More on Thai Surrogacy and a Taste of Newspeak

I have an extremely erratic internet connection just now, so I guarantee you this will be short.  That’s if I can get it posted at all.   There’s a short story in today’s paper about Thai surrogacy–the fallout of the Baby Gamay story I already blogged about.   The main point is that Thailand is not letting intended parents leave Thailand with the children Thai surrogates gave birth to at the moment.   It’s a drastic remedy when you think about it.  No question in my mind that Thai surrogacy needs reform, but keeping the children (and through the children, the intended parents) in Thailand hardly seems an answer.   On the other hand, it surely a deterrent.  Who would choose Thai surrogacy knowing that the risk was you’d be living in Thailand.  (Nothing against Thailand–but if you didn’t plan to move there, it would be rather a complication.)

What really moved me to write, though, is the last sentence of the story in the Seattle Times.  It is by Rod McGuirk who writes for AP.  I cannot find a link to this anywhere–but as I say, my access if really spotty.

So here is what it says:

Scores of Australian biological parents are currently pregnant through surrogates in Thailand.

This, to my mind, is newspeak–the language of George Orwell’s 1984.   There may be biological parents in Australia (though remember I prefer “genetic?”) But there is no way they are pregnant.   And I haven’t the slightest idea what it means to be pregnant through another person.  It is (to my mind) bad enough when a non-pregnant person with a pregnant partner says “we’re pregnant.”

Pregnancy is personal.  The surrogates are pregnant.  The providers of genetic material are not.   It’s a terrible thing to twist language to suggest otherwise.

Gonna go now while the connection holds…..

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22 responses to “More on Thai Surrogacy and a Taste of Newspeak

  1. This usage appears to be the next permutation of the trend for couples to say “we’re pregnant,” when we know only the woman is physically pregnant. On the other hand, there is some research suggesting that expectant fathers also experience hormonal and mood changes, so maybe it isn’t such a leap

    • As to the first observation, I think that’s right. And it’s a bit curious. If pregnancy is an minimal contribution to a child’s life, which seems to me to be implicit in some surrogacy arrangements, then it shouldn’t be worth appropriating like that. I think the non-pregnant partner says “we’re pregnant” as a way of owning part of the process. I’d be much happier if she/he said “we’re expecting,” which they actually are.

      As to the second point–I assume this isn’t limited to instances where the expectant father is genetically related to the child-to-be? (I’ve never heard of sperm donors who are not engaged with the pregnancy experiencing such a thing.) It’s about the proximity to and engagement with the pregnant person? And this being the case, I cannot help but wonder whether there are also hormonal and mood changes when the non-pregnant partner is female.

      • whatever the cause, any bodily changes that occur to the pregnant woman’s partner do not nearly approach the physical condition of pregnancy. as a stickler for correct language i do appreciate your distinction between ‘we’re pregnant’ and ‘we’re expecting”.
        but while couples in an intimate relationship can perhaps be excused on occasion for tryinng on the other’s experience, the use of such language with regard to surrogates is much more dangerous. as we discussed in previous posts, it is part of the attempt to erase the surrogates personhood, making of her but a baby carrying vessel of the commissioners. if we have educated people writing in newspapers who use such langauge, that does not bode well for the development of regulations that will protect surrogates.

        • I agree that the language tends to erase the surrogate’s personhood in a way that is different from the non-pregnant partner’s invocation “we’re pregnant.” I think that’s a very useful way to think about it.

        • There are certain situations where I don’t think the use of language is a big deal. However, you make a great point that in this case certain language degrades the surrogate and that’s not right. Even in cases where the surrogate has no genetic connection to the child, the child would not exist if it weren’t for the surrogate. She should be treated and talked about and treated with respect with respect before, during and after the pregnancy. That is something if lacking I can’t excuse no matter what the situation.

      • When you come from a background of loss and miscarriage your not expecting happy result. Just more loss and pain.

        Your living one day at a time.

        Today – We’re pregnant!
        Hopefully – tomorrow you can say We’re Pregnant!
        You don’t even consider the next day. Only crazy people would think they could be pregnant for three days in a row.

