Continuing with what seems like little run of personal stories, I wanted to talk about this recent photo essay. You can find the photos here, too, though the text is different. And, as is noted, the surrogate involved has her own blog. Anyway, I think this fits nicely with a not-too-long ago post about another personal surrogacy story.
Kristen Broome is the mother of a two-year-old. Her husband is in the military and was in Afghanistan during the time this takes place. She learned that her second cousin, Jamie Pursley, had had a miscarriage and could no longer carry a pregnancy to term. Kristen offered to be a surrogate for Jamie and Jamie’s husband, Jacob. Jill Knight is the photographer who followed the two women and documented the story.
This is surrogacy when it works. It’s surely the most acceptable in all regards–the child is genetically related to both of the Pursleys and not (except as a second-cousin once removed?) to Broome. Broome did not do this for money, but rather volunteered to help a family member. And everyone followed through. Which is not to say it was easy. Or without risk. I know we’d all like life to be easy and without risk, but there are those immortal words to remember: You can’t always get what you want.
Anyway, a couple of things strike me here. First, as you can see most clearly by reading Broome’s blog, a lot of what made this work is attitude. From the beginning Broome did not think of Liam as “her” child. As she says
“I have been asked more times than I can count how I felt when I gave Liam away. My first response is always that I didn’t give Liam away; he was never mine to give.”
(And yes, as an aside, there’s that language again. “It’s not my child, it’s their child.” It does sound like the language of ownership, but it’s the language we generally use. I think everyone here, no matter what view they take on parentage, falls back to that language. But even if we all do it, it’s still worth thinking about. Maybe especially if we all do it? I raised this in a couple of posts not so long ago and I think it’s a good topic for thought/discussion.)
Anyway, to return to the main point–everything I’ve read about surrogacy suggests that attitude matters. I don’t mean it is the only thing that matters, but it is a critically important thing. Clarity about what you’re doing and why is a necessary base to build on.
It’s not clear to me whether the people involved here went through any special screening to determine if they were suited for surrogacy. My guess is (and it is just a guess) that they did not. If that’s the case, they got lucky. Even when surrogacy is altruistic and arranged between family or friends, it can go sideways. Caution before commitment is always better.
As with the earlier post, I think about what the future holds. I think most of us here agree that honesty and openness is best for kids–and since the folks here are related they’ll be staying in touch. Someday Liam will have these pictures to look at. And he’ll have Broome to talk to, if and when he wants to. That’s a far different future than I imagine in the cases of out-sourced surrogacy where the surrogate lives a world away and there is not common language.
And at the risk of muddying my own topic, while I’m thinking about surrogacy, I wanted to add this into the mix. It seems like the more we know, the more complicated the world becomes. Here’s a recent study and some press around it. Dr. Barbara Kisilevski. Dr. Kisilevski and her team of researchers established that a fetus in utero learns to recognize its mother’s voice. I don’t find this result particularly surprising, really. But it does give me more to think about as I consider surrogacy. The surrogate–the woman who is pregnant–has a real and substantial relationship to the child she gives birth to you. Whatever we do about surrogacy, I think we need to acknowledge that.
And just because it’s been a while, I’ll remind you of my own view. Because I believe in women’s autonomy, I think women ought to be allowed to be surrogates and I think they ought to be paid for their time and trouble if they so choose. But I also think that when they give birth they ought to be recognized as legal mothers. What that means is that the intended parents–those who contract with surrogate–must rely on the good faith of the surrogate to keep her word and let them adopt the child. I’m fine with that–though I know many aren’t. Putting greater power in the hands of the surrogate doesn’t really worry me, for I’m afraid that generally its the intended parents who hold most of the cards.