Author: has written 5301 posts for this blog.

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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79 Responses

  1. Ellen
    Ellen December 8, 2008 at 10:57 am |

    This is such a great post. I marvel at, and appreciate, the way you have been able to place this piece in its very complicated context. I was so blown away by the horrible comments from NYTimes readers, and by the class privilege issues in the piece itself, that all I could muster on my own blog was an ambivalent defense of this woman.

    You hit the nail right on the head when you point out how women are demonized for “paying someone else to take care of their children.” It’s true in this case as well. Some readers seemed outraged that Kuczyinski had hired someone to help take care of the baby: “She went through ALL that trouble, and then she hired HELP?!” As if what AK was fighting for all along was the right to do constant caretaking labor — changing diapers, pumping her breast, cleaning up spit-up, struggling with sleep patterns — unassisted by her husband (obviously away) or paid helper. So many readers seemed to feel that she’d violated some code just because she chose not to do that shitty work all by herself. “You’re the one who wanted the child so bad, now go clean up all the shit.” Shows what we think “real mothers” are.

    Still, as harsh as our culture can be towards mothers of all kinds, I agree totally that this surrogacy is a slippery slope. You’re definitely asking the right questions, though: given that everyone has the right to have children, how can we make this possible while also making it just? I really really don’t know.

  2. octogalore
    octogalore December 8, 2008 at 11:57 am |

    A great treatment of the complexities involved in surrogacy.

    In addition to fertile women, there are a number of gay male couples who use surrogates (or so claimed by a mom at my kid’s school who has a surrogacy business). Other options which are open to infertile women, eg IVF or adoption, may not be as available to them.

    It also strikes me that the surrogacy issue is similar to the sex work issue — where women with a variety of levels of willingness allow their bodies to be used by richer men. I think the main problem in both cases isn’t the availability of the sex work or surrogacy option, but the lack of other options. But I agree that this doesn’t necessarily make it OK to be a consumer.

    Regarding adoption, I agree there too that there are a number of abuses. As someone with two sisters adopted from Korea, I don’t think that’s necessarily always the case. Based on the circumstances of my sisters upon adoption, involving abandonment and abuse, I don’t think it’s easily boiled down to wealthy white couples taking advantage of poorer ones. Sometimes that’s likely the case, eg when the birth parents are locate-able. When they’re not, or dead, or abusive, I don’t believe it’s better for the child to remain orphaned, to satisfy ourselves that there’s no colonialism going on. Like everything else, this one is case by case.

  3. CTD
    CTD December 8, 2008 at 11:58 am |

    organ donation may be free

    Hogwash. The surgeon gets paid, the anesthesiologist gets paid, the nurses get paid, the hospital gets paid, the people who match organs & candidates get paid. I’ve never understood why it’s perfectly OK for everyone to make money off of transplants except the individual whose organ it is. That’s illegal and immoral.

    Who am I to tell somebody that they can’t make the most intimate decisions about their own body? Who am I to tell somebody that they are too poor/black/third-world/ignorant to weight the risks involved in organ transplant vs. the compensation offered and make a decision based on what’s best for them?

    Or does “keeping your law off my body” not include livers, kidneys, and bone marrow?

  4. octogalore
    octogalore December 8, 2008 at 11:58 am |

    Oops, meant “infertile women” in second para.

  5. Darcie
    Darcie December 8, 2008 at 12:13 pm |

    Wow, that was an excellent post. Thank you.

  6. Bloix
    Bloix December 8, 2008 at 12:19 pm |

    Kuczynski’s desire to have a child has nothing to do with the child and everything to do with her relationship with her husband. This kid is her way of nailing herself permanently to him. Not that people aren’t allowed to have kids for fucked-up reasons.

  7. CTD
    CTD December 8, 2008 at 12:22 pm |

    are there laws saying that you can’t donate your liver, kidneys or bone marrow?

    I never said there were. As you point out, the law says that you cannot be compensated for them.

    (I wouldn’t donate your liver, fyi, if you still want to survive, but that’s just my silly opinion).

    You are aware that what’s often needed by a patient is only a piece of healthy liver, right?

    But this post isn’t about organ donation, so back on track please.

    My apologies. Since organ donation was singled out in the post as having significant parallels to surrogacy, I thought it permissible to discuss. Indeed, I fail to see how anything I wrote doesn’t apply to surrogacy as well, except in reverse. It’s currently legal there seems to be a pretty sizable opinion that it shouldn’t be.

    Therefore, I think my argument still holds. Who is better equipped to make a deeply personal decision like this? The actual individual whose body will bear the child for some level of compensation, or meddlesome, finger-wagging third parties who find the situation vaguely uncomfortable (and who are, IMHO, typically more concerned with self-congratulatory notions of “equality” than with the actual material welfare of the individual in question)?

  8. octogalore
    octogalore December 8, 2008 at 1:14 pm |

    “I’m also someone who has very little attachment to being pregnant and giving birth, and had always assumed that I would adopt or be a foster parent — my thinking being that there are already a lot of kids in the world and many of them (especially older, disabled and/or non-white kids) have a really hard time being placed with loving families.”

    That’s laudable. And true, esp wrt non-white kids over about 2 or 3. One of my sisters was 6 when adopted. Definitely, there are more challenges, which is why more people don’t choose to adopt older children. But, all the more reason for others to choose to do this.

    I always planned to adopt too, and still would have if I’d started the child process earlier in life. But it’s tough to lay out a blueprint ahead of time. I never had a biological urge and felt at times either as if I was missing something I should have, or that I was more independent/evolved than people who did have one. Somehow, that shifted in my early 30s and when I met the person I wanted to procreate with. I became one of those people I’d never been earlier, who thought it was cool to wonder if the kid would get my husband’s downturned eyes or my low tolerance for frustration (she got both). I don’t think that’s inevitable, of course, just my $.02.

  9. piny
    piny December 8, 2008 at 1:17 pm |

    Who am I to tell somebody that they can’t make the most intimate decisions about their own body? Who am I to tell somebody that they are too poor/black/third-world/ignorant to weight the risks involved in organ transplant vs. the compensation offered and make a decision based on what’s best for them?

    People supporting prohibition don’t argue that organ-sellers don’t know how to weigh their available options. (Although you are giving people an excellent reason to lie about their health and history; why should an organ donor care more about the recipient’s welfare than the recipient cares about the donor’s?). The issue is that these choices are horrible ones, and that we as a society shouldn’t permit their consequences.

    Organ donation isn’t the only kind of bodily sale we prohibit. You’re not allowed to sell your body to be enslaved, or eaten, or mutilated, or hunted for sport, or poisoned, or murdered and violated. There’s potential demand for all these services, and there would be more if the law helped remove the stigma. The money’d probably be at least as good, and it would spend on necessities just as well. I could see someone choosing any of these things over poverty or starvation, for themselves or their relatives. We don’t permit it because we’re worried about the mindset of the donor, but because the entitlement on the part of the recipient is downright toxic.

    Buying an organ means purchasing the right to take someone’s life or inflict serious risk through major surgery that removes an organ (or, excuse me, piece thereof–but why should vital donations not be free?). And not to quibble, but delivering a kidney is not like delivering a child. I don’t think we should have that freedom, because it’s a monstrous level of power over another human being, and its whiphand incentives operate on the most selfish level of all. It enables us to think of poverty as ameliorable via more dead poor people. It creates an incentive to increase and deepen that poverty and the psychic distance that inures us to its presence. It gives us the option of formally killing or injuring another human being to save ourselves, and it gives numberless other people incentives to help us and hurt our benefactor.

