One Surrogate Mother’s Story

My classes ended today and I’m hoping to turn over a new leaf.  That would mean (among other things) getting more posts up and keeping up with comments.   There’s so much piled up on my desk, though, it’s hard to know where to start.  On the theory that it is more important to just start, though, I choose this article, which someone sent to me last week.

This was published in The Guardian.   It is just what the title suggests–a diary (brief) of a woman who served as a surrogate.  She was what I would call an altruistic surrogate.  What I mean by that is that money played no part in her decision.  She offered herself as a surrogate because her brother and sister-in-law were desperate to have a child and had spent a great deal of time, toil and treasure trying to do so. 

It’s quite the account.   You get a really clear sense of the roller-coaster ride she experienced and, even though it turned out fine in the end (spoiler alert?)–healthy twins now being raised by her brother and his wife–you can see how hard and how complicated it is.

I won’t try to generalize from a single surrogacy story, but there’s plenty to wonder about.  For instance, did the fact that she had existing relationships with the people who commissioned the child make it easier or harder?   Surely it complicated the existing relationships but at least there was something to build on.

And what difference did it make that the eggs used were not from her sister-in-law but were from a third-party provider.  This means that when the author tells her own 10 year old son about the surrogacy project he asks:

“So who’s the mum?” … It’s a fair point. These babies actually have three mothers: egg mummy (the donor), tummy mummy (me) and proper mummy (Jane).

(It’s interesting terminology she arrived it.)    I think (as I think the surrogate thinks) that having neither the genetic link nor the pregnancy link makes it harder for the sister-in-law and her response to getting information from the donor that can be made available to the children is clear and negative.    (At least this is the case during the pregnancy.)

In the end I cannot help but wonder about who the surrogate will be to the children as they grow older.  She’ll be an aunt, obviously, and as such she’ll always play a role in their lives.  But surely at some times she’ll be far more than that.  When the kids go through the “tell me when I was in mommy’s tummy” phase (if that’s actually a phase) it will be her tummy they talk about.

It struck me the other day that while we now talk about the donor conceived (children conceived using gametes from third parties) and indeed, the donor-conceived speak for themselves, there is no term for those born to surrogates.  (The surrogate born?)   And there isn’t too much concern about whether those children need to know their origin stories and have contact with their surrogates.    Now often in fact children do know their origin stories and sometimes do have contact with their surrogates.

At least the knowing origins part is generally true for children of gay men who have used surrogates.   After all, there is no obvious tummy to point to.

I don’t know whether heterosexual couples–like the brother and sister-in-law here–are tempted to gloss over the fact of surrogacy.   Someone in my class pointed out that it’s a harder thing to gloss over since pretty much everyone in your extended family knows you weren’t pregnant where people don’t really need to know if you used your own egg or someone else’s.

But you may recall that I’m pretty big on honest generally and, as a matter of honesty, it seems to me parents ought to tell their children if they child was gestated by and born to a surrogate.   And I can imagine that lots of children would want to know something about the surrogate–see a picture, maybe meet her sometime.   Now in a case like the one written about here, that’s easy–because she is always already there.    I hope it goes well.

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16 responses to “One Surrogate Mother’s Story

  1. Beautifully written, I’m sure the fact that it was her own brother’s children that she delivered – the fact that EGAD the original offical record of mother and father is, for all freaking eternity, Brother and Sister as Mother and Father when in fact what she really is – is their Aunt. Their very helpful Aunt Motherhood of any brand does not begin until there is a born human being to have the mother child relationship with.

    It’s astonishing really that the child’s mother is only mentioned in passing as an egg donor as if the child won’t be missing her or any of her maternal relatives at all. Just like this wife of his is suppose to be an adequate substitute for the child’s real mother and family. So many offspring have now shared with me their most logical reaction to hearing that “a nice man helped mommy and daddy by letting us use his sperm because daddy’s did not work right” which is “why didn’t you want to raise me with the nice man and why didn’t he want to raise me?” Or “I don’t get why the nice man and you just did not raise me together.” And the mother’s mouth hits the floor never having anticipated such a logical question. Indeed why would anyone make a child on purpose just to give that child away? It is the height of commodification and if anyone is hoping the child will feel wanted they’ll get their wish because they’ll feel so wanted they’ll feel bought and of course sold. Sold is the stinger. They’ll feel sold.

