my acts – how I live and therefore how I feel and what I experience relates directly to the type and kind of body that I am. In this section, I return again to the philosophy of MerleauPonty to examine the nature of gravidity through a phenomenology of bodily engagement with oneself as a potential maternal identity. I begin with a phenomenology of embodiment as expressed by MerleauPonty (1962) in Phenomenology of Perception. For human beings, that which can be observed – the front of our bodies from the chest down – has MerleauPonty argues, many correlative qualities to objects in the world. My head, on the other hand, is invisible to me, except for the tip of my nose, which is always out of focus or blurred. My head is the point at which my body phenomenologically becomes a perceiver rather than the object perceived and the invisibility of the head and eyes is integral to this experience of subjectivity, to being one who perceives. Because one of my major organs of perception are my eyes, and, because the nearer to my eyes the less my body appears as an object, it is a small step to infer that ‘I’ am something behind my eyes that is doing the perceiving and this is why it makes sense to us to think that subjectivity is mental. Merleau-Ponty, however, interprets this phenomenon

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


in a different way. Firstly, he allows a respect in which the body, through perception is able to take itself as its own object. Secondly, in so far as I can see and feel my body as an object, I am a subject. The entire body qua subject, however, cannot be seen as an object because of the quasi-space that is occupied by the head and neck and the top of my back. Merleau-Ponty reads this phenomenology to imply not that ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ are separate things as in classical dualism, but rather they are categorical judgements about our style of comportment, which produce the appearance of mind/body dualism. As a body subject I make possible the way in which objects appear from a perspective; however, I cannot see the space from which I see them. This absence does not mean that the ‘body’ is absent or separable. Rather, it shows how perceptual absence is intrinsic to the nature of embodiment, ‘to be situated within a certain point of view necessarily involves not seeing that point of view itself’ (Merleau-Ponty 1963, 217). In ordinary day-to-day activity, when a subject is visually and bodily engaging with the world, our bodily perception withdraws and the experience is one of predominant subjectivity. This is because when our normal physiology reaches certain functional limits our bodies recede from our attention. As the attention to our bodies recedes, we enjoy the opportunity to be more outwardly task focused. We can turn our attention – and literally our heads – to things in the world and momentarily forget that we have a body. At its pinnacle, this phenomenon of experiential bodily absence is today referred to as ‘the zone’ which is a much desired and sort after state of bodily consciousness, particularly in athletes. The zone is characterised by an intensified concentration on a task (such as reaching a finishing line in a race) in conjunction with loss of self-awareness and ‘distorted’ time and space perception (Young and Pain 1999). Studies of the zone or states similar to the zone include those of Ravizza (1977, 1984), Jackson (1995, 1996) and Young (1999). In each, the body forms an integral component of the experience even though it is perceptually absent. In fact, the correlation is drawn between the absence of self-perception and the epitome of trained bodily performance (Jackson 1995, 1996). The result seems most often described as a sense of euphoria at the proprioceptive sensation of free bodily movement – of being unfettered by conscious bodily thoughts or thoughts directed at the body per se. Conversely, when an emotional experience such as depression is described as ‘only’ a state of mind what is omitted, yet is intrinsic to this state of mind is the manner in which inwardly focused intentionality is achieved through a closed protective posture of the body. What is also omitted is how a depressed posture acts to orientate perception, and thus thought, as inward, in such a way that the body appears, often as a cumbersome and heavy weight. A depressed posture – with the head turned towards one’s body and shoulders stooped – brings one into a closer relation with one’s own body and limits


Chapter 6

open and outward contact with the world, especially visually. As movement is constricted and limited then so the range of perception is narrowed or more inwardly, bodily, directed. Akin to an experience of ‘the zone’, depression also involves a temporal dimension only here, as movement slows, days seem endless. The attention of the sufferer is to oneself and the situation is not merely mentally experienced but also perceived as a hopeless and endless situation – the world cannot be explored but must be painfully endured. Bodily posture in this example does not merely express depression, I do not at first have a mental state of depression and then because of this, adopt a depressive posture – the relation is not one of cause and effect. Rather the bodily posture is integral to the experience of depression because it constructs my perceptual capacity and in doing so either limits or expands my subjective world engagements. These lived situations are not experienced as mental abstractions that are incongruent with the physical body, but rather the body is lived and experienced as being euphoric or depressed. As Cerbone (2008, 128–29) states, the world is manifest in experience in accordance with our bodily structure and skills: things are manifest as near or far, here or there, in reach or out of reach, above or below, available or unavailable, usable or unusable, inviting or repulsive, and so on in relation to our ways of inhabiting the world, and such inhabitation is always bodily in nature.

Being bodily orientated or intentionally and affectively situated in an environment is thought by Merleau-Ponty (1962, 284) to be essential to embodied being and although he did not investigate the emotional aspects of this positioning in any depth, he did acknowledge their significance in ways that I have applied in the above examples, Between our emotions, desires and bodily attitudes, there is not only a contingent connection or even an analogical relationship: if I say that in disappointment I am downcast, it is not only because it is accompanied by gestures expressing prostration in virtue of the laws governing nervous mechanisms, or because I discover between the objects of my desire and my desire itself the same relationship as existing between an object placed high above me and my gesture toward it. The movement upwards as a direction in physical space, and that of my desire toward its objective are mutually symbolical because they both express the same essential structure of our being, being situated in relation to an environment, of which we have already stated that such structure alone gives significance to the directions up and down in the physical world.

The manner in which the body subject relates through perception from object to subject and from subject to object Merleau-Ponty originally describes as dialectical, later as reciprocal and/or reversible and in his final

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


unpublished work The Visible and the Invisible as a dehiscence or fission within the flesh as he increasingly understood the ontological significance of this relation. For Merleau-Ponty, there are two aspects to the flesh relationship. The first is the manner in which the body perspectively shifts from subject to object and the second is how our bodily perceptions move from the external aspect to internal. Recall from previous chapters how MerleauPonty (1962, 93) repeatedly draws upon a particular example of embodied phenomenon in explanation of the body subject’s capacity for the dialectical shifting of perspective from object to subject: the hands that are perceptually both touching and touched, I touch my right hand with my left, my right hand, as an object, has the strange property of being able to feel too … the two hands are never simultaneously in the relationship of touched and touching to each other. When I press my two hands together, it is not a matter of two sensations felt together as one perceives two objects placed side by side, but of an ambiguous set-up in which both hands can alternate their roles of ‘touching’ and being ‘touched’. What was meant by talking about ‘double sensations’ is that, in passing from one role to the other, I can identify the hand touched as the same one which will in a moment be touching.

As with my observation of the body, when I begin to move from the role of sensed (being touched) to that of sensor (being the toucher), there is a point of blurring or a blending between where the internal and external begin and end, and thus an uncertainty about where the toucher ends and the touching begins – a phenomenon that undergoes significant emphasis during many women’s experience of gestational subjectivity.1 In early gestation, the relation that I have with my body often doesn’t change radically although many women talk about feeling differently about themselves even though they don’t feel any physical changes. They may also feel nauseous or unwell in other ways, feeling bloated, experiencing headaches and a general queasiness are very common. Although these feelings can mark a change in embodiment, they are not usually uniquely or immediately attributable to the state of gravidity. Should a pregnancy test show a negative result, then these sorts of conditions are easily put down to a late menstrual period or a stomach upset. Late-stage gestation, however, more profoundly impacts on my habitual subject/object dialectic and this is why I say that the quickening marks a phenomenological change in the woman;foetal relation. If Merleau-Ponty is correct when he argues that this experiential subject/ object shifting is the very basis of our subjective experience, the sense that we have of ourselves, then a substantial shift in the flesh will have consequences within our sense of being, the sense we have of ourself. In the latter stages of gestation, when I look down upon myself, all that I view in objectification is


Chapter 6

my growing stomach, a stomach that moves, and my shape shifts in ways that can be affectively experienced, as horrifying or fascinating or even normal, depending on how this woman perceives her state. In the phenomenology of gestation, the reversibility is more weighted towards objectification, towards the other than when a woman is not in the state of gravidity and it is through this increased level of self-objectification that the foetus can begin to ‘appear’. Yet at the same time, I am unable to comport myself in order to objectify this mound beneath my breasts in the way that I can in order to examine my feet – that is, I cannot see its underside. I am also limited in what I can do to make it move the way that I want because movement is not in accordance to my will in the same way as my feet. Although the stomach is mine, its movement is not and although I objectify it and I can move it in a gross sense as in swinging my body from side to side, I cannot turn it around like an object in the world, phenomenologically, my stomach is both mine and not mine; it occupies the position of both object and subject simultaneously. It is a held point of co-incidence of touching and being touched – of subject and object in close connection, a hiatus. The second aspect of the flesh is the shift in perception from the external or outward focus, to the internal. In order for me to have a tactile experience, I must feel my hand from the inside as it moves across a surface. But, in order for this to take place, the hand must be capable of being touched by a surface from the outside. It must be a part of the material world – a physical thing and not an illusion or a spirit. This tactile experience is incarnate; it occurs within and requires that I have a body for I feel my hand from the inside. When I perceive my feet as being between me and the earth, my perception is of an object in its external aspect, yet as I again move up my body, by the time I am trying to perceive my eyes, the perception feels internal. I can move my eyes back and forth and feel them rub in their sockets, but the image of them in my head is their aspect viewed from inside my head. Yet again this experience of subjectivity is incomplete because even with my eyes closed, I can sense something of my head physically – its weight on my shoulders, maybe the sun on the top of my head or the breeze touching my cheek. Thus, the body sensed and the body sentient are the obverse and reverse of each other. To touch one’s own hand is, for the hand being touched, to lose contact for a momentary instant with the world. However, this hand almost immediately becomes an object – a part of the world being touched by the touching hand. Again, embodied gestation in its advanced stages is instructive in this internal/external regard because the usual shift to the internal as occurring at my neck alters. Those aspects of my body, such as my feet and legs which I would ordinarily objectify as I walk are significantly if not often (when I sit for example) completely obscured from my view. During the final months of gestation, my capacity for external objectification is restricted to

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


my arms and hands and stomach. My ordinary internal/external balance, the manner in which I have come to habitually know myself, is more predominantly internal because the shift to internalisation seems to occur, not at the level of my shoulders but at the level of my protruding stomach. As I move up my body in perception, I often do not see my stomach in its external aspect – although I physically can – but rather I find myself drawn to an internal obscure image of what is within, an image often projected from an ultrasound examination or from cultural images of foetuses. The transition from the external to the internal is thus blurred in that it coincides with a partially observable body part and as such there is a kind of expansive merging of aspects, objectification and subjectification, into the one. So, phenomenologically, my gestational experience is one of expanded subjectivity because my internal reversibility now begins somewhere around my lower abdomen in conjunction with a confusion or a stall in the flesh that mediates a subject/ object reversibility – an expanded subjective experience that encompasses within my sense of self an other that is both self (subject) and not self (object) in a held reversibility – a situation where self and other are phenomenologically bonded in much the same way that my body and subjectivity interrelate, this foetus is an aspect of me, not just physically but also subjectively, that is affectively, psychologically. Recall from chapter three how this perception of the foetus as both separate and yet a part of me, as within and bonded to me, would also be facilitated through the way my body schema has incorporated foetal movement into my own. It is here that we might begin to understand (and this is speculation at this stage) the developmental need for the foetus to be so imbedded into a woman’s body, for a woman’s immune system to recognise this foetus as an aspect of herself and for the womb to make space rather than have space for a foetus. If we imagine a foetus sitting inside a womb that simply encases the foetus and through which the odd bump and roll can be felt, then the integration would be insufficient to affectively communicate through the flesh, the touching/touched. In fact the communication of affect through bodily engagement requires touch (Hertenstein et al. 2006). That emotion might be in the manner in which we touch others clearly has implications and application to both woman;foetal and maternal–infant bonding. Consistent touching is central to gestation and early infancy, and interestingly is the most developed sensory modality at birth, argued to be a contributing factor to cognitive, brain and socio-emotional development throughout infancy and childhood (Field 2001; Hertenstein 2005; Stack 2001).2 This research is consistent with Merleau-Ponty’s (1962, 134) argument that the conveyance of emotional meaning is bodily experienced ‘as if the other person’s intention inhabited my body and mine his’ and the emotional gesture is thought to be fully comprehended when ‘I lend myself’ to a spectacle and


Chapter 6

‘the powers of my body adjust themselves to it and overlap it’. To blindly apprehend an emotion for Merleau-Ponty (1962, 157) is to understand it by way of bodily engagement. ‘There is an erotic “comprehension” not of the order of understanding, since understanding subsumes an experience, once perceived, under some idea, while desire comprehends blindly by linking body to body’.3 Although for Merleau-Ponty we are not specifically required to touch in order to communicate emotion or affect, he nonetheless describes how emotional perception of others is facilitated through movement tracking or synchronisation–imitation (see Lymer 2014). Touching can also be understood as a form of movement tracking as to touch someone requires us to synchronise our movement patterns. The closer the physical contact, the more synchronised movement patterns must be. To walk arm in arm requires more synchronisation to our steps than walking hand in hand and in order to sit comfortably entwined with another requires bodily adjustments. MerleauPonty’s account of emotion describes perfectly how, through synchronised body schematic ‘linking’, maternal emotion could well guide bodily postures and thus the bodily habituations of a foetus because clearly how we move has something to do with how we feel and vice versa. The woman;foetal or maternal–infant, or actually any emotional bond is thus the manner in which lives become intentionally ‘linked’ such that the ‘blind’ gestural choreograph aids to structure the ‘living meaning’ of the phenomenal body. From this affective bodily linking, we can say that it is entirely possible for me to hear the anger in your voice and the joy in your laughter, see the sadness on your face, the confidence in your posture and feel the love in your caress. It is also becomes possible for a woman in the state of gravidity to feel the anxiety in a foetal jump, the playfulness in a kick, and the contentedness of a roll or that a foetus might move erratically from her mother’s anxiety or be soothed to sleep through her rocking prior to having a capacity to ‘experience’ an emotion as an emotion. Through the conception of an affective accouplement, as Merleau-Ponty describes, applied to the phenomenology of gravidity, we can begin to better understand how our affective bonds are foundational to how it is that we perceive and move out into our world. I outlined in chapter three how our earliest habitual movement that shapes the beginnings of our perceptual experiences are formed through the gestational mother’s physical body situated within her affective situations. In this way, foetal development is situated within a socio-historical and cultural context, not only through such things as the diet the mother eats or the drugs she may take but also in the very way that she habitually moves, feels and touches, how she experiences, how she perceives her gravidity and also how others feel, perceive and touch her.

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


Maternal Identity From the perspective of particular women, how then are we to understand the nature of her engagement with her foetus? How does a woman ‘take up’ a maternal identification with the foetus that is simultaneously culturally embedded and ontological (because it has developmental import) and what might that look like? Can a woman just choose to become bonded with her foetus? Can she be coerced into performing maternity in a way that ensures foetal flouishing? In the introduction, I have expressed some concerns about notions of identity and the self as performative because regarding culture as that which is performatively produced as an origin as iteration – as Derrida and Butler suggest – is incompatible with the phenomenology of gravidity as an ontology that elicits particular performances. I have also agreed with Rosalyn Diprose, who, in Corporeal Generosity, identifies how a performative identity fails to give due weight to the limitations that others place on our capacity to actualise our performances, no matter if we choose to perform or not. Yet there are important insights that can be taken from the notion of an identity as an ability to perform within certain biological and cultural limitations that is relevant to the way a woman’s ability or inability to perform a maternal identity will embed in the formation of a particular bonded relation with her foetus. Firstly, and as Diprose (2002, 61) states, ‘as action implicates the body, then the self’s identity is performed through the body’. Through the structures of hospitality, how a body performs gravidity is certainly regulated by the severity of the conditions placed on the welcome a woman receives as we saw in the previous chapter, conditions that permit some behaviours and disadvantage or punish others. For many theorists such as Foucault and Butler, identity is constituted through a repetition of action that sediments into habit whereby bodies are trained to repeat socially desirable acts and to inhibit those deemed undesirable. In this model, and akin to Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the body schema, it is bodies and not self-reflective consciousness that structure identity. As we grow, we are trained through the structures of hospitality to perform different bodily identities in accordance with the conventions of that society. In most capitalist cultures, motherhood was historically (at least publically) virginal, silent and sacrificial such that to perform otherwise in public, as Demi Moore did when she appeared 7-months gestation, naked and sexy on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 (see chapter one), was to challenge the culturally normative performance of the ‘good’ mother at that time – a performance that will be either valorised as ethical (encouraging further performances) or morally criticised as abhorrent depending upon the intelligibility of the performance in that temporal space and place. Through our capacity to perform, our identities are moulded by and through social


