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This week: Olga wants to have a baby, but ...

Olga and her husband have been trying for a baby without success. Since it appears that both may be partly to blame, the only options seem to be to try either surrogacy or AID, artificial insemination by donor. Her husband is against it - he doesn't want to have a child that's not all theirs - but Olga feels that she could persuade him. Should she? It seems absolutely correct that doctors try every means possible to produce a couple's child if they want one. Fertilised in bottles, inserted by needles, encouraged by drugs - fine. But to involve a third party to provide sperm, eggs or womb? That's another ballgame, and here I'm on Olga's husband's side.

He wants a child because he wants their child. Not any old child. Not half their child. Not just a few sprinklings of his or her wife's genes like icing sugar on some foreign body. And if he can't get what he wants, he's prepared to walk away.

I believe that good parenting starts before birth, and what needs to be asked is whether having a child by AID or surrogacy is the sign of a good parent. Children of parents who've used AID - a kind of sanitised and legalised rape in my view, in that it involves a stranger's sperm being inserted into a woman's womb - often feel a confusion about their identity, a feeling that things are "not quite right". Our genes can scream very loudly, even if they cannot speak. And reports on surrogate mothers show that the mothers often feel exceptionally depressed after handing their babies over. No research has been done on whether the babies feel extremely depressed as well, but common sense argues that after spending nine months in someone's womb, it would be a pretty traumatic experience to be snatched away from those familiar sounds and smells to someone else's arms. And the question that follows is that if the technique you use to create him or her involves a child feeling, later, any kind of loss or confusion about its past or its very identity, what kind of parents are you? The answer is: selfish ones.

It's one thing to adopt an unwanted baby, but quite another to create an unwanted baby to adopt, which is in effect what is achieved by the parents of babies who use surrogate mothers. And it's one thing to make a terrible mistake and have a drunken one-night stand with an attractive stranger and decide not to have an abortion, but another to contrive that one-night stand, as it were, with AID, deliberately, to create a child who will have no natural father on the scene.

Olga may ask, who on earth am I to make such judgements? I've never known the agony when each month goes by and you're still not pregnant. But actually I do know exactly. In my thirties I went through extensive fertility treatment and I took fertility drugs, had laparoscopies and salpingoscopies and who knows what else, and I well remember the pain of it all. And I can't say that asking a half-sister for an egg and the loan of a womb didn't cross my mind. But I decided not even to ask. Because although the baby would have been nearly mine and my partner's, you can't have a baby that's nearly yours. It's like being nearly a virgin. The baby is either yours or it isn't.

Some people are surprised, after years of trying, to find that they get pregnant. Some people never have children. Having children is not a "right"; or even the point of life, for a life the only point of which is to reproduce is a pretty lousy sort of life.

I feel desperately sorry for Olga, but in this case she should keep her mouth shut, feel glad she's married to such a principled man and either get on with her life or adopt one of the millions of older children or children with abnormalities who are just longing for homes.

What readers say

You could win the argument but lose your husband

If you could manage to persuade your husband to agree to surrogacy or AID against his better judgement, your persuasiveness could have disastrous results, such as divorce. Couples who participate in AID have a much higher than average divorce rate anyway, and if one of the parties enters into such an arrangement feeling in their heart that it is wrong, it seems to me that the likelihood of divorce would be even higher.

Surrogacy is unlikely. You do not mention a loving sister or relative who would make this enormous sacrifice, and it is illegal in the UK to pay somebody to do it. You could go abroad to get round the law, but you have no moral right to do so. Poor women were not put on earth solely to be at the disposal of rich women. You have no right to use another woman's body to incubate a child for you. You might get to deprive a poorer woman of her child and bring it up yourself by this dubious method, but I suspect that that woman's anguish would far outweigh your joy - to say nothing of the feelings of the child itself and your husband.

If you and your husband love each other as deeply as you should do if you are planning children together, that love will enable you to find joy and comfort in each other, with or without children. And who knows - a common human experience is that only when a deep desire is relinquished, is it granted. I hope that will prove true for you.

Jean Molloy, London

He may want you to persuade him

I can fully understand your keen desire to have a baby at all costs and I can almost as fully understand your husband's strong principles, but his sounds like a bad case of dented male pride, whereas yours is a normal biological urge. It is right to persuade him, especially if you've a strong chance of winning the case. If he's willing to be talked round to the idea then he's obviously willing to go ahead. He may just want you to persuade him.

Aside from this, I challenge any man not to have a child that was planned, that he's nurtured from birth, and that smiles and gurgles at him and calls him "Daddy", even if it is not "properly" his. I've great confidence that this will all work out. Enjoy every minute if it does.

Georgina Phillips, Upper Weston, Bath

AID brought us a wonderful child

Like Olga's husband, I am sub-fertile. My wife and I thought long and hard about our desire for children set against the knowledge that I would not be the natural father, and opted for AID. We were fortunate that it was successful at the first attempt, so we had no agonising delay to add to our difficult decision. Our daughter is now two, and is a wonderfully high-spirited, bright and happy child, and I have not regretted our decision for one second.

I can promise Olga and her husband that the reality of a baby and its need for love, care and total commitment immediately dispels any fear that one may not feel the same way towards a child born of this method as for a "natural" child. I sympathise with Olga's husband, but I would encourage her to try to change his mind - he will be the baby's father, irrespective of how it is conceived.

Ian Lush, London

Children need two committed parents

No. Children need two parents who are completely committed. It is good that your husband is open and honest about his feelings rather than dissembling to mollify you.

You must now decide whether you wish to build a marriage without the prospect of children or if the desire for children is so strong that you want to terminate your marriage and seek a partner who will accommodate your wishes. If you wheedle and nag your husband until he changes his mind, you will be responsible for bestowing misery on your children, your husband and, ultimately, upon yourself.

Michael Masson, London SE15

Next week's problem: Am I foolish to continue loving her?

Dear Virginia,

A few months ago my girlfriend and I separated. Six weeks later she found someone else. I have not. We'd been together for six years and planned to marry this year. But I'm upset that a relationship that was so strong and that took six years to build can be forgotten so easily. We really loved each other and she said I was the kindest person she knew. I know we could work something out because we understood each other perfectly. Am I naive or foolish to continue loving her? She does claim she is happy in her current relationship. I would receive her back with open arms, dismissing any feelings of betrayal. She is my ideal woman and I miss her, but she wants as little contact with me as possible.

Yours, Marc

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences for comments to me at the Features Dept, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. If you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, let me know.

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