Conception : Mum’s the word

An Irish lass comes home fearful of something she must tell her father.
"Fother, t'ere's sometin' oi need to tell ya. Oi tink tat oi'm pregnant."
The daughter sighs in relief having made her admission. Her father smiles at her.
"Roight you are dortor of moine. But are ya shore dat it's yoars?"
Information is power it is said. Women hold particularly privileged information when it comes to conception.

Despite the modern use of the first-person plural by some couples to announce a pregnancy as in "We are pregnant", the fact is that she and she alone is pregnant.

To be sure, a man must have contributed. No human child can been born without a contribution of a man. Even if the man's contribution, a sperm cell, organic and natural, was snap-frozen at harvesting, defrosted, and subsequently hand-delivered to the awaiting egg cell.

It is the woman, fecund and fertilized who can be rightly called a mother. She carries the egg cell fertilized by a sperm cell – called a blastocyte initially, and later elevated to a zygote.

She can be sure that it is her egg. But the man that can be rightly called the father? Heaven alone knows.

Close behind heaven is the mother who, under natural insemination procedures, has the best chance of knowing who is the father. Not a perfect chance it must be said, but surely the best chance.

Contrast her knowledge of who vs when. When the mother comes to realize that she is pregnant can vary enormously. However, she is going to realize at some point if the pregnancy runs to term.

Some women claim to know or feel conception at the exact moment that the sperm fertilizes the egg. Even if that intuition fails her, there is the missed period to signal the beginning of a new life. And if that signal fails to offer sufficient notice, eventually her swelling belly will make apparent what is going on inside.

It is difficult for a woman to not realize that she is pregnant. At some point, the baby will be out of the amniotic bag.

There are some cases of women who have delivered babies without even realizing that they were pregnant. Albeit rare, it raises an interesting point. If the pregnancy can be invisible to the mother, then how much effort is needed to conceal it from others?

There was an era when 'ill-conceived' babies, that is, pregnancies in under-age and/or unmarried women were concealed from an entire community. So it is entirely conceivable (pun intended) that a woman could conceal her pregnancy from the father.

In contrast with women, men's knowledge about a conception is very limited. He may not even know that a woman is pregnant let alone what man impregnated her. His understanding is necessarily based on what the woman tells him combined with his skills in detecting signs and piecing together a story. It is rather ironic then that men are oft-times criticized for their poor performance at reading hints or clues.

The mother's parentage can never be doubted. A father's parentage can only rarely be described as certain. She is the gatekeeper being the only one with any real access to this fact. And this assumes she is both willing and able to say who is the father.

The knowledge and power afforded to mothers through this biological asymmetry of parental roles at conception is very apparent in the lyrics of the hit single from Heart, All I Want to Do (Is Make Love to You). A woman has a one-night stand with a stranger, and then leaves before he wakes. Later, she re-encounters the one-time lover by chance, and he meets the child born of their encounter. She begs off her behavior by explaining…

I'm in love with another man
And what he couldn't give me
was the one little thing that you can
She has the information, the control, the rights. It is she who makes the decisions that affect conception. The man, the father? His role is superfluous. The one-time lover is nothing more than a sperm-donor. He is only informed of his being a father by accident, and is not being invited to be involved.

While this is just a song, it highlights the disadvantages facing men relative to women in reproduction.

The flipside is a man who is made the father without having made any biological contribution to the child…

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