In my experience with surrogacy, people fall into one of four categories in their opinions:
A) Surrogacy is the most amazing thing a woman can do for another person and anyone who does it should be given a medal. Or at least a huge hug.
B) Surrogacy is pretty cool. Good for you for doing it. Those twins sure are adorable! Is this next journey going to interfere with you coming to my wedding/executing my students’ IEP/helping with this project you said you’d do?
C) Surrogacy is kind of weird. I hated being pregnant with my own kids; I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that again if she weren’t being forced by societal standards of motherhood. Also, there are serious ethical dilemmas it raises, of which I haven’t entirely decided my opinion. But to each his own.
D) Surrogacy is wrong; it’s human trafficking and takes advantage of poor uneducated women in a manner akin to sex slavery. Gay parenting is wrong. Have you read Leviticus? You are now going to hell both for your part in the creation of unborn embryos and in promoting gay parenting, who will no doubt raise gay, dysfunctional children.
I have been incredibly lucky that the majority of my friends and family fall into the A and B category, with an occasional C thrown in there. I only had one who could be classified as D, but being my grandma she is required to love me regardless, so we mostly agree to disagree. Likewise, even acquaintances and random strangers have responded positively. A few seemed perplexed, especially when the news came from my daughter, who, whenever the cashier or hairdresser or waitress would say something about her pending brother and sister, would quickly and loudly respond, “They’re not our babies. We’re giving them to our friends.” Always fun.
Because this is my second journey, I’ve answered most of the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions to everyone I know. Because my previous IF was a politician in Israel, I’ve also been on the receiving end of the A and the D from complete strangers, who have no hesitations in either sending me heartfelt thank yous or calling me a baby-selling whore. However, because I’ve moved (to conservative rural Oregon at that) and have a new job, I am expecting to have to explain the process all over again.
So, once again, to answer the most common questions and comments:
How does this surrogacy thing work?
A gestational surrogate is a woman who carries the biological child of another person to birth. The embryo is created from an egg donor (often times the Intended Mother, IM) and sperm (often times from the Intended Father, IF). In gestational surrogacy, there is no biological connection between the surrogate and the baby. The surrogate takes a series of medications prior to transferring the embryo to essentially trick her body into thinking it’s getting pregnant all on its own. The embryo, usually when it’s three to five days old, is then transferred via catheter into the surrogate’s uterus. If all goes well, the embryo sticks and about 38 weeks later a baby is born. Prior to all of this, however, is the legal process, which includes matching the surrogate with compatible Intended Parents, and contracts to outline all of the details, compensation arrangements, and plethora of “what if” scenarios.
Along the way, you get to have really interesting conversations, both with strangers and your spouse. Like this one:
Me: I’m kind of crampy.
Spouse: Are you pregnant?
Spouse: Do you want to be (nudge nudge, wink wink)?
Me: Not from you.
Spouse: So you’d rather get pregnant from two gay guys?
Spouse: Can I watch?
Me: You can come to the embryo transfer if you want.
Spouse: You are no fun.
Me: I told you I was crampy.
How can you give up the baby after carrying it for nine months? Won’t that be hard to separate?
The canned surrogate response is this: I’m not giving the baby up; I’m giving it back to its parents. I am just babysitting for nine months.
My response is this: No. It absolutely will not be hard. I have three children of my own. Three beautiful, amazing children whom I love very much. But three children who even on our best days drive me bonkers and make me question my validity as a mother and decent human being. All three are out of diapers (even out of night-time pull-ups as of last week!!!), sleep in their own beds more nights than not, and can easily access the snack cupboard and open up their own granola bars and squeezey applesauce. It’s a beautiful thing. I love me some baby snuggle time, and I’ll be grateful to hold this one as much as I can. But I have absolutely no desire to ever again spend sleepless nights nursing a baby just to have him spit up most of it down my back twenty minutes later. Gestational surrogates go into this process knowing that the baby isn’t ours, genetic or otherwise. Seeing my first IFs hold their babies is the third most amazing feeling in the world—preceded only by holding my own babies and watching my husband hold them. I can’t wait to give that same experience to J & A.
I can understand a completely altruistic surrogacy for family or close friends, but being paid for having a baby is human trafficking.
Surrogacy compensation is for the pain and suffering of being pregnant, not for the baby. Have you ever been pregnant? If the answer is yes, then you know how much pain and suffering is involved—regardless of if it was an easy pregnancy like mine have been. There are drugs and shots and unbelievable hormones.
Then you’re pregnant and there is morning sickness and heartburn and sciatica pain and ligament pain and stretch marks and tiredness (Ain’t no tired like first trimester with twins tired!!). Then there’s the actual labor—pushing an eight pound moving object out of a relatively tiny hole, or, in my last case, having your abdomen cut open and your bladder set on top of you as they physically rip the baby out. If you already have kids, that pain and suffering extends to your family, in the form of being too tired to cook or clean, not being able to pick up your younger children, having to put up with your excessive moodiness, and ensuring that the freezer is adequately stocked with both Ben & Jerry’s and Talenti Gelato, because you never know what mood I’ll be in. Your attention is focused on the baby and that impacts your family.
