Thoughts on Surrogacy

When I mentioned to my husband about the “serial surrogates” on 20/20’s “Extreme Motherhood” show, and the fact that they were paid about $25,000-30,000, he jokingly asked me if I’d be a surrogate. Not that we couldn’t stand to have that much extra money, but I don’t think I could, for several reasons.

First, while I understand the desire of couples to have children from their own genes — my husband and I enjoy looking at our children and seeing features from each other or our other family members in their faces, for example — I don’t think that genetics is the primary “thing” in having children or raising children. I know numerous adoptive couples — most who could not have children for one reason or another, but a few that adopted children in addition to their biological children — and I would never say that they loved their biological children more than their adopted children. So, I would encourage couples considering surrogacy to instead adopt a child. Many of the adoptive parents I know have adopted across racial or ethnic lines, some chose foreign instead of domestic adoptions, and some have adopted older children.  While white newborns may be “hard to come by”, they are not the only adoptable children! One exception to this would be “snowflake adoptions” or embryo adoptions — adopting leftover embryos from couples who have undergone in vitro fertilization and have decided they don’t want any more children. If these embryos are not adopted, they will be destroyed.

Also, when adopting a child, you know you’ll be getting a living child; when pursuing having a child through surrogacy, the possibility of losing that baby at any time from implantation through birth is there. [Interesting side note just popped into my mind — when infertile women use IVF to get pregnant, they have, or seem to have, a higher rate of miscarriages and other fetal loss; I wonder if there is the same rate of pregnancy loss when fertile women use IVF to get pregnant with other people’s babies.] I’ve read enough infertility blogs to know that requiring multiple attempt at IVF to produce a living child is not uncommon.

I assume that the couple who chooses surrogacy to have a child has to pay, in addition to the surrogate mother fee of perhaps $30,000, all expenses related to the pregnancy and birth (which may include numerous IVF attempts, as well as all prenatal visits and the thousands of dollars surrounding the birth itself — although I suppose it’s possible that she could have her insurance be billed for most of it, and the other couple would just pick up her out-of-pocket expenses; plus any postnatal expenses for, as an example, longterm NICU care for premature triplets). This can add up to quite a lot! From various adoption stories I’ve heard, I assume most adoptions to cost in the neighborhood of $20,000-30,000 total, for all lawyer fees, plane tickets to China, paperwork filing, etc. However, I did read a disturbing article which pointed out some abuses in the field of adoption, with some white newborns being sold to the highest bidder for even $250,000. Quite revolting, and I assume and strongly hope, representative of only a tiny minority or adoptive couples or sleazy adoption lawyers and/or agents.

But enough of general reasons — onto specifics.

I’d be concerned that I would become too attached to the baby. Maybe I could keep myself emotionally distant enough to realize that it’s not “my” baby, I’m just gestating him or her, so that there wouldn’t be any qualms when the baby was born and taken to its parents; maybe not. I also have enough of a knowledge and/or belief about the in utero life of the baby to feel somewhat guilty about growing him in my womb, and have my smell and heartbeat and voice be most familiar to him, and then to be given to people who are strangers to him, even though they are his genetic parents or (in the case of “snowflake adoptions”) his adoptive parents. Yes, the same thing holds true about adoptions; but many of the couples who done international adoptions have taken their children out of orphanages which house and attempt to care for numerous children at once, and cannot possibly give care to them individually. I think it is better for them to come to a completely new place where they will be loved as a son or daughter than to be kept in an institution, no matter how familiar.

I’m not sure I’m done with my own child-bearing, and I wouldn’t want to put my own future fertility in jeopardy so that someone else could have a child. Perhaps that’s selfish, but that is a consideration to me. This consideration has several branches to it.

Unlike one of the “serial surrogates,” I simply could not use my own eggs and adopt out my own babies, so I would have to undergo implantation of embryos from in vitro fertilization. Since they often implant two or even three embryos in the hope that at least one will take, it is not unlikely I would become pregnant with multiple children. I wouldn’t want to have twins or triplets, but would refuse “selective reduction,” since it is a form of abortion. Yet, twins and triplets are frequently born by Cesarean — many times necessarily, many times unnecessarily — and I don’t want to set myself up for that possibility.  It would be one thing to do it for my own child, but another to do it for someone else. I’d do it; but sitting here not pregnant, I wouldn’t want to do it, so wouldn’t want to set myself up for that much higher possibility or probability when I don’t have to.