  10. estraven
    estraven December 8, 2008 at 1:22 pm |

    I am a mother of three, all conceived and given birth to in a very nonmedical way.
    If it were legal in my country, I would like surrogacy; I would also like being a wetnurse. My body feels at its best while involved in the reproductive process; even childbirths have been not too bad (the first one was a bit long, admittedly, but I was exhausted, not very much in pain).
    I understand I’m lucky. But is it so bad that some other woman that enjoys her pregnancies as much as I do helps out one who can’t be pregnant at all? And is it bad that the other one gives her some money in return? I think it’s very different from organ donation; it’s renting out your body to do what your body is good at, and enjoys doing.
    In an ideal world, everybody would have enough money, and surrogacy/wetnursing would be done on a purely voluntary basis. But it is not wrong per se. And so, if an agreement can be found between consenting adults, I don’t see the problem – even if, as is normal in our capitalistic society, money is involved as well. If you want to be outraged at the connection between maternity choices and money, you might want start with the healthcare system instead of criticizing women.

  11. Yehudit
    Yehudit December 8, 2008 at 1:29 pm |

    What’s wrong with the term “baby nurse”? I just did a quick google, and the agencies seem to use either “baby nurse” or “newborn specialist.” They can be really helpful, especially for first-time parents. (My mother still talks about how my older sister as a newborn would scream, and she’d swaddle her just the way the doctors and the books told her to, and it wouldn’t help anything. The baby nurse told her that, contrary to the doctors’ and books’ advice, not all babies like to be swaddled. Once she was unwrapped, she was happy and would go to sleep easily.)

  12. anon
    anon December 8, 2008 at 2:55 pm |

    I was adopted, and that plays into many of my thoughts on this issue, especially trying to divorce myself from what I believe is “right”. Frankly, surrogacy and IVF disgusts me to the point of illness. So many children are begging for good homes, yet people spend ten of thousands of dollars to have a child of “their own”. Because, apparently, I’m not really my parents’ “own” child, just some borrowed half-ass replacement. Then again, I spent 50,000$ on a private education, because that’s what I value, and I’m sure that horrifies some other people at MY selfishness. I could have used that money to help orphans, or adopted a child myself.

    I am also neither sterile nor approaching the end of my biological clock, so I don’t know what it feels like to desire a child and have that basic human need unfulfilled.

    The important thing to focus on is not what I think people should DO, but how I think people should LIVE. And people should live without fear, without poverty, without hunger and shame. If we focus on those goals, then, hopefully, we can navigate into a better world. I hope we learn from our mistakes, and bring in women of all colors, ages, races, and classes to understand what is best for everyone; and not just whatever I think is best.

  13. ilyka
    ilyka December 8, 2008 at 3:04 pm |

    I wish I had more of substance to say than “This was really good,” but I don’t. This was really good, and especially, thank you for pointing out that adoption isn’t the catch-all so-simple solution it’s sometimes held up to be.

  14. Health Blog » Blog Archive » Wombs for Rent

    […] Read more:  Wombs for Rent […]

  15. Rebecca_J
    Rebecca_J December 8, 2008 at 4:16 pm |

    Great post – balanced, honest.
    I had a different interpretation of the “baby nurse’s” expression. To me it looks as if she is looking the baby in the eyes and smiling slightly – perhaps even trying to suppress a smile. It looks to me like she is sharing a private joke with the baby.
    Just wanted to share that, and I agree with the rest of your analysis of the photo, including the “it looks like 100 years ago” part.

  16. Fietser
    Fietser December 8, 2008 at 4:34 pm |

    Speaking of class, race, and babies, MN’s has an excellent article this week by an adult Korean adoptee who is considering becoming an adoptive parent herself.

  17. cheriot
    cheriot December 8, 2008 at 4:49 pm |

    Great post. I made similar observations last week.

    How do we build just and equitable reproductive rights norms that encompass the full spectrum of reproductive choice? There’s lots of theory out there and I don’t have too difficult a time seeing the end goal, but what kinds of decisions must we make in the here and now to put us on the path to a world where all people have access to certain resources and all people can make truly free reproductive choices?

    I wonder the same thing — I mean, I think at least getting health insurance to cover IVF and some of the other procedures might be a step in the right direction, but I’m unsure. I mean, it seems like it would be nearly impossible. Insurance companies would never be down for that. What other steps would be made to really ensure that all people have access to these resources?

  18. Entomologista
    Entomologista December 8, 2008 at 7:18 pm |

    A woman is doing something? This seems like a case for the League of Moral Busybodies!

  19. Billie
    Billie December 8, 2008 at 8:03 pm |

    The NYT Public Editor also went over this story.

    I didn’t actually read the original article, because it looked like exactly the kind of thing that really annoys me about the NYT. But I liked that the editor concluded that the magazine should have given space to the woman with less money and who was the surrogate as well as to the woman who paid for the surrogacy.

    More about the pictures:

    Hilling, clearly portrayed in the article as middle class, described the porch as “the ugliest part” of her renovated, 135-year-old home. She said she felt the photo of her was “contrived.” Gerald Marzorati, the editor of the magazine, acknowledged the “upstairs, downstairs” quality of the photos but said they were not set up to be that way. (That last bit sound disingenuous–people at the Magazine knew what they were doing in putting them together. I also think it’s important to acknowledge Hilling’s objection to the picture, and that trying to set up the people involved here as symbols also denies them agency, even if you think it creates sympathy for their position.)

    And more from Hilling:

    Hilling said she was a bit frustrated by the pictures and Kuczynski’s story. “It was her opportunity to tell her experience,” she said. “I wish there was a way for me to share more of my part in it.” She said her motivation was not money, which mostly just covered her time lost from work, but the “incredible high” of knowing “you can make someone’s dream come true.”

  20. Surrogacy motherhood and class issues at The Fertile Source

    […] making it inaccessible for many women…” From Feministe’s current blog posting, “Wombs for Rent,” that discusses the class issues involved in surrogate motherhood. « […]

  21. Kathleen
    Kathleen December 8, 2008 at 8:40 pm |

    I think there is a difference between trying to bring about a society in which no one is ever sad or disappointed and trying to bring about a society in which things are generally happier and more fair. What I mean by this is — let’s say we, as a society, said, hey, all our babies are belong to us, in the sense that all kids would be eligible for certain kinds of income, child care, health care, etc. so that women could relax more about when and under what circumstances to have kids. I think we’d see abortion rates drop, I think we’d see rich women not putting off childbearing till almost-too-late, and I think we’d see poor women have safer, healthier pregnancies and babies.

    This kind of independence-facilitating policy would, of course, be anathema to patriarchy fans everywhere.

    Still, even in the feminist utopia, some women wanting biological children would have fertility problems untreatable by existing medical technology. This would be sad and disappointing. I don’t know that any social policy can solve that kind of problem.

    I kind of think in the wealth-redistributionist, feminist utopia you wouldn’t have to outlaw commercial surrogacy because there would be no willing surrogates. There might still be friend-and-relative surrogates for gay couples, infertile couples, but I think absent the sharp stick of relative poverty very few people would be induced to sell their bodies in this (or any other) way.

  22. VASpider
    VASpider December 8, 2008 at 8:56 pm |

    As an aside, I know there’s a stereotype in many parts of the country to view all of PA as being either Philadelphia or ‘thoroughly economically depleted coal town full of people who eat only beans,’ but Harleysville is neither of these. It’s the next school district over from where I live, about fifteen minutes by car, if that.

    Median income for a family in Harleysville is about 75K – it’s a very solidly middle-class, extremely white area.

  23. ce
    ce December 8, 2008 at 10:41 pm |

    I’ve signed a contract with a gestational surrogate and here are my thoughts, more on the judgy comments on the Times’ site than the article itself. I’m 40 years old, I have been through several surgeries and one stillbirth — and considered, even preferred for a time, adoption. Still may do it.

    But I would like to invite everyone who told author Alex Kuczynski to “just adopt!” to do so themselves, since that was the most prevalent criticism of her choice. If it is a moral imperative for the infertile to adopt, is it not a moral imperative for the fertile? Or just a mandate for the rich?

    The adoption industry is fraught with as many ethical and political gray areas as surrogacy. It costs as much or more, and takes longer. You will be judged by social workers who will evaluate your home, job, lifestyle and much more.

    If you opt to have an open adoption where your child always knows who their biological mother is, then chances are you have to find someone who is already pregnant and chooses your family. This adoption isn’t exactly saving a starving baby — it’s preventing an abortion, or a mother who doesn’t want a child from raising one. Noble things, but not exactly saving an underprivileged, suffering child. It’s just a fact that most people want a newborn.

