Reciprocal nurturing at the heart of society: motherhood vs. surrogacy


It is a difficult time to be a mother. Either one is chided for being too much of a detached tiger, or else too attached, too natural and earthy. This in part derives from the fact that the definition of motherhood is contested. This presentation argues from a philosophical standpoint that such extremes are more properly understood by seeing that, ontologically, a mother relates to her child as one whole person to another. The basis for this understanding is the psychosomatic union developed within Christian personalism. On this basis, the presentation argues that the mother-child relationship is not one of subjugation and obligation; nor is it either complete oneness or else absolute separation. Mother and child have mutual dignity and can enter into ways of reciprocal nurturing.

Reciprocal nurturing entails that mother as whole person benefits the child as whole person in irreplaceable ways – physically, emotionally, psychologically, but also by bringing the child into a network of relations that form the basis of all other communal life. Similarly, the child enables the mother’s unique and otherwise impossible social attachments, allowing her to develop personal capacities that might otherwise simply lie dormant.

An examination of the definition and results of the practice of surrogate motherhood provides a way to emphasise that motherhood includes but also exceeds physically carrying a child to term in the womb. This type of mothering, contrasted with the natural paradigm, indicates the profound ways in which mother and child mutually nurture.


philosophy, mother-child relationship, psychosomatic union, reciprocal nurturing, surrogate motherhood


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