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Grey Areas: Surrogates and Cybertools

From now on I’m crowdsourcing everything. Grey Areas is a masterstroke.

So! I have been thinking about this lately, but am yet to come across any feminist blogging on it: what’s the feminist stance on surrogate mothers and the mothers deciding to keep their children? On one hand, that is most definitely breaking some type of contract, usually coupled with extorting the couple who is following the surrogate through her pregnancy, but on the other, it’s the woman’s body, and she is still allowed bodily autonomy. So what’s the right answer? I am leaning towards, if the surrogate decides to keep the baby, she should cough up all the money the couple was giving her and pay some sort of fee for flaking on them, but I’d like to hear some other perspectives on this.

[Note: Sometimes men are surrogates because some men have wombs.]

What is the Feminist Stance? I have no idea. TBD gets one request of the Feminist Godhead a month, and I got drunk last week and wasted it on a question about Vajazzling. But I can give you the perspective of a Gay Dude who has had babies on the BRAIN recently. On one hand, the scientist in me knows that this biological clock stuff is just a evolutionary manipulation that I could easily ignore and live a much simpler life. On the other hand: Tiny Outfits. TINY OUTFITS.

This very question is the reason I’ve resolved that if I ever employ a surrogate, I’m going to find someone willing to donate eggs so the child isn’t biologically related to the surrogate. On one hand, I can certainly understand the terrible choice a surrogate is faced with in keeping a child when there are people waiting to start a family. For this reason, I’d shy away from any punitive measures against the surrogate – it isn’t an easy choice to make, and we shouldn’t demonize the person who makes it. However, the fact of the matter is that the surrogate’s pregnancy costs money, and whoever raises the child should pay for it. It wouldn’t be fair to sidle the potential parents with the bill and possibly kill their dream of parenthood because they spent their savings bringing a child into the world that would never be theirs.

A Facebook friend whom I have always privately suspected to be a huge douchebag has recently taken to posting really nasty misogynistic things about GIRLS NOT WEARING ENOUGH CLOTHES ON THIS CAMPUS or being INSUFFICIENTLY CLASSY or “hey if you are not attractive just accept that dress in a way that does not offend mine eyes,” complete with massive concern trolling about OMG YOU HAVE SO LITTLE SELF-RESPECT. Should I:
1) reply with the angry screed I initially drafted (much hissing and flailing),
2) calmly explain what is wrong with this picture in the hopes of reaching him or one of the 20-odd people who “like” his statuses, or
3) silently defriend him and field awkward questions about “HEY DO YOU TALK TO SO-AND-SO I THOUGHT HE WENT TO YOUR COLLEGE”?

[ETA DISCLAIMER: You are, of course, not obliged to do any of this. Facebook has a dynamic that is different from the rest of the Internet, because the people you are engaging with are closer in proximity. If there is a chance that calling this douche out for misogyny on Facebook will lead to retaliation in the real world, just block him and don’t fucking worry about it.]

1. Before you do anything, you need to realize something: You cannot stop him from saying these things. You can’t. That would require you to convince Facebook to deactivate his account, and that just isn’t going to happen, because free speech. So if his endgame is to make you angry and get a rise out of you, and your endgame is to get him to stop, all he has to do to win is continue doing what he is doing.

2. When you push past all the surface shit that makes you hate him, you’ll find really deep-seated shit that makes you pity him. Once you see him as pitiful, it will be easier to pick him apart without letting his shit make you angry. Most bullies, when they are being attacked, have a standard repertoire that they launch at critics, hoping to anger or silence them. Most of them don’t have a plan B if that doesn’t work. So let’s talk about him for a moment.

3. He believes that his misogyny makes him unique. Does he know Feminism exists? Of course! But he’s too much of a free thinker, too much of a rebel to listen to tiny ladybrains. He thinks “I know this shit isn’t POLITICALLY CORRECT, it isn’t what I’m SUPPOSED to be saying, but I think for myself.” And how does he show what an original mind he is? BY UNCRITICALLY DEEP THROATING THE PATRIARCHY.