The more children a woman has, the higher the risk of certain complications, including neonatal mortality. While first-born children have higher perinatal mortality than subsequent children, I think once women have 5-6 children, the risk increases yet again. Also, there are maternal risks associated with grand multiparity — particularly with repeat C-sections, and with the VBAC situation as it is in many areas of the country (including mine!) of no VBACs allowed, or being very difficult to attempt, I wouldn’t want to end up with a necessary C-section for a surrogate baby, and then forced “elective” repeat C-sections for any future children I might have — surrogate or my own.

I daresay that the average surrogate-adoptive family would not like the idea of their baby being born at home, and I would really not like the idea of giving birth in the hospital without a good reason. Call me stubborn. Would it not be hypocritical of me to refuse an epidural with my own kids (because of potential negative side effects I’d rather avoid), but have an epidural with somebody else’s? Yet I do believe that I’d probably have an epidural if I were to give birth in a hospital, and am only surprised when people have a hospital birth without an epidural. There would likely be other factors in this “baby’s parents telling surrogate mom what to do” area that would also make me less likely to become a surrogate mother.

In years past, back when my sister was having her miscarriages, and didn’t know if she’d ever be able to carry a baby to term, I thought about (in a kind of fantasy soap-opera world) being a surrogate mother for her. Or maybe other women I knew who could not have their own children. While part of that appeals to me — it would be a great gift to a loving mother — the only reason I’d become a surrogate mother, in light of all that I’ve said above, would be for the money. And I don’t think that’s the right reason; nor do I think it’s enough money to overcome all the personal objections. You remember that movie — I think it had Demi Moore, Robert Redford, and Woody Harrelson in it, although I never watched it — in which R.R. played a very wealthy man who offered to give D.M. and W.H. (who were married) a million dollars if she would just spend the night with him. A million dollars is a lot of money; but is any amount of money enough justification for adultery, and cheating on your loving husband? It’s so mercenary and base. That’s the kind of reaction I have to my own cogitations about becoming a surrogate mother for the money — it’s just crass. Nor is money a good enough reason to overcome the objections I have.


My take on 20/20’s “Extreme Motherhood” Show

There were five segments on this show (the links will take you either to the video itself or ABC’s write-up about it): 1) Orgasmic Birth; 2) “Reborns” — lifelike newborn dolls; 3) Extended Breastfeeding; 4) Serial Surrogate Mothers; 5) Homebirth and unassisted childbirth (UC).

Orgasmic birth? Yes, please! Who wouldn’t rather have an orgasmic birth than a painful one! Actually, for me, the birth itself was relatively painless; I’d just be happy not to have back labor next time. It was very interesting watching this segment of the show, because the women seemed to attribute their birth orgasms to lots of prenatal preparation — one woman specifically mentioned hypnosis, and the other women shown talked about being able to transform in her mind the labor sensations from “pain” to “pleasure”. Makes me want to start studying now for an orgasmic birth. 🙂 (No, I’m not pregnant.)

Reborns. I’ve seen these lifelike dolls before — back nearly a year ago, I was tag-surfing on WordPress when I saw a picture of what I thought was a baby, but the blogger identified as a doll. I checked out her blog, which had some fantastic close-up pictures of her dolls, and I was just amazed. They were so life-like — down to tiny arteries and veins in their skin! And I thought no more about it. I’m a little concerned about the women who treat these dolls as if they were people — much like I wonder about some people who treat animals as if they were babies or children. While I can deeply appreciate their maternal desires, I think they should find a better outlet for them. Even if they could not qualify as, or would not want to be, foster or adoptive parents, they could still find avenues to mother those who need mothering — a real-life person who could benefit from their care, rather than an inanimate doll who is no better nor worse for such treatment.

Extended breastfeeding — the meaning behind that depends on the user. I’d think most people use it for nursing longer than 12-18 months or so; as used in this segment, it was nursing children at 6 or 8 years of age. Not my cup of tea; but I could appreciate the mothers’ and children’s points of view when it came to breastfeeding. It was a little weird seeing those children over toddler age nursing, but unless there is some harm from it, I don’t see a problem. The only negative the psychologist could come up with is a theory that an older child being comforted by nursing could somehow interfere with his ability in the future to self-comfort. The negatives mentioned actually made me more of a proponent of long-term nursing, because what he said about older children I’ve heard frequently mentioned about infants and toddlers — basically a bunch of “what ifs” or “maybes” or “I thinks” without any actual data to bolster the opinion, and with evidence to the contrary (which would be these children’s older siblings who also nursed long times and were very well adjusted). Sometimes I wished I still nursed my younger son (about 2&1/2 years old), and frequently I regret weaning him when and how I did. Had I not weaned him, he probably would still be nursing, and might nurse for another year or so — just judging by his personality.

