Keeping Surrogacy in the Family

Still cleaning up stories that piled up on the desktop here.  (Can things pile up electronically?)   Here are two different stories about close family members offering to serve as surrogate mothers–one about a mother serving as surrogate for her daughter  and the other about a woman serving as a surrogate for her brother and sister-in-law.

I’ve written about surrogacy countless times on this blog–you can use the tags to find past entries.   There’s a way in which neither of these stories adds anything new.   It’s all been done before–mothers helping daughters, sisters helping siblings.   And yet it still makes the news.

Surely this ought to be the least controversial sort of surrogacy.    The last post I put up–the one about the egg market–was all about the problematic effect of money in the ART arena.  And indeed, most of what I find troubling about surrogacy circles back to issues around money.    When surrogates are paid, you typically see wealthy intended parents hiring economically needy surrogates, after all.    There’s an entire surrogacy industry in India that is built around a model where wealthy European or US intended parents (though it’s not always those countries) use women who live in poverty in India as their surrogates.

Now I am not one who thinks that the money makes surrogacy indefensible.   But surely money can make things more complicated and far more problematic.   And the thing about the cases featured in the articles I started with is that they are not about the money.   These are family members doing it for those that they love.

This doesn’t mean to me that surrogacy will always be a terrific idea.   Even without money there’s a lot to work out before entering into an arrangment like this.   You have only to read the story about Tiffany Burke, carrying twins for her brother and sister-in-law, James and Natalie Lucich, to see how big an undertaking surrogacy can be.   Notice that the parties involved here underwent some serious counselling before starting down the path they’re on.   That’s critical, I think.    At least in theory, counselling can help people decide not to go forward, which is sometimes the right choice.

In many ways these stories seem to me to be the least objectionable ART I can imagine.   The intended parents are genetically related to the children they will raise, so those who value genetic linkage ought not to object.   The surrogates volunteered and aren’t motivated by financial need.   There’s going to be an on-going relationship between the surrogate and the children-to-be.    While in neither case will the surrogate be identified as the child’s mother (or at least, I assume this is so), in one she’ll be the grandmother and in the other the aunt.

Finally, given the publicity at this point, it seems unlikely that the families involved here intend to keep the manner of the child’s conception/birth a secret.   I’m inclined to think that this, too, is a good thing.    There’s no shame here–unless it is externally imposed by those who wouldn’t make the same choices these families made.

And I suppose that is the one thing I do worry about–at least a little.   Not everyone would make the choices that these families made–not everyone would be comfortable with their choices.   That’s fine– no one should have to be a surrogate and no one should have to use surrogacy or IVF.   But in an age of some notable outbursts of intolerance, how will others treat these families, and in particular, how will others treat these kids?   Will they accept whatever terms the kids use to talk about their parents and the women who gave birth to them?    Because, of course, while the families involved here can do a lot to shelter their children and make them secure, they cannot fully protect them from the judgment of others.



46 responses to “Keeping Surrogacy in the Family

  1. I oppose the practice of separating pregnancy and genetics in general because of the way it fogs kinship lines.
    This being said, I agree that there are some ways in which the damage is minimized or avoided such as when both persons playing the motherhood role are very close to eachother and expect to remain so lifelong.
    As for your worry about what will happen to the kids, seems not to be an issue to me. the surrogate is going to be called auntie and the egg donor will be called mom, similar structure to any other family.

    • I would tend to agree with you about the minimized damage if these relationships are close “and expect to remain so lifelong.” The problem is that the future is not predictable enough to ensure close relationships will remain so, even during the nine months of the pregnancy. One sister surrogate I met around fifteen years ago had the same kind of story and extensive media coverage as the sister surrogates mentioned in Julie’s link. She, her husband, and the whole extended family felt totally confidant about the outcome for the first six months of the pregnancy. One unforeseen consequence was the reaction of the surrogate’s four-year-old daughter as the due date approached. She really had not understood that her mother was going to give the baby to her aunt. Her emotional investment in “her baby sister” was so intense that her mother, the surrogate, began to have the same feelings as well, since she was the genetic mother. She decided to keep the baby, to the delight of her daughter, and even her husband.

      As a side note, I wonder how Julie would respond to the impact on the daughter when the baby sister to whom she had already bonded and eagerly anticipated, even before birth, was suddenly taken from the family. With regards to the thread about consistency/stability hypothetical, would this separation be as damaging to the real-life four-year-old as the serious emotional loss as that for the hypothetical six-month-old baby being taken away from the “wrong” mother and given back to its genetic mother? I’m still waiting for a response from Julie to my post on that thread. Attachment and bonding are still theoretical issues in my mind. I tend to favor genetic connections as I stated in my unanswered post.

      To finish the story, the sister, brother-in-law, and the whole extended family reacted with so much outrage that the surrogate relented and let her sister take the baby girl. The family relationships were shattered. The surrogate was ostracized from the family. The sister and brother-in-law left the state and never saw the surrogate again. The four-year-old daughter was devasted for several years. I suppose she eventually healed, but I don’t know.

      My point is that the future is not as predictable as we think it is. It is not a good idea to rely on uncertain assumptions about the best interests of the child, questionable attachment/bonding ideas, alleged clarity in legal definitions, or even my own belief in the importance of genetic connections.

      • wow I never thought of the impact on the sibling. great point to bring up.

        I would also like to point out that your story differs somewhat because the “surrogate” was not actually a surrogate but carrying her own genetic offspring- much like giving one’s own child up for adoption.

        Would that affect a young child, the sibling, who is too young to know about genetics?

        • She was a traditional surrogate (inseminated with her brother-in-law’s sperm) versus a gestational surrogate implanted with an embryo using others’ gametes, not her own. I doubt most children before the age of eight or later would understand the difference and would likely see the baby as their sibling. People discussing attachment and bonding generally don’t even consider the impacts on siblings, unfortunately. Too many people think of the surrogate as someone doing an honorable altruistic action, a provider of a gift, or worse, just a commodity. We need to think of them as humans within families who are also deeply affected by surrogacy, especially the children of the woman. I can’t cite, off the top of my head, the numerous accounts in adoption history of the impacts on children of mothers who surrender one of their younger siblings for adoption. They suffer the loss of the sibling in addition to living in fear that they too might be given away (as the four-year-old mentioned expressed). I would like to see a study of the impacts of surrogacy on these children. I doubt that the differences between adoption and surrogacy make it any easier for them to bear. We often hear that surrogates are eager to do it because they already know the joy of having children and empathize with infertile couples. We never hear about how their existing children feel about it, at the time of the surrogacy or in subsequent years.

          • i believe you misunderstood my question…. I would not use the word “surrogate” to describe the woman in your story as she was pregnant with her own genetic child same as any other pregnant woman. How exactly her brother in laws sperm got there is really of no matter. It is no different than giving up a child to adoption. Which could certainly be traumatic to a sibling.

            My question is about an actual surrogate (gestational surrogate); who is pregnant with someone else’s offspring, would a child who doesn’t understand genetics understand that, and thus be less traumatized by the surrendur.

            I suppose no one can answer that- children are usually the last ones studied as you said. I didn’t even think of it myself. People are usually more likely to wonder aboout the surrogates husband.

            • Traditional surrogacy started quite a while before gestational surrogacy. The most famous case was Mary Beth Whitehead and her Baby M. She was inseminated artificially by the sperm of the husband of the recipient couple arranging the surrogacy, which was very common in the early days. When gestational surrogacy became popular, the surrogate was implanted with someone else’s embryo as in the hypothetical case that Julie proposed. In either traditional or gestational surrogacy, the young children of the surrogate mother would most likely see no difference between the two, assuming that the child is her own baby sister or brother. They would be incapable of understanding otherwise, no matter how clearly their mother explained it to them.

              Maybe the confusion lies in who is defined as the surrogate. Websters defines a surrogate mother (2.a)as “a woman who helps a couple to have a child by carrying to term an embryo conceived by the couple and transferred to her uterus: gestational carrier.” 2.b definiton: “a woman who helps a couple to have a child by being inseminated with the man’s sperm and either donating the embryo for transfer to the woman’s uterus or carrying it to term.” So 2.b could mean that either the surrogate or the recipient mother carries the child. Since traditional surrogacy by artificial insemination developed first, before the use of IVF, gestational surrogacy became another definiton for the use of a woman (surrogate mother) to carry the couple’s embryo. Gestational surrogacy was prompted by the couple’s desire to have a child whose genetics were their own. If genetics wasn’t important (or if the wife could not carry a child) then traditonal surrogacy was used. I think traditional surrogacy was initially more popular because it was easier and much cheaper than using IVF.
              To answer your question, even if we haven’t studied surrogate’s other children, it is relatively evident that these children would not understand that the baby was not their genetic sibling and therefore would feel trauma at the surrender. In DI, explaining DI to a young child, as Olivia will verify from her several DI Network pamphlets, is much harder to do and has to be repeated in later years as the child grows in understanding of reproduction issues. It’s one reason why parents keep it a secret for so long.

              In my opinion, these children would feel no different about the surrender than those children whose younger siblings were surrendered to adoption. It would make no difference whether it was traditional or gestational surrogacy. If the child doesn’t genetics how could she understand why her mother gave away her baby sibling? She’s probably been very excited about the prospect of the sibling and has shared her excitement with her friends. What is supposed to say to them after the baby disappears?

              • there aint nothing traditional about “traditional surrogacy” and in the whitehead case the court itself decided that it was a bullshit idea concocted by interested parties. I object to the use of that prase. Nowadays, no one outside the interestedparty crowd knows what that is.

                • i suppose the mother could correctly explain that someone else’s baby was implanted in her belly by a doctor, and it wasn’t her own baby. perhaps a little kid can understand that. which is not the issue if it is the mothers own embryo.

                  • I think many women who have successfully served as surrogates will tell you that this is exactly what they do. They are clear in their own minds from the beginning that the child is not their child–they will not be raising it. They are also clear about this with their kids. And kids can, apparently, get this just fine. I don’t think small children have some instinctive understanding of the whole pregnancy/birth thing and so they do get the important information from their familiies.

                    In some ways it might be easier if in fact the existing child will have a relationship with the child-to-be–this will be your cousin, you might say. I could see that it might be harder to say “this child won’t be a part of your life.” But the latter does seem to work, too.

                • How do you distinguish between surrogacy types, then? You must call one of them gestational if it uses a woman who has no genetic connection, so what do you call the woman who is inseminated (not implanted with IVF) with a recipient couple’s male partner’s sperm and who carries the fetus to birth and then gives it to the recipient couple? You can’t deny that it doesn’t happen since several web groups are formed for these types of surrogate mothers who do it and call it, by the way, “traditional surrogacy.” Google the term and you’ll find these groups who still practice TS.

                  But that is beside my point that regardless of the method, the arrangement fogs the genetic lines, a practice you and I both oppose. All I am adding is my suggestion from strong adoption analogies that the surrender of a surrogate baby to a recipient couple will deeply affect the marital children of the surrogate mother. I don’t think a young child or even a pre-teen can easily understand all this technology and will likely feel a deep loss of a sibling, even if it is not genetically related.

                  • “so what do you call the woman who is inseminated (not implanted with IVF) with a recipient couple’s male partner’s sperm and who carries the fetus to birth and then gives it to the recipient couple? ”
                    Like most people who are not brainwashed by the ART industry, I call it a pregnant woman like any other, who relinquishes custody to the baby’s father and his spouse, after the birth.
                    If she does not relinquish custody, she remains a mother like any other mother.
                    The law sees it that way too, as it should.
                    the term “traditional surrogate” is medically incorrect, legally incorrect, and socially incorrect as understood by people outside the industry.

                  • i turn the question at you- how is that different from any other pregnant woman who is pregnant by a man married to someone else?
                    what justifies inventing a new, separate term?

                • It’s true that there is nothing traditional about “traditional” surrogacy. What’s a better term? It seems to me it ought to include the word “surrogacy” as the whole idea behind it is that the pregnant woman is a surrogate. It also makes it clear that it is related to “gestational surrogacy.” (You may also object to that term.) But “non-gestational surrogacy” doesn’t really convey much information either, even if it is accurate.

                  I do think most people understand what “surrogacy” means in this context. Maybe we could call the person “a genetically related surrogate” as opposed to “a genetically unrelated surrogate?”

          • “She was a traditional surrogate (inseminated with her brother-in-law’s sperm) versus a gestational surrogate implanted with an embryo using others’ gametes, not her own. I doubt most children before the age of eight or later would understand the difference and would likely see the baby as their sibling.”

            Bill. What difference is there for her child to understand? When you say they’d likely see the child their mother delivered as a sibling it would be because that child is their sibling. The child is not wrong about the fact that the baby is their sibling and it does not matter where that child grows up or who raises that child, nothing in heaven or earth alters the fact that their mother’s offspring is their sibling. Its a title that indicates two people originated from the same source. It has zero to do with being raised in the same household. If two cousins are raised in the same house, the will be more “like brothers” than cousins, but they are still cousins.

            I find it bizarre and damaging to tell a child that their sibling is their cousin. Worse to tell them their mother is their aunt. Whether a woman donates her egg or her egg and her pregnancy experience or donates her egg and keeps the pregnancy experience, her offspring when born are her children. Telling people that their sibling is not their sibling is just really sick. Its so incredibly twisted for someone to tell a child that what’s real is not real because the adults are pretending reality away. Play along now and live like its how we told you.

            • I find it bizarre and damaging as well. The mother can’t pretend that she’s not pregnant. Most women chosen for surrogacy are parents themselves because recipients want someone who has proven fertility. I do not support surrogacy because I believe that surrogacy damages these older children.

              Those who choose gestational surrogacy would argue that the surrogate is not the genetic mother, only someone whose womb they are renting. I agree that the other children in the family would likely see the baby as their sibling. Here the difference is whether the biology of carrying someone else’s embryo is the same as carrying an embryo which has your own ovum. Of course, there is new twists with the belief in epigenetics, a justificiation for the use of embryos from other people. It assuages the motherhood doubts of those who use “donated” embryos from long term embryo storage banks. I do appreciate the Snowflake Organization’s attempts to see this as an open adoption and to preserve the relationship with the couple who gave them the unused embryos. They even perform formal adoption procedures. I still find that a bit bizarre and cannot endorse it. It has other psychological complexities that concern me, such as how the child of a embryo transfer might see herself as somehow less than the genetic children that her original mother and father kept within the family. [speaking genetically without concern for legal terminology here]

              • i don’t see it as bizarre at all. snowflake is doing the most legally prudent thing- since the donating couple depending on the locale may be able to claim parenthood if they change their minds.

                • is your concern for children of gestational surrogates being traumatized at the loss of their “sibling” and not understanding the difference- is that based on reality or conjecture?

                  • “i turn the question at you- how is that different from any other pregnant woman who is pregnant by a man married to someone else?
                    what justifies inventing a new, separate term?” Are you saying that an infertile couple contracting a surrogacy arrangement with another couple (usually these surrogates are married with children) that uses AI for the purpose of surrendering the child is equivalent to an affair? I guess you could say that’s a legitimate construction, that these arrangements are nothing more than adultery. Usually, a woman who has a child through adultery does not give the child to the wife of the man who has been cheating on her. A couple arranging a surrogacy would not likely agree to actual sexual intercourse between the contracting man and the woman who will carry the child, either. Along that line of reasoning, you could also say that embryo adoption is equivalent to surrogacy, since the embryo is given away intentionally to an embryo bank with the permission for its use for another couple.

                    As I said in my original post, my opinion is based on personal knowledge of one real case of traditional surrogacy (as distinguished from an affair). My conjecture is based on personal knowledge of adults who lived through the loss of a sibling through adoption as young children (as well as reports from adoption literature).

                  • so it seems that to you, the preconception intent is what’s important, as well as the question of whether sexual intercourse took place. I find that highly inconsistent of you as from your other internet activities I recall you as a person who insists that a sperm donor is a father. (correct me if I am wrong about your identity).

                    It also seems that your conclusions about the damage of surrogacy is conjecture from adoption cases (although in one case you use a different name for it). This is certainly possible but it is a separate question and needs to be addressed as such.

                  • “so it seems that to you, the preconception intent is what’s important, as well as the question of whether sexual intercourse took place. I find that highly inconsistent of you as from your other internet activities I recall you as a person who insists that a sperm donor is a father. (correct me if I am wrong about your identity). ”

                    “It also seems that your conclusions about the damage of surrogacy is conjecture from adoption cases (although in one case you use a different name for it). This is certainly possible but it is a separate question and needs to be addressed as such.”

                    Excuse me, I don’t know who you are but you seem to know all about me. A bit unfair. I also can’t make sense of this latest question and feel you’re justing playing some kind of snarky game. Are you serious about this issue?

                  • bill sorry true I don’t know you personally but unless I’ve got the wrong guy, aren’t your internet contributions, including on this blog, public? Yours is one of the names that people doing research on donor conception are bound to encounter.
                    Overall we agree that surrogacy is problematic.
                    However I am struck by your casual adoption of false propagandist language of the ART movement and a possible double standard applied differently to women and men.
                    In general I am a stickler for accurate language because foggy language fogs our understanding of the issues. you can see that from other contirbutions of mine on this blog.

                  • I don’t find your comments particularly clear, frankly. You’ve misunderstood my posts in a way that appears deliberate. Perhaps that’s my fault but I find that you to jump to conclusions about my stances. I am definitely not using propagandistic language or a double standard. You may disagree but to me it’s not worth further debate.

      • Sorry I have been inattentive to the comments here. But I’m here now (briefly) and will come back later today.

        I think this is a true cautionary tale. There are indeed many things we cannot predict. Surely not everyone can be a surrogate and surely some people who think they can are wrong. It seems to me that when it is within a family–as here and in the instances I discussed–there’s a special risk that people might over-estimate what they can do. Further, they might not be working with the kinds of experienced professionals who would do screening when you work with a surrogacy agency (or at least, when you work with a good surrogacy agency). In fact, they migth skip screening altogether. This it seems to me is very dangerous and indeed, there are more stories than one would wish about failed in-family surrogacy arrangments.

        I guess I would hope that any IVF facility that does surrogacy would always insist on screening and counselling, with an eye towards weeding out those would-be-surrogates who really are too high risk. (I don’t know if the folks in your story went through counselling.)

        It seems to me a good counsellor would also talk to the propsective surrogate about how to frame things for the 4 year old or any other existing children. Surely a woman becoming a surrogate has to be prepared to work with her children (assuming she has children) about how to understand what she’s doing. I think it must be critical to be clear from the very beginning that this is not a baby sister/brother but instead a cousin I have some hope this can be done because it seems to me that it is largely up to the surrogate (and her partner/spouse if there is one) to shape the expectations of her young children. Further, I think it is reasonable to expect that the surrogate’s framing of the expectations will be quite influential. Thus it seems to me that if the surrogate is clear in her own mind and properly counselled that the impact on the surrogate’s children ought to be managable.

        • But only if the child she’s delivering is actually their cousin so that her statements are supportable by fact scientific fact right? Not if the child she delivers is in fact a brother whose being raised as if he were a cousin. You don’t think she should lie or use the wrong kinship titles do you? We don’t get to go around making up our own definitions to words that already have established meanings that would be lying or at least setting the scene of massive confusion for the kid. Imagine telling a kid that what we all know as blue was green.

          • exactly Marilyn. Too often when people wonder how to “frame” something unpleasant, what they really mean is how to tell the best lie.

            • hence my nitpicky obsession with accurate terminology.

            • For example in Bill’s story, had the scientifically correct (and legally correct) terminology been used, the family would have never embarked on this doomed adventure. The 4 year old was smarter than the adults,

              • It’s not at all clear to me what the correct legal terminology is. I don’t know that using scientifically correct terminology would make any difference, really. But more fundamentally, we don’t always use scientific terminology around the house. If a family next door adopts a child and brings the child home and my four-year old kid says “who’s that new baby next door?” I think I’d probably say “that’s their new baby.” And I’d call the adoptive parents parents. I might use this as a chance to explain about adoption–but I’d have to judge the degree of maturity of my child and figure out how much to explain. I certaintly wouldn’t say “that’s a genetically unrelated child that they will be raising” which is probably a scientifically accurate way to say it.

                In general (and not thinking of Bill’s story) the adults involved could be clear about science and the woman to be pregnant could decide that the child she was carrying was not her child–that she was doing this for someone else. Indeed, if you read accounts of successful surrogacy, this is what happens. It’s not because people are ignorant of scientific facts that they do this. It’s because they are constructing an understanding of what the existing facts mean. People do this–construct understandings of facts–all the time.

                Indeed, this is the key difference between a woman pregnant with an embryo created from a third-party egg who intends to be a parent and a surrogate. It’s not the facts that distinguish them. It is their understanding of what they are doing. And I think that is a difference that matters–at least to them. Whether it should matter in law is another question, but even if I think it shouldn’t, I will still say it is a difference.

            • The thing is this is an area where there is very little I would call “true” or “false.” I don’t mean that there aren’t some incontrovertible facts–there are. There is a fact of genetic relationship. But this isn’t what people talk about with their kids. If the child, once born, will become the legal child of the pregnant woman’s sister then I think it is reasonable to say “this will be your cousin.” You think it is a lie (I think) because you understand “cousin” to be a statement about genetic relationships. That’s a fine understanding, but it isn’t any more “true” than it is “true” to think of “cousin” as a social relationships. I have adopted cousins. You would say, I guess, that they are not my cousins? We just disagree. I don’t think either of us is telling the truth or lying.

              I suppose looking at Marilyn’s comment, I’d say that the more general point is that kinship titles can (and often are) used to refer to different sorts of relationships–sometimes genetic and sometimes social/legal. It depends on who is using them and perhaps to on what purpose they are being used for. To me it is a lie to say someone is genetically a sibling when they are not, but it’s not a lie to call someone adopted into your family a sister when you’re at the supermarket and someone says “who is that?”

  2. Nobody is going to care really. The women who gave birth to them are not their mothers, they did not reproduce to create them. They are related to them the same way they would have been had their mother delivered them personally.

    Julie, I’m curious if you are of the belief that the gestating female is the biological mother. Its becoming more and more popular for people to say that even though its not really true. Its part of that whole langue thing and changing the meaning of words that I lament over so much. The ASRM is super clear about the biological mother being the woman whose egg was fertilized. Any medical text book says the same thing. But organizations like parents via egg donation and other IP blogs started out with the weasel theory that they are biological mothers because they share their biology with the baby for 9 months. Which is technically true in that they provide a place for the embryo to develop within their bodies but its a cheezy little play on words when technically a person shares your biology has a certain number of shared genes inherited from you or a common ancestor. From the original weasel statement seems to have stemmed this other idea that they built the baby out of their own cells and that they reproduced to create the child and that all that the donor adds is ‘one little cell’ or that all that the donor provides is dna and the rest of the child is flesh of their flesh bone of their bone. Marna Gaitlan goes so far as to say her son’s ear is made up of her biological matter and that his blood is the same as hers only different dna. So of course none of that is true. The egg donors cells reproduce they don’t share blood and the baby is not made out of materials in the gestating female’s body. She provides nourishment and a place to grow. It would meet your care giving criteria for parenthood if there was a separate living individual to be cared for.

    • I’m not sure what it is you think nobody will care about. (It’s just hard to keep track with all the indents.) It seems to me that some people will care about most of the things we’ve talked about here, but not everyone will care about the same things.

      I don’t find the term “biological mother” all that helpful, though I’m sure I’ve used it. I see what “genetic mother” means, but in this instance there might be two of them. Perhaps now we need to say “nuclear genetic mother” and “mitochondrial genetic mother.” I do think the woman who is pregnant/gives birth has a unique relationship and one we ought to value. (There’s mounting evidence that it is also a relationship that has very long term consequences, just as the genetic relationship does.) Perhaps that makes her the gestational mother. It seems to me that “biology” is just too vague–it could mean any or all of these, perhaps, and so will only lead to confusion.

      It’s not that I’m unconcerned about language–I do care. But it seems to me sort of pointless to discuss which relationships are “biological”. I’m really not sure what it means. It seems to me that what matters is that we have agreed upon terminology so that we know what we are talking about (and “genetic” and “gestational” might accomplish this).

      Ultimately (at least for my purposes here) the question is what legal rights flow (or should flow) from these claims. What rights should each of the various mothers have?

  3. I do not agree Marilyn, pregnancy has come to equate motherhood because up until very recently there was no technology to make it otherwise, and even today relative to the number of people born, it is a miniscule number, not enough to create a revolution in the way people think and use language. It is happening only very slowly.

    • Ki many of these women believe that their own cells reproduced to create the baby they gestated and that all the donor adds is her dna to a baby built by the recipient. Its not true the donors cells reproduce in her body just the same as if they were reproducing within her own body and the born baby will be no less her child regardless of who delivers it. All of this is completely in the minds of the adults. Its like everyone getting together and deciding to say the world is flat. Its round regardless of what they say.

      • A woman who gives birth to a child that is not genetically related to her might be a surrogate–in which case she might not intend to be the legal mother and, depending on where she is, she might not be the legal mother. Or she might be a woman using third-party eggs, in which case she might intend to be the mother and she might (again depending on where she is) be the legal mother.

        From a distance you’d see the same thing–a woman about to give birth to a geneticallly unrelated child. But depending on intent and on operation of law, she might or might not be on her way to legal motherhood.

        I think even some people’s social perceptions of this woman might vary. If she describes herself as a surrogate, some will say she is not a mother. If she describes herself as a woman using third-party eggs some will say she is a mother.

        I know that some of you will say one or the other view is “right.” But I don’t know what that means. It means you think one thing or the other, perhaps? Or that you think the law should work in a particular way? But there isn’t an objective right answer here to the question of “who is the (unmodified) mother?” (By contrast, there are answers to “who is the gestational mother” and “who is the genetic mother.”)

        • I do think the answer to who the unmodified mother is the person who reproduced. Now in the case of two women’s cells reproducing then you can say that for each of the two women. The reason I would say unqualified is not that she did more work or deserves it more because of DNA; the person who is her offspring would be just the same person, ingrediants-wise whether the third party was involved or not. She could have come to the very same decision to reproduce with that particular man and gestatedd her offspring herself and the same individual would have resulted. A host of any other women could have gestated her embryo and the result would be the same person. That is not to say that the body of the gestating female can’t impact the health of the child, and that the environment where fetus’ develop won’t impact that development but the individual that is that blank lump of clay ready to be molded by life experience and human interacton would be the same – their offspring no matter who else gets involved. She is the one constant, the female without whom the person would not exist. That individual only exists because that woman and that man got together and reproduced to create offspring. Square 1. Ironically everyone else is helping her create her offspring rather than her helping them create their child. What she does once her child is born is the stuff of law and contracts and court approval,- keep, abandon, give up for adoption, etc.

          • I expected you would. I guess what I was thinking here is that when we move to the unmodified mother we move to our conclusions and we do know we disagree there.

            As a factual matter, I think you are wrong when you say that the offspring would be just the same person no matter who gestated it. The offpsring would be genetically identical, of course. The woman who gestates the child does not add chromosomes. This is what we are learning in the field of epigenetics. It’s about how the genetic codes (which do not change) actually operate. Genes get turned off and on and some of that happens during pregnancy and seems to be determined by the actions of the woman who is pregnant.

            We’re only beginning to understand all this, but to the extent one thinks that the genetic code is very important in determining who a person is, it would seem to follow that the time spent in utero is also important–and where one spends that time does matter. The child that is born to woman A is not the same child as would have been born from the same embryo had it been gestated by woman B. (That’s a terrible sentence–sorry.)

  4. I am the forty-two year old mother of a six-week old daughter born by donor embryo by what I like to think of as a combination of science and grace. My interest in this conversation is thus personal, but it’s also professional/intellectual.

    This topic is one I’ve been thinking about lots lately as I consider the language I will use when I discuss my daughter’s origins with her and with others. I’m not current on the ASRM or medical textbooks, so can’t speak to their definitions and delineations.

    That said, I do think my daughter and I share a biology. I don’t think her time in utero can be so easily dismissed as, essentially, a ‘B and B’ for the baby (my womb providing “nourishment and a place to grow”). Something important happened between us during that time – some sharing between and of our bodies, something that distinguishes us from the case of a mother and adopted daughter, and something that links us in a way she is not and will not be linked to her egg donor. (I leave for now how that thinking translates when discussing sperm donors.) For me, then, there is some distinction between genetic parent and biological parent. I do (I think) consider my daughter my biological child even though she is not my genetic child. Or, at least, I consider the egg donor the genetic but not biological mother of my daughter.

    This very well may be a case where language hasn’t caught up with lived experience, or where new words need to be invented to adequately describe certain situations and experiences. I find that prospect exciting – and one of the reasons I find language so fascinating and this area of the law so interesting.

    • why do you consider this a biological child? Birth child I could see but not biological.

    • I can see saying “biological.” As we learn more it is clear that there is a profound relationship between the woman who is pregnant and the fetus she carries. What else can that be but a biological relationship? Perhaps I’d say one is “a” biological mother rather than “the” biological mother, because there may be other people who can also claim a biological relationship. Just as we are continually learning more about what DNA is and does, so we are learning about the effects of gestation on human development. I think it is probably all biology.

  5. My parent's donor is my father

    kisarita asked Bill Cordray:
    “i turn the question at you- how is that different from any other pregnant woman who is pregnant by a man married to someone else?
    what justifies inventing a new, separate term?”

    I would love to hear Bill’s take on this question as well. I agree with kisarita that these terms are misleading:
    kisarita wrote: “Like most people who are not brainwashed by the ART industry, I call it a pregnant woman like any other, who relinquishes custody to the baby’s father and his spouse, after the birth.”

    The closest comparison is adoption, but this scenario is different from adoption scenarios in one important fundamental way, which is preconception INTENTION. I think it’s simply baby selling and unethical from a pure humanistic POV. But since it’s supported by a demand which created the industry, new terms were born to make it palatable and normalized.

    I detest this practice/industry but it only exists because of the social and cultural climate that allowed it to be created in the first place.

    • To all – Having devoted a considerable amount of study time to this subject I often find that very important messages are lost when we compare adoption to other forms of family separation. People who need to be understood see their arguments fall apart under scrutiny when the differences and likenesses to adoption are pointed out I started finding that it almost undermines the very valid points needing to be conveyed. I’ve thought alot about why that might be and I think that its because we are looking at adoption as if it is the reason for family separation rather than a reaction to it. People wind up being adopted for all sorts of reasons, which is to say that adopted people are not immune to having parents who deliberately conceived them for the sole purpose of being of being raised by other people. In fact many adopted people are the objects of contracts where their biological parents promised to relinquish parental rights and obligations upon their births in exchange for valuable consideration received at the time the contracts are drafted. Of course this is exactly what happens to the son’s and daughters of traditional surrogates who are paid in advance to relinquish their children for adoption at birth. Child trafficking and adoption are not mutually exclusive.

      There are few things we can say is absolutely universally true of all legal adoptions; adopted people have parents and adopted parents, family and adopted family. There is no detailed background investigation in step parent adoptions for the children of surrogates but there is approval of a disinterested third party which offers slightly more protection to the adopted person than private offline contracts that are the stuff of black market adoption and gamete donation (which is just a loop hole for black market adoption)

      I think we all overlook the fact that adoption is seriously broken and the things we think are true for adopted people like they all have biologically accurate original birth records or their parents were ethical in their relinquishment, or that their parents gave written consent or that that their adoption was not planned as part of a contract where they were sold in advance of their births. Adoption procedures are designed to vet a certain amount of illegal activity that victimizes minors but there are enough loopholes and variances with other laws to make being adopted a real gamble for people in terms of potential losses and perceived benefits. Adopted people are very much at the mercy of the the people who adopt them and whether or not they are dedicated to embracing the adopted person for who they actually are rather than who they wish they were or intended for them to be.

      I cannot speak to the psychological or emotional reactions that adopted people have to all of this as I think it varries from person to person situation to situation. I can speak to the very real differential treatment in terms of access to basic information about themselves and their genetic kin as well as losses to the benefits afforded to other people and their genetic kin.

      There are an even more marginalized group of people who are not raised by their parents who are not adopted and who are not fitting neatly into aasn organized group like peoplwho refer to themselves as donor offspring. These people also have inaccurate and incomplete original birth records and are forced to live under the identities assigned by their mothers upon their birth; whether its leaving the line for father blank or filling that line in with the names of their step fathers, these people also suffer the loss of their rights and they are horribly under represented in these conversations. Who are they like? Who will help them? They represent the majority of people who are separated from their families, bastard children born of affairs and unwed mothers with deadbeat boyfriends who run and hide. I use to try to compare them to adopted people but now I see your all in the same fked up boat adrift in a sea of people with wants and needs far more important than yours.

      I’m dedicated to the proposition that simple laws affording the same rights to all minors and all people with offspring will result in fewer human rights abuses for people who are not the offspring of the people who raise them. We just can’t compare apples to oranges – its fruit salad . I look for the common denominators that are not working for all of you those things that operate to undermine the freedom of every person who was not the offspring of the people who raised them and want to see us fix those things. I just don’t know how to do it yet.

  6. A factor in many adoptions is that pregnant women are often under extreme coercive pressures from their families, their boyfriend, their social peers, and their church to surrender (as opposed to making a “gift” of the child) to adoption. They also fall victim to offers of financial support so this could be construed as baby selling as well. There is another group of older married women with large families they cannot afford. They often live in poverty and don’t approve of birth control or abortion. They didn’t intend to get pregnant but they certainly make a conscious decision to give their child away. Adoption would be much more humane and ethical if the system would also provide the option of aid to such women so they might keep their children, instead of pressuring them to surrender it for the sake of infertile clients who have enough wealth to pay for the high costs of adoptions.
    People who think adoption is the best of all possible solutions are brainwashed by the propaganda of the National Council For Adoption, the advocates of closed adoptions and for keeping original birth certificates sealed for 99 years.

    • I think adoption would be more ethical if:

      Oh come on it would be more ethical if it were completely overhauled with the single purpose of ensuring that adopted people lost absolutely none of the rights that other people have – like their original identity, legal recognition of genetic kinship, access to their records and the records of their relatives, inheritance rights, death benefits, support while minors if their parents are capable of it financially, etc etc. They don’t need to loose anything in order for someone else to raise them but the system is set up to give the people who raise them a sense of entitlement .

      Problem is parents are not even entitled to their offspring – they are obligated to them and nothing anyone else does for their offspring can erase that obligation. No amount of committment or dedication by anyone else can change the fact that they were not obligated to care for the minors they are raising they opted to take on that responsibility. We confuse parental obligation with what we see as entitlement when its just not. Funny how people twist it

  7. it’s not quite an adoption because in bill’s scenario, the child is raised by its biological father- it is just separated from its mother.

  8. My parent's donor is my father

    I can vouch for Bill, he’s on the same page as us but he’s trying to balance this with adoption ethical issues. I think the two issues are separate but also connected. Bill is addressing the connection.

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