4. Someone told him when he was very young that it was a man’s job to control women. But they overdid it. Because he will never be able to control women as much as he thinks is his right. Porn, advertising, and the patriarchy have given him a clear idea of how women are supposed to behave, and he’s too fucking stupid to realize that real women aren’t going to be his blow-up doll.

5. Think of yourself as a scorpion. A feminist scorpion. Your plan should be to deliver a quick, stinging attack, and then end the conversation. As soon as you do that, he’s going to want to engage you in debate, because he wants control over you, because you are a woman. When he can’t work your poison out, he’ll tell himself and his cronies a tidy little story about “that stupid [slur] that blah blah blah” and gleefully go back to his misogyny.

6. Sit down, type out a response to him that is sufficiently cutting, and at the end of the response say something along these lines: “I know it is desperately important to you what other men think of you, so you are going to respond to this like you think what I said was funny or ridiculous. But we know better, don’t we?” Nobody wants to have their actions anticipated, and it will really piss him off. After that defriend him, block him, and ignore any responses from him or his ilk.

Let us know how it went down.

If you would like to have your question answered, drop a message in my ask box.


  1. Siobhan wrote:

    Interesting. When someone is sufficiently hateful, I unfriend first. If and ONLY if they ask for an explantion do I point out they are a misogynistic asshole. I’m kinda of the opinion that by the time they are mid-20’s, either they know it’s not ok and don’t care or are surrounded by people telling them it is (20 friends who like) and either way, they are unreachable.

    In other words, I write them off as someone who has elected to not be a human being, and have no need for them in my life.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  2. Alex wrote:

    As a fellow gay dude with babies on the brain recently (and whose partner has had babies on the brain like, forever, because OMG TINY OUTFITS is right!) this is especially interesting to me.

    I like the use-an-egg-donor idea. I’m interested in knowing about the legalities, though. Does the sperm donor partner have some kind of legal claim to custody? Could it conceivably work out that option 1 is gay dudes get full custody and option 2 is gay dudes and surrogate mother agree to share custody? I know probably less than zero about the law, but I have seen Queer as Folk, so that’s the extent of my knowledge of homoparenting.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  3. IrishUp wrote:

    w/r/t surrogateship: In open adoptions (for instance), the biomom has a certain amount of time after the baby is born, during which she can legally rescind the adoption. IIRC, the time allowed varies state-to-state, but the adoption is NOT complete until that amount of time has passed. In these sorts of adoptions, the adopting person(s) pay the medical and living expenses related to the pregnancy. If the biomom choses to keep the baby, the potential parent(s) are still on the hook for that money. Otherwise it is a coercive pressure on the adoption: ie – even if I don’t want to give up my baby, if I keep hir, I will owe thousands of dollars. This would be ethically unacceptable. IN THEORY – and much elsewhere on the interwebs breaks down how adoptions in FACT have all kinds of ethical problems – USian adoptions need to be free of coercion and profit.

    Surrogate mothers of any gender should not be subject to coercion either.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink
  4. IrishUp wrote:

    Hmm, I just realized how difficult it is to write about the biological act of gestation and baby birthing using gender neutral language.

    * resumes think-think, think-think-thinking *

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  5. Graphite wrote:

    With the facebook thing – I have actually done surprisingly well having this kind of conversation with facebook friends. But then, I have the luxury of most of my facebook friends being essentially decent people who don’t WANT to be assholes, and know I like debating and are willing to actually listen, and the rest of them being eminently defriendable.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  6. Gnatalby wrote:

    I agree with IrishUp, it would be unduly coercive to have the pregnant woman essentially forced to pay back all of the costs, unless it were an extremely lenient long term loan or something.

    The problem, as I see it, is that it’s important to protect marginalized people from people with money and power. Most surrogates are doing it for the money which means the other party has a great deal of control over them. Yes, they have something the rich party wants, desperately, but they still lack real world control.