    So, please yes, everyone gather $35-$50,000 and go adopt a starving child! It will take 2 years or more and require many intrusions into your personal life, and perhaps some extended international travel. Or work on the root causes of unwanted children — end teen pregnancy, economic injustice, world hunger, war, disease and abuse.

    For those who implied that infertility is “just how” you are born and that infertile couples who procreate are selfishly passing the condition on: It isn’t how you are born, or “how your creator intended so you should just give up.” Infertility can be caused by surgeries, endometriosis, fibroids, environmental factors, PCOS, cancer…and often, infertility is a treatable condition. I know a woman who used a carrier because her epilepsy medication made it unsafe for her to carry a child. Some women are born without a uterus, though it’s rare. Infertility generally is not contagious or passed down, as at least one commenter suggested.

    And while Kuczynski is indeed vain, you can’t just hire a surrogate to avoid stretch marks and weight gain. Doctors make sure you have a case for surrogacy. There are no hassle-free short-cuts to motherhood. Who would accuse Kuczynski of not wanting to carry her own baby when she went through 11 rounds of IVF before pursuing surrogacy — the daily shots and ultrasounds, disappointments, and pain, over and over?

    Not all intended parents are rich. We have one car, rent an apartment, and my husband just was laid off. Surrogacy laws vary state to state. It is legal where I live, and insurance covers most of IVF. There are so many factors. If the surrogate loses health insurance, you have to insure her. You also supplement her life insurance policy to cover her family, pay all co pays, pay her attorneys, childcare when needed, housekeeping if needed, maternity clothes, a monthly stipend and more that are not included in that $25,000 fee. It is considered a pain and suffering payment, so not all surrogates pay taxes on it either. And for those who think health insurance shouldn’t cover IVF, we childless folks pay taxes for public schools.

    Surrogates (as Kuczynski’s carrier Cathy’s thoughtful comments clearly illustrate) do this for more than money. There is altruism involved. As many have stated, the money could never be enough. That is why my husband and I will try our best to start a college fund for our surrogate’s kids, outside of our legal agreement.

    Everyone who hires a surrogate would rather carry the baby themselves. We have dreamed of being pregnant. We may have been pregnant and lost children, over and over. Doing it “the normal way” is less expensive, and you get to experience childbirth. You can bond and enjoy the health benefits of breastfeeding and you do not have to give yourself painful shots, not to mention endure all the complicated emotions of having someone else do this for you (guilt, awe, envy, heartbreaking gratitude).

    My interpretation of Kuczynski’s “two deaths” comment only meant that she didn’t want to resign herself to the death of possibility – living with a “what if.” While I am a firm supporter of those who are childless by choice, partly because indeed, there are so many of us, I believe that the way I live and plan to raise a child likely does not have as big a carbon footprint as the one some childless couples or suburban families leave behind.

    As for Cathy having a computer — and being more like the author than different: This was so misunderstood. Because Kuczynski could not legally work with a carrier in New York, wanting someone who emails is not at all strange, or snobby — considering all the communication needed to make this work — from coordinating medicine schedules and embryo transfers to sending digital photos of ultrasound scans and growing belly pictures. If Cathy found Alex as despicable as NY Times readers do, she could have found another mother to work with. Her joy at finding out her carrier would vote for Obama is not that different from my happiness when I found out our intended carrier and I have a mutual friend. In a situation this strange, commonality helps.

    And as for the “baby nurse”…every working woman I know who can’t afford to quit working, but can afford to have a “nanny” does. Some may not use the term, but it’s a nanny, and it’s usually a Latina. So who policed their choices? Is it OK to have a nanny if your baby didn’t come as a result of IVF, but not if you had to work harder to be a parent? And what is a baby nurse? Someone to help for the first few months? A well-paid live-in RN? A nanny? Is it wrong for a first-time Mom to ask for help? How many couples can afford to have one parent not work?

    Did my Mom who got knocked up in the backseat at 18 have to get approval from a social worker to have a child? Do people ask fertile couples about their carbon footprints? Do people insist fertile couples adopt?

    I will concede the following: Alex Kuczynski doesn’t do the public opinion of surrogacy any favors whatsoever, and neither do the photos highlighting the very real class issues intertwined in the arrangement.

    Something is indeed wrong with a society where you can take a teacher’s salary yet not be able to send your kids to college, or where military wives become surrogates because we do not pay our soldiers a living wage. Indeed, there really isn’t a price big enough for what Cathy did.

    However, my surrogate, like most, loves being pregnant. She wants to get out of debt. She doesn’t want any more children. She doesn’t want to work outside of the home; she home schools.

    We have a contract. Technically she could abort our baby whenever she wants and even though it’s biologically ours, I would have no recourse whatsoever thanks to Roe v. Wade. I like Roe v. Wade, but I say all this to point out that this is much more complex than anyone judging Alex and Cathy realizes. I would guess they care for each other. You really can’t do this without some respect and trust for one another.

    The Times’ commenters took one of the most beautiful things in modern reproductive alternatives and made it ugly. Surrogacy can benefit all parties — if it is well-regulated, not entered into lightly, and if surrogates and intended mothers are supported in our society. But our society must continue to be one that fights for economic and social justice so that the arrangements are never coercive.

  24. denelian
    denelian December 9, 2008 at 1:41 am |

    just as an aside, really…

    we have all these stupid things that are surgeries. a century, “ovectomies” were performed to “treat hysteria” while caesarians wre considered risky (even though they had equal risks of infections etc). today we have penile implants, facelifts, VAGINOPLASTIES! – but we DO NOT have artifical wombs/ why???

    really, why? pregnancy is a HUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE risk! we have the tech for it, it would (at least help) answer a host of problems – accidental pregnancy? transfer to an artifical womb and place for adoption. risky pregnancy for whatever reason? artificial womb. “too old” or now infertile? artificial womb. gay couple? artificial womb.

    i am just fucking sayin’. it is BEYOND ludicrous that this has not been developed.

  25. denelian
    denelian December 9, 2008 at 1:48 am |

    that third sentence should read “a century ago…” sigh. i fail proofreading it seems.

  26. estraven
    estraven December 9, 2008 at 4:57 am |

    @ce: I totally agree with you.

    @Kathleen. Let me insist that some women would be happy to be surrogates, even with no money involved. I couldn’t really welcome another child in my family (I hardly have enough time, or arms, for the children I have already) but I certainly could manage another pregnancy. If it were legal where I live, I would be very happy to carry a baby for a gay couple I’m a friend of.

    @everybody that wrote “you should choose adoption”. Most adoptive parents I know say that adoptive parenting isn’t easy. Not because of the “it’s no kin” issue – because of everything else. The endless paperwork. The extra baggage the child (especially if it’s not a newborn) comes with. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

  27. Cynthia
    Cynthia December 9, 2008 at 8:06 am |

    WOW! Not only was this blog post one of the more thoughtful I have read on the subject (and I’ve read a LOT), but the comments have been just as thoughtful and have entirely avoided the usual degradation into name-calling, fighting, profanity and so on.

    I would just like to share the fact that I also am a Mom via surrogacy. Due to a malformed uterus, the result of a birth defect, I am unable to carry a child to term–I have had one very late term fetal demise and 8 miscarriages. We didn’t choose surrogacy because it was “easy” or “convenient”, we chose it because it was the only possible way for us to have a child that was related to us. Is it egotistical to want that? I don’t know. Maybe? In our case, both my husband and I are the very last of our family lines; both only children with no cousins. It meant something to us to have the possibility of letting our heritage live on in our children.

