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  • Eleonora Voltolina

Having a child alone through MAR: self-centredness or an explosion of love?

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Two women meet. They have recently turned forty, one is getting out of a long-term relationship, the other is single. They ask each other: what about having kids? We are nearly out of time: do we want children? And if so, how can we have them without a partner? Until one suddenly says to the other, «I've made up my mind: if I don't find the right man within a year, I'll have the baby by myself».

This is not so uncommon a conversation, a situation that is cropping up more frequently. One of the two women here was Giorgia Surina. An Italian radio and TV presenter and actress, born in 1975, Surina mulled over that conversation for a long time and came up with a “crazy idea”. What if her friend, instead of saying «I'll do it myself», had said to her «we should have a child each through in vitro fertilisation and then raise them together, as a kind of extended family»? The seed of that unconventional setting for motherhood grew inside her, little by little, until it found its way into a book. In due sarà più facile restare svegli” (“It'll Be Easier to Stay Awake if There are Two of Us”, not published in English), her first novel published in May 2022 by Giunti publishing house, tells the story of two friends – Gaia and Bea – who try to make that same idea a reality.

«Us women realise we can no longer wait for Prince Charming, who doesn't really exist: the decision is in our hands», Giorgia Surina tells The Why Wait Agenda. Because when you get to around the age of forty and you are alone, or you have a companion who is uncertain about having children, keeping on waiting to have kids may really mean putting an end to your desire for motherhood – «which may not be for everyone, but for some it really is a lifelong dream». And so rather than «taking refuge in “non-choice”», silently burying your dream and resigning yourself «to never becoming a mother», you can choose to «dare, courageously, on your own two feet». And attempt the route of single motherhood.

The progressive increase of single women, as well as that of women without children, is outlining a new reality that will eventually have to be included in the narrative of our time: «an underworld that no one talks about yet and which is still thought of as taboo, and which is instead emerging unprecedentedly. Something is bubbling up in society». The free choice factor is always decisive – and if there are many women who freely choose not to have children, there are also many who forgo motherhood because of a 'lack of a partner', and often suffer. As Surina recalls, «one of the biggest fears – not only for me but for many women – is having a child with the wrong person. Between doing it with someone I'm not sure about and doing it alone, I would probably choose to do it alone».

There is no precise data on how many single women choose to go it alone in having children. In Italy for example for 2021 Istat, the National Institute of Statistics, counts 615,000 “single-parent households” in which there is at least one minor child and in which the parent is under the age of 45. Of these 615,000, 523,000 (i.e., 85 per cent) are “single parent” households in which the parent is a woman. Households may be “single parent” for any reason, namely widowhood, divorce, separation or having had the child without a partner from the outset; in this group, the overwhelming majority is represented by women who have separated or divorced, and unfortunately Istat does not provide specific data on how many of the 523,000 are “single” mothers, let alone how many are women who have become mothers without a partner (for example, counting those who, at birth, had the child alone).

Italy – just as in a third of European countries, including Switzerland, Austria and Norway – expressly forbids MAR, an acronym that stands for “medically assisted reprodution”, to single women. Therefore, unless one come up with a ruse in the style of Lawrence Kasdan's famous film, The Big Chill, and finds a friend willing to have a one-night stand for purely procreative purposes, or tries buying DIY artificial insemination kits online with an anonymous donor sperm vial attached, the path is closed to those women who do not have a partner. Under Italian law (the infamous Law 40 of 2004, passed by the centre-right government then led by Silvio Berlusconi and contested in 2005 in a referendum that did not reach quorum), only married or cohabiting heterosexual women may make use of in vitro fertilisation procedures. «Thanks to the work of the Luca Coscioni association and the lawyer Filomena Gallo, there has fortunately been a dismantling of this law over the years», Surina recalls, but not an outright repeal; and the ban on access to in vitro fertilisation for single people or same-sex couples is still in place.

There are, however, Italian women who still manage to have a child – by themselves – by going abroad. «Various countries are kind of “holy grail destinations”: Spain, Greece, the UK, Denmark, Bulgaria» says Giorgia Surina, who, to write her book, did her research by browsing online forums, Facebook groups such as 'Single mums by choice', and collecting the accounts of women who have become mothers through MPA. But the actress-author then launched a provocation, setting the plot of her book in Milan. A gigantic case of “poetic licence” that makes it possible for her protagonists to have IVF, as single women, in Italy: «I dream that one day it might really be like that», she claims, because «this is not the whim of a woman who wakes up one morning and says “I want a child on my own”; it is such a delicate issue that the law should have the same delicacy in understanding and embracing this wish» she reflects: «Just as a woman who does not want children has the right not to have them and not to be pressurised by society, in the same way a woman who viscerally wants to become a mother should not be given a categorical “no” by the Italian health system and law», because this takes away women's freedom «to make decisions over their own lives: an extremely strong form of violence».

Paradoxically, however, the novel only marginally touches on the huge issue of infertility: the two protagonists are not infertile at all. They are, much more simply, equipped to have a child but lacking the required input from men. Single motherhood, of course, deprives the child of a father figure; but in day-to-day reality, many children are born and grow up in single-parent families without becoming «less complete human beings». Surina cites the example of her father, of Croatian origin, who grew up without a father at the end of the war but was «so filled with love from his mother, grandmother and sister» that he never suffered the effects of that absence as an adult.

«Right now, there are numerous families that are already unbalanced: fragile couples who are not equipped to manage when a baby is born and split, extended families in which the children are split between the mother with her new family and the father with his new family. All well and good, but at that point why should a woman's daring to want to construct her own, solo project of motherhood» – “imbalanced” from the start, of course, but not necessarily worse – «be wrong»?

Giorgia Surina wrote the novel in a certain sense «out of female solidarity», despite not having children and never having experienced IVF first hand: «I have identified with a situation that does not pertain to me, at least not right now. But if I lived in a society that did not penalise murder, should I wait for someone to kill someone dear to me to argue for murder to be criminalised? I want to safeguard every woman's right to become a mother if she feels this inclination. I have never considered myself a feminist, but there are so many little explosions inside me that guide me in that direction. Unfortunately, and we see this every day, some rights do not come automatically. And so, I fight because if the first steps don't come from us, they certainly won't come from above». The book is a step towards highlighting the subject of single motherhood and stressing that having a child through in vitro fertilisation is «the most desired and sought-after thing imaginable: an eruption of love so intense that it cannot be wrong». And something that the law should never prohibit.


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