    There will also still be assholes like the woman in Michigan who said the prospective mother was unfit for parenting due to her disability. That is completely shocking and terrible behavior, but I *still* think the surrogate should be legally able to keep the baby even in that sense, because it isn’t Margaret Atwood land, and poor women shouldn’t be baby farms for the wealthy.

    I will still reserve the right to think that woman–and most women who renege on this– is an asshole.

    It’s kind of like how I think that people who cheat on their partners are the lowest kind of scum, but I don’t want them to go to prison for it.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Gnatalby wrote:

    And by “even in that sense” I meant “even in that circumstance.”

    Flustered typing.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  8. Mike wrote:

    Garland, I think you have mastered the art of Dealing with People on the Internet.

    If you’re in to that sort of thing:
    Elizabeth Anderson on surrogacy,;2-0&

    -Kind of academic argument about why we should ban commercial surrogacy. She primarily argues against the case in which the child is related to the surrogate.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  9. Jadey wrote:

    I have three approaches to the Facebook thing, which vary depending on how much I care about the relationship involved:

    1) Don’t care at all. Unfriend at will. Spend the next hour or so linking relevant fabulous articles on my wall (in the guise of general interest) that shred the unfriended person’s stance and make sure that mutual friends know where I stand. I like to think of it as a subtle psychological warfare.

    2) Kinda care. Respond with either a) “Not cool” (to the point, hard to argue, and doesn’t give the nasty idea anymore credit or energy than it deserves) or b) “I don’t understand” (in the case that forcing the person to explain the implicit logic of a joke or comment will reveal their thinly veiled attitudes for what they are in an embarrassing manner). If the explanation of the comment is unabashed, then a follow-up application of strategy 1a can be used. Also, again following up with a strategic link-bomb of my own wall.

    3) Really care and it’s really sensitive and difficult to deal with through public wall exchanges. Talk to the person privately in whatever mode is most appropriate/accessible, work through it as best as possible, and, once potential tensions have been managed, link bomb the hell out of my wall and possibly post a note of my own.

    I also do a lot of prophylactic link-bombing (obviously won’t work for everyone – I’m in a good position with friends, family, and colleagues). It’s hard to have me on your feed and not know my politics. I assume I am filtered as necessary. I know I get a lot of positive feedback from people who appreciate the links and who share their own. It’s the only thing about FB that I actually like.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  10. Nicole wrote:

    Jadey- I like #2 a lot, and I’ve had some success with it too. I’ve occasionally gone a little more aggro than that and into “That [racism/sexism/entitlement] is NOT flattering on you.”

    The only problem is that opens me up to mansplaining, which runs rampant on Facebook. blarg.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  11. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    Re the Facebook thing, IMO you first decide whether you want to ignore, or release tension on a deserving target, or persuade the person on some point that you have. If the last, in this sort of situation, one good approach is to avoid attacking on a wide front, with broad principles, and/or violently, and instead pick a relatively small part of something the person said that you think is easily, demonstrably, clearly problematic in the sense that the offending post is, or advocates, being really shitty to somebody who is innocent, undeserving, and hopefully worthy of sympathy. Maybe even use mild / light / veiled sarcasm and hyperbole. Maybe make some wild-eyed statement FOR their point that will make even them say, without realizing your intent, ‘Whoa, that might be taking it a bit too far.’ Something like: ‘Yeah, I know what you mean about those Jews. In high school they made me read The Diary of Anne Frank, and man, the world sure is a better place for the Germans having removed her from it.’ A person who really agrees with such a statement can be written off as a sociopath. A person with a shred of human decency will recoil from such a statement, which is a great way to open the discussion on a broader front with them already heading in the direction you want. I would still tread slowly and cautiously at that point, but you will have made a significant inroad, and maybe in some way converted someone.

    The power of a narrow idea that will receive broad sympathy, maybe even for a wide range of unrelated reasons, to act as an intellectual wedge, is considerable. Would it be crude, or in poor taste, or too outré for me to say that, for example, the promise of watching Clea DuVall get it on with Natasha Lyonne might get a hetero guy to watch But I’m a Cheerleader (which, IMO, is a masterpiece)?