Chapter 6

categories, regulated by state institutions that legally permit only certain (gendered) bodies to perform certain acts. Applying Drucilla Cornell (1979) here, deviance such as Demi Moore’s naked performance of gestation must emerge out of a change in the available horizons for self-representations, what Cornell terms the ‘imaginary domain’, the space of a virtuality that is new, intelligible, but was not actualised until Moore’s image appeared. This virtual ‘space’ came into existence with the image, but only became morally acceptable when it was accompanied by the continued performance of acts that encouraged a perception of gestation as sexy – the wearing of tight clothing and tops that emphasise breasts are now commonplace, at least in Australia – performances that initially challenged the historical imagining of women in advanced stages of gravidity as virginal, silent and/or rather grotesque. Thus for Cornell (1995, 34), following Butler, ‘we first need an account of how bodies come to matter. As Judith Butler (1990) shows us, the word “matter” has a double meaning. Bodies matter, that is, they materialise and take on reality while also carrying an implicit normative assessment. Bodies matter, in other words, through a process by which they come to have both symbolic and ethical significance.’ However, as Elizabeth Grosz (2005, 78) points out, to understand matter as materialising ‘implies a process of putting into materiality that elides or denies that matter is itself what enables materialisation (one cannot materialise what is always already material); and matter itself is what enables those valuations that are designated as mattering (mattering is a process of privileging one mode of materiality over another).’ Put simply and in the context of the current example, Moore could not materialise, or take on, or perform a reality of sexy pregnancy if she were not heavily gestational. The process of mattering cannot be cut off from the matter itself. The point being that if becoming, or the ability to take on an identity through iteration, is what makes the subjective identity impossible, then it renders problematic a self-identity that is grounded in a materiality and in nature. As Grosz (2005, 79) identifies, ‘The biological, the natural, and the material remain active and crucial political ingredients precisely because they too, and not culture alone, are continuously subjected to transformation, to becoming, to unfolding over time.’ As the body in the state of gravidity shows most clearly, culture is the self-image of our ontology, of nature, and not the other way around. Cornell’s (1993, 2) privileging of cultural performativity as ‘transformation’ as divergent from ‘change reduced to evolution’ downplays the limitations on our future that nature, biology and evolution inherently constrain. For Cornell, the division between nature and culture is clear and although not explicitly put this way, she describes them in terms of nature as an enclosed system of circular time which holds us in the present, whereas culture is linear, open to transformation. The job of the feminist is to engage in the later. The phenomenology of gravidity is perhaps

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


unique in that in this case, the ontological state, as we saw in the previous section, the very being gestational, especially in the latter stages, aligns the body in such a way as to encourage self-identification and transformation in ways that are biologically compelling but also culturally situated, so there is an ontological interpellation. As we saw, in late-stage gravidity, the very conditions of material embodiment direct our identification with our physical state as ‘gestational’ and so transformation becomes rapidly inevitable, the style of that transformation however, will be situated and negotiated, dependent on the context in which a gestational woman’s identification with being in her ‘state’ will emerge. In the earlier months, the material body is less engaging, and often a woman will not feel in the state of gravidity. Set within cultures encouraging reproduction, the transformation from woman to mother is expected and so a performance of maternity will be coerced through cultural discourses like that identified by Kelly Oliver (2013) in chapter one; it is taken for granted that a woman in the state of gravidity is already a mother in ways that restricts other ‘imaginary domains’, directing the style of performances available in ways that induct or capture the woman who finds herself in a state of gravidity prior to any phenomenological engagement a woman might experience with her foetus. Cultural imagery and encouraging women to undertake practises of maternity encourages an interpellation of motherhood through an induction into the language, customs and cultural norms of becoming a mother. ‘I am pregnant for the first time’ posts pregnant6 on the online community discussion board, ‘about five weeks by my calculations, and I have had no symptoms. I’m trying to be relaxed about it, but it is hard not to think about it when it is your body. That and I don’t “feel” pregnant which worries me’. The contributions that follow are confidently reassuring ‘This is my fifth pregnancy and I can honestly say that I have not had any symptoms with any of them’ posts jojo8119; meggaggie advises her to relax and imagine the baby and ‘the awesome experiences you have ahead of you’. Examining the numerous responses, one can note the reinforcement of traditional values, norms, expectations and dreams for a particular future much as Oliver (2013) identified in her deconstruction of contemporary cultural representations of gestation in chapter one. Most responses refer to the foetus as the baby and pregnant6 as the mother even though she is only 5 weeks gestation and according to some statistics could have as high as a 15 per cent chance of miscarriage depending on her age and medical history, an event that could see her compassionately but nonetheless quickly removed from this new world. Some respondents, maybe more conscious of this, advise medical support ‘Let your doctor reassure you and do your best to eat well and refrain from anything not so great for you and the baby will be fine’ posts Oliveoil, a mother of three – a discourse of compliance, vulnerability and personal surveillance.


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Almost all of the posts predict that pregnant6 will have a positive future, grounding this positivity in narratives and cultural mythologies of domestic bliss. No one spoke of the risk of miscarriage, of choice and the possibility of abortion, of disability or illness, nor did they engage with or validate the fears that pregnant6 expressed. While we can fully understand the intent behind the reassuring responses and the advice that pregnant6 received from the other women on this site, it is nonetheless instructive to see how early and simply her subjectivity is being sculpted, her identification as a mother is assumed and her maternal future laid out before her through a discursive inclusivity that invites her into the warmth of the maternal world, a world that constructs miscarriage and disability as tragic and abortion as unspoken – an imaginary that will lull her into cultural norms that circumscribe domains of intelligibility and ethical entitlement for both herself and the foetus. For comparison, take a second example: following an account by Jane Caro (2013), of an interview she gave on a high rating Sydney radio show ABC’s Drive, Sure enough, when the subject [abortion] came up, both Brogden and Jensen spoke about the issue as if it happened to a small and peculiar group of not-verynice females. It was theoretical to them ... When it was my turn to speak I talked about the giant female silence around the issue and how it was a rare sexually active woman who had not at one time or another wondered whether she would have an abortion when faced with the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy. I made the point that for women unwanted pregnancy and abortion were not theoretical but part of everyday life. The discussion continued, but the blokes still talked as if this was a rare and terrible event that happened only to others. As they talked, I realized that I was going to have to break the giant female silence. When it was next my turn, I did. I said I had had an abortion. Well, you could clearly have knocked the blokes down with a feather… [a]s time ticked by, Glover moved the discussion to the final topic — our favourite recipes from the 1970s. Naturally outspoken as I am, it took some courage to admit that I had an abortion so publicly particularly in front of someone — Archbishop Jensen — who I knew would condemn what I had done. When I left the studio, I felt genuinely frightened. Would I receive hate mail? Threats? Would people shun me? Worse, later that evening I had to attend a P&C meeting at my daughter’s (fortunately secular public) high school. How would the other parents react?

Caro (2013) goes on to talk about how the hate mail didn’t eventuate, but rather the silence continued: ‘One friend rang to agree heartily with what I’d said about Iraq’ and the president of the PandC commented ‘loved what you said about the apricot chicken.’ Although Caro felt her performance to be deviant, the cultural norm of silence was not displaced. In fact this particular silence runs so deep in Australia that it impairs the ability to collect abortion statistics. Abortion in Australia is legal but only if it is required to protect the

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


life and health of the woman. Apparently according to a paper published in the Australian Medical Journal, the number of abortions performed in Australia each year must be estimated because there is no way to collect accurate data due to the fact that doctors book patients into hospitals for a curette, a medical procedure that is commonly performed for numerous reasons, including early abortions, without needing to specify the reason for the procedure, a practice that protects both the women and the doctor from further inquiry (Chan and Sage 2005). When Caro went on to ask other women about her speaking out, she found herself met with numerous quick confessions, ‘oh yeah, of course, I’ve had two.’ Abortion, it would seem, is just not something that is talked about, at least not outside a pro-life rhetoric, at least not in Australia. Yet, within this discourse Caro (2013) also talks about how for her, ‘for the few weeks that the pregnancy lasted I always felt it had happened to my body and not to me’. The above almost ‘throw away’ comment from her friend that ‘of course, I’ve had two’ is also telling of an alternate possible phenomenology. Neither of these women speak of moral anguish or trauma. In fact Caro goes on to interpret the silence surrounding abortion differently to how I read the situation, ‘and that was it’ she states, ‘no-one was shocked or surprised, nothing awful or even awkward happened at all. All the women I did speak to about it told me their own abortion stories. Turned out there was no need for that giant female silence at all. Men were just as accepting.’ In general, stories of abortion that I have read and heard are narrated in painful terms, and I have no doubt that for many women this is their phenomenology. For others, however, like Caro, an early abortion did not carry any moral baggage and for women who feel this way an abortion can be unequivocally the right thing to do. It is these women who are the most silenced within the discourse of foetal rights because rather than making excuses for their actions and regret their non-compliance with the cultural ‘norm’ of motherhood from conception, they are directly challenging the very premise of biological maternity, the view that women who terminate are peculiar or not very nice. If Caro’s observation and experience of going public are representative, then what she is describing is an imaginary future where the cultural cone of silence will one day be lifted to reveal the possibility that a lot more women did not feel bad about getting an abortion and maybe never will engage with the maternal identity that cultural norms and tropes of hospitality tell us is embodied as part and parcel of the state of gravidity. While it is true that identity is performative, it is also true that our ability to perform cannot be otherwise than our biology grounds and this is particularly relevant to gravidity. In the above example, an ability to experience an abortion as ‘something that happened to my body’ rather than an experience with which one identifies is not unrelated to the capacity to phenomenologically experience foetal movement or affect. While the body feels the same in early


Chapter 6

gravidity, the only way to engage with a maternal identity is through discourse and it is in this way, through medical and social discourse, that women are invited into a maternal world prior to their engagement in an embodied sense. Once a woman;foetal bond has begun to emerge, for most women who recognise and engage with their gestation, the implications of a termination or the death of their foetus will impact upon the style of identity being developed, and in many cases, that style will be one of maternity. To lose that embodied identity, once habituated and affectively invested, once one has fallen in love with their foetus, is not only immensely painful, as akin to the loss of a part of oneself, but can also have a profound effect on the health of those affected. It is here, in the nature and degree of the woman;foetal bond that an ethics of gravidity resides, its ethical import revealed in the way that this bond is necessary to foetal, infant and possibly even a gestational woman’s flourishing. In the next section, I situate this understanding of maternity as foetal bonding within a feminist manifesto. A Feminist Manifesto Jacques Derrida (1999) in Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas describes the possibility for a feminist manifesto at the opening of ethics, as a necessary phenomenological symmetry if the ethical relationship, as ethical, is to be an ideal towards which we aim. Claiming that such symmetry must be possible is the conclusion he draws after making what he terms a ‘correction’ to Levinas’s thesis of separation (Derrida 1999, 44). For Levinas, the capacity to separate from, yet hold, in retreat, the feminine, allows not only the subject to form through being drawn by the other into a dwelling in what is not itself but also protects the emerging ego from erasure by the alterity of the face in the instance of unconditional welcome. For Levinas (1969, 79), the emerging ego is protected from erasure because he is already a ‘received host, [and thus] already a guest in his own home’, due to the presence of feminine being. Derrida (1999, 44–5) suggests an alternate understanding whereby the unconditional welcome does risk the erasure of the ego of the host by the guest due to the inseparability of the ego from the feminine that nourishes it. Rather than the self emerging through a process of taking place, as self, in the place of the other, Derrida proposes that the self comes to itself in the place of the other. Thus, in the moment that my pre-reflective ego comes to be subjectivity, self emerges through both being welcomed as other in the nourishing world of feminine being and also in welcoming the other. For this to be the case, there must be an inseparability of feminine being and unconditional welcome in the moment of becoming. In making this ‘correction’, Derrida shifts the feminine welcome from being pre-ethical to a constitutive part of

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


the unconditional ethical relationship, concluding unconditional hospitality to be impossible in terms of politics. It is this that also sees Derrida (1999, 44) proclaim that the Levinasian welcome, properly constituted as both feminine and ethical, can support a ‘sort of feminist manifesto’ which would emerge through an exploration of the implications of the conception of femininity as providing the pre-ethical origin of ethics and thus expressing ‘a depth of essential and meta-empirical radicality that takes sexual difference into account in an ethics emancipated from ontology’ (Derrida 1999, 44). The feminine as a metaphorical presence provides a model for ethical engagement that then informs the laws of hospitality. For Derrida, the feminist manifesto would emerge in the way that feminine hospitality, as it develops through Levinas, encounters a series of linguistic negations – women are situated in the language of silence, as the Other par excellence yet not simply animal because every home, every subject presupposes a woman as the foundation of its very welcome. It is in these spaces, which Derrida (1999, 44) identifies as lacks that he perceives a deconstruction of what it might mean to have ‘the anarchic origin of ethics belonging to a dimension of femininity’ and not to the presence of empirical women. Derrida’s feminist manifesto, the placing of the anarchic origin of ethics as a dimension of femininity in the self, would certainly shift feminine being into, rather than behind or as resource for, the emerging subject as an alterity within the self. I would note here that this move shows promise and there is the possibly of equating this notion of feminine alterity with the maternal watermark that I have identified in chapter four, as carried within the self. However, we need to recall that at the mirror stage, the watermark, of which I speak, is internalised, subsumed into the self as the otherness we find within ourselves in moments of self-reflection, an otherness that structures how we negotiate others in general. The way that I have understood this watermark is as an embodied ontology that stylises a way of negotiating alterity as the need to phenomenologically sustain ipseity. Derrida however, seems to wish to preserve something that can be defined as a maternal nature within the feminine that is carried within the self. In the unpublished seminar, Derrida (1995, 54) equates the feminine with solicitude, We can replace everything, gestation, fertilization, the breast, food, milk, we can replace all the replaceable parts of maternity but we will call the mother the irreplaceable, as solicitude which therefore is not at all natural in the sense of biological or genetic … that solicitude insofar as it is maternal, insofar as it takes care in a disinterested fashion, of the incomer, the new arrival, the child qua the one who needs to be welcomed, fed, sheltered, the one who is in principle, disarmed, infinitely vulnerable and needy, the absolute guest or arrival, well, that solicitude, the mother, maternal solicitude is undoubtedly an absolute figure of hospitality; and especially if we define it starting from irreplaceability;


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for duty to be hospitable enjoins me to welcome in(to) my place whoever arrives but first of all the arrival to whom no one else in my place would give his place: one must offer one’s place (I must offer my place) there where no one can offer a place in my place.

According to Derrida, the feminine is metaphorical and not concrete because anyone can substitute (in the Levinasian sense) for the feminine if they show this irreplaceable care. Like Levinas, Derrida thinks that maternal love is unconditional, a thinking that continues Levinas’s portrayal of the mother as an ethical prototype, a natural hostage, naturalising gender roles as prescribed by patriarchy, elevated to an ethical imperative. In addition, his emphasis on the power of the call of the face of the other denies active ethical agency. The need to retain something that can be attributed as a ‘natural’ maternal affect here is highly problematic and limits the usefulness of his feminist manifesto. Rather, I think a better reflection of the maternal feminine is articulated by Sara LaChance Adams (2010, 5–6), who speaks of maternal solicitude, expresses what she terms ‘maternal ambivalence’. Drawing on the way that for Levinas, being a subject is to be incessantly undermined by the alterity of the other she argues that Levinas ‘accurately depicts the ambiguous intersubjectivity described by mothers [yet], he denies their conflicted ethical stance’ (LaChance Adams 2010, 7). For LaChance Adams (2010, 11), maternity goes much more like this: The needs of the other are integral to one‘s own, since my well-being is wrapped up in hers. I am compelled to respond to her cries, and become almost helplessly drawn to meet her needs. Yet her desires will conflict with mine. I revolt against her demands and/or struggle to balance them with my own. All of this amounts to an ambivalent ethical orientation; I want to both care for, and abandon, the other. In this instance, passive responsiveness is insufficient. Conscious effort, skill, resources, and thought to negotiate our competing, yet intertwined needs are all required.