    Thank God, we found an amazing woman & her family who agreed to help us. She wanted to be a surrogate because her own sister struggled with infertility as well. She is a wonderful, amazing, giving person, who just happens to reside in the same general socioeconomic strata that we occupy–what I would consider upper middle class. She and her husband are very well educated and work in the medical field. It’s not like we took advantage of anyone! The compensation we provided to the surrogate will go to help her daughters pay for college. After one failed surrogacy attempt, we all were incredibly thrilled to find that we were expecting twins! My babies are 6 months old now, and the best blessing anyone could have ever bestowed on me and my husband and family. Our surrogate and her family are beloved friends, really more like family now, and will remain in our lives permanently.

    ce’s post was absolutely amazing and I really appreciated it! Surrogacy IS a beautiful thing. It also should continue to be regulated as it is, if not even a bit more stringently.

  28. Vail
    Vail December 9, 2008 at 9:07 am |

    In regards to problems with international adoption… USA is really cracking down on that. Many adoptions in some countries are in limbo until the country complies with International Adoption Guidelines. That way all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed to make sure that the children are orphans and not bought.

  29. ElleBeMe
    ElleBeMe December 9, 2008 at 11:03 am |

    “Thanks, everyone, for the positive feedback. This took me a week to write, and it’s really nice to feel like people are reading it and enjoying it :-)”

    It was superbly written….and covered both sides of it quite well.

    For me, “renting” another’s body/organs is so subjective….if they both consent, why not? But if there is a definite economic divide between the two, is it really consent, or is it a form of economic survival that places one’s body at ultimate risk to fulfil the desires of another…where one class is in perpetual servitude and the other continually benefitting?

  30. ce
    ce December 9, 2008 at 11:48 am |

    Thanks for the people who appreciated my long post…it was written with the NYT commenters in mind, who were so much less thoughtful than Feministe readers (well, and Salon’s too, to an extent). I think part of me does feel bad about choosing this option and wanted to work through the issues in writing, to rationalize, for lack of a better word. But I do feel fine about my choice. My carrier will likely be a lifelong family friend. Though she is in debt, I think of her 4 kids, and the fact she owns a home, and think that she is “richer” than us.

    I’ll be checking this blog regularly!

  31. Icewyche
    Icewyche December 9, 2008 at 11:58 am |

    I’m going to be in the distinct minority here, but as a staunchly childfree woman I had to weigh in:

    “And, at that moment, having a biologically related child felt necessary. What began as wistful longing in my 20s had blistered into a mad desire that seemed to defy logic. The compulsion to create our own bloodline seemed medieval, and I knew we could enjoy our marriage — our lives — without a child. Yet I couldn’t argue myself out of my desire. A child with our genes would be a part of us. My husband’s face would be mirrored in our child’s face, proof that our love not only existed, but could be recreated beyond us. Die without having created a life, and die two deaths: the death of yourself, and the death of the immense opportunity that is a child.”

    What I’m reading here is a lot of “me, me, me”. This couple already has six kids from Kuczynski’s husband’s previous marriages – it’s not like his face or his genes aren’t going to be around anymore. Why is it “necessary” that she has a child that carries her “special snowflake” genes? It’s as if that child isn’t a separate entity, but merely a human “Kilroy was here”, something to prove to the world that she and her husband existed, which all seems remarkably selfish. The fact that her experience is being hailed as a special, wonderful thing only underscores the societal babymania that leaves the childfree feeling so disenfranchised: Kuczynski chose to have a child via surrogacy because she simply HAD to have a child with HER OWN genes, of HER OWN bloodline. I chose not to have children at all because I don’t want them and can’t afford them. Guess which one of those choices is viewed by society at large as “selfish”? Hint: it ain’t Kuczynski’s.

    Sorry, but I just don’t see Alex Kuczynski’s choice as anything wonderful or special or even worthy of the attention being lavished upon her. It may be a valid choice, as Jill pointed out, but then so are cliff-diving and swimming with sharks and they don’t make a whole lot of sense either.

    And the whole “die without creating a life” thing is irritating because Kuczynzki seems to be peddling the ridiculous notion that our only reason for existing is procreation – if you don’t create a little replica of yourself, you may as well not even be here. There are many ways to leave your mark on the world that don’t involve adding more people to an already overcrowded Earth.

  32. Lalaroo
    Lalaroo December 9, 2008 at 12:42 pm |

    I’ve noticed a lot of people mentioning that they would like to adopt because there are a lot of kids waiting for homes that are difficult to adopt (because they’re older, disabled, nonwhite, etc), and I thought an article I read recently would be relevant.
    In the Washington Post, Jeff Katz reported that:
    – over 500,000 of the 600,000 women seeking to adopt would have no problem adopting a black child, and there are about 42,000 black children in foster care currently
    – 351,000 respondents said they would “accept” a child 6-12 years old – there are 46,000 kids in that age range in foster care
    – 185,000 said they would adopt a child 13 or older – there are 31,000 children in that age group in foster care
    – 181,000 said they would adopt a child with severe disabilities (the article doesn’t say how many children with disabilities are in foster care, but it has to be less than 181,000 because there are 129,000 total children in foster care)
    – 447,000 said they would adopt two or more siblings at once

    So if there are way more prospective parents for each child than necessary, why aren’t all the children adopted? The article blames the “bureaucratic and unwelcoming” adoption system, which I’m sure plays a huge role.

    Anyway, I just wanted to put that out there, because it made me feel happy. Like, it’s not cause humanity is terrible and there aren’t enough people who will love a “less-than-perfect” child – it’s because the government is incompetent. Much better!

  33. shah8
    shah8 December 9, 2008 at 2:43 pm |

    At this point in my life, I find ethics of the variety other than the one you apply to yourself to be wankery. I think most of such “ethics” to be bandaids on the general inequity of society, and even then, mostly used to take advantage of people.

    Big-time college “amateur” athletes in the money-making sports are a classic example. The “ethical issues” of such things are used by the NBA and NFL to forgoe the expense of a development league like ones MLB and NHL has. The money college administration makes (and they *do* make money, just sometimes not directly) also is a factor in promoting such a system. It all works because the college student are “ethically” prevented from benefiting from his or her work until an uncertain likelyhood of a job happens. What happens to whores, grad students and young political workers who don’t benefit from wingnut welfare cannot happen to young athletes who are televised without “ethics”.

    Bioethics is so damn murky that it really shouldn’t be a seperate field unless it’s highly multidisciplinary. It’s profoundly inseperable from class and race. Bioethics has generally been profoundly unhelpful in doing anything but figuring out how to do the unpleasant necessities of drug testing, surrogacy, adoption, or abortion without bothering the pretty little heads of the masses. Drug testing is done in Africa because there is too much red tape here, and nobody is willing to accept that you actually have to kill people (perhaps not really on purpose, but yeah on purpose) to find drugs and remedies that save people. Therefore people find ways to do it *really* unethically which sometimes leads to poorly done science as a result. Sometimes people don’t do a good job, and all of the real testing is done on unsuspecting customers. It’s not so bad if your ASUS or Microsoft, but it’s horrible if you’re Merk. Bioethics as a consideration upon itself, is a handmaiden for evil capitalists (people who want to make money by externalizing all the costs and keeping all the revenue).

    Bioethics *must* be a part of the *general* ethics of a society, and as with any ethical system, can not be unmoored as a field from the rest. The problems resulting from surrogacy, adoption, and organ donation result from bad ethics as a whole, and they are not amenable to some hastily applied rules derived from some “bioethics”. People should be allowed to do what they want with their bodies, with no other judges besides their own conscience. That a negative and coerced outcome is possible, is only possible because of the deeper ethics of the system.

  34. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 9, 2008 at 3:48 pm |

    What I’m reading here is a lot of “me, me, me”. This couple already has six kids from Kuczynski’s husband’s previous marriages – it’s not like his face or his genes aren’t going to be around anymore. Why is it “necessary” that she has a child that carries her “special snowflake” genes?

    …I don’t think anyone’s arguing that *he’s* in desperate need of more biological children. Criticizing her for wanting 1 when he has 6 seems a little unfair. Does the husband have more “special” snowflake genes than she does, that he gets a “pass” for so many kids? (She *does* mention wanting to see *their* combination/*his* features, so it’s a valid point, but I hear it kind of like blaming her for his previous abundance of baby-making.)