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
  12. CassieC wrote:

    I’ve thought about surrogacy and giving babies up for adoption a lot differently after reading this testimony

    and also Dan Savage’s description of adopting his son in an open adoption, and seeing the horrific grief and misery of the mother (who WANTED the baby to be adopted) when she had to part from her baby. Giving birth is not like producing a car from a factory, and I don’t think these discussions can happen without understanding how difficult it is for the mothers. We should listen to them first, and then WE should try not to be inhumane assholes (@gnatalby).

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink
  13. CassieC wrote:

    And I’m also against the “well then you give the money back” argument. Economic coercion is a terrible thing, especially in the US or third world countries (lots of surrogate mothers in India, for instance), where people are so desperately poor. “You can keep your child but you won’t have any resources and your child won’t be able to eat” is not really a choice.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink
  14. k not k wrote:

    Woo, “Gray Areas”! I didn’t come up with it, but I did vote for it.

    Re: Facebook, I’d probably just defriend the guy. Before getting into fights in any venue I usually ask myself whether it is really worth the stress and the misunderstandings, etc; to me, it would not be worth it in this case. If he asks why you defriended him you can always say “I was tired of reading all your passive-aggressive messages addressed to women on our campus who don’t dress how you want them to dress. We women can decide how we would like to dress, and dudes like you need to STFU about it.” But really, why bother? Dude is a mess. And nobody is going to ask you to EXPLAIN why he’s not on your facebook. Seriously.

    Re: surrogacy, I really hadn’t thought about this issue that much except to think that I personally wouldn’t be able to carry a child to term and then give that child away. A family friend, who’s deeply Christian, was date-raped and got pregnant from it; she planned to give her child away for adoption but said that as soon as she saw her baby’s face, she couldn’t give her daughter away. Reading the Shakesville post CassieC just linked, I can imagine the painful situation my friend found herself in. I could never condemn a woman who found that she couldn’t give up the child she carried to term.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 7:03 am | Permalink
  15. Simon wrote:

    Just wanted to say that your note that some men have wombs pretty much made my day. Thanks for acknowledging that it is not only women that we talk about when we talk about pregnancy.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  16. Samantha B. wrote:

    The hypothetical itself kinda makes me cringe. If you know of women that are using their wombs to extort money from would be parents, then maybe you should explicitly name a case or two? Otherwise it starts to hint at misogynistic fantasy. Damn those women who want some say on what pops out of their own bodies!I hear they are everywhere, and they are tricky, tricky, tricky! They “extort,” which is completely inappropriate, of course, because there’s nothing *remotely* exploitative about the hiring of a woman’s body for piles of cash. From what I’ve read, there are women for whom surrogacy is a very positive experience, but it is it my place to judge those for whom it isn’t but felt swayed by the really, really big amounts of $$ on offer?

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  17. Garland Grey wrote:

    Good conversation, good energy. Does this dynamic change when the baby isn’t genetically related to the surrogate? Because all of the cases of surrogate retention I found were ones where the surrogates eggs were used. Also! I didn’t find a lot of cases of those. Surrogate retention seems relatively rare. Most of the cases I found were ones where the intended parents didn’t go through an agency or get a lawyer.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  18. Just stopped by to comment and say that this: “He believes that his misogyny makes him unique. Does he know Feminism exists? Of course! But he’s too much of a free thinker, too much of a rebel to listen to tiny ladybrains. His thinks “I know this shit isn’t POLITICALLY CORRECT, it isn’t what I’m SUPPOSED to be saying, but I think for myself.” And how does he show what an original mind he is? BY UNCRITICALLY DEEP THROATING THE PATRIARCHY.” is particularly lovely and brilliant and I’ve never been able to ARTICULATE it this way but I am so glad you did! Great post.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  19. Also, I agree with Siobhan at the top of the thread who recommends un-friending. Honestly, I feel that much of the time the struggle isn’t worth it, so unless it’s family or someone I need to deal with on a regular basis, I axe them and never look back. Usually people that abhorrent don’t notice you’re gone anyway, to be honest. I once gleefully told a co-worker I deleted him because his conservative political stumping was giving me a headache, and he just looked at me in disbelief. Ya gotta do you.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  20. Gnatalby wrote:


    I don’t think *I’m* being an asshole when I say that a woman who decides to keep the baby because she is prejudiced against the disabled is an asshole. And really, there is no constitutional right to have everyone think well of you. As long as I would protect the right of the surrogate to keep the baby– which I do– I don’t think I’m obligated to think well of her too.

    I also think it’s important to have some sympathy for the people who think they are going to become parents and then are suddenly surprised to learn that no, they will not.

    I think the surrogate, eggs hers or not, should always have the option to keep the baby because women aren’t farms, but I do expect that the disappointed prospective parents will likely think the woman who changes her mind is being an asshole, and I’m not going to tell them they can’t feel that way. Consider that in those cases you’re likely talking about gay couples or couples with infertility problems, they also deserve some sympathy.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink
  21. Garland Grey wrote:

    So to summarize the TBD consensus, the surrogate has a right to keep the baby, whether or not it is genetically related to hir, the intended parents have the obligation to pay for the pregnancy, whether or not this prevents them from having children in the future. Because by avoiding that financial issue, or treating the intended parents like faceless billionaires, you are tacitly agreeing that because they cannot bear children themselves, they needn’t be considered.

    Which is perfectly fine to say, I mean you got to break a few eggs, right? and it IS in our best interest to protect the rights of the bewombed, since those rights are constantly under attack, but you are still ignoring the fallout of that one person’s decision.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  22. Gnatalby wrote:

    @Garland Grey: I would hardly say a consensus has been reached, and I don’t think anyone is treating the intended parents like faceless billionaires.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  23. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    Insofar as one finds that there are multiple people who have legitimate claims to being a baby’s parents, IMO the discussion ought to center on what is in the baby’s best interest. Now what that is can be very hard to say, no doubt that’s the real can of worms, and I hardly claim to have the wisdom of Solomon. But the baby is always totally innocent and arguably the most likely to be a victim.

    Also, to me, “surrogate” is more properly used to refer to a woman who carries a baby conceived with another woman’s egg. When the same woman both provides the egg and carries the baby, calling her a “surrogate” maybe seems to diminish the fact that she is the mother. Calling a mother a surrogate or anything else relies on some fiction created by law or agreement, and it might not mean much except to shed light on her motives for becoming the mother. With rare exceptions, if we’re going to attach important consequences to people’s motives for becoming parents, wow, is that maybe a tough issue perched on a slippery slope leading to an abyss? I am really, really hesitant to think that any law should enforce an agreement whereby a mother can be made to give up her child. (Which is not to say that the mother should be able to revoke, after the fact, an adoption that she freely agreed to.)

    Regardless, I’m sure such things provide gut-wrenching moments for many of those involved, who may well be very decent and sincere people. I hope I have not offended any by offering my personal opinions.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  24. IrishUp wrote:

    I think that one of the problems is that surrogacy LOOKS like some kind of commodity trade from the outside. You cook this baby for me, I compensate you for said cooking. In this respect, I see no reason to treat a surrogate any differently from an open adoption. Frankly, the level of DNA relation of the intended baby to the surrogate person is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    The problem is this: The possessor of said uterus is NOT a factory, and the product is NOT a commodity. Moving babies around absolutely SHOULD NOT be an act of coercion, so really, there should not be any financial risk OR benefit to the person acting as the surrogate. In that light, I think the possibility of the deal going down poorly – hey, miscarriages anyone? how about birth defects, preterms, pre-eclampsia, etc? – is a risk assumed by both surrogate and potential parent party (PPP), but it’s the PPP’s job to make sure that neither the financial NOR emotional consequences of their own choice to seek out a surrogate, affect the surrogate’s autonomy. And that is what is being weighed – the hopes and $$$s of the PPP vs the bodily autonomy and personal risks undertaken by the surrogate.
    It’s not a purchase and sale, ok? The physical and emotional changes involved with carrying a baby to term, not to mention allowances for the passage of time, and not knowing exactly what kind of effect a (generally deeply moving and affecting and lasting, whether positive or negative) experience will have on you, mean that what everyone needs to NOT be an asshole about, whether we’re talking open adoption, surrogacy, or any other kind of parenting, really, is the fact that there is a good chance that at the end of the deal, SOMEBODY is going to be all jacked-up about how the deal is/was supposed to go down.
    I call that the person who puts hir bodily autonomy on the line in order to bring a baby into the world gets the final say, full-stop. If that is an unacceptable condition to you, I suggest you consider other options to fulfill your parenting dreams.
    (@GNATALBY, seriously, unless you have been in the position of facing whether or not to give up the child YOU JUST HAD INSIDE YOUR BODY FOR 10 MONTHS (yes 10, 40wks is not 9 months, and my pregnancies both went 42+wks), lay off the asshole talk. Even if you have, please lay off the sweeping generalizations like “I will still reserve the right to think that woman–and most women who renege on this– is an asshole..” [emph added] because your experience is not all experiences. Your reframe in #18 is completely different from the quote I put above from #6. THAT statement doesn’t even have anything about sympathy for the disappointed potential parents, it was a about calling some person who probably went through a year of effin hell, an asshole.)

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  25. Gnatalby wrote:


    Okay, but I was referring to a specific case, details discussed here:

    Do you seriously see NO problem whatsoever with what that woman did? Again, I would still protect her legal right to keep the child, but some people have bad reasons to do things, and it’s disingenuous to act like everyone is completely sympathetic and thus entitled to more rights or complete monsters who shouldn’t have them.

    My comment at 18 didn’t have a thing to do with your comment, so I don’t know why you are calling it a reframe of your comment.

    And you don’t know shit about my life, so why don’t YOU lay off calling me an asshole.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  26. Gnatalby wrote:

    On a reread, I think I misparsed “Lay off the asshole talk” to mean lay off talking like an asshole, rather than lay off talking about assholes, so please disregard my last paragraph.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  27. IrishUp wrote:

    GNATALBY – No, I totally get why you, or anyone would consider what that woman did the work of a Total Fucking Asshole (h/t Kate Harding). The TFAness, ableist fail in how that woman went about what she did speaks for itself.

    That said, what does one make of “–and most women who renege on this– ” in reference to surrogacy, if it is not calling “most” who chose to rescind the surrogacy agreement assholes? Completely uncalled for. It appears to have nothing to do with sympathy for the (I can easily imagine) disappointed-to-devasted no-longer-parents-to be. As framed, it also appears to paint all surrogates who have or will rescinded with a brush colored with that one woman’s actions – also uncalled for. Also consider, it frames the very real pain that people who HAVE surrendered a baby they birthed to the contracted parents as Not Assholes by Virtue of Enduring Years of Pain But At Least They Didn’t Renege.

    And I do apologize if I could have framed my objection better. The subject hits very close to home for me, and I might not have been as careful as I usually try to be in addressing behaviors, not real feeling people.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  28. Gnatalby wrote:

    No, your wording was fine, it was a reading fail on my part.

    Perhaps I went too wide in saying “most women who renege on this are assholes.” As it happens, this and Baby M are the only cases I am familiar with where a surrogate tried to keep the baby. I would be interested to know if this is much of a real issue or just a hypothetical situation to rile us up.

    I guess the thing is, no matter what reason the surrogate provides, the prospective parents who are paying for her medical bills and everything are probably going to regard her as an asshole if she changes her mind, and, as in the Michigan case, it’s possible she really is an asshole.