A maternal identity is the enactment, the performance, of this negotiation, a negotiation that although LaChance Adams speaks of as predominantly a postnatal event, begins as an embodied phenomenology. Recall from the introduction how Brodie Donegan characterised her role as Zoe’s mother, ‘I felt her move; I’d had been to check-ups, ultrasounds, and had pictures of her. I had bought clothes for her, set up a room for her, and carried her for 8 months.’ For Donegan, although Zoe never lived in a concrete sense as a person, she had nonetheless, by the 8th month of gestation, begun the process of negotiating the hiatus, that ambivalent space between herself and this new embodiment, that will require her to identify with herself anew in view of the

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


emerging alterity that her body manifested. As LaChance Adams (2010, 6) shows, ‘ethical ambivalence is morally productive insofar as it helps one to recognize the alterity of others, attend to the particularities of situations, and negotiate one’s own needs and desires with those of other people’. Placing this negotiation with a phenomenology of gravidity shows most clearly the fundamental interdependence of human (and likely non-human) existence as the maintenance of separate interests that impact on the other. Women who desire to be mothers accept the challenge that this other will make to their current embodied self, and through an embodied but nonetheless conscious negotiation, embark on the project of developing the skills required. As Simone de Beauvoir argues, when freely chosen, motherhood is a commitment to another whose ethical standing will emerge through the negotiation between her independence and her responsibility to others. Her ability to carry out such an obligation will depend to a very large degree on her situation, a crucial factor that understanding maternity as hospitality fails to accommodate. As de Beauvoir (1949/1975) so poignantly noted, our capacities often fall short of our ethical obligations and this may not necessarily be the fault of our own but can reflect available support, limited resources and reserves, and the need to look after ourselves rather than care for others all the time or even just at this particular time, or to not care for one more. Fortunately, understanding the relation between a woman and her foetus as a negotiation that requires, as LaChance Adams identifies, ‘effort, skill and resources’ is not only desirable, but, as we have seen primarily in chapters one and two, is becoming increasingly empirically sound. Thinking about the woman;foetal relation in this way opens into the future the possibility of representing gravidity otherwise, in ways that might facilitate a rethinking of the ethics of gestation anew. Representing gravidity as an embodied state, as an ontological state, an original embodiment that develops and stylises the nature of our intersubjective encounters, our attachments to others, we have seen how rather than hosting an Other, women move cells into a particular human whose being will not only reflect aspects of a shared genetic code but also an echo of the particular life that she is leading. This is not to reduce the woman to an essential biology that incubates foetal Others with whom she will then form later attachments, or not, after birth. Rather, and as we have already begun to see in chapter three, foetal consciousness, ipseity, emerges through a body schema developed as a dehiscence from her flesh, a particular flesh, a culturally situated and affective flesh, a flesh that affectively moves in her environment that will in turn, leave an imprint in the neurological structures of this foetus that informs an original style of cognition. The gestational woman’s body becomes not just an alterity against which foetal and later infant ipseity will continually need to emerge but also a style


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of relating with alterity in general that structures how this neonate will at least initially perceive the world. This is why, as Bowlby (1956) discovered, the infant requires a bond with an Other in order to cognitively flourish into selfhood. The (m)other acts as the alterity required for ipseity to experientially evolve. As Bowlby also discerned, this other needed to be a particular other with whom this child could affectively resonate. The other must be experienced as familiar enough to be the basis for not only difference but also a resonance of sameness and anyone taking the place of this (m)other post birth would better assist this infant to flourish were they cognisant of these structures. As Grosz (2005) suggests, the only way to properly approach a study of enculturation, and in this case it is foetal enculturation that interests me, requires us to acknowledge, without essentialising, the embeddedness of human life in both nature and in each other. The feminist manifesto which I undertake is this acknowledgement. notes 1. I say many women’s experience of gestation here because of the possibility of denied pregnancy which has been referred to throughout previous chapters. Although usually thought of as rare the notion that a woman can not realise she is gestational until she births is currently gaining credibility as an identifiable phenomenon. One German study for example, has cited its occurrence as being 1.475 per cent of the population which as Del Giudice observes, is ‘hardly consistent with a rare, unimportant psychiatric condition’ (Del Giudice 2007, 2). More recently a television series, Discovery Health aired a documentary in January, 2009 entitled I didn’t know I was pregnant comprising interviews with women who were unaware of their gestations until they went into labour. 2. Within specific cultures, adults will touch in differing way depending upon whether they are flirting or playing, expressing power or comforting another, and children will maintain a certain proximity to a caretaker (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1989). With respect to the communication of emotion through touch, two claims have been presented from empirical research into the area that have the most relevance here. The first is that touch appears to communicate the hedonic tone of emotion (Hertenstein 2005; Hertenstein and Campos 2001; Jones and Yarbrough 1985; Knapp and Hall 1997). That is, through touch we are able to recognise the valanced quality of the contact in terms of warmth or intimacy or negatively valanced pain or discomfort. Secondly, touch is thought to intensify the emotion. That is, touch seems to either make more intense the emotional displays already being exhibited from other modalities (Knapp and Hall 1997). Hertenstein et al. (2006) completed a study which assessed whether individuals were able to recognise emotions by touch and also whether we are able to accurately identify someone else’s emotional disposition by observing them touch someone else. They concluded that humans can reliably signal love, gratitude and sympathy with touch, the three emotions that they targeted in their

Gestational Identity and a Feminist Manifesto


study. These conclusions, they argue, are consistent with recent theories to do with the origins of cooperation and altruism which assume that humans are capable of communicating these prosocial emotions with nonverbal behaviour (Frank 2002; Sober 2002). They also found that individuals can, from visual observation alone, detect emotion in tactile behaviour in instances of anger, fear, disgust, love and sympathy. 3. Merleau-Ponty employs the term ‘erotic’ here so as to liken intentional bodily engagement to the way in which lovers bodily choreograph and how the manner of bodily engagement yields different emotional meanings.

Part IV

The Phenomenology of Gravidity

Chapter 7

The Politics of Gravidity Bonding and Attachment

In March 2012, the Australian NSW Government released a report entitled Releasing the past: Adoption practices 1950–1998. This enquiry, commissioned in 2000, outlines the policies and practices throughout NSW Hospitals that resulted in around 150,000 newborn babies being coercively removed from single mothers at birth and placed for adoption into two-parent families. The report explains how many of the more controversial actions of adoption workers and hospital staff were strongly motivated by maternal–infant bonding and attachment theory. Bonding and attachment are terms that refer to the emotional ties and dependency relations that develop between an infant and a caregiver that have been identified as being necessary for an infant to developmentally flourish (Bowlby 1951, 1958). Klaus and Kennell (1979, 1981, 1983), whose work was immensely popular during the period covered by the report into adoption, had published research where they claim to have found a sensitive period for bond formation immediately postpartum and for the ensuing few days. Klauss and Kennell (1979, 1981) also claim that it is the maternal–infant bond that compels a mother to care for her child. To not properly bond at the time of birth would, according to these theorists, lead to maternal rejection of the infant in a manner comparable to failed animal imprinting. The Committee charged with the investigation found that where a child was to be placed for adoption, this understanding of bonding theory informed the hospital policy and practice of removing infants ‘at birth’ and before the birthing woman was able to see the child. In many instances, the birthing woman was anaesthetised at the moment of birth in order to prevent eye contact with the infant. Birthing women usually remained in hospital to recuperate for at least 5 days, during which time hospital staff were instructed not to provide information about the infant (including basic information such as sex, weight and general health), believing that removal and lack of information would 159


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prevent a maternal–infant bond from occurring. It was thought that the relinquishing mother, having not had the opportunity to bond with their baby, and knowing nothing about him or her, would soon recover and move on.1 The infant would be placed with the adopting family as soon as possible. These preventive measures were not successful. Many mothers and many of those who were adopted did not go on to flourish. Within the same NSW Parliamentary report, the Committee describes how 8,000 of the mothers interviewed ‘speak of their battle with mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, relationship breakdowns, health and fertility problems’ (NSW Parliament 2000, 148) and how relinquishing mothers seem to be overrepresented in pathologies such as attempted suicide, severe dissociative disorders, chronic depression and anxiety. As I discussed in chapter four, for those who were adopted, it seems that their identity is profoundly shaped by the fact of their adoption, and they too are psychologically more vulnerable than their nonadopted counterparts. The experiences of those affected by adoption interviewed by the Committee are highly suggestive not only of a problem within the policies and practices surrounding adoption that occurred in NSW, Australia, during this period but also of a problem with bonding and attachment theory itself.2 Should bonding theory be correct, then one needs to ask how could mothers and infants who have been separated at birth so absolutely and completely, supposedly prior to the formation of a maternal–infant bond, suffer so severely from their separation? We also know that infants and toddlers removed from their gestational mothers by child welfare or through adoption are at much higher risk for a variety of problems, including developmental delays, physical health and attachment problems (Halfon et al. 1995; Klee et al. 1997; Silver 2000; Wulczyn et al. 2005). Yet, during 2013–14, almost 11,100 children were admitted to out-of-home care in Australia and of these 44 per cent were under 5 years of age and over 2,000 of these were infants (AIHW, 2015). Bonding and attachment theory still underpins policies and practices that advocate that a child can be ‘saved’ from her biological parents. Bonding at birth theory is also employed by agencies offering surrogates with the majority acknowledging, but playing down the gestational connection and highlighting how post-birth bonding behaviour has been shown to create strong bonds with non-gestational children. Yet, as we saw in chapter four, and as research by Golombok et al. (2013) has shown, children born through surrogacy arrangements show higher levels of adjustment difficulties at age 7 than children conceived by gamete donation. Thus, ‘the absence of a gestational connection to the mother may be more problematic for children than the absence of a genetic link’ (Golombok et al. 2013, 653). In this chapter, I will argue that such a situation has been able to occur because of an erroneous conflation between the concepts of bonding and

The Politics of Gravidity


attachment, deployed for political purposes, which are not that different to those that informed the adoption practices of the early part of the twentieth century. I will describe how the problem has emerged and how clarity will assist us in not continuing to repeat the past. I will also show how the conflation between bonding and attachment still informs medical and legal practice and thus continues to structure the denial of just how profound the woman;foetal relationship is. Also problematic is the way in which surrogacy and adoption agencies typically downplay the issues with bonding that adoptive family experience. I will note at this early stage that I will not, in this chapter, argue for or against the ethics of adoption and surrogacy as a practice. My aim is not to judge the reproductive choices that people make but rather to ensure that the information given to people making these choices covers the issues involved and that the state recognises and fully accounts for the consequences of the phenomenology when making legislative decisions. Particularly in some welfare cases, I have no doubt that neonatal removal can, at times, be necessary. Parents can most certainly harm their children. However, many parents may not be as ‘dangerous’ to their child’s cognitive and social development as the discourse of bonding and attachment would suggest. My aim is to highlight the consequences of neonatal removal from a gestational woman so that the implications of this action can be given due consideration in the structuring and funding of support services. Currently, maternal–infant bonding theory is used to reduce the responsibility for infant outcomes to the mother alone, arguing that the level of a child’s cognitive development is the outcome of her bonding or attachment behaviour. If seen to be unsatisfactory, her child can be ‘saved’ by welfare agencies in ways that emulate historical thinking around adoption; ‘saving’ those children from women deemed incapable of meeting the state criteria for ‘good’ mothering, single mothers, indigenous Australian women and the poor, are still today the most likely to have their children removed – a situation that is more likely to contribute to the production of vulnerability rather than fostering human flourishing. The final conclusion I reach is that bonding at birth theory is a political tool that continues to frame conditions under which a new mother will be offered the hospitality of her state, conditions that simultaneously deny that this infant is already bonded to the woman who, in utero, bought her into life. Bonding and Attachment Theory I begin in this first section by showing that bonding and attachment are separate concepts that have distinctive aetiologies and pathologies. The terms bonding and attachment are regularly used within the medical, legal and


Chapter 7

philosophical literature as though they were interchangeable concepts. This is surprising as their etymologies and research findings have developed along trajectories that are clearly distinctive and that show marked developmental and social outcomes that are not interchangeable. In this section, I draw on historical and contemporary literature in order to begin reconstructing bonding and attachment as separate, albeit related, phenomena. I conclude that each have divergent developmental trajectories and differing pathologies. I outline how the terms became confused primarily within the work of Klauss and Kennell (1979, 1981, 1983) whose influence on hospital birthing and neonatal policy and practice within Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States has been significant both in the past and today. Bonding, I argue to be the dependency relation that a child forms in the later stages of gestation as accouplement. Bonding, as I have described in chapter four, is an embodied connection to the women who bought her foetus into being, not only in terms of materiality but also and inseparably as the other side of the emerging alterity within the dehiscence of foetal ipseity (see chapters three and four).3 The gestational bond is a primary link to the biological mother that the infant requires to support her transition into the mirror stage where her ‘self’ will become distinct from the (m)other to which she was bonded – a distinction that informs how she will learn to perceive alterity both with herself and of others. An infant who is separated at birth retains that bond but is no longer scaffolded and so must learn to form attachments with others without the support of maternal accouplement. Amazingly, most succeed well, and although she will be psychologically more vulnerable than her counterparts, she will not usually suffer any long-term deprivation provided she is able to form stable attachments (Bowlby 1958; Rutter 1998). That is not to say her path will be smooth, in fact, her developmental road is likely to be rockier than her non-adopted counterparts particularly in communities that refuse to acknowledge adoptees as psychologically ‘normal’ but different and particularly during the adolescent years when identity formation concretes. This is because the attachment that an adopted child must form with a caregiver(s) will not replace the gestational bond, evidenced in the way that many adoptees and relinquishing mothers remain emotionally linked to people they have never met (NSW Parliament 2000). Bonding theory was introduced by Bowlby during the 1950s after he noticed that institutionalised children seemed to suffer certain patterns of abnormal cognitive development that impacted their social and language capacities. The main conclusion that he drew from his findings was that to grow up mentally healthy, ‘the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment’ (Bowlby 1951, 13). Thus, Bowlby was the first to tie infant cognitive and physical

The Politics of Gravidity


development to the presence of a particular attentive caregiver and label the nature of this relation a ‘bond’. The opportunity to confirm Bowlby’s theory of maternal–infant bonding as being necessary to developmental flourishing occurred during the 1980s when severe economic and social policies in Romania resulted in over 65,000 children being placed in orphanages. Out of those institutionalised, 85 per cent were placed within the first month of life (Ames and Carter 1992; O’Connor and Rutter 2000). Child to caregiver ratios for children under 12 months were 10:1, which resulted in practices such as propped bottle feeding, with infants spending up to 20 hours a day in their cribs unattended (Ames and Carter 1992). Studies of these children following their adoption by families within the United Kingdom and North America have been closely monitored for the past three decades by a team of clinicians headed by Sir Michael Rutter. At the time of adoption, a large percentage of these children displayed cognitive performances that fell within the mental retardation range, however, the vast majority showed considerable recovery by the age of 4 years after placement within their adoptive families (Rutter 1998). In the course of his research, what struck Rutter (1998) about the Romanian orphans was their robustness and this finding led him to contest an aspect of Bowlby’s original thesis. For Bowlby (1951, 1958), not grasping that bonding began in utero, theorised that a bond must be formed within a sensitive post-birth period, which for humans he thought extended to around 6 months. Children who had not achieved a bonded relation by this time were thought to incur permanent intellectual and cognitive impairment. Rutter (1998) noted that within the Romanian orphan sample, this 6 month sensitive period was inconclusive and too narrow to be clinically predictive as many older infants also recovered well in terms of cognitive function once placed in stable caregiving environments. However he did note that the first 4 years of life seemed to be crucial as deficits that were recorded at 4 years of age appear to be more permanent than those recorded earlier (Ames 1997; Rutter 1998). Although the extent of the sensitive period has always been contested by these two theorists, neither has ever suggested that the maternal–infant bond needed to be formed within a matter of days post birth. Further evidence supporting a modification to the idea of a sensitive postbirth attachment period is the growing body of empirical research indicating that bonding begins through gestation (see DiPietro et al. 2004; Facello 2008; Lymer 2010, 2011). That bonding may be gestational was suggested by Leifer, as early as 1977, when she undertook an empirical study of woman;foetal and parent–infant attachment, which concluded that emotional bonds with the foetus develop early in gestation and are predictive of a maternal–infant attachment style. In 1981, Cranley defined a maternal;foetal bond as ‘the extent to which women engage in behaviors that represent an affiliation and


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interaction with their unborn child’ (Cranley 1981, 282). Since these early enquiries, that a maternal foetal bond exists has gradually gained acceptance, especially in research that shows the ability of newborn infants to recognise and be drawn to their mother’s voice and body over that of others (Kisilevsky et al. 2009; Mampe et al. 2009; Mennella et al. 2001). The evidence and the phenomenology point to a gestational woman’s engagement being integral to foetal neurological outcomes and if so, then bonding does not occur at birth nor is it brought about by certain behaviours in the post-birth period. Rather, what we see in cases of infant removal is the severance of the gestational bond which will create a sensitive period during which time the infant will need to reconnect, to attach to an other in order to developmentally flourish. Distinguishing Bonding and Attachment Ainsworth (1973), a colleague of Bowlby, developed attachment theory by examining qualitatively the differing styles of behaviours that mothers and infants embody. Ainsworth then correlated these differing styles of interaction to particular psychosocial outcomes that are predictive of such things as behavioural disorders, the ability to form stable relationships and to selfdisclose and trust others. For Ainsworth (1989, 712), specifically, a bond is something different to the style of attachment that she studied: A mother is said to have a bond to her child. This usage is tacitly in agreement with those who hold that this is not an attachment because a mother does not usually base her security in her relationship with her child, however eager she may be to give care and nurturance.

An attachment style, for Ainsworth (1989, 711), is a description of the nature and interactive features of a particular caregiver–infant relationship. An ‘attachment’ is an affectional bond, and hence an attachment figure is never wholly interchangeable or replaceable by another, even though there may be others to whom one is attached. … There is, however, one criterion of attachment that is not necessarily present in other affectional bonds. This is the experience of security and comfort obtained from the relationship with the partner, and yet the ability to move off from the secure base provided by the partner, with confidence to engage in other activities. Because not all attachments are secure, this criterion should be modified to imply a seeking of the closeness that, if found, would result in feeling secure and comfortable in relation to the partner.