    Just cannot get away from the fact that the kid had to be unwanted by a parent in order for anyone else to have a shot at acting out that roll in the kid’s life. So so sad. They think that love and nurturing is all that counts. It can be the basis for a great relationship but it does not make up for not being wanted by your own family your related to. Its a consolation prize, 2nd best to being loved and wanted by the people that created you – the way you are second choice and second best to the people who wanted to have their own bio child but could not and so they had to settle for raising someone else’s. It’s so there that second choice thing and it’s just suppose to not grieve the kid at all cause they are not suppose to miss a person that was never in their life – but they were suppose to be in their life and they chose not to be. Sad Sad Sad

    • I’m struck by the sentence where you say she really is there aunt. There are so many ways to think about what she “really” is–and I’m sure we don’t agree on what counts for what. She really is the woman who gave birth to the child. Maybe she really is “the tummy mummy”–a term I rather like, because it seem to me it captures something about the multiple meanings of motherhood. She really is an aunt in the sense that she will be functioning as the child’s aunt (father’s sister) which suits me, and also in the sense that she is a genetic aunt (if such a phrase really has fixed meaning–it probably does.)

      All of this makes me realize how complicated this one family will be. Not that it is necessarily unworkable.

      Along these lines, I think your generalization about how children conceived with third party sperm vastly over-simplifies things. Doubtless many children have the reaction you describe but it seems equally clear that many children do not have that reaction. Some may be curious about the gamete provider but have no impulse towards “why didn’t you raise me with him/her?” (Indeed, it seems to me if the people raising you have a loving and positive relationship, you’re not terribly likely to wonder about why they are with each other as opposed to with other people.)

      Anyway, the fact of variation in response–and I do take this as a fact–makes me think there are other factors at play. We ought to take the time and trouble to sort out why kids have such different reactions–in the same way that people have given a lot of thought to what makes adoption a more positive experience for those involved.

      • You’re ADHD is as bad as mine. You don’t read and retain at all.

        #1 “Some may be curious about the gamete provider but have no impulse towards “why didn’t you raise me with him/her?” (Indeed, it seems to me if the people raising you have a loving and positive relationship, you’re not terribly likely to wonder about why they are with each other as opposed to with other people.)”

        Read what you just wrote again. Read what I wrote again. Donor offspring are not wondering why the people raising them are married to one another. Indeed if they have a loving relationship that is pretty obviously why they are still together. Why would anyone bother to even question that. The question is why would any parent not want to raise their child with the other parent – in concert with the other parent. They can be married to whomever they wish and have relationships with whomever they wish – they are not questioning their romantic inclinations they are questioning why they would make a child with someone who did not want to raise that child also. The fact that they happen to be romantically involved with someone who feels like helping them raise their kid is lovely and all but someone is overlooking the elephant in the room which is that a parent must abandon their child in order to make room for that to happen and what kind of parent would go out looking to reproduce with someone they knew would abandon their offspring? Why not just make a child with someone who would not do that? It’s one thing if it happens accidentally then you can feel sorry for your mom, it’s not her fault dad left her…but she actually wanted her kid to be abandoned so she could raise the kid alone or with someone she liked better? Its freaking twisted.

        • There are millions of examples swirling around kids every day of children whose parents raise them together but are single or are in relationships with other people. Those other people are referred to as “my dad’s girlfriend” or “my step father”. Those kids lost no family because of their parent’s desire to pursue romantic interests outside the parental unit.

          Its like your saying the mother’s partner must be the child’s other parent and that is A) just not true, and B) there are more examples of it just not being true presented to a kid every day than you could possibly count on all you fingers and toes.

          They did not have to loose one half their family in order to exist, that was a choice that their parents made selfishly for the protection of their own romantic relationships that clearly take prescience over the child’s kinship relationships and that is in the face of the kid every day. That their relationships are meaningless while the mother’s relationships are paramount.