The “serial surrogates” were two women who were surrogate mothers multiple times — the American had 8 surrogate children, in addition to her own 3 children, before finally ending up with a hysterectomy; while the English woman had 12 surrogate children in addition to her own 2. Both women eventually became pregnant with triplets as part of their IVF pregnancies. Part of me agrees with the statement made by the English woman — “you do it once or twice and people say, ‘Oh, how nice of you to help these couples out’; you do it a lot, and people say it’s wrong. Why is that?” But, just as one might eat a doughnut or two without going overboard, one couldn’t eat the whole dozen without being identified as a glutton. There is a certain element of moderation necessary in most if not all aspects of life. While the American woman had only surrogate babies who were not genetically her own, the English woman had several babies by doing an intra-uterine insemination with the man’s sperm — using her own eggs. And one time, she ended up using not just her own egg, but her boyfriend’s sperm (she said they only had protected sex, so it was accidental) — so she did give away her own children, since she was a “surrogate” using her own eggs. She said her father was upset with her for doing that — giving away his grandchildren. She didn’t see it like that, but that is exactly what she did, every time she gave away a baby that was conceived from her egg.

The final segment was a combination of home birth and unassisted home birth. I didn’t like that there was no distinction drawn between the two. Especially considering the distinction that Ricki Lake and others who were involved in The Business of Being Born, make between the two — of supporting midwife-attended home birth but not unassisted birth — I was dismayed that this segment made it appear that she supported unassisted birth, and that her own home birth was unassisted. It was sloppy journalism. Probably, the producers of the 20/20 segment wanted to capitalize on her celebrity, but wanted to keep the “extreme” nature of UC, so accidentally-on-purpose neglected to mention that there were two different things under consideration. Furthermore, it made it seem like the only home births available are the “do it yourself” kind, as if home-birth midwives don’t exist! For many women who might like to give birth outside of the hospital, they might be turned off by the idea of home-birth if they think the only kind is unassisted. That doesn’t seem to make home birth more desirable or “normal,” if/since most women who might have a home birth would want a midwife to attend them. Finally, in the opening of this segment, they conjure up images of the Old West or of colonial times in America, making it sound like women had only unassisted births at these times. While it is true that numerous women must have been completely without a knowledgeable and supportive older woman, a midwife”, throughout the centuries, those were likely a tiny percentage of births. It is also true that in olden times, midwives didn’t have certain equipment and certain levels of knowledge that we have today (oxygen machines, pitocin, ultrasounds, sterility, the scientific studies now available), so old-time midwives were limited, compared to modern midwives, on just what help they could afford their friends, neighbors, and clients. Yet that doesn’t mean they were helpless or of no benefit. Modern midwives (as well as doulas) still use a lot of the same skills and techniques to help a woman through labor and birth, so that she doesn’t need a lot of the equipment and other paraphernelia available today. But we also have emergency services — including hospitals, ambulances, and C-sections — when the need arises. Which reminds me of another thing I didn’t like about the narration in this segment. They brought in Abby Epstein’s emergency C-section with the “but what if something goes wrong” in the background. Well, I think her C-section was an example of everything going right. Had she not been able to get a C-section when needed, that would be “going wrong”; but just needing a C-section is not “wrong” so much as “unplanned.” Had she been planning a hospital birth, complete with an OB her entire 9 months of pregnancy (or a little less since I think the birth was pre-term), and everything else happened just the same — she went into labor early, with a baby in breech position and small due to IUGR, would anyone say that “her birth went wrong” when she went to the hospital for a C-section?

“Extreme Motherhood” on 20/20 this Friday

At least, it’s supposed to air this Friday (I believe it still airs at 10 Eastern, 9 Central, but check local listings). The last few times it’s been scheduled, it’s been preempted at the last minute, so I’m not holding my breath. But, just in case it does, I’m passing along the info!

Here is what I’ve heard:

Segments include homebirth (both unassisted and midwife assisted), serial surrogates (women that have numerous babies for other women), “fake babies” (life like dolls), long-term breastfeeding, and orgasmic birth.

We’ll see what it ends up like. My expectations are fairly low, so I know they won’t be dashed, but I’ll be curious to see how it finally ends up.