The focus of attachment theory is to outline the organisational pattern of the infant’s behaviours. For example, when an infant begins to explore the

The Politics of Gravidity


world by crawling and eventually walking, they will typically use attachment figures as a secure base to explore from and return to. Infant behaviour associated with attachment is thus primarily diagnosed by the manner in which an infant seeks proximity to and reassurance from an attachment figure. Parental responses and interactions with the infant during these explorations show how secure the parental base is for the infant and whether the infant will experience their exploration as anxious or safe or even an exciting experience. Bretherton and Munholland (1999) argue that these patterns of interaction lead to internal working models which will guide the individual’s perceptions, emotions, thoughts and expectations in later relationships. Ainsworth (1973) describes different styles or patterns of attachment that range from secure to avoidant-insecure. Further research by Main and Solomon (1986) identified a fourth attachment pattern, called disorganised/disoriented attachment – as the name reflects, these children lack a coherent coping strategy. Insecure and disorganised/disorientated attachment patterns are considered non-optimal within Western cultures where individuation and self-mastery are desirable traits as they can compromise a child’s capacity to develop exploration skills, self-confidence, a sense of mastery of the environment and to form closely attached adult relationships (Weinfield et al. 2008). It is estimated that approximately 65 per cent of children in the general population of countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States may be classified as having a secure pattern of attachment, with the remaining 35 per cent being divided between the insecure classifications (Prior and Glaser 2006). The kinds of behaviours that mothers display towards their infants post birth will suggest that a certain style of attachment is being developed. In many cases, as Leifer (1977) has suggested, this will be a continuation of the style of interaction that the mother had towards the foetus during gestation. Being diagnosed as having an insecure attachment does not mean that one suffers from the kinds of permanent cognitive delay that children diagnosed as being deprived of a bonded relationship may have. This is shown most clearly in adoption as although adoptees do not suffer lower than average intelligence and often will be high achievers (Marinus et al. 2005); they typically have what has been described as a shallow relationship with their carers in that emotionally they are more distant, more independent and set themselves apart from others (Nydam 1999). Thus, adoptees are bonded, there are no cognitive delays for those who grow up in a caring family environment where they are able to bond, but the style of their attachment is very distinctive. Unlike a bond, an attachment style is not even laid in concrete. Over the short term, the stability of attachment classifications is high but becomes less so over the long term as the importance of ancillary relationships intervene (Schaffer 2007). What does seem to be predictable is that physically


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abused and neglected children are less likely to develop secure attachments at any stage of their lives, and rates of disorganised attachment are markedly elevated in maltreated infants (Pearce and Pezzot-Pearce 2007). However, unless maltreatment involves severe isolation (and it can), even maltreated children develop within the normal cognitive range. From the research that I have undertaken, infant isolation or separation from a bonded caregiver needs to be relatively severe such as has been found in features of poorly funded institutions, orphanages or homes where children are kept in isolation, and this needs to occur very early in the infant’s life (Bowlby 1958). Parental neglect is more often indicative of an insecure attachment style rather than of a poor bond, unless the neglect is concomitant with severe isolation and social deprivation prior to 4 years of age, as sometimes occurs. Thus, the bonded child is the child who will meet certain developmental outcomes at certain times and whose cognitive structures fall within the normal range. The style of attachment determines the way that the child will negotiate alterity within herself and with others. A child who grows within a brutal and violent environment may still grow and develop normally in that they will acquire language, gain self-reflective cognitive capacity and communication and imitation skills, which signify that they have been bonded. However, they will likely develop an insecure attachment style which may manifest in sometimes quite extreme antisocial behaviours in the way they negotiate difference within themselves and with others (Ainsworth 1973). The adopted child who is able to establish a stable attachment after birth will also flourish but their attachment style will very likely, and to varying degrees, reflect their adoption. In Australia today, where intimacy between people and families is promoted, we tend to think of what Ainsworth (1973) describes as a secure attachment, where an infant has a primary caretaker with whom they are closely attached, as the healthiest. However, we need to be clear, especially diagnostically, that there is a very big divide between the child who acts out a learnt antisocial behavioural pattern and the child who has physical developmental delays or retardations because they cannot properly discern alterity in themselves or others. The Conflation of Bonding and Attachment The qualitative nature of attachment theory is consistently and problematically conflated with the embodied bond that a foetus forms with the biological mother. The problems are multiple but essentially what I have found is that it is common to suggest that the parent who fails to enact certain attachment behaviours immediately post birth risks being accused of forming a weak

The Politics of Gravidity


bond with their infant. The diagnosable risk to the infant is then thought to be to cognitive developmental outcomes that isolated infants experience. In other words, parents, along with the medical and legal entourage that surrounds gestational, birthing and parenting practices in OECD countries, are led to believe that a failure on the part of either biological or adoptive mothers to enact a particular style of attachment leave their infant poorly bonded and thus prone to cognitive and developmental delay. This misconstrued understanding of maternal–infant bonding, informed through post-birth attachment behaviours, is then employed to judge the suitability of this woman as a ‘mother’. The conflation between bonding and attachment can be traced back to the 1970s and early 1980s. At around the same time as the Western world wept from the images that emerged from Romania, Klaus and Kennell (1979, 1981, 1983) were gaining immense popularity within the field of bonding and attachment theory through the development of a set of bonding criteria aimed at standardised clinical applications. Thus, they proposed certain modifications to Bowlby’s theory of bonding that differed significantly from that of Rutter’s. As I have already discussed briefly in chapter four, Klaus and Kennell redefined the maternal–infant bond to be an emotional postbirth attachment and, drawing very heavily upon animal studies of imprinting, argued that bonding must be instigated within a crucial time period of a matter of days postpartum for optimal cognitive flourishing. They then developed a set of recommended parental bonding behaviours that were very readily incorporated into hospital policy and practice in order to promote or in some cases, prevent, bonding from taking place. Klauss and Kennell also developed a clinical assessment which was said to determine, along a qualitative and well as a quantitative trajectory from weak to strong, how bonded an infant is with their primary caregiver. This meant that for these theorists, an infant may be weakly bonded in situations where there is neither separation at birth nor any risk of infant isolation or abandonment. Erroneously, Klaus and Kennell (1979, 1981) also assume that for an infant ‘stronger’ bonds are somehow ‘better’ bonds than weaker ones and these are directly correlated to the amount of contact and compliance with specified ‘bonding’ behaviours such as holding the infant, breastfeeding and skin to skin contact. Caregivers are directed to spend the maximum amount of time possible in close physical contact with their children in order to achieve a ‘strong’ bond. Deviance or an inability to comply with these actions is read as bonding failure which then is said to leave an infant susceptible to cognitive delay. Klaus and Kennell (1979, 1981) also claimed that the maternal–infant bond is what compels a mother to care for her child. To not bond directly post birth placed the mother at risk of being estranged from her child and prone to abandoning or compromising his or her care. As they state,


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Separation of a newborn or young animal from its mother … significantly alters maternal behavior. The sooner after birth the separation occurs, the stronger are the effects. For each species there seems to be a specific length of separation that can be endured. If separation extends beyond this sensitive period, the effects on mothering behaviour during this breeding cycle are often drastic and irreversible. (Klaus and Kennell 1979, 22)

There are two problems here. The first is the suggestion that an infant might be poorly bonded to an attentive caregiver which the empirical evidence to date simply does not show as the case. Secondly, there appears to be an assumption that the failure to develop a ‘strong’ bond through certain behavioural imperatives – which are to do with an attachment style rather than a bond – results in maternal rejection of the infant which subsequently exposes the child to the kinds of deep developmental and psychopathologies that are found in children who have not had the opportunity to bond to a post-birth caregiver. The first problem has already been outlined as problematic in chapter four, but I will repeat the argument here. The conflation between bonding and attachment leads to serious conceptual inconsistencies in research findings and methodologies, a problem that has been highlighted by Crouch and Manderson (1995, 841), who, after examining a decade of research conclude: The use of such a general concept [as bonding] in research inhibits the investigation of specific circumstances, particularly since the ambiguity of ‘bonding’ (as both process and result) conflates the descriptive and explanatory functions of propositions containing the term. The circularity inherent in such reasoning may be attractive at an intuitive level since it neatly rounds up a straggly line of questions into a ring of generalizations – but it hardly advances our understanding of particular conditions that affect the relationship between children and their parent.

Similarly, Hatch and Maietta (1991) also found the definition problematic identifying vastly differing interpretations and applications of bonding theory to research. Most problematic is the assumption that an infant who has a primary caregiver can be exposed to developmental delay should the parent not enact certain attachment behaviours, a premise that is simply incorrect. Following is an example of how the conflation works. The Australian NSW Department of Health Safe Start Policy launched in early 2011 is based upon the notion that Healthy attachment relationships promote optimal infant development. Parents who are experiencing adverse relationships (current or unresolved memories of past difficult relationships) and emotional distress or anxiety states, will

The Politics of Gravidity


understandably find it challenging to remain attuned and sensitively responsive to their infant’s needs. The impact of poor parental mental health on childhood emotional, cognitive and social development and its trajectory into adulthood has been identified as a key focus area for NSW Health (NSW Health 2009, 2)

Note here the lumping in together of cognitive development and social development as an outcome of unattentive parenting. Schenk et al. (2005, 514) perform the same sleight of hand in Pediatric Nursing. Their article begins by stating that ‘positive parent-infant attachment is necessary for fostering the optimal growth and development of an infant’. In both instances, there is a correlation made between an infant’s developmental milestones and a certain attachment style. When one understands that bonding is to do with their being a consistent social contact and attachment, the style of that contact, it becomes clear that these researchers are attempting to relate one type of phenomena to another, related, but nonetheless different phenomena. Behaviours that signify a bonded relation will not predict a style of attachment. Preserving a clear distinction between the different phenomena will act to prevent these kinds of problems in understanding woman–foetal and subsequently maternal–infant relations. In the next section of this paper, I will show how the confusion between these concepts has had consequences, for how we understand the relationship between infant development and ‘good’ mothering practice. In essence, what I argue is that women who are assessed as having the incapacity to form secure attachments with their infants are constructed as being dangerous to their children’s development even in cases where there is no risk of abandonment. While there can be no doubt that many of these women are at risk of forming an insecure or disorganised attachment with their infant which will impact on how that child interacts with others, this may not justify the removal of that infant when the separation, which will sever the maternal–infant bond, has, as the Releasing the past report shows, definite long-term related pathologies which the timing of infant removal does not avoid. If nothing else, acknowledging this potential damage would require institutions to weigh up each situation more closely and carefully than occurs at present.

The Politics of Bonding In this section, I will outline why I think Klauss and Kennell’s (1979, 1983) bonding at birth theory has remained so tenacious in the face of mounting research findings and contestation. The reason, I argue, is twofold. The first is political. Bonding at birth theory compliments and validates what Young (1984) describes as the alienation of maternal subjectivity during pregnancy,


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supporting institutional denial of maternal autonomy while simultaneously demanding a mother take sole responsibility for infant developmental outcomes. Secondly, theories that have attempted to replace and/or disrupt Klaus and Kennell’s dominant discourse have been thwarted through the failure to identify that bonding and attachment are separate phenomena. This confusion along with Bowlby’s (1958) and Rutters’ (1998) very clear research findings have together cemented bonding and attachment theory within dominant political agendas despite some very well aimed and poignant contradictions to predicted outcomes, such as that disclosed by the Releasing the past report (NSW Parliament 2000). That our current understanding of bonding and attachment has emerged through political agendas was first identified by Arney (1980) who suggests that ‘one can understand the widespread acceptance of bonding theory and its rapid development in obstetrics, only by concentrating on the political uses of the theory’ (Arney 1980, 547). His conclusion is that bonding theory has been an unsubstantiated political tool employing discourses of biological naturalism aimed at ‘keeping women by the hearth’ and out of the workforce (Arney 1980, 567). In particular, Arney (1980) objects to the ready generalisation of animal imprinting studies to human behaviour, and he is not alone. The suggestion is that there is insufficient empirical evidence to support the notion of a particular sensitive post-birth period as being necessary or even formative to human bonding (Arney 1980; Eyer 1993; Lamb 1982). There are also concerns of a failure to generalise from certain behaviours that mothers undertake post birth as predictive of strong bonding (Lamb 1982; Svejda et al. 1980). Rutter (1989), who has drawn upon the largest research sample to date, argues the sensitive period to be indeterminate and not attributable to any one factor. Rutter (1989) also argues maternal bonding to be nonsense. He especially targets Klaus and Kennell’s (1976, 1981, 1983) claim that skinto-skin contact was necessary for this to take place. A mother’s relationship with her child, he argues, is not the same thing as a child’s initial selective bond, and in neither case are they dependent on a single sensory modality operating over a short time period. Yet despite these concerns, hospital policy and practice has, since the 1980s, tenaciously employed Klauss and Kennell’s work to advocate for reforms that facilitate close and continuous contact between mother and infant at and immediately post birth. In 2001, Sharan et al. (2001, 270), for example, suggest that ‘early hospitalization of the genetic mother in a surrogate delivery may be desirable to establish good and safe early mother-infant bonding, and that it should be considered for adoption as regular hospital policy’. In cases of infant removal, this contact is denied to the gestational mother. Although some of the implications of these policies, such as skin-toskin contact and the encouragement of immediate breastfeeding, can be read

The Politics of Gravidity


as being positive, or at the very least harmless, other practices based upon the same bonding at birth theory have been coercive and morally judgemental of mothers who do not or cannot comply with these designated bonding behaviours. For example, in a recent study in Great Britain, Lee describes the despair that women experience when they cannot breastfeed their child because ‘how good a mother, a woman is, has come to be measured by whether she breastfeeds’ (Lee 2007, 1088). Mothers who place infants into care also come under criticism. While today many adoption and welfare practices have been at least modified to include some maternal contact after removal of the infant, the timing of removal and the reasoning behind neonatal removal seems to remain entrenched. That a child could benefit or be protected by being separated from its gestational mother requires a certain and particular understanding of what is occurring in their relationship. Bonding and attachment theory as it stands fails to acknowledge the creative role of the biological mother and the necessity of her conscious interaction in the processes of gravidity. Instead we see an understanding of gestation as a developmental unfolding within a womb that separates woman and foetus such that after birth they must form a relationship. In fact, current notions of bonding at attachment encourages the state and the public to see gestation as inherently a potential conflict of interests between mother and infant, because until they are bonded through a particular and specific maternal performance, it could all go very wrong. Surrogacy There has been a dramatic increase in surrogacy arrangements throughout the world in recent years. While reliable statistics are difficult to obtain (mainly due to private arrangements), estimates suggest a doubling in Western countries in the past 4 years with figures in the United States rising to around 1,400 infants per year (Gugucheva 2010). More substantial increases again can be found in the international market which has seen an exponential growth in the commercial surrogacy market throughout the last decade. In most cases, agencies are saying 95 per cent international surrogacy arrangements involve full gestational surrogacy. Full surrogacy involves the commissioning couple making an arrangement whereby a woman, who is unknown to them is impregnated with an embryo created from the sperm of one of the commissioning couple and an egg obtained from another woman who can be either that of the commissioning couple or also unrelated to and unknown to both the commissioning couple and the surrogate.4 Genetic or partial surrogacy is where the surrogate woman’s own eggs are used. In India, at the time of writing, commercial surrogacy is estimated to be a US$3.2 billion (per year)


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industry. It is reported that more than 25,000 babies have been born in surrogacy arrangements with Indian woman, half of them being full surrogacy arrangements with the Western world (Shetty 2012). A part of the explanation for this is India’s permissive legal attitude towards surrogacy and the comparatively low cost compared to Western nations (Gupta 2011; Rimm 2008–2009).5 The practice of surrogacy would be ethically impacted by what I lay out in this book, possibly more than any other practice. The implications of gestational women bearing more significantly on foetal flourishing than previously supposed, whether or not that foetus was genetically related, would not be information that the surrogacy business would wish to hear. In fact, recent developments in epigenetics show that the foetus is highly receptive to genetic ‘reprogramming’ by the gestational woman, meaning that the woman gestating the foetus can actually influence the genetic make up and genetic expression of the foetus (Nafee et al. 2008). Such a claim could further complicate what is already a complex web of paternity. To acknowledge fully the extent that a woman bodily and affectively links to her foetus during gestation, imprinting her own culturally specific way of moving and possibly thinking, will introduce more ethical questions into what is already a highly controversial issue, especially where decisions about parentage need to be made.6 It has been a common claim that surrogacy is morally problematic since it involves harm to the child or the surrogate. High-profile cases in the media have certainly disclosed potential and real issues. ‘Baby M’ for example, a case in the United States, where the surrogate mother refused to relinquish the child (New Jersey Supreme Court 1987), highlighted the potential risk to prospective clients that gestational mothers can bond with surrogate foetuses and might change their mind about relinquishment. The Australian case of ‘Baby Gammy’ where a couple refused to accept a baby boy born with Downs Syndrome (but did take his healthy sister) from his full and commercial surrogate mother, a poor single Thai woman, highlighted the potential to exploit surrogates. The recent ban on surrogate infants leaving Nepal has raised concerns for children left with surrogates who do not want them and who, in many cases, are not thought to genetically be the child of the surrogate. A recent case of surrogacy reported in the Indian media involved a foreign couple who allegedly sought surrogacy arrangements in India in order to produce a child for the purpose of providing an organ for an existing child who required a transplant (CSR 2014). Yet, these cases are the exception. There is a growing body of empirical research that has shown that, at least in the first 3 years of life, children born to surrogates show no apparent consequences of surrogacy that could reasonably be construed as harmful (Golombok et al. 2011; Jadva and Imrie

