Surrogacy at Its Best?

I came across this story on the web this AM.   It seems to me to illustrate surrogacy at its finest.   Because I’ve gone at length about surrogacy at a number of different times  in the past, and because I am deeply skeptical of much about surrogacy, I thought it might be worth lingering here for a few moments. 

Jamie Underwood Collins is 8 1/2 months pregnant with a baby that is intended for a New York couple.    She’s married and has four kids of her own.   While she’s being paid something around $25,000 it doesn’t seem that the need for money was her primary motivation.   Rather, this was something Collins wanted to do for someone.   There’s nothing shameful about being a surrogate, at least as Collins sees it.   (She wears a T-shirt that says “This is not my husband’s baby” on the front and “But it’s not mine either.  I’m a proud surrogate” on the back.  

While the intending parents aren’t identified, it’s clear that they have a significant relationship with Collins.   The intended parents have been to a barbecue at Collin’s home, met Collins kids, and e-mail regularly.  They’re also discussing future contacts.  As Collins herself says “It’s not real businesslike.”   That despite the existence of a forty-page contract. 

Each of the points I’ve recited above is important to me.    I’m not generally opposed to surrogacy in principle, its elements of the actual practice of surrogacy that make me queasy.    As I’ve said before, the general idea of altruistic surrogacy is appealing.  And Collin’s motivation is a substantial part altruistic.  But that said, being pregnant, especially as a surrogate, is very significant labor, and I see no reason why it should necessarily be volunteer labor.   So the addition of money to the mix doesn’t trouble me per se. 

Money is, however, a complicating factor.  There’s no question in my mind that the commercial nature of the transaction can color the relationship between the parties is ways that are extremely problematic.   So, for instance, the outsourcing of surrogacy to Indian baby farms, where women are collectively housed, bearing children for non-Indian relatively wealthy couples is troubling.     The social context in which these women “choose” to be surrogates is hardly the same as that in which Collins made her decision. 

In many ways, what is most striking to me about the Collins article is the relationship between Collins (and her family) and the intended parents . It is, as Collins says, not very business like.   Maybe that’s what’s most important to me.   Collins isn’t being treated as some wage laborer hired to clean a house or polish up the family silver.    She’s being treated as a whole person, with a life and a family.   

This isn’t just a nice little detail.   I think it is this relationship rather than the forty page contract that makes is seems so likely that the surrogacy will play out well.   Indeed, with the relationship in place, one could probably do with a much shorter statement of understanding between the parties.   The intended parents need not rely on the possibility of court proceedings to ensure delivery of their child.   Instead, they can rely on Collins obvious intention to deliver the child. 

The emphasis on relationships is what I have found appealing in the UK surrogacy practice.   Generally speaking, I don’t think the heavy-handed intrusion of law and contract enforceability facilitates the development of these kind of relationships.  But at least this case shows it need not preclude them, either.        




13 responses to “Surrogacy at Its Best?

  1. Professor Shapiro, I found this article by accident looking for my own that was featured in todays paper locally. Thank you so much for your wonderful comments. I appreciate your help also with putting surrogacy in a brighter and more positive light. If you want to chat offline, let me know via email. I’m having the baby next Monday and I could let you know how the whole experience is after! Again, thanks for you kind words. I do have a very open relationship with everyone regarding my intentions and initial plans in doing surrogacy. Jamie Collins

  2. Julie, I cannot believe that you could be supportive of a situation where a couple in their fifties (with older children from previous relationships) have obviously acquired some frozen embryos and found a surrogate to carry them. What a mixed up and scary scenario! This situation shrieks out to me why surrogacy should be extremely tightly controlled and used very sparingly and only for couples using their own gametes. It is clear that the surrogate is doing it entirely for the money and feels zero about the baby she is carrying advertising that fact to all and sundry on her T shirt. How dreadful for the child born, given away or sold by its real parents as a frozen embryo to an elderly couple who want to play family again (who knows how long their new relationship will last) and gestated by a woman entirely to earn cash to take her real children to Disney World. I’m feeling physically sick about this. It is entirely fu..ed up!

    • I am quite saddened by your post and your clear opposition to surrogacy. My husband and I had four wonderful children, pregnancies and birth experiences. Because of this we found ourselves feeling guilty regarding others that could not have what we have. I am not at all doing it for the money, my husband and I make plenty of money together to have everything we want and need for our family. My husband is going on 50 himself and I find it very disturbing that you think this is too old to raise a child. My children are 2,3,4,and 15 and my husband has more energy than I do on any given day! I’m not going to go into detail about the frozen embryos because literally it is not your business. I hope you can find some sort of true compassion within yourself and think of this in a better light someday, it is a shame that you are so negative about creating a life for a couple that truly desires to be parents.

  3. Without going point by point, I think it is fair to say we have quite different reactions.

    I make no judgment on the age of the intended parents. I like to think that as I have grown older I have greater wisdom, although less energy. Both wisdom and energy are beneficial in parenting, as far as I can tell. Life is full of trade-offs like that. (FWIW, I don’t think of myself as “elderly” but I am in my fifties.)

    I also didn’t make any assumption about who’s gametes might have been used nor (and surely this isn’t surprising?) do I care much.