    What I was trying to get at is that there is a difference between hurt feelings and harm. If we treat surrogates like baby factories that is actually harmful to them. If we allow the surrogate the autonomy of making choices about her pregnancy and the child that results and she decides to keep the child there may be things said about her that hurt her feelings, but there will not actually be any harm to her.

    In that scenario the prospective parents do lose money, but perhaps surrogacy needs to be seen as a bit of a gamble, rather than purchasing a baby, and that would allow people to determine how much they feel comfortable risking.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink
  29. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    @Irishup–re: “The possessor of said uterus is NOT a factory, and the product is NOT a commodity.”

    Agreed. But to continue your factory analogy, neither an egg nor a sperm is a raw material, and whatever you think of when life begins / when human life begins, an embryo is about as far removed from a raw material as you can get. To suggest that a couple who provides their embryo to a woman for implantation and gestation has little or no interest in the resulting baby strikes me as a tad difficult to defend. No?

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  30. Jinian wrote:

    I really wish there were a way to donate eggs without a months-long ordeal of hormone treatment and invasive procedures. I’m one of the relatively early human results of alternative insemination, from back before the moms even got catalogs — your doctor just asked for your husband’s ethnic background and height! I’d have liked to give back to the donated gamete pool, but not that badly.

    As far as surrogacy, well. Speaking of months-long, invasive, hormonal ordeals. It’s hard to come up with a scenario in which the surrogate and the parents are treated with the necessary respect and investment when there’s the same old King Solomon problem that subdividing the baby ain’t gonna fly. (Shared custody seems like an option for some cases, but did you ask to tie your life to the surrogate’s forever? Not so much.) I definitely think that having the embryo be YOUR embryo and not genetically the surrogate’s would help, but pregnancy is a huge emotional deal; having carried and given birth to any baby, people are likely to want to change their minds. It seems like some form of insurance should be possible, but I doubt any current providers are on top of it. Maybe a co-op arrangement to insure surrogacies, like the funeral co-ops some people belong to?

    Artificial wombs are the really right answer, of course!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  31. julian wrote:

    Garland Grey, do we have your permission to use the phrase “UNCRITICALLY DEEP THROATING THE PATRIARCHY” to refer to peeps such as the referred person?

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Permalink
  32. GGeek wrote:

    Re: adoption, birth mothers, etc., the most illuminating things I’ve read on the subject happened over at Fugtivus. For those interested:

    On the subject of Facebook, I see one of my best friends struggle with how to reply to assholes all the time (makes me glad I don’t have FB), and from what she tells me, it seems like the most effective policy is to see the assholes for the trolls they are and not feed them. Whether that means simply not responding or outright blocking is up to you and probably depends on circumstances of your Real World relationship to said assholes. But first and foremost, don’t feed the trolls.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  33. IrishUp wrote:

    @N’Awlins Contrarian:
    I suggested no such thing.

    To be even more clear: I think the ethical issues involved with surrogacy are a hot-buttered mess with a side of hash-browned judicial fail.

    I hate the “my dna, my kid” arguments, because at their root, they are nested inside the kyriarchical framework of owning other human beings. Children are not property, even granting that many people can and will have legitimate interest in the health, welfare and upbringing of any individual child.

    That said, the DNA argument is outside the scope of my position. Without a uterus, the gametes are just cells in a petrie dish.

    Currently, uteri capable of turning human gametes into born humans are only found inside people. People have the right to unfettered choice regarding their body, including the uterus that may be inside that body, as well as any gametes or intended to be person growing inside that uterus, regardless of the activity which originally resulted in that material being inside that particular uterus inside that particular person.

    The person undergoing the pregnancy is, in fact, surrendering some of their own autonomy at the same time that they use their body to bring forth a baby, insofar as pregnancy can and does bring about permanent changes to a person that may well be outside of any contractual agreement of a surrogate/ adoption, or may exceed what a person would have agreed to before hand were it a known consequence. My argument is therefore that it is the pregnant person who sacrifices the most, who puts hirself at the greatest risk, and who should have the ultimate say in what happens to the born baby. Giving the potential parents that ultimate say has the effect of turning the surrogate into nothing more than an incubator – it’s a form of slavery, really. That is an unacceptable loss of autonomy.