The Politics of Gravidity


2013; van den Akker 2005). Studies of surrogates have also reported the experience as overall positive with few regretting their decision to become a surrogate (Blyth 1994; Ciccarelli 1997, Jadva et al. 2003; van den Akker 2003). For instance, Humbyrd (2009, 112–13) refers to a study showing that non-commercial surrogates in Britain did not ‘experience any doubts or difficulties while handing over the baby, and the surrogacy experience was overwhelmingly positive for all women involved’. Adding a commercial component seems to have little negative impact on the experience of handing over the child to the commissioning couple (van den Akker 2007). That the relinquishment of the child by the surrogate is completed, in general, without harm to the surrogate has let to suggestions that surrogate mothers may tend to distance themselves from the unborn baby, believing that the child they carry is not theirs, and that this, in turn, may be harmful to the child (Ragone 1994; British Medical Association 1996 and see chapter eight). Harm in these cases has usually been assessed on a rather elusive and sweeping criterion that covers multiple possible harms: physical, emotional or financial harm being the most discussed. Most research has also been conducted with middle-class women living in wealthy countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom with some identifiable issues with the methodologies used to assess harm, such as reliance on self-reporting, second-hand information, high dropout rates, and biased or non-representative selections, being the main issues discerned (Ciccarelli and Beckman 2005). In this section, I want to outline how surrogacy agencies rely heavily on the notion of women as foetal receptacles and bonding at birth theory to downplay the difficulties that prospective parents and children born through surrogacy might encounter. The argument that I present in this section will be that this position requires attention. I do not intend to argue that surrogacy should be prevented on this basis, although I do have serious concerns about the situation where poor women can be exploited as foetal containers for a Western market. My tack, however, will follow on from the material argued in previous chapters, aiming to target the imagery rather than the practice itself. It is most likely, and there is some evidence to suggest, that children born through surrogacy do live with similar vulnerabilities to those who are adopted, but akin to adoption; I do not see this as a reason not to be born. Rather, I would wish that the vulnerabilities and special needs of adoptees and those born through surrogacy, particularly outside of a family surrogacy, be identified and acknowledged. Such knowledge would likely, in and of itself, stem the high demand for surrogacy in the same way that the understanding that the older a child is adopted the more difficult the attachment process, and this deters most parents from undertaking the adoption of an older child. As Laurie Couture (2008) observes,


Chapter 7

Adopting a child who has suffered neglect, abandonment, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and multiple foster and group home placements necessitates that parents persevere despite the severe and relentless behavioural and psychological problems that many older adoptive children exhibit. In this regard, the comforts of raising a biological child from utero to adulthood might be the best choice for those who cannot make a lifetime commitment to tenaciously, patiently, and unabashedly nurture such a child.

Surrogacy is thought to offer the latter, the easy parenting option and is advertised as such. However, while it might not be akin to the experience of parenting an older child who has been in and out of foster care, it is very likely that parenting a surrogate child is akin to parenting an adoptive child, which could present more challenges than children born and raised by gestational parents. Some parents might not make this choice given the proper information. In the preface to The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, author Nancy Verrier speaks of bringing home her 3-day-old adopted daughter believing that rearing this child would be no different to raising her biological sister. Had such a proposition been suggested she states, ‘she would have laughed at them. I thought, “Of course it won’t be different! What can a tiny baby know?”’ (Verrier 1993, 1) She goes on to identify how ‘because a lot of people don’t expect adoption to be different, they can feel shock, hurt and resentment when their adopted child doesn’t react to them in the way they’d like them to’. Unsurprisingly, the difference appears to be more discernible with parents, like Verrier, who have also raised gestational children. Mary Cooper, to take a second example, a psychiatric social worker, who already had a gestational 3-year-old son, speaks of the difference after adopting a newborn baby. ‘It was assumed I’d know it all’ she states, due to her work, ‘but I was not prepared for the difference between giving birth and adopting’ (quoted in Essential Baby 2008). Whether or not these women would still have adopted knowing that it was not going to be the same is speculative, but both argue that the silence surrounding the difference is harmful. Thinking that children born through adoption will have no adjustment issues denies both those children and their parents the information and support services that they might need and abandons what are already psychologically vulnerable children, who, with greater support, may not continue to be overrepresented in juvenile justice centres. In this section, I argue the same could apply to surrogacy. As Susan Golombock et al. (2011) found in a longitudinal assessment of self-reported mother–child relationships in surrogate arrangements, although there appeared to be no difference between the bonding of gestational and surrogacy children when the infant was aged 1, 2 and 3 years (in fact for these years, surrogate parents self-reported more involvement with their infants

The Politics of Gravidity


and more positive feelings than biological/birth parents), by 7 years of age, the surrogacy and egg donation families showed less positive mother–child interaction than the natural conception families. These findings are important, because for many first-time adoptive parents (unlike those who have first experienced biological parenting), discernible issues may take several years to become apparent, or as some have suggested, for parents to admit, due to the moral sensitivity surrounding surrogacy and adoption (Verrier 2004). The reliance of surrogacy agencies on an understanding of the woman– foetal relation as host and (temporary) guest – an imagery that serves their marketing campaigns very well – creates false understanding of the phenomenology of gravidity. In examining the web-based advertising for surrogacy, what is discernible in its absence are the women who would be surrogates. These websites not surprisingly focus almost exclusively on imagery of white Western heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples and single men and women having their dreams of biological children fulfilled. Where international surrogacy is offered, the distinction is clearly made between partial (genetic) and full (gestational) surrogacy. The surrogate agency websites that I visited also tended to avoid images of pregnant stomachs (and thus rent a womb labels), preferring instead to show small images of young, beautiful, healthy, and in general white or Asian pregnant women in clinic environments as representative of ‘the surrogates’. The most common, larger images were of happy families or singles holding babies or small children, including GLBT families, with the focus on the family likeness, imagery that reflects the growing market in gestational surrogacy. Little or no information was given about surrogacy selection or care and nowhere was a surrogate relation encouraged. The clear preference was anonymity. In one instance, a gay couple speak about choosing India for surrogacy services because it was considerably cheaper than the United States, and the women are looked after and monitored in a clinic for the duration of the pregnancy. Surrogacy also relies heavily on bonding at birth theory and the notion that once bonded an infant will not developmentally differ to any other healthy infant. Take for example the following exert from a Surrogacy website authored by Kayla Mossien (2013), But what happens if your circumstances are different and you didn’t carry your child? Are you behind on fostering a relationship with your kin? Certainly not! With the following advice in tow, you’ll be bonding with your baby in no time.

The advice that follows is characteristically Klaus and Kennell, ‘during the first few weeks after the baby is born. [Your behaviour] should consist of skin-to-skin contact (which exchanges sensory information between parent and child), eye-to-eye contact, and soothing whispers’ (Mossien 2013). The conclusion is simple – do this and you will be fine.


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Literature from a second agency Surrogate Solutions, publish the following advice on bonding, Many Intended Parents worry about bonding with their baby during surrogacy. How is it possible to bond if you are not carrying your baby through pregnancy yourself? While this is a common concern amongst many Intended Parents, rest assured that bonding with your baby will come very naturally once he or she is in your arms. With this said, there are still many other ways to bond with your baby before he or she is born, perhaps the most integral of these being the nesting process [capitalisation as given]. Even when you are not physically carrying your child through pregnancy, waiting for your baby to be born is both an exciting and anxious time! One of the best ways to put these new feelings into pre-birth bonding with your baby is getting the nursery ready for his or her arrival. Preparing your nursery is a very personal activity, one that further instills feelings that your baby will soon be part of your family. Remember, when your baby arrives, you will be the center of his or her universe, and that universe will be centered largely in the nursery. Consider this basic outline to begin bonding with your baby by preparing a calm and comfortable space for both of you.

These are not atypical but they are highly problematic and give a false impression of the very complicated nature of bonding. While studies fairly conclusively show that surrogates, in general – there are some notable exceptions such as Baby M – are able to break the gestational bond they have formed with the foetus they have carried in utero, it is much more difficult to discern neonatal psychological well-being. As the studies by Golombock et al. (2011) have shown, issues do not begin to emerge until after the advent of self-reflection (at the mirror stage and beyond), a finding consistent with the notion I proposed in chapter four, that it is the negotiation of alterity within the self (and therefore with others) that is most affected by surrogacy and adoption. I have argued that woman;foetal accouplement facilitates and pre-empts postnatal attachment to the gestational woman and should this not eventuate, the trace of her otherness, the trace of the bond remains, making the task of internalising ipseity at the mirror stage more difficult and possibly more confusing – a confusion between self and other then plays out in future relations both within the adopted child herself and her negotiation of otherness in others (see chapter 4). Yet we have also seen how prenatal embodied linking, the bond that forms in utero, is not absolute. At birth, the infant is launched into a new world and they seem to be almost as equipped for change as they are for consistency. Infants are not tabla rasa, bland slates, but nor are they already preformed as many well-adjusted and healthy adoptees will attest. To say, as Marcos Agnarfors (2014, 357) does, ‘that the child is harmed by being separated

The Politics of Gravidity


from the gestational mother’ due to the severing of the gestational bond, is too far a jump. The harm of adoption is not ontological even though the trace of the gestational mother is. While it is true that the infant who is adopted will not attach to herself or others in the same way as non-adoptees, and she will be more psychologically vulnerability than the general population, it is likely that this is due more to ignorance than ontology. It may be that all that is needed is another type of attachment category, perhaps called ‘distantly attached’ – a description that would reflect the arms-length attachment style that adoptees seem to develop when they are cared for by those who did not birth them. Following is a post by Stephen Belchen (2011) from Psychology Today that speaks to this: I can’t speak for all adult adoptees but I can say – after interviewing several of them over the years – that many of us have trouble feeling completely comfortable wherever we are – no matter how welcomed we may be. At times our discomfort can manifest in distancing, indifference, or even rudeness, but we usually don’t intend to insult anybody. We just seem to have an internalized nomadic notion that we don’t belong anywhere in particular. While watching my oldest daughter play at a neighbourhood park, I thought to myself: ‘Wow, she looks just like me. What a miracle!’ Well, to me it was a miracle. It was thrilling and heart-warming, but it was also a little strange – I almost cried. For the next several months I had to work on emotionally claiming her as my own.

While our culture sees closely attached relationship as healthier, there is no evidence that I am aware of to suggest that holding others a bit further away is unhealthy. In fact, adoption is often used in literature to explain a character’s capacity to stand apart from others in a morally important sense. These characters often do struggle in, or do not desire to form, intimate relationships, seeking instead to be leaders or to fight against evil or corruption. Examples here are plentiful: Ironman, Spiderman, Anne of Green Gables, Cinderella, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Daenerys Targaryen and Luke Skywalker to name a few. Another of the findings to come out of the Australian NSW Government report on adoption Releasing the past: Adoption practices 1950–1998 was the need for adoptees (and relinquishing women) to have access to personal information in regard to their identity as this was found to facilitate psychological resolution. Yet, in most commercial surrogacy arrangements, it is not possible for the child of a surrogate to know the woman who birthed them, and in some cases, they may not have information about the egg donor either. This concern has two dimensions: legal and affective. Legally, lack of maternal information has impacted upon the way that court decisions have been made in cases where the arrangement goes wrong for one or more parties and how the media and the public understand surrogacy. In partial surrogacy, the surrogate


Chapter 7

mother is also the genetic mother of the child, and conception usually occurs by artificial insemination using the commissioning father’s sperm. This was the case with Baby M, allowing the New Jersey court to recognise Mary Beth Whitehead as the child’s legal mother, and then refer the matter to the Family Court to determine whether Whitehead, as mother, or Stern, as the biological father should have legal custody of the infant, using the conventional ‘best interests of the child’ analysis. Stern was awarded custody, with Whitehead having visitation rights. With full surrogacy, the commissioning couple are the genetic parents of the child and conception takes place at a clinic through IVF. This was the case with Baby Gammy and the biological parentage of Gammy played a significant role in the media condemnation of the couple in leaving him with his non-biological Thai mother. Not only was baby Gammy disabled but he was also in appearance, a white Western boy who was now going to be raised by a poor Thai single mother. At the time of writing, countries that prohibit surrogacy are France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria. In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium and Australia, surrogacy is allowed where the arrangement is non-commercial or ‘altruistic’, a situation where the surrogate mother is not paid or only paid for reasonable expenses. Paying the mother a fee (commercial surrogacy) is prohibited, and some Australian states have criminalised going to another country for commercial surrogacy.7 Commercial surrogacy is legal in some U.S. states and countries including India, Russia and Ukraine. Currently, the most popular countries for surrogacy arrangements are the United States, India, Thailand, Ukraine and Russia with surrogacy also common in Mexico, Nepal, Poland, and Georgia and California in the United States. This can prove relevant in the following way: There are currently no internationally recognised laws for surrogacy, so bringing the child of a surrogate into another country can be difficult, at times can take several months and is prone to leaving those involved vulnerable. In Thailand and the United Kingdom for example, the surrogate is seen as the legal parent of the surrogate child, which was one of the difficulties seen in the Baby Gammy case. In India, the intended parents are seen as the legal parents, which will create issues should the gestational women be left to raise the infant she births. It also means that some children can be left stateless when, for example, a surrogate infant born in India is for UK parents and so neither state recognises the citizenship of the child at birth. Depending on the parents’ legal status in their country of citizenship, things can also become difficult if the couple splits up, and there is some evidence that the father will always have an unfair advantage in these matters while genetic ways of understanding the term ‘parent’ persist (Trimmings and Beaumont 2013). As Trimmings and Beaumont identify (2013), the father will often have parental rights, as the one who supplied the sperm, whereas,

The Politics of Gravidity


more often than not, the egg has been provided by a third-party donor and so the mother may not be regarded as the parent of the child. This has become an ongoing issue in Australia where, although for most of the Australian general public, it would seem that the notion that genetics should determine responsibility for the child over gestational paternity, in law it is surprisingly difficult to identify the legal ‘parents’ of children born through surrogacy agreements and this becomes further complicated when the arrangement is international. I will take Australia as an example here. To begin, it is unclear whether parentage is to be determined by Australian law or the law of the country in which the child was born. The international surrogacy arrangements that have appeared in Australian case law generally involve cases where the arrangement is such that commissioning parents have no contact, and may not know the birthing woman or egg donor, and where the child currently resides with the commissioning parents. As there is no clear definition of ‘parent’ in the Family Law Act 1975, the word ‘parent’ when used in the Act means ‘a person who has begotten or borne a child’ – a biological mother or father of the child, as distinct from a person who is merely caring for a child as a parent would do.8 It follows that for the purpose of The Family Law Act 1975, the identity of a child’s parent will be taken from the available evidence so where the sperm is that of the male (or one of the men in a same-sex couple), and where that male is acting the father, he will be deemed to be the biological father. Identifying the mother in gestational surrogacy situations presents a much more difficult challenge as a commissioning woman may well have no biological connection with the child and so would not be seen as the child’s mother under the Family Law Act 1975. When a child is born from the woman’s own egg but not from her body, the courts must decide between the ‘mother’ as the egg donor or the woman who gave birth to the child. As the definition in Family Law assumes that a child will have one mother and one father, and because commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia, the likely outcome, especially in cases involving international surrogacy, the male commissioning parent will be most likely to be considered the legal father under the Family Law Act 1975 and subsequently more likely to be awarded guardianship in cases of divorce or separation. Today, most Australian states recognise the rights of an adopted child to know their origins, and adoption records have been opened in recognition of the psychological benefits of reuniting women with the children they birthed should that be the wish of all parties. In surrogacy arrangements, the law would do well to take a leaf out of that book and to insist that records be made transparent. Emotionally, it is unclear why adoptees often experience the need to search for their origins; however, it would seem from the little written on the matter that finding information about themselves does bring some psychological peace (NSW Government 2012). It is beyond the scope


Chapter 7

of this chapter to examine this in more detail but I would like to observe that for the surrogate child, at present, it may be impossible to obtain information about one’s origins, a case that emulates the closed adoption policies of the past where secrecy was legislated. This issue was highlighted last year after a spate of interviews in the media revealed the disparity between adoption and IVF legislation resulting in the introduction of legislation in NSW and Victoria requiring all sperm donors to consent to being identified at the request of any offspring later in life. Loane Skene (2015) says the number of donors dropped significantly when guarantees of anonymity were first removed but the number has since picked up. However, the new laws do not work retrospectively, so children born before they came into force don’t have the same right as later-born children to find out who their father was. In previous chapters, I have argued that the phenomenology of gravidity reveals the woman;foetal relation to be one of embodied accouplement, which, if fractured, leaves its trace in the infant, stylising the way that that child will negotiate the alterity within herself and with others. In this chapter, I have argued that to deny this bond is to risk implementing policies and practices that fail to adequately support those affected by adoption or infant removal, the infants and also the gestational and adoptive parents. Replacing this more complex understanding of the gestational relationship with the concept of bonding at birth, which directs women to undertake certain specific behaviours in relation to their children or else risk their neurological developmental outcomes is a compelling and erroneous threat that places responsibility for so-called bonding ‘failure’ with caregivers rather than as a consequence of government policies and practices of separation. The full import of gestation bonding and the consequences of surrogacy and adoption need to be acknowledged so that policies will better support the flourishing of those affected by adoption and surrogacy practices. notes 1. I have heard relinquishing mothers speak about their fears that their child was disabled and institutionalised, not wanted by adoptive parents. Most women I have heard tell of this fear say that this would be a tragedy because they would have looked after them. 2. After the finding, on 21 March 2013, the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologised on behalf of the Australian Government to people affected by forced adoption or removal policies and practices. 3. The work of Maxine Sheets Johnson (1999) should be referenced here as her work specifically has influenced my thinking around this topic.