  4. Jamie, I wish you well in the birth, but honestly, could you not have found a young childless couple who wanted to have their OWN child and assisted them carrying a genetic child of their own? As you are aware, I have great concerns about the scenario this innocent child is being born into. I know you feel nothing for the kid – you’ve said that clearly. But by becoming a surrogate you are bringing a child to the world and thus taking on immense responsibility. Julie has even stated previously that she thinks a gestating mother is a real mother and that she does not view intent to parent as a significant test of parenthood. In that case you ARE this child’s mother and I urge you to consider carefully before releasing it to the commissioning couple, if they are not the genetic parents of this child. In most states a surrogate can not be forced to give away a child she carries no matter what the contract says. Additionally, if you are considered to be the legal mother and thus your husband the legal father, you might be able to find a younger couple to parent this child than the commissioning couple. It sickens me that people are literally treating children like a commodity. Acquiring frozen embryos, commissioning a womb and then if the baby is healthy, taking it. Yes, I’ve known commissioning couples refuse to take an unhealthy baby. I am in correspondence with a 28 year old single mother surrogate who is still looking after her now two year old non-genetic handicapped baby that she gestated for another couple. In her state, North Carolina, the couple could and did just refuse to take the baby they had commissioned, and they pay nothing and have no liability for its upkeep. No one wants to adopt it and the state does not provide foster or institutional care for a mildly handicapped child. The surrogate is thus legally obliged to look after a child that she has no genetic relationship to, never intended to raise, and desperately does not want. Hmmm, what was in your contact about if the child was handicapped?

    • I must say Sandra taht you are assuming a lot of things that are definitely not true in my case. I’m very disheartened by your reaction once again. First of all, the embryo’s were not acquired and are genetically related to the parents, we also were identified as a match by the agency we both went through by personality and outcome matching. I didn’t feel it was my place to explain all of this because it is technically not my child at all. I am not the mother of this child in any way shape or form, I am carrying the child for them. The contract specifies every aspect of the childs outcome, including that they would even take custody of the baby if it happened that the ivf clinic placed the wrong embryo in my uterus (like we have seen lately in the news). I feel very sorry for this single mother that is raising a handicapped child, but that is one of the risks of going into these contracts, mine was very detailed and I have no doubt about what will happen when the child is born, no matter what the outcome. I think it is sad that you look at the negative outcomes instead of the positive aspect of creating and sustaining a life of a child for a couple who has desperately been trying for greater than 10 years to have their own child.

  5. When will the adults involved in IVF stop lumbering the children involved with thier issues? The children are going to grow up and won’t exist as children then, so the adults will be back to being childless again anyway!

  6. If the fetus is genetically related to the commissioning couple why did the article not state it? Normally that would be the first question on a reporter’s lips when hearing that the couple are in their fifties. I must say that I very much doubt the motives of a couple in their fifties wanting to raise a second family. I also highly doubt that the embryo was created by the couples own gametes. If they started fertility treatment in their forties it would be literally incredible that they would have had thirteen embryos left after ten years of treatment. Women in their forties struggle to produce a single decent egg per cycle much less an excess of viable eggs and men’s sperm in their forties is often fragmented and poor and often fertilize an egg that then proves to be a non-viable embryo. It is highly un-natural for a couple in their fifties to become parents at this late stage in their life, and it seems unfortunate and ill-judged that a surrogate agency and surrogate should agree to assist a couple of that age group. Surely seeing that surrogates are in such short supply, a childless younger couple could have been assisted to have a much wanted child who would have had a chance at a normal home life with normal aged parents.

    • It appears (if you read the comments above) that the embryo is genetically related to the intending parents. But this matters to me not at all. (I won’t elaborate here, but you can read elsewhere on the blog if you like.)

      Beyond that, I’m surprised that you’d automatically prefer some younger couple to this older couple. We know nothing about this couple. They could be in great health and be great parents. And, as I noted before, I think age does tend to bring with it a certain maturity and wisdom.

      I don’t meant that I’d never consider age a factor and I know age does figure into adoption eligibility. But knowing how little we know in this case, I’m not comfortable making any judgment about whether these people migth be too old to be parents.

  7. I thnk that they want to be looked after in thier old age and am suspicious about what else could have brought on thier descision to leave parenting this long.

    • I don’t suppose it is really possible for us to know whether this is true. But I must say, I find it hard to imagine that anyone who has been a parent would think that having children is a good way to ensure that you will be looked after in your old age. It would be a whole lot easier to save up the money and hire help when you needed it.

  8. Okay, so I believe this will be my final comment on my own article:) I agree with Julie, obviously, that you shouldn’t be passing significant judgement on things that you do not know all of the facts about. Honesty, the reason I have not disclosed facts regarding the parents is because it was in my contract. I had a wonderful experience with the birth and our relationship with the parents. My husband and the babies parents were in the delivery room coaching me on and it was a wonderfully simple process. This baby was not related to me, and I knew that from the day the embryo was implanted. I had no emotional attachment whatsoever to her, I’m already ready to do it again! To know that I gave parents something they had been longing for so many years for was absolutely breathtaking.

    Also, the article was focused on the process of surrogacy, how it works, and how to get into it if anyone was interested. It was written in a form intended to explain the process and why I was doing it. This is why it was focused only on my experience and not the intended parents details.

    • In other contexts I have noted recently how expectations shape our experiences of the world and such like. This seems like a nice example of that. If a surrogate is comfortable with the assertion that the child is not her child, then it’s obviously easier not to form a mother/child bond. That in turn makes it much easier to turn the child over to the IPs and, not only that, as I think you reflect here, it makes it a positive experience to do so. This must be part of why screening is so critical. Not everyone would be of the same mind on this, and where a surrogate came think that the child was hers, it might not go so smoothly.

      This article, these responses, and another article I’ll comment on shortly have made me think about revisiting some of what I wrote about surrogacy near the start of this blog. (You could read here, and other entries around that time.)

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