So let me reiterate:
1) The contract is very clearly outlined that it is for the pain and suffering of being pregnant. The amount of compensation received is for that and is not dependent on the outcome of a baby. Every contract is different, but overall an ethical surrogacy contract will compensate based on the amount of time pregnant. Unfortunately, just like any pregnancy, surrogacy pregnancies do not always result in a live birth, and regardless the surrogate is compensated for the time she was pregnant.
2) The baby is wanted. The baby is loved. The baby is going to a home with parents who have been cleared through a psychological evaluation, which is more than can be said for most babies brought into this world. The only trafficking this baby is going to be doing is from my hometown to its new home in San Francisco.
Surrogacy takes advantage of women living in poverty, forcing them to make a choice no logical woman would make if she wasn’t constricted by financial needs.
Surrogacy in developing countries and surrogacy in the United States are two different situations, entirely. Because I am not as familiar with the processes abroad, I will only speak to surrogacy in the US.
I am not living in poverty and I made that choice. Most of the women I know love being pregnant. They can’t imagine their lives without their own children and want to help someone else have that. Most whom I know are in similar financial situations as myself—they’re making ends meet, paying the bills and having some fun, but not living the high life. Some are better off. Some are worse off. But none are living in poverty. In fact, most reputable agencies do credit checks and won’t accept surrogates who receive government assistance, because one, living in poverty is stressful and excess stress doesn’t do well with pregnancy; and two, surrogacy should not be a job. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with being compensated for surrogacy, it shouldn’t be necessary for financial survival. A successful journey is not guaranteed, and it is not a good idea for a woman to be reliant on the total compensation. Surrogacy is emotionally and physically demanding, and financial compensation cannot be the only reasoning.
Compensation can be one contributing factor in the decision-making, but it should not be the only one. For most women I know, myself included, the compensation is helpful in achieving some goals that might otherwise be just out of reach. Paying off student loan debt. Down payment on a house. Family vacation to Disneyland. Upgrade on a car. Moving your family and small business across the state and furnishing your new house. These are things most people could live without, but are nice to have given the means. For me, surrogacy can be that means.
Of course, lots of people understand the compensation aspect, and in so feel compelled to say things like “Man, I bet you got a lot of money for that!” To which we surrogates like to respond, “Yes, and how much do you make?” For the record, surrogacy compensation is no secret and if you really want to know, head over to any agency website and check out their compensation schedule. It’s comparable to the state average.
At first glance, it is a lot, but if you break it down that the average surrogacy journey is about 18 months, then the average comp is about $1800/month. That’s not peanuts, but it’s not making anyone rich, either. If you want to get technical, and just consider the time that a person is actually pregnant (so take out the additional fees and use only the base comp), with an average pregnancy of 38 weeks (266 days, 6384 hours), that’s $4.70 per hour—about a third of what my babysitter makes.
Here’s how I look at it: I get paid to teach. Teachers do not make enough considering what they contribute to society, but if you break it down with benefits, it’s a decent living. Most of us don’t do it for the money—we love teaching and love our students. However, most of us wouldn’t do it for free—if we won the lottery and didn’t have to work, maybe we’d volunteer part time or work with an educational non-profit, but not just full-time teaching without pay. But my receiving a pay check for my work does not mitigate me as a teacher. It does not signify that I care less for my students. It means I have bills to pay and I like to eat, and that teaching is something that warrants being paid for. In those financial aspects, it mirrors surrogacy.
The other aspect of this argument implies that I, as a woman, am not capable of making this grand of a decision on my own. Surely I need a man, in the form of the government, to tell me what I should and should not do with my body. Perhaps when I was 19 I allowed a man to pressure me into his ideals of what I should do with my body, but guess what—not now. One key aspect to feminism is the right over my own body. Margaret Sanger, in discussing a woman’s right to determine her own path to motherhood, stated, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.” I believe this quote holds true for surrogacy as well.
I have three college degrees. Although I am still living paycheck to paycheck, I have a house and a car and clothes and food and we need for nothing. I have no shame in being compensated for carrying someone else’s baby. But I in no way, shape, or form was forced into this decision. Surrogacy is amazing. It’s not for everyone, and luckily we live in the United States and not some real-life version of The Handmaid’s Tale and if you don’t want to be pregnant, you don’t have to be. But I want to be, and can’t wait for one last round.
Michelle is a thirty-something married mother of three. She teaches special education at an alternative high school in rural Southern Oregon. Her first surrogacy was for a same-sex couple from Israel. When she’s not taking care of her own children or birthing them for someone else, she enjoys reading and writing and exploring Oregon. Read more on her blog: Positive Surrogacy.