The Politics of Gravidity


4. Where eggs are donated, there is typically little or no available evidence to determine whose eggs were used and if they were freely donated. Indeed, there is usually very little information available about the identity of the egg donor other than appearance (blond hair, brown eyes, etc.). Often, contractual arrangements specify that the children from the surrogacy arrangement will not have access to information about their genetic inheritance. 5. However on 27 October 2015, the Indian Institute of Medical Research (ICMR) issued a letter to a number of fertility specialist doctors in India advising that surrogacy in India will be limited to Indian married couples only and not to foreigners, potentially closing this door (Australian High Commission 2015). 6. A recent study has shown that neonates cry differently depending on the language of their biological mothers. The study compared French and German newborn babies and found that in the first days of their lives, French infants already cry in a different way to German babies (Mampe et al. 2009). 7. In New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland it is an offence for people from those jurisdictions to enter into commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas. This means that such people can be found guilty of an offence (punishable by a fine and/ or imprisonment). In the remaining jurisdictions, it is not a crime to enter into commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas but the intended parent(s) may be unable to obtain, or have difficulty in obtaining, a parentage order due to the prohibition on commercial arrangements (Human Rights Law Centre 2015). 8. The natural meaning of the word ‘parent’ is the first definition given in both the Oxford and Macquarie dictionaries, and the definition ‘a person who has begotten or borne a child’, from the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed, vol. 9), which was accepted by Gummow J (in a different context) in Hunt and the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (1993) 41 FCR 380.

Chapter 8

Rethinking the Gestational Relation

I have argued throughout this book that at least until a woman consciously recognises and engages with the movements of her foetus as an entity separate from herself, then there is no basis for the claim that the foetus is other, and here I finalise the claim that the foetus is not a radical alterity that demands moral consideration in and of itself, until birth. As both Merleau-Ponty and Levinas ground their notions of intersubjectivity in experiential alterity rather than notions of Cartesian individualism, to experience another as Other is the basis for an ethical intersubjectivity. Thus, we cannot legitimately claim the woman;foetal relation as one of hospitality prior to the encounter with the Other, nor can we claim that it is a maternal;foetal relation because this woman is not yet a mother and to claim that she is, is to coercively indoctrinate her into the role of maternity before she herself has had a chance to think otherwise – a social positioning that construes any rebuttal as deviance or resistance to the ‘norm’ of maternity. For those women who do engage with a maternal identity willingly, and who, at the time of the quickening, begin the process of accouplement that I have described in chapter three, then there remains the question of what would constitute an ethical response to this relation and it is to this question that I now turn to. What I will argue is that although it is not until the birth of the infant that we can say the face-to-face encounter in a Levinasian sense has occurred, the experiential intercorporeal relation, the bond, that occurs from the perspective of the woman in the state of gravidity, usually during the final trimester, does warrant ethical consideration as a relation. This is due to the impact this bond has on the flourishing of maternal identity, foetal development and the style of social relations being fostered. This is not to say that the foetus should be given personhood status or a position of moral worth in and of itself, but rather that the intercorporeal relationship between woman and 183


Chapter 8

foetus, the bond in which, particularly the pregnant woman, but also others, have invested, warrants ethical concern. We have seen how becoming a mother means a woman must engage in a project which will literally change who she is and her place within her culture, the welcome she receives – a process and an emerging relation that societies should be ethically bound to support. Here, I argue that societies have a responsibility to respect the capacity and willingness of a woman to engage positively with her foetus and to give due consideration to individual circumstances before legislating intervention. While we can be made to do, we cannot be made to feel, and it is an affective engagement that supports the flourishing of both woman and foetus in the state of gravidity. The road to that end is through the development of respect and support for the reproductive choices and the desires and capacities of individual women to undertake this task, or not.1 The key to this respect, I will argue, is twofold. In the first instance, while finding oneself in the state of gravidity may not always be a choice that a woman makes, a positive gestational engagement is conscious and yet, as an affective engagement, it cannot be forced or coerced. This needs to be taken seriously and reflected back to woman as a cultural norm. Secondly, and as Aristarkhova (2012) has rightly argued, the process of creation must be returned to women, not in the role of hospitality as she suggests, as one whose identity remains static as the host to an Other, but rather gestation must be understood as a co-creative relation whereby the foetus becomes the baby and the woman the mother or surrogate through the gestational process. This will be the focus of the first section of this final chapter where I return to the tragic story of Brodie Donegan from the introduction of this book. It will be my argument that the ending of the gestational relation opens the hiatus between woman and foetus, a hiatus that is the opening of a new ethical relation that extends not only to the foetus but also to the mother (woman) and to those others whose embodied sense of themselves has experienced vicissitude. Drawing on Marguerite La Caze’s (2013) Wonder and Generosity: Their Role in Ethics and Politics with the notion of corporeal generosity developed by Rosalyn Diprose (2002), I articulate the significance of wonder in how a woman in the state of gravidity might be ethically approached and how the decision that Donegan’s foetus was a part of her body foreclosed the gestational bond, her corporeal generosity, as being morally relevant in that case. I describe how although women in the state of gravidity are often approached with wonder, currently, filtered through cultural imagery and metaphors that support the trope of hospitality, it is the representation of the foetus – the baby ‘bump’ – that is given a wondrous welcome, the woman relegated to silent resource, to Levinas’s feminine. Shifting our understanding of the woman;foetal relationship to one of an emerging bond would assist in

Rethinking the Gestational Relation


shifting widened eyes from her ‘bump’ to her face, so that it is the gestational woman who is received in wonder. In the second section, I essentially cite agreement with the argument proposed by Gail Weiss (2013, 109) in ‘Birthing Responsibility: A Phenomenological Perspective on the Moral Significance of Birth’ that it is not until the time of birth can we say that the ethical face-to-face encounter, that Levinas speaks of, can be said to have been evoked. Then, in the final section, I briefly examine what is owed to infants who are separated from the woman who have gestated them at birth, arguing that we need to undertake more research into how we might better understand their needs. I conclude by suggesting that research into infant imitation looks promising as a way of thinking about how post-birth attachment might be facilitated in adopted infants. A Return to Brodie Donegan and an Ethics of Gravidity Throughout this book, I have taken a Levinasian understanding of ethics to frame Merleau-Ponty’s notion of accouplement as an ethical relation, arguing that phenomenologically, accouplement does not begin until the quickening. Thus, up until this time, which is usually around half way through a gravidity, there is no ethical relation and so an early termination can be seen as morally acceptable and even desirable in some circumstances. Should a woman find herself in the state of gravidity and not feel willingly able to gestate, then the ethical response to that situation is a termination, an abortion. I base this claim on the argument that I have presented throughout this book that to compel a woman to gestate is to say to her that she must change who she is, her position within the structures of her culture, her relationships with those around her and her own dreams and aspirations – it is to treat her as a gestational utility. To compel her to gestate is to force an accouplement on a woman whose ‘wantedness’ of the gravidity, to use the term that Sable et al. (1997) employs, will have implications for the health of the foetus she will bear (see in particular chapters 1 to 4). To force a woman or to even coerce a woman into giving birth is thus doubly unethical because it potentially harms both the woman and the foetus. For Levinas, ethics is passive because I am entangled with and by others against my will and so I am drawn to care for them before I have the chance to stop to consider the implications to myself. However, we have seen how my level of responsivity requires a concomitant level of engaged activity and concern, which normatively will always be emotionally and practically informed and limited. There is only so much that one can do for another. Caring for others threatens one‘s own well-being, even as it is absolutely


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integral to it, because their needs and desires sometimes clash with one‘s own. When a woman finds herself in the state of gravidity early, she (commonly) has a period of time before she begins the process of engaged gestation, where she can weigh and consider, deliberate with significant others, give due thought to the implications and responsibilities of her condition and the potential ethical consequences at stake. To open this space to women and for women as an ethical space, rather than a space that is unethical, or as Caro (2013) describes, as occupied by ‘a small and peculiar group of notvery-nice females’ is to take seriously a woman’s commitment to maternity and to take seriously her willingness, unwillingness and/or ability to engage in this gestation at this time. Rather than the state of gravidity being in and of itself an ethical state as an instance of unconditional hospitality, I have argued that what a phenomenologically of gravidity reveals is a space prior to ethics where a woman may ethically choose to gestate or not. Or, to put it another way, the appropriation of the phenomenology of gravidity by the trope of hospitality shuts the door on a woman the choice to gestate, reducing the phenomenology of gravidity to always and already a phenomenology of maternity. In societies where the termination of foetuses with physical abnormalities is often considered morally acceptable, the recognition that a woman’s desire to gestate holds implications for the health outcomes of her foetus and herself should assist in ethically normalising the termination of unwanted pregnancies when women find themselves in the state of gravidity but do not wish to undertake the gestation process. The latter stages of gravidity present a more complex picture, because once the process of accouplement has begun, the more deeply embedded a woman who gestates will be in the process of maternity as an embodied identity. Here, an existential-phenomenological ethics must take into account the gestational process, even if the process itself bears no ethical weight. The foetus, as a developing incarnate consciousness, is born through and of the proximal engagement of the gestational relation which culminates in a birth that marks a radical distinction between gestating woman and infant. The connection between the foetus and the gestating woman in the late stages of gravidity is therefore profound and visceral. They share intimate space, intersect in embodiment and co-establish each other and the world’s meaning, dimensions and veracity in a way that pre-empts the ethical moment of birth. Once born, once the woman;foetal relation becomes the maternal–foetal or woman–foetal relation, there opens, through the process of birth, an abyss in the divergence of bodies and thus perspectives. Although the maternal (woman) and infant bodies remain overlapped, integral to who each is, linked by and through the bond produced through gestational engagement, the parties now remain within their own skin and by virtue of that containment, her alterity is now insurmountable – she is now Other, ‘the child born of one‘s

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own body is estranged flesh’ (LaChance Adams 2010, 250). As a radical alterity, which most importantly, may be a flailing infant but might also be, as Donegan experienced, a still born infant, now threatens any enjoyment of self-sameness that I might experience; she undermines the complacent familiarity I may temporarily have with myself and she will do that no matter how or who I birth. As Sarah LaChance Adams (2010, 250) states, ‘Our freedom and our life‘s unique meaning are dependent on our responsiveness to others. We need each other’s generosity and collaboration; we are their facticity and they are ours.’ Applied to the story of Brodie Donegan what we can begin to discern is that Donegan’s unique meaning, her understanding of herself, especially as a mother to this still born child, was met at the time of birth with an embodied contradiction. She was and was not, a mother. In the first instance, Donegan faced Zoe. Recall that for Levinas (1969, 236) death is the epiphany of the face, the most fundamental experience of interrelation that dares me to be indifferent, dares me to turn away, compels me to turn away because it reveals to me my absolute helplessness. To neglect the call of death for Levinas (1982, 104) is to murder the Other, the compromise being to ‘not let the Other die alone’. Donegan (2013) does not turn away and neither does her family. Rather, they held Zoe after she was born and while she was still warm and they willed her to wake up. ‘Zoe’s’ face however, was not acknowledged by the Australian legal system after her birth because she was not born alive and so was never legally a person. In focusing on a discourse of individuation and personhood, the legal system missed something important, the bond that had grown and the personal investment that Donegan had made in creating and birthing Zoe, a gift that the court decision denied when it pronounced ‘Zoe’ as part of Donegan’s body, even after her birth. Rosalyn Diprose (2002, 54) suggests the possibility for a justice in the flesh to emerge from the way ‘that identity and difference are produced through the giving of corporeality’. For Diprose, generosity is the primordial condition of personal, interpersonal and communal existence. Women, she argues, are caught between absolute definition and none at all whereby in order to have any rights, they are constrained to giving their corporeality through childbearing (or sex), yet this generosity goes unrecognised, rendering particularly the project of maternity, invisible. When morality and politics establish identity prior to and outside of, rather than through, one’s acts, one’s performances, then that identity is necessarily unaffected by one’s projects. Through the reduction of corporeal identity to a trope of individualism, one becomes self-responsible and accountable for ones actions, but the acts themselves will go unnoticed since they are constrained by the social and legal definition of a self, of the notion of personhood. For Diprose, Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of identity is insightful because he reveals this underside,


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showing us as he does how the contractual body of personhood is not the same as one’s own corporeality. A corporeal identity for Merleau-Ponty is never singular but rather we exist as social beings, our possibilities borrowed from the bodies of others in ways that blur the distinction between consent and coercion. For Diprose (2002, 195), a corporeal generosity that recognises the permeable intersubjectivity of the self ‘is writing in blood that says this body carries a trace of the other’. Applied to Donegan what we can begin to discern is how the focus, on whether or not ‘Zoe’ should be called a person, shifted the debate away from questions that would ask us to consider what it was that Donegan had lost. It also shifted the focus to a theoretical debate about what constituted a person rather than a concern for, and acknowledgement of, Donegan’s embodiment, the writing in blood that her body bore, her corporeal generosity. The gift of her body is forgotten, and the generosity of the maternal process unrecognised. Diprose argues for a justice that acknowledges that the identity of any self is performed and reconstituted within its acts and through the bodies of others. Such recognition for the woman in the state of gravidity would involve a realisation that although Zoe will never be a person, at the moment of birth, Donegan became constituted as ‘Zoes’ mother by virtue of the corporeal gestational process in which she had engaged and she will never be the person she was before, ever again. In losing Zoe, Donegan didn’t just lose some flesh from a body whose identity remains stable, she lost a part of herself in the sense of the flesh, a part of what had constituted her sense of herself, as the ability to perform, to act, to be Zoe’s mother. Thus, the law and consequently the court finding invalidated Donegan’s facticity, her phenomenological embodiment was met with social denial, her gift forgotten in the reduction of Zoe to a part of Donegan’s body. Through the failure to acknowledge that although constituted as Zoe’s mother, the capacity to perform that role had been taken from her by an accident, and in that denial, Donegan was also denied justice. How might it be possible to resolve this foreclosure of the corporeal gift that Donegan embodied? In Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, Derrida identifies the problem of ethics as politics as one of having to negotiate the balance between the ideal and the practical, the demands of ethics amid the realities of politics where decisions about competing demands must be made in situations where resources are limited. Justice involves the necessity of weighing competing claims, taking responsibility for a situation where each claim involves a particular ethical relation – the attention to singularity here being most important as it renders any normative ethics as always in between an ideal and the norm. Derrida’s (1999, 17) conclusion is the necessity of preserving what he terms a ‘hiatus, which is not the absence of rules but the necessity of a leap at the moment of ethical, political, or judicial decision, [without which] we could simply unfold knowledge into a program or course

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of action. Nothing could make us more irresponsible; nothing could be more totalitarian’. In thinking about Derrida’s understanding of hospitality, La Caze (2013, 120) aligns the emotion ‘wonder’ with Derrida’s concept of unconditional hospitality. Drawing upon Irigaray’s understanding of wonder as having a distinctly ethical and intersubjective dimension, as a model for how the sexes should approach and interrelate in ways that retains an appreciation of difference, La Caze (2013) sets out to broaden this approach to include race and class. However, she questions Irigaray’s formulation of wonder as being prior to judgement because if wonder were to be prior to cognition, as Irigaray accepts, then it cannot at the same time involve respect for the other. For La Caze, while Irigaray’s account of wonder is extremely appealing, it stretches the concept beyond the scope of discerning difference into the concepts needed to develop an ethics. She states: ‘Wonder, in my view, cannot both be prior to judgment and involve an attraction to and respect for the other. I believe that the idea of our response to others involving wonder is very important – but that alone it cannot yield respect, acceptance of autonomy, and so on’ (La Caze 2002a, 9). In order to achieve aims of reciprocal respect and affection, along with autonomy, La Caze argues, and rightly so, wonder has to be combined with other appropriate emotions and attitudes to bring about the kind of changes Irigaray envisages. La Caze (2013, 30) concludes there is a need to introduce generosity in order to clarify how ‘we can move beyond wonder to esteem and respect’. While wonder is the window through which we are able to discern and be challenged by difference, how we then engage with that difference requires some political guidance or directive. An ethical politics for La Caze (2013, 38) involves ethics and politics to be mutually implicated as a ‘realm of ethics into politics’ through the creation of conditions for ethical relations (in the sense that hospitality requires conditions to become manifest) and by allowing ethics to put constraints and limits on what should happen in politics. Most important is the way that ‘our ability to feel wonder, generosity, and love is co-implicated with political circumstances’, while remaining ‘wary of the danger of moralism in politics’ (La Caze 2013, 85–6). If we develop such an account of ethical politics infused with ethical considerations, she argues, wonder, generosity, but also Derridean hospitality and forgiveness could flourish. For La Caze (2013, 124), hospitality is, this receptiveness [which] is demonstrated in the welcome of hospitality, but it is not completely passive, since we assume it. As a response, it involves wonder as openness to the other and generosity as respect for them as autonomous beings. It involves the self-respect of generosity because we cannot offer hospitality unless we are at home, unless we have a strong sense of self that can be ethical to others.


