Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Lindy McDowell: How the desire to have a child can end in horror

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

As gruesome goes, it is by far the week’s most horrific story. Police in Massachusetts discover the decomposing corpse of a young woman wrapped in bedclothes and bundled into a closet in her home.

The woman, who had been pregnant, had been attacked and mutilated and the foetus taken from her womb.

Within hours another woman, a friend of the deceased, is arrested in the neighbouring state of New Hampshire. The baby daughter of the murdered woman has been recovered at this woman’s home.

The most shocking aspect of this story?

The fact that we’ve heard reports of similar cases before, where women — again in the States — have been murdered and their babies cut from their wombs.

Such stories say something about America. But they also say something surely, about 21st century Western attitudes towards what you could call the cult of motherhood.

Having a baby or, as in this case, acquiring a baby by whatever means is generally promoted these days as the be-all if not the end-all of a woman’s role.

OK granted, the American womb raiders represent a particularly freakish phenomenon.

But with babies now seen as little more than a must-have accessory and motherhood promoted as more or less compulsory for any woman between the age of nine and 90, I’m not sure we should actually be all that surprised by it.

Everywhere you turn these days the message coming at you is that no woman is complete without a baby.

It is her right to have one.

Therefore it is right that she has one — whatever her age, her circumstances, or her ability to rear the mite.

Or the consequences of her actions.

Little old ladies are flying off for the fertility treatment that will fulfil their dreams of pensioner pregnancy. Even if the poor child that qualifies them for the Mother’s Day card is left orphaned in infancy.

The surrogate industry is booming. Celebrity adoption makes the headlines.

All over the show the message is that you really can’t be without one of these cute little things. It’s a bit like last year’s designer handbag. You owe it to yourself. Why wait? You must have one now.

But what goes through the mind of someone like Theresa Winters also in the news this week on account of the fact that she’s expecting her 14th child — even though the previous 13 were taken from her and placed in care?

Ms Winters is currently engaged in a sort of reproduction fight to the finish with social services.

She is said to have told friends that she will keep on having babies until social workers allow her to keep one. Like a two-year -old stamping her foot and screaming “No!” she seems to assume that eventually they’ll just let her have her way.

“OK. That’s it. You’ve had 46. We give in. You can keep this one ”

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this story — and such cases are usually a bit more nuanced than media reports would suggest — the impression is that Theresa primarily sees the situation as all about her.

And what she wants.

If she was thinking at all about baby No 14 — and the inevitability that it too, is destined for a life in care — surely she would not have gone for another pregnancy.

In fairness there have been worse stories in the headlines in recent times. Infants murdered or brutalised while their mothers looked on.

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And meanwhile nothing staunches the endless media and marketing gush about how “mother knows best” (even when it is patently obvious she doesn‘t always). Or the relentless celebrity coo-chee-cooing over babies acquired like fashion accessories.

The pressure all this puts on those who don’t want to have children — and those who can’t — is surely hellish.

But more disturbing is the message to the unhinged.

When babies are seen as little more than must-have commodities — in fashion-speak, to die for — should we really be surprised that in someone’s twisted logic they might also be seen as to kill for?

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