Un cri secret d’enfant . In a poignant book, Anne Schaub denounces the serious consequences surrogacy may have on the behaviour and identity building of a person.
Having observed and been a witness of very early relationships between children and parents for years, this year Anne Schaub published a book: Un cri secret d’enfant. She has been a psychotherapist for nearly twenty years, specialized in the analysis and treatment of prenatal memories, as well as in early life traumas. Among other things, she describes the importance of the mother-child attachment and the importance of primary relational bonds which have a consequence on who the child becomes. She also goes over the various separation contexts likely to deeply mark one’s original memory. Such knowledge, substantiated by the discoveries made by other child specialists and neurosciences, puts forward the realism of the intimate violence inflicted to children born from surrogacy, thus giving a glimpse of the risk of generalizing these practices. She answers gènéthiques’ questions.
Gènéthique: Why are you taking sides about questions related to surrogacy?
Anne Schaub: The body is wise, it does not lie. To force nature or go against human nature, “crafting” a child at the expense of the natural gush of his life that occurs within a man-woman couple, will mark in a very special way the little one’s “being-to-world”. One way or another, the child will feel it. With surrogacy, it is the principle of reality we are playing with, the principle of human nature. And the terrible thing is that we are trying to fool people into believing it goes without consequences while, actually, the consequences can be felt on the baby, on the surrogate mother, on the intended parents, and on society as a whole. A bit like a stone one drops in the water and which wave reverberates in concentric circles on the surface. Besides the chief party concerned, i.e. the child, things are being done as though people had become blind, with, in the background, huge financial issues.
G: According to you, what safeguards are no longer present?
AS: For me, it is the medical community that has the greatest responsibility; it is supposed to know what it is doing and be able to give advice and enlighten all those in demand. A hurting couple is vulnerable. Only, it is easy to do what you want with someone else’s suffering, it can be manipulated. I am thinking of that women who had a first disabled child with a man with whom she no longer lives. She then wishes to have another. “Alone”. Without a man living by her side. The psychologist she sees hears her desire, but the project is so extravagant that not for one second does she imagine her patient will take action. However, her patient files an application for a sperm donation, the embryos go through preimplantation testing and… she is made pregnant. Appalled, the psychologist seeks the advice of a geneticist who explains that “from the moment it is medically possible, it is feasible”. In such a context, one cannot but notice that ethics committees are not fulfilling their duty, like empty shells…
As for the pregnant patient, she is overcome by her own fantasy. Raising her disabled child on her own, she “decided to have the second” to face her loneliness and give his elder sick brother a “healthy” brother to look after him after she dies. This new child is a kind of palliative medication, thus programmed well before birth. Only, once pregnant, the woman cannot quite realize what is going on. She enters into a state comparable to pregnancy denial. As with any fantasy, by principle placed in the unreal, her “dream” of making a child on her own was destined to stay in the unreal. From there, the concrete realisation of this fantasy “alienated” reality. But reality doesn’t enter her mind, and her pregnancy remains unreal to her intimate self. The medical body went through with the fantasy while what it should really have done is listen to the mother’s suffering and worries. To truly help her, they should have set a limit by opposing a “no”. This woman, who is seeing her body change, no longer lives in that body. She does not understand what is happening to her, she does not understand that she is pregnant. The child, however, is truly there and the psychologist has to help her take in that reality by asking her, for example, to put her hands on her tummy, to talk to her baby,…
This type of experience tends to multiply and this break from reality is particularly worrying for future generations as it comes bearing madness and chaos. When the sovereignty of the “almighty desire” and equality for all is brandished, both become so tyrannical they dictate in an almighty way how to deal with procreation, good sense and basic intelligence disappear. From these individualist reference points that are given too much credit, everything that is possible becomes allowed. The unavailability of the other person’s body, before a strict principle of law, is no longer a barrier. In the name of the right to dispose of one ‘s own body, women have taken full power over “its body” ignoring the future that awaits the baby expected in such conditions; sometimes even “forgetting” they are carrying it.
G: Why write this book?