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In essence, I think La Caze’s work with wonder and generosity can be employed in developing a way to better see and imagine gestation in a way could inform an ethics of gravidity. Firstly though, we will politically require an imaginary that positions the gestational woman as the creative centre of human life, displacing metaphorically the position of the masculine (be that God or biology), as that which grows within a woman. This is necessary because although at present, there is little doubt that the gestational body draws wonder like a magnet, in ways that other bodies do not, currently as we have seen, it is the foetus and not the woman that draws this ethical gaze and this is a consequence of the narrative of individualism which Diprose identifies as foreclosing the ability to see corporeal generosity. As Smith et al. (2013) identify the attention from strangers that women receive once they begin to look obviously gestational is commonly viewed by the women she interviewed as inoffensive but nonetheless inappropriate because, as Dwyer (2006, 1–2) observes, she ended up ‘having conversations with people who barely looked at my face. My “bump” became a constant source of visual and verbal attention’. For Michelle Foster (2015), ‘strangers offered me compliments and grinned at my bulging belly. It was as if I had been given a free pass to look however I wanted and, regardless, to be met with positivity from others and myself’. Drawing partially on my own pregnant experience of this phenomenon, I am going to suggest that what draws people to look at one’s belly is because it is the life unfolding, understood as dehiscence that is wondrous. While this ‘creation’ is attributed to the foetus alone, as an unfolding within this maternal receptacle, it will be to the bump, representative as it is of Gods or man’s creation that they will be unreflectively drawn to in wonder. As La Caze (2013, 85–6) identifies, ‘our ability to feel wonder, generosity, and love is co-implicated with political circumstances’. In this case, political imagery and discourses of foetal hospitality foreclose the ability to see, to witness in wonder, the creative singularity of pregnant women. As feminine alterity, she is denied the wonder offered to her foetus and thus her difference, her particularity is drowned in the homogenous mass of metaphorical femininity. She is rendered the empty space or even the inner space as the mirror image of outer space within which this wondrous foetus will grow and develop. However, I want to suggest that should we begin to understand the woman;foetal relation as one of an emerging bond whereby the woman is in the process of creating both this foetus and herself through herself as an instance of corporeal generosity, then we might begin to see a different welcome – a wonder at not only the creation but also the relation. Most importantly, I would hope that the subject of wonder would very likely extend beyond the foetus to the intertwined ontological and affective accouplement from which this foetus will emerged. Perceiving the gestational woman as the creator would likely lift the eyes that open in wonder to her face, through

Rethinking the Gestational Relation


the perception of her role and the commitment and personal evolution such a role entails, a perception currently lacking. Conceiving the woman;foetal bond rather than the foetus as that which requires ethical consideration and attention opens a woman, who has identified and engaged in her state of gravidity, into the world of wonder, where she can and should be offered a generous welcome. The shift from seeing the pregnant body as the realm of feminine being to seeing her as creative citizen, welcomed through the elicitation of a wonder that takes up a woman’s subjectivity can only be facilitated through a shift in the metaphorical representation of gravidity away from tropes of hospitality. An Ethical Birth By extending the insights of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy into an understanding of how embodiment and perception are emotionally interrelated, gravidity can be seen as an experience of situated embodiment that literally acts to construct the foundations for infant subjectivity and perception. The foetus in this understanding is so incorporated into me that when she emerges, is just born, I have been surprised that this ‘yowling, flailing thing, so completely different from me, was there inside, part of me’ (Young 1984, 50). The sense evoked is astonishment, wonder that all the representation, the ultrasound, the midwife’s discourse, were true after all because my bodily experience of this foetus has not been that of a radical Other. As I have argued throughout this book, the otherness experienced in late gestation is insufficiently definitive or solid enough to constitute an absolute alterity in the sense required for an ethical encounter with the face that Levinas speaks of, as grounding an intersubjective encounter, because of the way foetal alterity is oblique, mixed with a woman’s own subjectivity through accouplement. It is the hiddenness of the foetus from the pregnant woman herself as well as from others who have become invested in this birth that forecloses the surprise necessary for an ethical evocation during gestation. At the time of birth however, this wonder commonly fills the room. I have been present at several births and never failed to be moved upon seeing a newborn infant and I have noticed how all those in the room gravitate are drawn towards her face. This is why Gail Weiss (2013, 109) claims that it is not until the moment of birth that the face of the infant as the face of the other in a Levinasian sense emerges and so in concert with the birth of this infant she argues there ‘is simultaneously a birth of responsibility’, a responsibility that radiates out from the birthing woman to encompass those who will come into contact with the face of this infant. For those who have witnessed a birth, there seems to be little doubt about the relevance of Levinas’s words: ‘Thus in expression the being that imposes itself does not


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limit but promotes my freedom, by arousing my goodness’. For Weiss (2013, 115), ‘it is our first direct exposure to the face of the other at birth, rather than the maternal-foetal relationship, that presents the paradigm case of how the vulnerability, singularity, and radical alterity of the other can promote our freedom and arouse our goodness’. Weiss examines the moral significance of birth, concerned that the historical emphasis on the intercorporeality of the woman and foetus has been at the expense of the moral obligations we have to newborns that extend beyond the bounds of motherhood. Because the foetus is embedded within the body of a woman, Weiss argues, it is an inadequate model for understanding the moral responsibilities that we have towards each other as interdependent human bodies. Birth however, ‘itself is a moral activity: a tremendous responsibility that at present can be accomplished only through, but can never be reduced to, the maternal body out of which a new singular moral agent erupts into the world’ (Weiss 2013, 113). One of the central claims that Weiss makes is that we err in privileging the woman;foetal dyad as something that is greater or somehow more ethical than other intersubjective relations in the world. I have already explained that this is likely due to the vulnerability of the foetus in the context of societies experiencing ageing populations and falling birth rates. Alternatively, Weiss (2013, 111) quotes Julia Kristeva: We live in a civilisation where the consecrated (religious or secular) representation of femininity is absorbed by motherhood. If, however, one looks at it more closely, this motherhood is the fantasy that is nurtured by the adult, man or woman, of a lost territory; what is more, it involves less an idealised archaic mother than the idealisation of the relationship that binds us to her, one that cannot be localised – an idealisation of primary narcissism.

To identify the woman;foetal relation as an original intersubjectivity, as prototype as Frances Gray (2013) suggests (see chapter two), is not only to misrepresent the foetus as conscious – which does not developmentally occur until the final weeks of gestation – but it negates the web of intersubjective encounters that create her existence, reducing the foetus to the product of her body and to her responsibility alone. As Weiss identifies, women are not the only others to interact with the foetus and this is especially so when the gravidity is heavily monitored. By the time of birth, a foetus will already respond to the voices of family members other than the mother, compared with the voice of a stranger (Kisilevsky et al. 2009), and, according to Partanen (2013), can recognise a lullaby heard in the womb for several months after birth. Additionally, during an ultrasound examination, the foetus experiences sound that has been described, controversially, as akin to ‘a subway train entering

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a station’ and will experience a rise in body temperature that, although considered physiologically harmless, has nonetheless been associated with variations in foetal behaviour (Abramowicz et al. 2012, 215). Although any and all interaction is mediated through the body of the gestating woman, it is still nonetheless the case, as Weiss identifies, that the woman;foetal relation, ‘offers an insufficient framework for helping us to understand the specific moral obligations that bind together as physically separate yet … nonetheless interdependent human bodies, that is, individual persons whose intersubjective relations may originate within, but far exceed, the maternal relationship.’ Thus, while the gestational woman is the primary foetal creator, she is herself situated and interacting within a world, a culture and a particular life that does not stop at the surface of her skin. The core issue here I think can be summed up through the acknowledgement that the woman;foetal relationship is evidence in and of itself that consciousness is never about the way that development unfolds but rather, is, from the moment of conception, relational. This thesis is not new, but still today, it is not taken seriously, and it cannot be taken seriously while we fail to see, fail to perceive, the woman who may become mother as the Other within ourselves. Adoption and Attachment: A way forward? That the gestational woman remains as a watermark within the body schematic structures that scaffold infant development has implications for how we might ethically approach the newborn infant, particularly for those neonates who will be removed from the woman who gestated them. What do we owe those infants who will need to develop attachments to others, particularly in cases where removal has been legislated and/or the infant will be raised outside of her family group or within a foreign culture where she cannot cry in that language. In this final section and as a conclusion to this book, I want to begin the process of thinking this through and although I will not draw any concrete conclusions, I will suggest a possible line of thinking so as to finish my work with a possible new beginning. What I will suggest is that in the absence of the gestational woman, our moral obligations to infants should be centred around the continuation of accouplement, the formation of attachment, for without an undertaking of this negotiation, the infant will likely be harmed. To begin to think this through, I will take as a starting point the behaviour of a nurse that came to the attention of Klaus and Kennell (1983). Nurse Louise, they named her, worked in the maternity ward where Klauss and Kennell conducted their research. Nurse Louise came to the attention of these researchers because she was able to work with ‘difficult’ infants amazingly


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well. Although she could not say or explain to those around her what it was that she did, they noted that she habitually engaged in a similar, slightly time-lagged imitatively responsive manner to the infants in her care. In other words, through imitation, Nurse Louise had developed a skill whereby she coupled with the infants and in doing so was able to experience something of what they needed. Recall that acccouplement for Merleau-Ponty is affective but the affect is in the behaviour and not something produced by the behaviour; the quality of the affect is an aspect of shared or coupled space and so the level of cognitive capacity and even of cognitive awareness need not be present as a barrier, so much so that as humans we are able to forge emotional attachments with other creatures who have less cognitive capacities than we do. I can reasonably say that my love for my dog is not my private inner state that I express through my behaviour. Rather, as we saw in chapter three, the location of the love is the action and as such exists ‘in the space that we both share’ (Merleau-Ponty 2004, 84). What Nurse Louise was able to achieve through the synchronisation of movement was thus not only a pre-reflective comprehension but also an affective communication with the distraught infant, a meaning ‘not conceived as an act of thought, as the work of a pure I, [but] a meaning which clings to certain contents’ which ‘is not the work of a universal constituting consciousness’ but which the mobility of our bodily experiences ‘forces us to recognize’ (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 147). For Merleau-Ponty, these living meanings are ‘secreted’ into bodily gestures and are ‘blindly’ apprehensible through a kind of bodily resonance that does not require ‘some act of intellectual interpretation’ (1962, 134). Rather, the emotional gesture is thought to be fully comprehended when ‘I lend myself’ to a spectacle and ‘the powers of my body adjust themselves to it and overlap it’ (1962, 134). To blindly apprehend an emotion is to understand it by way of physical bodily engagement. In chapter three, I argued that by 26 weeks gestation, the foetus has a functioning body schema that has emerged through and is structured by the gestational woman’s body with which he or she remains enmeshed. Thus, the woman;foetal bond is the manner in which a woman and her foetus blindly apprehend each other through affective movement engagement, and this understanding is in line with the empirical research I have outlined. My suggestion is that infant imitation might be a way for others to link, to attach to the bond that developed during gestation. Klaus and Kennell’s (1983) observations that there was something in the movement following of Nurse Louise that was soothing to the infant is consistent with research in anthropology. Birdwhistle (1971), for example, showed how families develop unique patterns of movement. Thus, movement patterns have been employed within anthropology to mark out or identify family group members. This motion tracking within closely knit groups of people has even

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been found to have biological consistency and has been employed to explain how bodily functions such as menstruation come to coordinate within family members (Kao and Smith 1971). There is also some interesting research that suggests that not only do we form movement synchronicity with those closest to us but that it also feels particularly good to do so and perhaps it is this that draws us into participation. Hatch (1972) has pointed out that movement synchronicity is a method commonly employed by cultures in order to elicit a sense of belonging and euphoria through rituals. In subsequent work, Hatch with Maietta (1991) identified a condition which they termed ‘kinesthesia’ – the experienced high that one obtains by becoming initially focused on a specific movement activity to the degree that it becomes freely performed and the authors compare this experience to some drug-induced altered states. Their analysis could be equally applied today to our desire to dance or mosh, as my students term it. The observation is that we willingly engage in these practices because it feels good for us to form large groups of moving people and the authors describe how music acts to synchronise and stylise how a particular group will move together. Ultimately, what these studies describe is a positive affect comparable to a euphoria that can be experienced through intense and repetitive movement synchronicity with others. This euphoria, the experience of ‘kinesthesia’, Hatch and Maietta (1991, 257) describe thus: To experience a state of ‘kinesthesia’ one need only become highly focused on a specific movement activity. Any of the senses, alone or in combination, can be used. The activity for induction can be some aspect of one’s own movement or that of someone else. As the focus becomes pointed, the use of space, time and force become compliant with the movement being followed until it is impossible to recognise the difference between one’s own movement and the movement being followed. This is the state of entrainment or trance.

Hatch and Maietta (1991) apply this observation to suggest that perhaps this movement synchronicity is responsible for the descriptions of warm glows, maternally focused preoccupation and heightened states of maternal and infant sensitivity that Klaus and Kennell (1983) and Winnicott (1985) describe after observing mothers immediately post birth. The kinds of experiences reported by the authors are described in terms ranging from belonging and closeness to rapture and euphoria with corresponding levels of lows or let down. Birth, Hatch and Marietta argue, is a similar experience of intense movement synchronisation, albeit often involuntarily, and this, they argue, may be why we see euphoria upon the faces of women who birth naturally in spite of being physically traumatised. The heightened, or the post-birth glow which these theorists speak of appears to decline – often rapidly – a few days postpartum and its ebbing can be experienced by women as what


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is commonly termed the ‘postpartum blues’ or the ‘baby blues’. Certainly new mothers are often warned by the nurses on a maternity ward to expect to experience sadness and to be teary for no apparent reason a few days post birth. For Hatch and Maietta (1991), baby blues are a sign of kinaesthesia withdrawal which they argue occurs in much the same way as a drug-induced withdrawal, only it is usually milder. Applied to the experience of gestation, a similar movement synchronicity may be the mechanism behind the phenomenon of the ‘pregnancy glow’ which sometimes occurs around the sixth gestational month, the time that the woman;foetal bond negotiations will be underway. Interestingly, a similar kind of movement tracking was also an aspect of the recommended techniques employed as naturalistic behavioural intervention for teaching imitation to autistic children in a study by Ingersoll and Schreibmann (2006) who suggest that by deliberately engaging in movement tracking with another, we invite or perhaps even encourage that person to imitate our actions. In other words, it would seem that engaging with an infant’s body schema opens to the adult the capacity to guide that infant into certain behaviours through engaged imitation. At birth, the style of an infant’s movement will be most choreographed with their gestational mother, but as the infant begins to be handled and carried by others, their body schema will gradually adapt to a wider environment. Recall from chapter three how it is that much of my lived comportment is choreographed by the ‘postural impregnation’ and accouplement which is a kind of proximity and intimacy with others through which gestures, postures and bodily attitudes of others gradually inhabit my own body, simultaneously shaping me in their image (Merleau-Ponty 1964, 118). This adaptation will alter the infant’s or child’s synchronicity with their mother, and through this process, the child physically grows away from the person or people to whom that have been most coupled post birth. This means that infant imitation for MerleauPonty (1964, 117) is not about aped learning but rather is the child’s access to the intersubjective world. Through the imitative function within accouplement, Merleau-Ponty (1973, 94) argues ‘it is characteristic of cultural gestures to awaken in all others at least an echo, if not a consonance’. Applied to a theory of maternal–infant attachment, this explains why proximity with (m)others matters for infant development and why initially we are most enmeshed with those who share our particular style of coupling – those with whom the infant can easily ‘move with’ and thus experience accouplement with the person behind the gesture. Thus, what we can see as an emerging conceptual cohesion is a notion of woman;foetal bonding and subsequent post-birth caregiver– infant attachment as the negotiated body schematic coupling that informs an understanding of why isolation is so detrimental to a child’s development and why children who have been isolated for long periods of time lose or never gain self-reflective capacities (Spitz 1945, 1946, 1950; Bowlby 1951).