          They have to live with the knowledge that their parent would have preferred to have a child with the or a person they were in love with but that did not pan out so they made a person with someone they did not know and now pretend that the other parent does not exist so they can replace them with someone they like better or with nobody at all. The kid has to pretend to be the child of this other person knowing that in order to be loved they cannot be who they really are – someone else’s kid.

        • I’m hope you mean it as humor, but I will ask you not to toss in personal comments–like what you lead with. You can certainly say that I missed your point, but please don’t diagnose me.

          This is what you said:
          “So many offspring have now shared with me their most logical reaction to hearing that “a nice man helped mommy and daddy by letting us use his sperm because daddy’s did not work right” which is “why didn’t you want to raise me with the nice man and why didn’t he want to raise me?” Or “I don’t get why the nice man and you just did not raise me together.””

          While I am prepared to believe this is what some kids would ask, I am also quite sure that for many kids this never occurs to them. That’s really all I meant. It’s the “together” part–which is in your original quote–I was responding to.

          Wondering about why a man would give his sperm to a stranger and have nothing to do with the resulting child is a different thing. I’m not saying it isn’t also a thing–but it seems to me different from what you said.

          • It was humor – no diagnosis. But there are a few things no matter how many times I write them down what I’m saying you’ll just go and respond to something entirely different. Like when you say I’d envoke natural law because you say I think biological parents are superior. Won’t matter how many times I say that’s not what I think its just gonna be a part of what you think your responding to.

  2. And this is one of the stories that folks would point to as a success story.
    Why would anyone think this is a GOOD idea?

    • It sounds to me like in the end the people involved think it is a good idea. It’s too early to know about the child yet but I don’t see why this is a situation in which the child is necessarily doomed. I wouldn’t prohibit a sister from agreeing to do this for her brother.

  3. thete is something terribly unfeminist about this situation. these two women are putting themselves through all this upheaval, to say nothing of the possibble baggage with the children themselved all because Nick “needs” his own child. i sympathize with him but wjy ate his feelings more important than every one else’,s?

    • I think that is a fair question, but I don’t think we really know the dynamic here. Maybe these are strong and intelligent women who can make their own choices? Maybe it’s all about Nick. Hard to say from this distance.

      • They may be very strong indeed and make their own choice, but their choice was to accomodate Nick’s sense of entitlement. I “need” my own child. Brings my sister to the brink of death? Puts my wife in a very conflicted situation regarding the children we will raise as our own? no problem. My feeling is that it was Nicks responsibility to come to terms with his situation.
        There’s a small clue buried in the story; the author briefly mentions a friend whose husband left her after years of IVF…..

        • Though I do not feel comfortable making judgments (since I know so little) I do see the point you are making. Actually, a great deal of ART is used in the effort to meet someone’s need to be a genetic parent. This is one of the reasons why I think we would do well to de-emphasize the importance of genetics, in fact.

          • i suppose it isnt strictly gendered… i suppose some husbands agree to sperm donation for fear their wife would leave themm… but surrogacy is a whole new level edpeciallly in her late forties…

            • Not having given a great deal of thought to it, I don’t think the desire for a genetically connected child is necessarily gendered. But surrogacy is a more complicated option that just using a sperm donor. I don’t think you ever see anonymous surrogacy (although some of the international stuff comes close, I suppose). I’m going to write more about surrogacy very soon (have a pile of things to weave together, I think) and so I’ll say more about it then.

              I do think it’s quite possible that men and women approach infertility issues differently. For some men, being able to produce viable sperm is at the core of fatherhood/masculinity, I would think. But for women, it’s not enough to produce and egg–carrying the pregnancy is also her job. Indeed, I wonder if a woman who can carry a pregnancy but uses a third-party egg has the same sense of being inadequate as a man who cannot produce sperm. (I’m sorry if I’m not being clear here and really I’m just speculating. Something to think about more.)

  4. Gestational surrogacy is a wonderful thing. I commend all women who are courageous enough to do it.

  5. When I read this article a few weeks ago, I cringed because I would NOT consider it a success story. Granted, we have only one point of view, but there are a number of red flags.

    I’m afraid this will become the stereotypical perception of how surrogacy works & what it is like.

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