AS: This book is the echo of the cry of the young and old I have been hearing for the last 20 years. This inside cry, most often hidden in the unconscious, can take on the form of a somatic or behavioural, or even spiritual, language. It testifies of the very intimate suffering of the child, and therefore also of his parents, who try to understand where it is coming from. I am relieved every time parents understand that the meaning of their child’s cry, who refuses to sleep, is hyperactive, reacts to every little detail, panics as soon as he senses separation,… finds its origin in his earliest life story: from in utero or around the time of the birth. Often, parents start to tell the story of the traumatizing event and I can see the child has not forgotten. He keeps a sensory, bodily, emotional memory of the events that have punctuated his life, closely related to his mother’s life, to his father’s support or not who, when present enables the pregnant women to have a more peaceful emotional life. The child is a relational being from his mother’s womb. His first attachment is his mother. His first separation will be birth. This separation needs to be inscribed within a sense of continuity for the child, in search of coherent reference points: he finds his mother’s voice, her smell when being breastfed, he finds certain tastes which remind him of the taste of the amniotic fluid… With his sense, intuitively speaking, he knows who his mother is! He has known her for nine months. When the separation is brutal and especially, definite, it arouses in him a cry or a shock which marks him with a stamp of psychic or physical suffering.
Many discoveries currently speak of the vulnerability of little children. Many chocs can now be avoided so the child may develop his full potential without being constantly tied down by suffering and fights. They are common-sense conditions that should surround any situation in which a child is to be born. From knowledge acquired from natural conceptions, one can have serious doubt about the appropriateness of surrogacy. Getting pregnant from someone else for someone else… Through this way of making children, we risk being faced with an increase in human sufferings when, with everything we know about human psyche, they could be avoided. Concerning surrogacy, the mediatic speech is enchanting: giving birth to a child for someone else sounds so charitable, generous, an incredible gesture of altruism, an extraordinary step forward for science. But this is a very wrong understanding of the underlying issues. A whole angle of surrogacy’s consequences is being hidden, set aside, and that is serious. So many potential consequences for children caused by this outpouring of life, in every sense: financially, medically, womb renting… Obvious repercussions, on the child and future adult’s personality, among other things, are to be seriously considered.
G: What is at stake with surrogacy?
AS: Surrogacy affects something fundamental for human beings: bonding. Human beings are beings who tie bonds, make relationships. Surrogacy introduces a certain number of separations within this bonding: to produce the embryo, gametes are taken out from the living relation, the living human life, and are “born” in a tube. Then, the child is taken out from what constitutes his primary balance, he is affected in the one thing essential and vital for his psychic building: he is separated from his birth mother. And doesn’t freezing oocytes, sperm or embryos also cut the bond to life? We are crafting the living outside the living and reintroducing it into the living. What a turmoil! The child is forced to rebuild his roots to escape disembodiment, disidentification. These manipulations are like “black holes” in the child’s history, and should get us thinking: are we not lacking in humanity? How are we treating this relationship to life and to other beings which, from the very start, found, build, or at least greatly influence the balance of our future? The fact of proceeding with so many separations before it is time cannot be without consequence on a human being’s becoming. I am thinking of all those children in India  who are forced to be born before term, systematically, by C-section, so the intended parents can be present when the baby is born. These programmed separations are incredibly violent for a baby. Separations all have a reason in life but should all come in their due time.
G: What occurs between the surrogate mother and her baby?
AS: I am thinking of a child born from an oocyte and sperm donation, growing in the womb of a mother who will not be his mother. To develop, as any other embryo, he will need to be attached to his surrogate mother, both physiologically and emotionally. This attachment is above all sensory and relational. The tragedy for this child is that he will be growing in an unclear, confused, ambivalent relational context. Indeed, no one every wishing to suffer in life; therefore, a woman who knows she is going to “loose” the child she is carrying once it is born, a “mother” who carries a child who will not be hers forever, consciously or unconsciously protects herself from any quality attachment. There is no psychological intimate involvement with the small being growing within her. The baby is faced with a huge emotional void during the initial and most crucial stages of his human development. The separation at birth, normal and constitutive of a child’s life will, in this case, take on the form of an abandonment. This feeling causes a loss of identity as a very small child still does not have any conscience of his own existence in terms of individual being. A child is in full sync with his own senses and emotions. And these senses, which, for nine months have detected who his mother is, are at a complete loss. The infant thus separated from his mother at birth is completed disorientated. This creates major anxiety, close to panic. The amygdale, a small gland in the brain which records in the long term the emotions from the last weeks of pregnancy, will keep a significant trace of the event. It may cause the future person to develop a fragility in relationships. I am thinking of this young man, abandoned a few months after birth and adopted by a loving family. In his love relationships, he suffered from a constant fear of being abandoned. Though he was engaged in a stable relationship, he remained in a state of hypervigilance, close to morbid jealousy. On a reasonable level, he knows his fiancée is faithful. But he cannot help it, spending his time tirelessly watching, examining, suspecting his future wife of infidelity. It is as though he is playing the abandonment scenario over and over again, testing his partner’s limits in order to make sure he is not going to be abandoned again. The attitude is provoked from within a place deep down, that reason cannot explain. Every time his loved one is out of sight, the fear alarm “goes off”. But other questions also arise in the mind of the child deprived of his origin: who do I look like? From whom did I take that trait of character? Must I obey these parents who are not mine? How could I know what I really want without knowing who my “genitor parents” are and what they have become?
G: Can a child heal, get past these uncontrolled reactions, find the answers to these existential questions?
AS: Heal- If it is even possible of healing from such a deep wound, that didn’t occur because of a misfortune in life such as with adoption, but was consciously organized by adults- includes, among other things, finding the original trauma and making the link between the current unhappiness and the story of one’s life as it unravelled. Finding the emotion that causes one to slip into a very dark place is sometimes difficult. Some defensive behaviours, developed at a very early age are likely to cause a person to block them out his entire life. “Healing” or “coming to peace” with an original suffering that has for example generated systematic opposition or panic as soon as night falls, causing insomnia and all kinds of compensations to the void perceived as abyssal…, will also and above all be made possible by the fact of being recognized in the damage caused by a deep existential loss. And what worries me most: who in society is going to recognize the damage? Because in order to take away the current veil of denial concerning the reality of this inevitably harm, one must question such a method. Whatever happens, some of these children are going to need help to heal what can be healed. Telling them about the truth of their story is part of doing that, even if it only serves to answer their questions about their origin. But the scar of a hurt original history is not going away. The same as for anyone else, “healing” comes from the choice of making something good out of it, good for oneself and good for others. It is making oneself “better” within one’s own hurt humanity.
G: In your book you mention society has gone off tracks?
AS: I have the impression that we are engaged on a drifting boat. On this boat, lobbies seek to take onboard as many people as possible. People are being blinded by a nice speech of solidarity… without realizing surrogacy is taking our humanity towards a change of paradigm. Surrogacy is trying to convince people that what has made man’s deep humanity for thousands of years, is no longer true. As though everything is equally valid. The media is trying to sway public opinion thanks to deceitful or trivializing talks, which separate common sense from intelligence concerning what enables a child to come into the world at peace or on the contrary vulnerable, perturbed.
Another image would be that of a tree hiding a forest of damages in a divided society, become schizophrenic. On the one hand it offers extravagant care to some, comes up with cut-edge discoveries on the foetus’ sensitivity,… and on the other creates children, that it separates from their mothers, with all the known consequences! If we hurt a child while he is still developing, still meant to spread out, the damaged area will impact him in many ways. They will progressively come to the light as he grows, even until adulthood.
These manipulations carried out by men also sign a rupture in transmission. Transmission, however, is what makes the richness of a human being: “that is where I come from”. The child born from surrogacy, from external donors, experiences the “nowhere” in his own identity including in his parental filiation. What tragic homelessness are we preparing for those who will never be able “to adopt” their new filiation? With surrogacy, by creating stories which begin with a trauma, problematic situations on a psychic level are bound to multiply. By giving in to the craziest human fantasies, our society is preparing itself for more craziness.
It is inconceivable to replace the suffering of an adult with the suffering of a child. We urgently need to start trying to heal adults’ sufferings by other means more respectful or human nature, in itself so perfectly ordered.