    I don’t think she’s being more “me, me, me” than anyone else in the world, she’s just under more scrutiny for it than people who have no problem having kids themselves. The husband doesn’t sound any less “me, me” but he’s a guy so the public finds it less jarring for him to be “selfish” than for a woman to have the audacity to want something without a “good” reason for it.

  35. Kathleen
    Kathleen December 9, 2008 at 4:00 pm |

    ce — I don’t see how the sadness and disappointment of infertility would change whether it is caused by genetics or environmental toxins. My baseline feeling remains that it is wrong to hire the bodies of others to spare ourselves disappointment. I feel the same way about organ sales.

    estravan — your point confirms mine rather than detracting from it; I didn’t say “surrogacy” would disappear. Like you, I am sure some women would remain willing to carry children for friends and relatives and a very few would offer it as a public service. I do think *commercial* (that is, paid) surrogacy would disappear in a world where wealth was equitably distributed. I could be wrong, but that’s what I think.

    Lalaroo — I am sure adoption systems are imperfect. However, just because there are people willing to adopt orphans doesn’t mean that every one of those households is an ideal home for a child. One point to keep in mind is that adoption, when properly administered, is for children and not for parents. That is, “wanting” a child doesn’t mean one can just run down to the local orphanage and ask to take a kid home. That “bureaucratic and unfriendly” system to which you refer is committed first to making sure the home is right for the kids in question, not that the desire of potential parents to have a child in the house is satisfied. Obviously, the news is full of stories where this doesn’t happen but it’s worth keeping those priorities in mind.

  36. Jen
    Jen December 9, 2008 at 4:16 pm |

    this is an excellent post and review of a terribly complicated subject. i too read the article and felt a lot of the same things you did – but i think that at the bottom of it, regardless of the content of the piece, prevails your most truthful statement –

    “When women write about their personal lives, it’s narcissistic. When men do it it’s literature.”

    how are we going to write about these difficult decisions without being judged? it seems almost impossible and i applaud Kuczynski for at least opening herself to that criticism. I don’t think she was naive to think she wouldn’t criticized for some of the more obvious reasons – but I’m glad that she’s made it more possible for women and men to think deeply about the difficult paradigms that exist around the idea of motherhood, especially when it comes to those who can’t conceive.

  37. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 9, 2008 at 4:21 pm |

    My baseline feeling remains that it is wrong to hire the bodies of others to spare ourselves disappointment.

    I agree that this “feels” different than other kinds of hiring/etc, but I can’t figure out a good reason why. We hire the bodies of others to do just about everything, so I’m stuck on where the line is between appropriate and inappropriate hiring (and no, I don’t expect you to have a perfect answer for that problem. Unless you are secretly Jeebus. ^^) Frankly, I’m willing to “hire” someone to stand up all day in a Starbucks and make me a latte for $3, and maybe get bad knees because they need the cash, and me going without lattes is a much less important disappointment than being unable to have a child if you want one. Getting lots of money doing something you enjoy (on the positive end of the surrogate spectrum) seems a lot nicer than going into minimum-wage standing-up-all-day kind of work, but one of them “feels” more disturbing or potentially exploitative than the other somehow.

    I’m distrustful of my “feelings” on this subject, because I can’t separate out the issues of class/race/etc sufficiently from my feelings of “babies are freaky stop having them!” which makes any gut feeling of mine about pregnancy suspect at best. :p And one is more normalized for me; there’s a Starbucks on every corner where I live, but surrogate mothers are less visible.

  38. ce
    ce December 9, 2008 at 4:29 pm |

    hi kathleen

    i was only saying that some criticism seemed to say if you are infertile it was ‘meant to be’ ie, you were born that way. most infertiles are not born that way. i didn’t say anything about how you got to be infertile somehow effecting your sadness level? not sure what you are saying there.

    i am renting a womb, if you will. and it is fine with the carrier. she has a fair contract and an agency and lawyer and supportive family looking out for her. i am not doing this to stave off disappointment, i am doing it to be a parent and have a family. i guess if you think it’s wrong, you will not do it. and i think it’s ok, so i will.

    some women who already have children hire surrogates. i do not have any living children.

  39. Icewyche
    Icewyche December 9, 2008 at 4:38 pm |

    Does the husband have more “special” snowflake genes than she does, that he gets a “pass” for so many kids?

    I can see where you’re coming from, bagelsan, and in all honesty I’m not giving him a “pass” for having so many kids – just how many Mini-Mes does anyone need, anyway? But the article doesn’t really go into Mr. Stephenson’s role in all of this; he comes across as more of a bemused observer than anything else. What bothers me about Kuczynski’s cri de coeur is that she is obsessed with having a child of HER GENES. It must be HERS, or she is somehow a failure as a woman because she hasn’t left any genetic markers on the world. She’s a fairly successful writer, she’s had to have some influence on the upbringing of her husband’s other kids, she admits that she has an excellent marriage even without children, yet to hear her talk (so to speak) none of it means anything – the world is going to forget her because she doesn’t have her very own biological issue. When are we going to get past the idea that a woman – that ANYONE – can be worth something without having children?

  40. Kathleen
    Kathleen December 9, 2008 at 4:38 pm |

    Bagelsan — the same argument is made about sex work and organ sales. ie, how is it different from working in Starbucks? I don’t actually have a great answer for this, and maybe I should be suspicious of my own feeling that surrogacy, sex work, and organ sales are different from, say, hiring a guy to shovel your snow if you don’t want to or can’t do it because you are elderly, have a broken leg, whatever. Maybe they are all the same. For sure snow shoveling services also depend on an unequal distribution of wealth, if people didn’t need money they’d only do it for friends and relations or if they really, really, really had an extraordinary love for shoveling snow.

    So, sure, maybe every kind of relationship and transaction, in a society in which inequality exists, is subject to the leverage of money and snow-shoveling and selling a kidney and paid surrogacy and buying sex are all groovy and ungroovy to the same degree. I have to admit I don’t have a brilliant theory as to why that’s wrong but I feel like it is.

  41. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead December 9, 2008 at 4:57 pm |

    Jill, this post is incredible. You’ve outdone yourself. This is a very fair post, which tries to take into account all of the possible feminist arguments and positions. It may be the best post I’ve read about surrogacy, much kudos.

    It’s problematic that the Times, again, focused only on the story of a rich white lady, married to a hedge fund manager on his third marriage who has already fathered six kids. It’s problematic that the article included relatively little context of the class issues tied up in access to infertility treatments. Instead, infertility is again represented as a rich white woman’s issue.


    He has SIX kids. SIX. I just shake my head in amazement.

    Again, great post.

  42. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead December 9, 2008 at 5:09 pm |

    And you know, I can criticize people for wanting their own bloodline, and I feel like I really mean it when I say it. Then, I get a photo of my grandchild with Santa Claus, that looks exactly like me. My daughter tells me that people often mistake an old framed photo of me (at age 3), for my grandchild–we look that much alike. And I admit, I am thrilled by that.

    This feeling of being thrilled–seems to bypass my Superego and go right to my Id–I am pleased at this resemblance–but why? I am ashamed of being pleased. I am pleased in spite of what I claim my values are.

    Maybe it’s some primal thing we don’t quite understand, but then, that sounds essentialist, so never mind.

  43. Kathleen
    Kathleen December 9, 2008 at 5:21 pm |

    Jill — yeah, I guess that is it.

    Daisy Deadhead — sure, biological relatedness is pleasing and delightful (or can be, it can also be the reverse!). but it doesn’t follow that experiencing that particular kind of pleasure is a fundamental right that trumps, say, concerns about the abuse of social inequality. I am sure being a great skier or having a lovely singing voice is also really pleasurable, but I wouldn’t want skiers or singers to feel guilty about taking pleasure in those things because I can’t do either. It does seem like some of the current debate over how to deal with infertility takes having a certain kind of full and fortunate life, a life that includes biological children, and says “it’s society’s problem if I can’t have a full and fortunate life of this kind!”. I’m just not convinced that is true. I think it’s society’s problem if you are denied access to things like education and healthcare, but if you can’t have biological children, and you really long for them, but absent money no one would want to have them for you, that is truly a kind of tragedy but it’s not a social ill.

  44. shah8
    shah8 December 9, 2008 at 5:32 pm |

    Jill, the intimacy, or specialness of certain kinds of work is quite often a means of not paying compensation for onerous responsibilities.

    People put pedestals underneath women and certain other individuals because it helps maintaing control over important processes without actually dealing with the details. All you have to do to measure the manipulativeness of the situation is by doing various versions of the Chris Rock challenge. Would a person take up the role if offered? Would a man *choose* to be a woman because of all the specialness of giving birth and nursing and childcare? Most men wouldn’t. However, are many/most men anything less than very interested controlling the result even though he might have had a very small role in the process.

    The general relunctance and the bad “moral” airs over renting a womb exists because the act implies that women can seek profit for herself. The issues of coercion is merely a distraction from the central issue at hand and the central characters involved.

  45. Lalaroo
    Lalaroo December 9, 2008 at 5:50 pm |

    Yeah, that’s fine Kathleen. I sure wasn’t saying that we should just send foster kids to live with whoever shows up to take them. The point of my post was to rebut the assumption that there are just too few willing adopters, and that’s why this woman is doubly wrong – not only did she exploit another woman, she didn’t adopt a needy child. There are in fact plenty of people willing to adopt, and in numbers that are so much greater than the number of children waiting to be adopted that I find it hard to believe that there wouldn’t be at least one safe home for each child. Regardless, if you read the article, you’ll see that the “unfriendly and bureaucratic” process doesn’t mean it’s too stringent. It just means it’s unfriendly – ie, asking someone two pages of sensitive personal and financial questions over the phone versus being invited to a meeting to inform prospective adopters and get them into a training program. There are ways to make the process less painful without sacrificing the safety of the children.

  46. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 9, 2008 at 5:53 pm |

    Icewyche– I definitely don’t think you’re giving him a pass (the article might be, though, if only by omission.) I just wanted to work off of your “snowflake” phrasing. :)

    In regards to her feeling validated, it seems likely that she *knows* that having children is not the be-all-end-all of being a woman (or a person in general) but she might *feel* that it is. It’s certainly non-trivial to control your feelings, even if you are perfectly aware that they are irrational or even wrong. So then I guess her decision would be between sort of “giving in” to cultural norms and pressures (and to her own *feelings* which may at least partially stem from those norms) or spending the baby money on counseling to feel better about not having a biological child.

    On a personal level, I certainly don’t think that I actually ever need to reproduce to validate myself, for example, but I don’t know that I’ll never *feel* like I do. So I don’t blame her for feeling a certain way (even if I disagree).

    That’s not to say we can’t critique how she handles her feelings of course! That’s what being a grown-up is all about, right? :p

    And Jill– that’s a good point about the emotional work. It doesn’t help me draw a line, of course (like anything is *that* easy!) but it’s a new way to frame my thinking, so thanks.

  47. kb
    kb December 9, 2008 at 5:55 pm |

    exactly-shah8 kind of touches on a point that bothers me about arguments against paying for surrogacy(or sex work, really, though that’s not the point of this post)-having a child, bearing a child are supposed to be “priceless” but how is that different from worthless? It’s an argument used to keep work that, in this case, only women can do valued low. Now, that said, I do think it’s telling that none of the surrogate candidates made more than $50,000/year. If there’s truly no element of economic coercion, shouldn’t there be women of all income levels who “love to be pregnant”? I’d think there’d be a more even distribution.

  48. ce
    ce December 9, 2008 at 6:09 pm |

    It’s certainly less common, but I once read about a wealthy women doing surrogacy in her late 30s – she said something along the lines of – she wanted to do something ‘bigger’ with her life, something along the lines of making a big impact on someone. It really is a certain type of person, and each arrangement/relationship is different.

  49. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 9, 2008 at 6:09 pm |

    If there’s truly no element of economic coercion, shouldn’t there be women of all income levels who “love to be pregnant”? I’d think there’d be a more even distribution.

    It seems like babies/adoptions sort of “filter up” the economic chain, with adoptive parents almost always being at least as well-off as the surrogate mother (I don’t have stats for this). Even if a wealthy woman loved being pregnant, and was willing to be a surrogate, she might only be willing to hand a baby off to someone of equal or greater means. If this *is* the case, women near the bottom economically have a much larger pool of potential adopters than women near the top, because a woman making $50k a year could be a surrogate for anyone making more than $50k, while a woman making $250k a year would only be a surrogate for the few percent of people making that much or more.

    (I’m basing this speculation on the middle-class idea I was brought up with that the more money the family has the better it is for kids; women who buy into this idea may see giving a child to a wealthier family as improving the kid’s life, while plenty of upper-middle class people would be horrified at forcing their offspring to make do with anything less than their own financial means, and so might be reluctant to hand the kid “down”.)

    /pure speculation>

    This isn’t to discount the inequality/coercion thing; I’m just curious how much of this phenomenon might be attributable to math, and how much is significantly distinct from statistics. <–*is a nerd*

  50. Droppin’ Links |
    Droppin’ Links | December 9, 2008 at 6:32 pm |

    […] says something remarkably similar and far more eloquent about Alex Kuczynski’s article in […]

  51. William
    William December 9, 2008 at 7:16 pm |

    Now, that said, I do think it’s telling that none of the surrogate candidates made more than $50,000/year. If there’s truly no element of economic coercion, shouldn’t there be women of all income levels who “love to be pregnant”? I’d think there’d be a more even distribution.

    I agree that the numbers are telling but, just to play Devil’s Advocate, I think you might be confusing coercion with incentives. Very few people work because they enjoy it, they work because they want or need things and need money in order to obtain those things. As in all cases, the more resources you have to begin with the more jobs you can afford to refuse. Women who choose surrogacy are unlikely to be wealthy because its a difficult, restricting, unpleasant job. If these were women in poverty situations I would see their choice as being one influenced by coercion, but it seems that the agencies which arrange surrogacy don’t allow women who make under a certain amount become surrogates. IF this is true (and its a pretty big if), then what we’re talking about is women who have made the choice that the job they are choosing is worth the displeasure they will suffer because they believe they will reap more benefit from the money they earn. Its the same basic principle behind overtime pay, fewer people want to do the job so more money is offered to make it worth someone’s while to volunteer.

    Surrogacy is a somewhat different situation from most other jobs because of the dangers involved, but we do have quite a few occupations which have serious intrinsic health risks. Firefighters are expected to run into burning buildings, fishermen routinely put their lives and limbs at risk in order to bring a luxury good to market, soldiers get shot at, window-washers fall to their deaths, trucker drivers get into deadly wrecks. I would imagine that you more poor and middle class people in these occupations than wealthier individuals but, with the exception of soldiers, I don’t think many people would consider their careers coercive.

  52. La Lubu
    La Lubu December 9, 2008 at 7:29 pm |

    What bothers me about Kuczynski’s cri de coeur is that she is obsessed with having a child of HER GENES. It must be HERS, or she is somehow a failure as a woman because she hasn’t left any genetic markers on the world. She’s a fairly successful writer, she’s had to have some influence on the upbringing of her husband’s other kids, she admits that she has an excellent marriage even without children, yet to hear her talk (so to speak) none of it means anything – the world is going to forget her because she doesn’t have her very own biological issue.

    Hmm. I was under the impression that because her husband is so much older than she is (twenty years), that she had little to no influence on the upbringing of his other children.

    Also, I’m bothered by a tacit assumption that women choose motherhood to “complete” themselves or be “more” of a woman, or whatever. Maybe one reason Kuczynski made so much mention of the desire for a biological child is because there isn’t much cultural space in the circles she moves in to speak of a desire to parent. That the work of parenting is not valued. Even octogalore (who really digs being a mother) used the phrase “more evolved” in reference to not feeling that “biological clock” (both terms in quotes being heavily loaded phrases in my book, FWIW). How much of that is internalizing patriarchal values—that one can’t speak of wanting to parent and expect to get the same regard as saying she wants to go to graduate school/join the peace corps/get an apprenticeship/tour the country with her rock band/whatever.

    However, just because there are people willing to adopt orphans doesn’t mean that every one of those households is an ideal home for a child. One point to keep in mind is that adoption, when properly administered, is for children and not for parents. That is, “wanting” a child doesn’t mean one can just run down to the local orphanage and ask to take a kid home. That “bureaucratic and unfriendly” system to which you refer is committed first to making sure the home is right for the kids in question, not that the desire of potential parents to have a child in the house is satisfied.

    The key phrase there is “ideal home” or “right home”—and who has the power to decide what is the “ideal” or even “acceptable” home. Most biological parents (including myself) would stand somewhere near a snowball’s chance in hell trying to pass muster as a “acceptable” candidate for parenthood as seen through the eyes of an adoption agency. Kinda like the “what would they say about you if you were dead” thread; the “what would they say about you trying to be a candidate for adoption” would make for pretty lurid reading too—which is why even some folks for whom the cost of adoption isn’t a barrier don’t even attempt it (or withdraw along the line).

  53. Icewyche
    Icewyche December 9, 2008 at 10:31 pm |

    Jill – But if individual women don’t buck the social norms, who will? *shrug* You gotta start somewhere.

    I suppose it would be fairer to say that I don’t see Ms. Kuczynski’s desire for A child as selfish (well, okay, not MUCH). It’s her insistence on having HER child, HER genes, HER bloodline that bothers me. It sounds too much as if she’s saying adoption or fostering wouldn’t be a option because such a child wouldn’t be “hers”. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but the whole article just creeps me out with Kuczynski’s single-minded fixation on replicating her bloodline. Her reasons for undergoing multiple rounds of IVF and finally choosing surrogacy seem to have nothing to do with the child she eventually wound up with, and everything to do with herself and her own wants.

  54. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan December 9, 2008 at 11:22 pm |

    It sounds too much as if she’s saying adoption or fostering wouldn’t be a option because such a child wouldn’t be “hers”.

    If she felt so strongly that an adopted child wouldn’t be “hers” it’s just as well she opted not to adopt. It’s probably for the best that she isn’t imposing that personal baggage on a kid. I think that it’s wonderful when people *don’t* feel that way and really *can* devote themselves to a child that isn’t biologically theirs, but admitting that you can’t be that (“selfless”?) is better than going ahead and adopting despite your issues just to prove how open-minded you are, and then messing the poor kid up.

    But if individual women don’t buck the social norms, who will? *shrug* You gotta start somewhere.

    …clearly some of *us* are bucking the baby norms, right? Maybe this woman bucks norms in other areas of her life. (Yes, that’s some pretty strong benefit-of-the-doubt, so sue me. :p I’m feeling weirdly more charitable the tireder I get tonight. I’m going to be like Mother Teresa by the time I get to bed…)

  55. Isabel
    Isabel December 9, 2008 at 11:58 pm |

    I’m distrustful of my “feelings” on this subject, because I can’t separate out the issues of class/race/etc sufficiently from my feelings of “babies are freaky stop having them!” which makes any gut feeling of mine about pregnancy suspect at best.

    Yeah, I have the same problem–like Jill mentioned in the post, I have never been able to contemplate the idea of reproducing without shuddering and have seriously considered having my tubes tied. So it is tempting for me to be like “why would you NEED your own biological child,” but then I remember that’s a lot easier for me to say because I don’t want one at all, much less badly.

    I don’t really have much productiveness to add, but this was a really good post, Jill.

  56. octogalore
    octogalore December 10, 2008 at 12:34 pm |

    I actually was not that familiar with Alex K’s oeuvre or backstory before this. Having looked into it, I wonder whether her story was chosen by Times because it’s more polarizing (and therefore more desirable, news-wise). This is an admitted plastic surgery addict and shopaholic who’s married a hedge fund millionaire on his third marriage who’s 20 years older, and a woman who’s known to lead a Dionysian life of excess (just stating facts, not opinions here).

    In fact, in many transactions between parent(s) and surrogate, there is less of an income difference, there are WOC parents-to-be, and there are also parents-to-be who don’t have hedonistic lifestyles. Is this portrayal deliberately set up by the Times to manipulate the commentary? I don’t think it invalidates the analysis, but I think it’s important to look at the journalistic sleight of hand here.

    Additionally, I am concerned that our analysis here is manipulated by, and falls prey to, the Times’ set-up of woman vs woman. When in fact, there is more often than not a male parent-to-be involved, sometimes two. On a feminist site, we should be careful of this, and I’m including myself in that as this didn’t occur to me on earlier reading.

  57. Kathleen
    Kathleen December 10, 2008 at 12:49 pm |

    Hey Octogalore, just to add fuel to your fire, while I am opposed to commercial surrogacy for the same reasons I am opposed to (gender-neutral) organ sales, you are totes right; apparently (I saw this on Jezebel, sorry I don’t know how to embed links) Thomas Frank has an essay coming out in the WSJ (!?!) that is a full-on attack on Alex K. Thanks, leftist guys! It’s always heartwarming when you use class as a battering ram to join a pile-on on a woman.

  58. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead December 10, 2008 at 1:02 pm |

    Thomas Frank

    Kathleen, ohhh no. :(

    Damn, I hate to see that shit from men I admire.

  59. Kathleen
    Kathleen December 10, 2008 at 1:29 pm |

    Yeah, totally — though I was never that much of a fan of TF, I thought What’s the Matter With Kansas completely ignored racism. But, yeah — like if you want to be outraged by the class system exploiting poor people’s bodies, how about organ sales? How about sex work? How about rich hypocrite “class warrior” Elliot Spitzer buying the use of poor young women’s bodies at thousands of bucks a pop?

    but no — it’s only when a wealthy, attractive woman with a published history of personal vanity dares to exploit somebody else’s body when his ire is really raised and he pours on the scorn for the public record. What a wanker.

  60. octogalore
    octogalore December 10, 2008 at 4:23 pm |

    Kathleen — consider it fueled :)

    As to your Q re why not sex work or organ sales exploitation as a way to discuss class- and race-related exploitation themes, I can hear the editorial muckety mucks: “Catfights sell better” (and yes, dudes talk this way on the left as well as the right). Plus, you know, many of them would be indicting themselves on the sex work thing. Easier to stay out of that one.

  61. octogalore
    octogalore December 10, 2008 at 4:31 pm |

    La Lubu — thanks re being a mom. And just to clarify, the “more evolved” thing was making fun of myself at an earlier age, or others with such views, not my current thinking.

  62. kb
    kb December 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm |

    William, I actually really do think it has more to do with being “women’s work” and traditionally unpaid than with dangers. because you pointed out more dangerous jobs that we socially approve of-admittedly not always for women, but we don’t try to claim fire fighters shouldn’t be paid because it invalidates their heroism or anything like that. and it is a reason that I’m not inherently against paid surrogacy and am against unpaid-why exactly is anyone other than the potential surrogate a better judge of what physical risk/degredations/inconveniences/whatever she is willing to endure as part of the job than the woman in question? they shouldn’t be. giving good job options to all women so that they can choose, heck yeah. trying to “protect” her by making it illegal? not a good idea.
    Bagelsan, I think you’re right, and for the reason you mention-we have the idea that a better life=more stuff, thus it’s always in a kid’s best interest to go from a poorer birth mom to a wealthier family, and never to do the opposite. From that sense, family courts shouldn’t ever allow a weathier woman to serve as a surrogate. how do we fix that.

  63. OH
    OH December 10, 2008 at 10:43 pm |

    Excellent post, great discussion. I’m an adoptive parent (of some young relatives who were in foster care for a time as young children). My partner and I were their foster parents for several years before adopting; we were not well-off at that time as we were both graduate students on very limited incomes. So we were working in and with the child and family services system. And it can be very hard: cold, unwelcoming.

    [That said, the welfare system REALLY varies from county to county, however. The first county we lived in was good–understaffed (as always) but genuinely caring and well run; the second I firmly believe was set up to punish and humiliate people who were seeking help.]

    The system is underfunded and cruel because it’s part of the welfare system in the United States. Americans as a whole have basically no interest in actually making the system functional and humane. Headlines scream every few months when a poor child is killed in foster care from abusive carers who “fell through the cracks” and then we turn around and cut taxes, cut budgets, talk about making the system leaner and meaner.

    Do not feel “happy” that these systems are just “incompetent” governmental agencies (Lalaroo, #37): it’s bad government because most of us don’t really care enough, in the end, about how poor people are treated by our government agents to demand change. That is our shame. All of ours. And there are better systems out there–not perfect ones, but better. I worked with a social worker here in the US, in the “good” county, who had 70 kids on her caseload. 70. The British social worker I worked with at the same time had 20 children, and she was part of a team.

    If all of us… would be adopters, child-free people, fertile people, etc…. loved “less than perfect” children as much as we like to see ourselves as loving them, we’d be out there visibly demanding better systems for their care. (I’m doing some work in this area, but I definitely indict myself here as much as anyone.)

    I was always aware how much better it is to be in that system once we were on the path to being adoptive parents (particularly being white, and middle class, by that time), than either as a foster parent or a poor biological parent. If your options are limited, you don’t have choices; wealthier people can always say: “I don’t like this scrutiny,” so I’ll try a different path. “This isn’t welcoming enough.” I don’t blame people for having or making this choice, but it’s a luxury, a privilege, to be able to walk away from, to be basically ignorant of these systems.

    I also wanted to point out this complex story on international adoption from Foreign Policy, which makes the point that very few children available for adoption in the world are orphans. And international adoption is, today, at base, about finding children for parents, rather than vice versa–and the article dances around this a bit, but, truly, that’s been the history of Western adoption, which has never been a full-scale child-welfare institution, but a child-finding institution, and we’ve exported that model world wide. No regulations will change that basic reality. (Everyone interested in transnational/transracial adoption issues should read the collection OUTSIDERS WITHIN (ed. Jane Jeong Trenka et al.))

  64. Lucy Gillam
    Lucy Gillam December 10, 2008 at 10:45 pm |

    Jill, I really want to thank you for this. I’m adopted, and I also conceived a child through medical means (primarily because my insurance paid for it), and I haven’t yet gotten into a discussion on the topic of infertility that didn’t leave me in literal tears of anger and frustration from one end or the other. I want to thank you for treating this as the complex, emotional issue that it is and not only avoiding but challenging reductive answers.

  65. Laura
    Laura December 11, 2008 at 10:30 am |

    I really wish the original author had been more examinate of her statement that “A woman going through the risks of labor for another family clearly deserves to be paid. ” From where does this belief spring? Are there problematic ideas beneath this statement? (I would say yes.)

    I also wish that she would have been more examinate of her desire for a child that was genetically hers. I don’t necessarily cite her for following through with this desire, but she seems to run with it without being more aware of where this desire comes from. She elaborates on the feeling, but not why she feels that way, what might be behind these beliefs, and if these bases are a sound reason to follow through on her desire.

    I may be judging her as a female-identified person more harshly than I would others, but the article seemed like it wanted to be introspective, but utterly fell short. I usually enjoy “life pieces” because of their introspection and examinations of thoughts, but this author didn’t seem to include that in her writing. Perhaps it was too private, but it really robbed the article of something that would have made it more compelling and easier to relate to.

    Also strange and underserved are the portions about the husband. When talking about the desire for a genetically-hers child, she writes only of the husband’s features, not her own. I don’t mean to cite the husband for already having six kids (“how dare he?!?!”) but the second-to-last paragraphs of the article really struck me. It makes me wonder if some of the husband’s ideas about reproduction influenced the author more strongly than she let on. Perhaps not, perhaps it makes more sense, given more context, perhaps the article was heavily edited and parts like that got left out.

    And of course I would have loved to see the author reflect on why she thinks that creating and raising a separate human being with its own identity is an “expression of love for one another” and is a path of immortality, but that is such a common narrative that many hold it as assumed, and many more accept it, unexamined.

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  69. Chloe
    Chloe December 16, 2008 at 3:19 am |

    Has anybody ever thought to interview some of these “black baby nurses” that we all seem to love treating as wallpaper? They are sentient, rational people as well and I’m sure they have interesting stories to tell about how they came to care professionally for other peoples’ children. Also, many of them are paid reasonably well, although of course that has a lot to do with how much the employer can afford, and poorer employers probably may much worse.

    I’m not excusing the general obnoxiousness of this particular type of mother, just saying that all these issues are complicated.

  70. mrs spock
    mrs spock December 17, 2008 at 1:23 am |

    Thank you Jill for including we infertile women when it comes to reproductive rights, even though it might not be the choice you’d make for yourself. I myself support a woman’s right to choose an abortion, even though I myself would not choose to do so. Why is infertility treatment different?

    I have to add that not all infertility treatment is expensive or to the extreme in the NYT article- though I fully support a women’s right to control her own body, whether it be to remain childfree, choose the number of children she has, have a homebirth, use contraceptives, have an abortion, or use IVF to conceive her children because endometriosis has irreparably scarred her fallopian tubes.

    There are conditions, like PCOS or abnormal clotting factors, that can cause infertility and also cause health risks throughout the lifespan. Often it is the desire to have a child that will lead a woman to discovering these risks, and thereby give her the knowledge to try and prevent further problems.

    It’s interesting that feminists can, on the one hand, vilify a woman like me for wanting to experience pregnancy and birth, and wanting to mother my children instead of focusing on a career, and in the next breath denounce the patriarchal devaluation of mothering. There is such a push as well for us to have powerful transcendent births and breastfeed for years- but if I need a little Clomid to remind my ovaries to work, I don’t get get to join that exclusive club. You don’t often hear fertile women who just fall pregnant being scolded for having a child. Or shamed because they didn’t consider adoption first.

    Infertility really isn’t a problem for rich white women. Run through my blogroll. Most of us carefully weigh our choices against our ability to afford them. That includes adoption. Often there are no real choices, because financially none can be afforded. For my family, even one round of IVF is a financial gamble we can’t afford. We feel incredibly blessed to have had successful lower tech treatments.

    I am totally supportive of a woman being childfree by choice. This job isn’t for everyone. There are other contributions that can be made to make this world a better place. This one is my first choice. I just wish those women who have never felt the urge to be pregnant or rear a child give me the same benefit of the doubt.

  71. Sheila
    Sheila January 2, 2009 at 3:02 am |

    ce: “If it is a moral imperative for the infertile to adopt, is it not a moral imperative for the fertile?”


    Granted, the adoption system seems to be very interested in disqualifying people from adopting. More interested in disqualifying people than in getting parentless children adopted, in fact! It’s weird. But, y’know, I really don’t think the bureaucratic difficulties are the main reason most people don’t consider adoption first. I think it’s their unexamined and often ugly attitudes about children.

    BTW, that article Lalaroo linked to is very much worth reading.

    Also, I am really disgusted by the way so many people (consciously or subconsciously) view children as a means of achieving immortality. Your child is not you!

  72. MaryR
    MaryR March 20, 2009 at 12:24 pm |

    Thanks for an unusually fair minded exploration of surrogacy. Some of the assumptions here are generalized, but that is minor compared to the vitriolic rants I’ve seen on the subject. I am a woman who has used a gestational carrier due to deformities to my reproductive organs from DES-exposure. My carrier was a nurse, making more money than me in her career. The economic coersion argument, while understandable, and so very sincere and well meaning, is simplistic (and I have to admit it is so foreign to my experience that it comes across as unintended humor to me). I feel very strongly that if anyone who finds surrogacy offensive actually became closely involved in a carrier and recipient couple situation, their eyes (and heart) would be opened to the miracle that it really is. The carriers take such pride in what they provide. For me, it was after several excruciatingly painful pregnancy losses that this woman came into our lives and it will never be the same. Ever. It has profoundly changed in ways I would never have thought possible (and the baby is not even born yet). Here is a great story. The one that helped convince me to move forward on my doctor’s recommendation to find a carrier for my embyros:

    Thanks for your good writing.

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