Many would agree that parenthood is a selfless act. But, selflessness begins the moment when the woman becomes pregnant. It is a great sacrifice to give up one’s body for almost 10 months and to endure all of the emotions that come with pregnancy. But, parents would unanimously agree that it is worth the struggle when holding one’s child for the first time. Suppose a woman endures the emotional and physical strains of pregnancy and childbirth, but does not end up with a baby to raise and care for at the end of the journey. This seems like an even greater sacrifice because the woman does not receive the product of her labor. This situation describes what it is like to be a surrogate mother. Although it may be emotionally challenging, women should consider being a surrogate because being able to create life is a gift and it is a privilege that a woman should experience in her lifetime.
My interest in surrogacy began when I watched the movie Baby Mama. In this film, a hard working, single woman is trying to start a family. She has tried to adopt a child but realizes that adoptions can take years and she does not have time to waste. Although she has healthy eggs, she does not have a healthy uterus, making it challenging for her to support a pregnancy. So, she hires a surrogate mother and the two quickly become involved in each other’s lives and are both able to experience the joys and discomforts of maternity.
Although I related to the hard working woman, I have never had a longing to raise a family. Rather, I have considered what it means to be a surrogate mother and what it means to be a woman. I find it empowering as a woman that I have the ability to control the future generation. I have been trusted with the responsibility to create life. This is not something that should be taken lightly. The world population has reached an all time high, there are more children looking for adoptive parents than ever before, and many parents do not provide their children with the love and support that they require for normal development. So, I feel strongly that women do not appreciate or even understand the power that they have over reproduction.
However, I am also very interested in medicine and the human body. I find pregnancy and psychology very fascinating which is why I would like to experience pregnancy firsthand. This is problematic for someone who does not want to be a parent. Before researching this topic, I thought that surrogacy would be a possibility for me to experience pregnancy from a medical perspective, yet avoid the consequence of raising a child. However, this is not actually a possibility for me. Most surrogacy agencies require surrogate mother applicants to have had successful pregnancies before to ensure that they know what to expect. In fact, the ideal surrogate candidate: “(1) is 21 to 45 years old, (2) has had at least one pregnancy that resulted in a live birth, (3) has a support system in her life, (4) has had no more than five vaginal or two cesarean deliveries, (5) is physically capable of carrying a child to term, and (6) has no mental or health problems” (Dooley).
I was disappointed upon discovering that this may not happen for me, but it made me realize that the women who are surrogate mothers, undergo this journey for the other 2 main reasons. The first reason for a woman to become a surrogate is to be able to give another person or a couple the gift of life. I would argue that this is even more selfless than the typical pregnancy. In fact, it is common for women to become surrogates for friends or family members who need help starting their own family. Most cases of surrogacy involve maternal infertility or inability to carry safely. In this situation, surrogacy is the only option for some couples who want their children to be of their same bloodline.
In general, infertility affects about 10% of US childbearing age couples (Batten). Researchers are finding that as more women enter the workforce, starting a family is becoming deferred to a later age when more fertility problems arise (Batten). This is problematic in our society because “pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding are biological processes, they also have socially constructed elements—the meanings that our cultures attach to them to make them important” (Leyser). Although more women are recognizing that motherhood is now an option, most women feel the social pressure to have children because motherhood is a part of a woman’s status in American society. In fact, women tend to take responsibility for infertility, regardless of which partner is infertile. Many women resent their bodies for not getting pregnant as easily or normally (Leyser). A desire that was once innate is now an expected check mark in life.
Those who are unable to conceive often broaden their definition of family, realizing that the goal was to parent and have emotional intimacy, irrespective of biology or pregnancy (Leyser). In cases of surrogacy, whether through the use of egg or sperm donors, parents have the newfound control over genetics. Surrogacy proves “the ability to claim or disown ancestry through the use of their genetic material or that of others” (Leyser). This is especially important for parents who have a greater risk of passing down diseased genes. In this circumstance, surrogacy can create healthier children.