    I am not saying that an ethical, mutually satisfying, harmonious and beautiful surrogate pregnancy and subsequent birth, etc. are not possible. I am saying that the only way such IS possible, IMO, is if the surrogate person’s autonomy and ability to decide to keep the child is treated exactly the same as if zie had conceived and birthed said baby in any other fashion.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  34. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    But isn’t saying, ‘She who bore the baby gets first dibs on the baby,’ just as kyriarchical (kyriarchial?) as saying, ‘My DNA, my kid’? Did I misunderstand your statement, “[I]t is the pregnant person who sacrifices the most, who puts hirself at the greatest risk, and who should have the ultimate say in what happens to the born baby”? To give whoever made a bigger ‘investment’ in (sacrifice for) the baby a preferential position in getting custody disputes seems to promote what you objected to. No?

    In more conventional / traditional child custody disputes (say, biological mom and biological dad divorcing), many (probably most) places decide custody based largely on what is believed to be in the child’s best interest. Granted, typical custody arrangements are less radically restrictive and final than what we’re discussing here. But if we reject on principle claims to an ownership-like interest in the baby, then the main basis for deciding should be the baby’s best interests, right? (Assuming we can determine what those are—which will not always be easy!) Why should the guiding principles be different here than for a conventional custody dispute? And after all, the baby is the one person who had no say in any of it, and therefore should receive the most preferential, beneficial treatment, especially relative to those whose voluntary actions put the baby in the position. No?

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  35. Kiri wrote:

    What is the Feminist Stance? I have no idea. TBD gets one request of the Feminist Godhead a month, and I got drunk last week and wasted it on a question about Vajazzling.

    LOL. I love you, Garland.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  36. number eight wrote:

    re, the egg question, or “whether or not [the baby] is genetically related to hir”, from someone who probably could be, but never has been pregnant or had a child:
    Does it even make sense to find a general rule as to this question?
    For some pregnant people, it might change how they feel about the fetus/baby. For these, the egg donor option might be a good start in making things easier.
    For some, the link they might feel could come through the pregnancy itself, living with a growing living being inside them for a long, important part of their life.
    Or through anything else.
    In that case, it wouldn’t be of any help to devalue these feelings in insisting that a missing genetical relation must always make a difference.
    I guess you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell beforehand if this would make a difference for you. I don’t know if I could.

    So, I guess there’d be a difference in from which end you start that question: Talk and chose between all involved before the pregnancy and decide on what really happens afterwards – or decide on a rule beforehand and stick to it no matter what.

    And second (or third?) the decide-on-what’s good for the child, with no idea either on how to know.

    And, difficult question.
    (What kind of a society forces people to incur financial risks for their pregnancies, anyway? But that’s not helping. Would sharing the costs from the beginning and the person carrying the pregnancy getting the second half back only in the case of an adoption be any better?)

    And, great column.

    Friday, October 22, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  37. Erin Leigh wrote:

    “On one hand, the scientist in me knows that this biological clock stuff is just a evolutionary manipulation that I could easily ignore and live a much simpler life. On the other hand: Tiny Outfits. TINY OUTFITS.”

    YES! Except I’d add say “evolutionary AND societal manipulations.”


    Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  38. Elle wrote:

    I think, legally, a surrogate only has an option to parent a child if the child is genetically related to her. If the child is produced from the egg and sperm of the prospective parents then they are entitled to parent the baby. The biological parents have the right to parent as far as I know.

    Otherwise, it would be pretty shitty if you paid some woman to carry your biological child and then she just decides she’d rather parent the baby. The biological parent should be able to decide what the future of the child is.

    And yeah, that reduces surrogates to incubators, but the reverse is taking away the rights of biological parents to raise their own child. If the surrogate is the biological mother, the whole situation is different though.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink