There was a bit on Good Morning America last week about “social surrogacy” or “vanity surrogacy.” I know this not because I came across this reaction piece. Seem pretty clear that the author does not approve of the practice but I think it bears thinking about a bit more.
Let’s ponder the idea of separating out a subcategory of surrogacy and calling it “social surrogacy.” I think the idea is to distinguish between surrogacy that is in some way “necessary” and surrogacy that is essentially elective–the latter being preferable to the former. In other words, if I hired a surrogate to be pregnant because I didn’t want to have to wear maternity clothes that would be social surrogacy. But if I hired a surrogate because I’d had a hysterectomy, that wouldn’t be social surrogacy.
To be clear, this isn’t really a new idea, though the label is new. Baby M was the first surrogacy case–about 25 years ago. Elizabeth Stern–the intended mother of Baby M–wasn’t medically unable to carry a pregnancy. She had MS and she was worried about her health. I think by the working definition that makes the surrogacy there a “social surrogacy.” But I’m not sure having this new label actually very helpful.
They don’t really have a label for the non-social surrogacy, but you might think that the term is “medically necessary surrogacy.” Except that doesn’t seem right because surrogacy is NEVER medically necessary. Indeed, having a child is NEVER medically necessary, is it? People may really really want to have children. They may suffer from their inability to have children. They may be wiling to go to great lengths to have children. But it isn’t necessary for them to have them.
In a very real sense, all surrogacy is elective. There are just better and worse reasons for choosing it. And I guess we are all invited to pass judgments on people’s reasons–and to cast those whose reasons we don’t like into the “vanity surrogacy” category.
As you can tell I don’t have this all thought out by any means. But two other points strike me.
First, the GMA piece and the commenter both say something about the magic of pregnancy. (Not their words, so perhaps I’ve distorted? But I think it is what they are driving at.) So the woman who could be pregnant but doesn’t want to be is incomprehensible to them. And more than incomprehensible–somehow suspect. Even more so the woman who wants to be a parent/raise a child but doesn’t want to be pregnant.
There’s something that doesn’t sit well with me about this incomprehension/suspicion. Maybe this is too much information, but I wanted to have children and was delighted that my partner wanted to be pregnant because I sure didn’t want to be. (I imagine many men are in the same position, but possibly they don’t count here because pregnancy isn’t part of what it means to be a man, only what it means to be a woman?)
Second, on the GMA clip someone says “not everyone is cut out to be a mother” and of course that’s true. We could go gender neutral and say “not everyone is cut out to be a parent.” Perhaps we would do well to scrutinize the motives people have for parentage and the choices they make. Maybe people who only want to be parents to have a dress-up mini-me should be screened out. And maybe some of those people are choosing social surrogacy. But some of the people choosing surrogacy have real fears (like Elizabeth Stern) and some of the mini-me parents are getting pregnant and giving birth.
In other words, while the point about not everyone being cut out for parenthood is well taken, I don’t see how it leads to general condemnation of the very ill-defined (and apparently infrequent) practice of “social surrogacy.” If the problem is that not everyone is cut out for parenthood, we’d best turn our attention to how people get to be parents generally. Might I suggest a licensing exam?