The second motive for becoming a surrogate mother is for the compensation. Depending on which agency is used by the intended parents, most surrogate mothers earn between $20,00 and $30,000 for their services (Batten). This only seems like a large sum of money when in fact, it breaks down to about 26 cents per hour, on average. Considering that the major group of women who become surrogate mothers are of lower economic status compared to the general population (Dooley), they are at risk for being exploited for their reproductive abilities. Some may see this as “commodifying” a baby (Batten). Many opponents to surrogacy argue that it is equivalent to baby selling. As of 2009, 12 states refused to recognize surrogacy contracts and a handful of states made it a crime to arrange surrogacy contracts for money (Batten).
Surrogacy has been a controversial issue because of the confusion surrounding women’s rights and reproductive rights. Contrary to my personal beliefs as a feminist, some feminists oppose surrogacy because they do not believe that women freely choose to become surrogates and do not feel any economic pressure to do so. Some feminists have described surrogacy as “reproductive prostitution” (Batten). I disagree with this belief. Feminism is about empowering and supporting women, womanhood, and women’s rights. So, if a woman wishes to use her body to empower and support another woman, she should have the right to do so. If feminism is about women linking arms and supporting one another, why does this mentality not apply to reproduction? After all, most cases of surrogacy involve maternal infertility. Even if a woman becomes a surrogate mother with the financial reward in mind, her intention to help another family in need is also a factor. Most women will become surrogate mothers while raising her own children as a stay-at-home mom. This allows them not only to fulfill their role as a parent, but also to help another couple while still generating a source of income. Surrogacy enables women to reap all the advantages of womanhood.
Last month I attended a lecture held by Dr. Bobbi Lancaster, a transgender individual who spoke about her journey and the challenges that she has faced before, during, and after her transition. She expressed that she has never been this comfortable in her own skin before. Yet, she still does not feel like a woman. She said that because she never had to experience menstruation, worry about being late on her cycle, and not being able to experience pregnancy, she was missing out on the experience of being a woman. This proves that both genders have the same definition for motherhood and womanhood, although the two are separate. I hope that one day the tie between motherhood and womanhood can be broken so that transgender individuals can find peace with who they are.
There is no federally mandated reporting system of surrogacy statistics, so it is difficult to find accurate information on this topic. However, surrogacy is becoming more popular, and also more complex as a legal issue. This also means that surrogacy is drawing in more attention from various groups. Interestingly, surrogacy is not as talked about as abortion, adoption, and birth control. But, it should be. Reproductive rights are being examined and because this topic relates to many other topics such as familial structures, homosexuality, and gender equality, I hope that it will be discussed and regulated in the future.
The medical miracle that is surrogacy has created families that truly want children. If I were a surrogate mother, I would feel assured that the individuals will raise the child to the best of their abilities. After all, most pregnancies are unplanned. No other form of parenthood is more prepared and longed for as much as surrogacy. Mothering by proxy has allowed couples to become families and has allowed women to appreciate and utilize their bodies more responsibly.
Dooley, Brigitte, and Jason D. Hans. “Surrogacy.” The Social History of the American Family: An Encyclopedia, edited by Marilyn J. Coleman and Lawrence H. Ganong, vol. 3, SAGE Reference, 2014, pp. 1305-1306. Gale Virtual Reference Library, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u
c0543267aa27f000. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.
Lancaster, Bobbi. “LGBT Research, Community, and Lifestyle Experiences.” 18 Nov. 2016, Chandler, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Brown Bag Lecture.
Leyser, Ophra. “Infertility.” Encyclopedia of Motherhood, edited by Andrea O’Reilly, vol. 2, SAGE Reference, 2010, pp. 564-569. Gale Virtual Reference Library, ez1.maricopa.edu:
2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3021600296&it=r&asid=a896fcdb57986f1901559ed2a7955920. Accessed 12 Dec. 2016.
“Surrogate Motherhood.” Gale Encyclopedia of American Law, edited by Donna Batten, 3rd ed., vol. 9, Gale, 2010, pp. 450-457. Gale Virtual Reference Library, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/
&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX1337704245&it=r&asid=a5f2251c5830fad699739b83bd33b34b. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.