Rethinking the Gestational Relation


To experience the world through the body schema does not require a capacity for conceptualisation. Reprendre is from the French term ‘prendre’ meaning ‘to take’ and it is this term that Merleau-Ponty employs to describe our intersubjective relations. To take up or couple with another’s syncretic base is to ‘share with’ at an affective bodily intentional level which does not require an intellectual act – hence the terms ‘coupling’ or accouplement. Through the particular and foundational embodied encapsulation of gestation, I have shown how maternal emotion and foetal movement are linked in such a way that coupled body schematic functioning creates a woman;foetal bond concurrent with the linking of schematic movement that must somehow be carried forward after birth to encourage neonate flourishing. Thus, what is being displayed or acted out in delivery suites, homes and villages throughout the world is not the creation of a maternal–infant bond post birth, but the enacting of a bond that is already highly developed or already experiencing difficulty. When a mother and infant come together at birth, they are continuing a process or taking the next step in a relationship that already has a history. While separation at birth will be traumatic to both mother and child because of this bond, it may not prove crucial to infant long-term developmental outcomes should someone be able to provide some continuity through the forming of an attachment. One of the main potential applications for this book will be a theory that will inform policy and practice aimed at providing attachment stability for infants who are separated from the women who gave them birth. Conversely, this work will also inform a new way of understanding conditions such as postnatal depression that will assist in providing appropriate care and nurturance to mothers who have been separated or are experiencing attachment difficulties with their babies. In this final chapter, I have argued that it is not until the birth of the neonate that we can say the face-to-face encounter in a Levinasian sense has occurred and so until this time, the foetus is not an ‘entity’ in an ethical sense. Although the foetus is not a person, and should not be given personhood status or a position of moral worth in and of itself, the bonded relation between woman and foetus, the style and nature of the bond being developed draws ethical significance from the way it can impact upon future maternal and foetal flourishing. To become a mother means a woman must engage in a project of maternity, a project that will literally change who she is. For her foetus to flourish she must engage in an affective relationship with this potential person and as such societies should be ethically bound to support this process, respect her decision not to engage, or her decision to birth but not raise the child. Women who embody maternity accept with that identity a responsibility, not to her foetus as a person, but to a process of co-creation that will impact the lives of many who are co-invested. From a temporal perspective,


Chapter 8

the farther and deeper the woman in the state of gravidity immerses herself in this relation, the greater will be her embodied investment and the greater the consequence most importantly to her, and also to those who are co-invested, should her desired outcome, the bond that she is forming, not culminate in the birth of her child. Women do not do maternity alone but rather are a link, albeit the most important one, in a network of what should be a distributed responsibility for woman;foetal welfare during gestation. At least for the moment, it is women’s bodies which bear the bulk of this responsibility with all the accompanying joy and/or discomfort that ensures, and rather than offer support, we have seen how the subjectivity of a woman in the state of gravidity is largely ignored by institutions preoccupied with foetal surveillance and maternal judgement. Here, I have argued that societies have an ethical responsibility to respect the capacity and willingness of a woman to engage in maternity and to give due consideration to individual circumstances and the distribution of responsibility before legislating intervention. As I said in the introduction to this chapter, while we can be made to do, we cannot be made to feel, and it is an affective engagement that supports the flourishing of both woman and foetus in the state of gravidity. What we can do, however, is to ensure that the wonder that many people experience when encountering a pregnant woman is filtered through cultural imagery and metaphors that support the woman;foetal relationship as one of an emerging bond where woman is both primary creator of this life and a necessary scaffold to foetal flourishing. Only through this underpinning will the focus of a wondrous gaze take in a woman’s difference and only through the taking up of woman as necessary to the formation of a bond that is our capacity for consciousness will the opportunity for a corporeal generosity be opened. note 1. I want to note here that when I say healthy I mean that in the social sense in that each individual is given the opportunity to flourish. It is not a claim about disability, which I see as not necessarily related to health. A person with Downs Syndrome, for example, can flourish, their value to society should not be able to be questioned within the model that I present here.


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abortion, 3, 4, 5, 11, 15, 20, 38, 44, 47, 55, 79, 148–49, 185, 202, 203, 205, 210, 211, 215; hospitality and, 56–66; Judith Jarvis Thomas and, 21–26, 33–34 accouplement. See Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, accouplement adoption, 13, 24–25, 94–95, 98, 101–4, 112, 123, 159–66, 170–71, 173–80, 193, 201, 204, 210, 212, 213, 216; distant attachment style, and, 165, 177 Ainsworth, Mary, 28, 72, 91, 93, 100–103, 112, 113, 164–66, 99 alterity, 191; definition, 9; feminine, 50, 56–57, 60, 101, 129, 151, 190; foetal, 12, 52–54, 56 Aristarkhova, Irena, 22–23, 26, 28, 37, 118–19, 184, 200; Levinas, on, 129–32 attachment. See bonding and attachment autonomy, 13, 21, 24, 34, 36, 38–39, 57, 61, 118, 126–27, 170, 189, 208 Battersby, Christine, 10, 59, 200, 205; birth, on, 10

bible, 59, 128, 134, 210 biology, 8–10, 23, 29, 34, 56–59, 79, 82, 85, 88, 99–100, 103–5, 107, 112, 138, 145–47, 170, 175, 178–79, 190, 195, 203, 207, 210, 215 birth, 1, 3, 7, 13, 15, 30, 32, 57, 59, 80–81, 97, 99–100, 105, 119, 134–35, 200, 201, 202, 203, 206, 208, 213, 214, 216; bonding beginning at, 94–95, 101–3, 112, 153, 159–60, 163–64, 166–70, 173, 175–76, 178, 180; deviation as, 10; giving and adoption, difference, 174–75; home, 39, 134–35; metaphors of, 19–20, 33; moral significance of, 14, 44, 59–60, 183–85, 186–88, 191–93; ontology of, 10; rape, birth experienced as, 118–29; separation at, 162, 168, 194–98; surrogate and, 179; touch at, 143; See also Born Alive Rule birthweight, low, 26, 98, 213


218 Index

body schema, 13, 74–77, 80–90, 92, 97–100, 111–12, 143–44, 145, 153, 194, 196–97 bonding and attachment, 6, 13, 56, 66, 93–94, 112, 113, 154, 159–64, 187, 200, 203, 204, 206, 208, 210, 211, 213, 214; adoption and 100–105; distinguishing definitions, 164–69; gestational, 5–6, 13–14, 72–73, 81, 87–91, 137, 143–45, 150, 183–84, 186, 190, 194–98; politics of, 169–71; surrogacy and, 171–77 Born Alive Rule, 1, 2, 14 Bowlby, John, 101–2, 154, 159, 162–64, 166–67, 170, 196, 201 Butler, Judith, 7–9, 12, 145–46, 201–2 Campbell, Hon Michael QC, 2 Cataldi, Sue, 76, 81, 202 Chanter, Tina, 130, 67, 202 Colebrook, Claire, 8, 202 consent, maternal, 12, 13, 38, 60–61, 118–23, 125, 127, 131, 134, 135, 188, 200, 210, 216 container or vessel, woman understood as foetal, 20, 22–23, 26–28, 34, 36, 40, 40, 93, 117–18, 120, 123, 130–32, 173 Cornell, Drucilla, 146, 203 corporeal schema. See body schema court, 4, 120, 121, 126, 131, 135, 177, 179 foetal personhood, and, 39; ordered caesarean, 37, 120–21, 131–32 court findings: Amber Marlow, 131–32; Baby M, 172, 178; Donegan, in, 2, 187–88; Roe v. Wade, 4 de Beauvoir, Simone, 7, 130, 200 Derrida, Jacques, 13, 40, 64, 67, 107, 145, 203, 204; aporia, 63, 79;

feminine hospitality, on, 56–57; feminist manifesto, 150–55; gift, on the, 79, 188–89; Levinas, on, 44, 46, 63–66; Of Hospitality, 128–29 Dillon, Matt, 109–11, 204 Diprose, Rosalyn, 59, 67, 184, 202, 204; Corporeal Generosity, 145, 184, 187–88, 190; gift, on the, 38; hospitality, on, 57, 129, 131; Merleau-Ponty, on, 75–76, 187 Donegan, Brodie, 1–5, 11, 14, 137, 152, 184–88, 204 Douglas, Mary, 32, 204 dualism, 3, 7, 139 Duden, Barbara, 36, 204 ethics: adoption of, 161; Derrida on, 56, 63, 66, 128–29, 150–51, 188; gravidity of, 5, 13–14, 150, 153, 185–86; Guenther on, 57–60; La Caze on, 14, 184, 189–90; Levinas on, 44–48, 62, 66, 131, 134, 185; surrogacy. See ethics, adoption of Faulkner, Joanne, 49, 204 feminine, 8, 82, 127, 129–31, 150–51, 184, 202, 213; alterity. See alterity, feminine; feminine, being, 119–20, 129, 131, 150–51, 191. See also alterity, feminine; hospitality, feminine; welcome, feminine metaphorical, 118–19, 151–52 feminism, 8, 202, 203, 205, 206, 214 feminist, 8, 10, 12–13, 21–22, 31–33, 40, 43–44, 56–57, 61, 73, 117–18, 130, 137–38, 146, 150–52, 200, 202, 203, 205, 212, 215, 216


foetus (foetal): alterity. See alterity, foetal; consciousness development in, 74, 89, 95, 97, 108, 153, 186, 193–94, 198; cultural imagery of, 25, 33, 50; flourishing, 6, 7, 13–15, 26–27, 39–40, 93, 98, 107, 117, 137–38, 150, 161, 172, 184, 197–98; guest, as maternal, 6, 11, 22, 27, 40, 43, 52, 57, 60, 107, 119, 131, 134, 175; law, in Australian, 2–4; moral status, 4–5; personhood of. See personhood, foetal; rights, 2, 4, 13, 22–24, 26, 39, 60–62 Foucault, Michel, 4, 145, 205 Gallagher, Janet, 132, 134, 205 Gallagher, Shaun, 4, 205; body schema and body image, 74; Meltzoff, and, 74 Gatens, Moira, 9–10, 59, 302, 305 gestation: See accouplement; definition, 6 gift, 38, 40, 107, 187, 215; Derrida on, 63, 79; Diprose on, 38, 188; Guenther on, 13, 44, 58, 205 God, 3, 23, 34, 117, 129, 130, 132, 190, 209 gravidity, 5, 8–10, 23, 137–38; accouplement, and, 144; definition, 6–7; denied, 15, 82; ethics of, 13–14, 61, 184–86; hospitality, and, 11–13, 119, 131, 134; physiology of, 55–56, 58, 149; representation of, 19–20, 25–26, 30, 33, 40, 43, 153 Grey, Francis, 12, 27, 40, 40, 44, 47, 56, 60, 66, 107–8, 118, 192, 205;


Merleau-Ponty’s flesh ontology, and, 52–54 Grosz, Elizabeth, 73, 90, 146, 154, 202, 205, Guenther, Lisa, 28, 44, 47, 56, 63, 67, 132–33, 205; Hand of Hope, 35–39, 48–50, 60, 202. Haraway, Donna, 11, 206 hospitality, 6, 11, 13, 20, 38, 40, 41, 61, 82, 108, 137, 145, 149, 153, 161, 186, 200, 203, 204, 205, 210; abortion, and, 56–59; Derrida, and, 63–66, 151–52; feminine, 57, 123–24, 134, 151; Hand of Hope, and, 60; La Caze, and, 189–91; maternal image as, 21–22, 43–46, 52–54; medical, 117–20, 123–24, 128–29, 134; unconditional, 46, 63–65, 151, 183–84, 186, 189; violence inherent in, 129–32 Irigaray, Luce, 13, 14, 30, 95, 105–9, 111, 130, 189, 205, 207, 214; critique of Merleau-Ponty. See Merleau-Ponty, Maurice justice, 11, 38, 49, 63, 129, 199, 202, 209; Diprose on, 187–88; Guenther on, 59–62; system, 2, 174 Kant, Emmanuel, 10, 128, 207 Kirschner, David, 103–4, 207 Kittay, Eva, 10, 30, 207 Kitzinger, Sheila, 124–26, 208 Klaus, M. H. and Kennell, J. H., 102–3, 159, 162, 167–70, 175, 193–95, 208 Kristeva, Julia, 192, 208

220 Index

La Caze, Marguerite, 26; The Analytical Imaginary, 11, 21–24, 40, 44; Wonder and Generosity, 184 LaChance Adams, Sarah, 7, 19, 26, 106–7, 152–53, 186–87, 208 Le Doeuff, Michèle, 19, 58, 209 Lefort, Claude, 108–11, 209 Levin, David Michael, 110–11, 209 Levinas, Emmanuel, 12–14, 27, 40, 54, 56, 66, 184–85, 187, 191, 200, 202–5, 207–9, 212–13; alterity, and, 45, 53; death, on, 49–50; Derrida’s reading of. See Derrida, Jacques; face, of the other, 45–47; feminine alterity, 56–62, 150, 152; imagery, on, 48; Lisa Guenther’s reading of, 58–62; maternity, and, 43–44, 51–52, 130–31; Merleau-Ponty, critique. See Merleau-Ponty; Normative ethics, and, 66; Otherwise Than Being, 51, 58; Totality and Infinity, 44, 57–58 Lundquist, Caroline, 26, 56, 82, 98, 209 Lymer, Jane, 4, 36–38, 41, 84, 112, 113, 119–20, 127, 131–34, 144, 163, 210 Martin, Emily, 27–28, 210 maternal, 200, 201, 203, 204, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210, 212, 213; alterity, 38, 52, 99, 129. ambivalence, 152; autonomy, 170; body, 8, 10, 12–13, 21–22, 37–38, 43, 51, 54, 57–59, 61, 129–30, 133, 192; body schema, 81, 86–88, 144; definition, 6–7; engagement, 6, 89–90; environment, 6, 37, 53;

See also feminine, alterity feminist, 12; flesh as, 106, 108; foetal relation (bond), 7, 12, 22, 26, 43–44, 55–56, 58, 72–73, 89, 93–94, 102–3, 108, 113, 127, 143–44, 159–69, 183, 186, 192–93, 196–97; glow, 195; health, 123; host, as, in a relation of hospitality, 11, 27–29, 37–38, 43, 58, 117–18, 129–30, 132–34, 137, 190; identity, 6–8, 11, 14, 40, 138, 145–52, 169, 183; imaginary, 11, 20, 30, 32, 59, 71, 108; ‘like’ a maternal body, Guenther on, 55–60, 133–34; metaphors, 19–20, 58–59, 133–34; responsibility, 62; rights, 120–21; sacrifice, 123, 132–33; stress, 72, 89, 98; woman as biologically, 8, 151–55. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 12–13, 71, 73–80, 86–87, 90, 95, 100, 112, 138, 146, 155, 183, 187–88, 191, 202, 204–5, 206, 209–13, 216; accouplement, 13, 66, 73, 80–82, 90, 93, 95, 100, 137, 144, 162, 176, 180, 182, 185–86, 190, 191, 193, 196–97; alterity, and, 93, 96–98, 105; appropriation of the maternal, 105–7; embodiment (the body-subject), 138–41; flesh ontology, 13, 52, 73–80, 96–97, 105, 111, 141; ipseity, and, 89, 93, 138–39; Irigaray’s critique of, 95, 105–7; Lefort critique of, 108–9; Levinas critique of, 53, 108; Olkowski critique of, 108–9;



personhood, on, 4; syncretism, 74 Mills, Catherine, 33–34, 39, 211; definition of foetal personhood, 2

Rosato, Jennifer, 27, 40, 44, 47, 51, 53–54, 56, 58–61, 132, 213 Rutter, Michael, 162–63, 167, 170, 212, 213

Oliver, Kelly, 10, 32–33, 39, 147, 212 Olkowski, Dorothea, 108–9, 111, 212 ontology, 146, 177, 204, 209; birth as an, 10; gestation as an, 6, 7, 11, 14, 19, 26, 32, 43, 145, 151; Levinas and, 44, 151; Merleau-Ponty’s flesh. See MerleauPonty, Maurice; transcendental subjectivity, 109

Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine, 81, 84–85, 180, 213 Sjöholm, Cecilia, 111 surrogacy, 7, 23, 40, 105, 138, 160–61, 171–80, 181, 199, 200, 202, 203, 205, 206, 207, 211, 213, 214, 215

Perpich, Diane, 67, 130–31 personhood: Continental philosophy, in, 4; personhood, foetal, 11, 14, 21, 25, 28–29, 39, 43, 61, 183, 187– 88, 197, 200, 211; Catherine Mills on, 2, 39; Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), in relation to, 2–3; definition, 2; emergence of, 25; Hand of Hope, and the, 36; Lisa Featherstone on, 25; performative, as, 39; rights, 2, 4, 13, 22–24, 27, 39, 60–62, 125, 149, 205, 213; soul, and, 3–4; Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, 3

Weiss, Gail, 14, 185, 191–93, 212, 216 welcome, 14, 56, 118, 123, 128, 133–34, 145, 184, 191; Aristarkhova on, 118–19; feminine, 57, 60, 130, 150–52, 184. See also feminine, being; alterity, feminine; hospitality, feminine La Caze on, 189–90; Levinas, in, 12, 44–46, 52–53, 58, 63–64, 130–31 Welsh, Tahlia, 105, 210, 211, 216 Winterson, Jeanette, 94, 112, 216 wonder, 14, 45–46, 81, 99, 191, 198, 208; La Caze on, 14, 184–85, 189–91

Reynolds, Jack, 100, 110, 213

Utley, Fiona, 4, 37–38, 40, 41, 119–20, 127, 131–34, 135

Young, Iris Marion, 41, 81, 99, 169, 191, 216 Zahavi, Dan, 4, 216 Zoe’s Law, 2–3, 204