        That’s you time Frame of reference for the entire 9 months. One Day at a time and your grateful every day that your pregnant because it could end at any time.

        “We’re Expecting” would be optimistic language used by people that have never had the loss and complications leading up to a Surrogacy Journey.

        • This is the second thought I had reading your comments. (The first is attached to the other comment you made.) People come to surrogacy by at least two different paths. Some come via experiences of infertility as you describe. That must profoundly shape the whole experience–again as you describe. Others (I’m thinking particularly of gay men) come because they know from the get-go that they need to use someone else’s uterus. That’s not a background of loss and miscarriage. And this, too, must shape the experience.

          I’m not sure that this leads me to any conclusion at this moment, but I think it’s important to observe sameness/difference when it crops up, if only to avoid over-generalizing.

        • My parent's donor is my father

          http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/conception-controversy-regretting-surrogacy-25048043

          @6:11
          “Are you not sympathetic to couples who are infertile or to same sex couples who cannot have their own biological children?”
          Lahl:
          “I’m incredibly sympathetic, but just because somebody can’t have a child doesn’t mean that I have to say, by all means, any way you can get a child is fine”

          “Um, there is a long step between, I can’t have a child and what are the ethical ways to fulfill that need to getting a child”

          • None of the so called “ethical ways to have a child” are ways Ms. Lahl and other opponents of surrogacy and third party reproduction have explored themselves. Most including Ms. Lahl just cast shame on those unable to have children who don’t adopt the children she refused to.

            • I think it is important to appreciate that there are people who, on principle, consider various forms of third-party reproduction unethical and/or immoral. I can disagree with them, but I think they’re entitled to their views. Of course, I like to know what supports their analyses, but it needn’t be experience. (I’ve never used surrogacy but have all sorts of opinions about it.)

              Shaming is complicated. On the one hand, it is incredibly destructive. For years families who adopted children were shamed and this did a lot of harm, both directly and indirectly (by leading to a culture of secrecy.) On the other hand, shaming is an effective form of social control that we all rely on to some extent. Sometimes people try to cut into lines and are shamed out of it. Perhaps that is a trivial example, but there are many similar ways in which we rely on public opprobrium to keep things going. I don’t quite know how to explain why I think one instance of shaming (say around adoption) is bad while others (around line-cutting) are ok.

              • I have no issue with people opposing third party reproduction, surrogacy and infertility treatments. You are absolutely correct that they have a right to their views. The issue I have with people like Ms. Lahl and others is that they turn their opposition into implying that those who pursue these methods to parenthood are selfish for not adopting children who need homes instead. It becomes insulting when these people had the option and choose to have children naturally as opposed to adopting a child who needed a home.

                If these groups just stuck to their opposition of third party reproduction, surrogacy and infertility treatments while I would disagree with them I wouldn’t have an issue with them. They shouldn’t and don’t need to come up with alternatives/solutions for people who are unable to have children for whatever reason. To me their message loses it’s value when they attempt to push people to do things they never did.

                I agree with you that shaming the way these people/groups do is dangerous. Shaming encourages the insecurity and secrecy that has damaged children. This is where I think the difference is in your examples is that the shaming regarding adoption and other so called “ethical ways to fulfill the need to get a child” leads to and has led to others being hurt by shaming. Whereas in the line cutting example no one is hurt by the shaming.

  2. Refresher course in new speak
    “marilynn huff | February 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
    I was wondering if you would entertain this thought on language mattering, how language paints the wrong impression of what is actually going on. ART is 3rd Party Assisted Reproductive Technology is when two people enlist the assistance of a third party to help them reproduce. The parties to the reproduction are parties number 1 and number 2.

    With ART,
    human reproduction of
    Party 1 & Party 2

    involves the assistance of
    Party 3
    who introduces
    Party 1’s sperm to
    Party 2’s egg
    in an artificial way
    not involving coitus

    3rd party assisted reproduction means a 3rd party assists 2 parties in reproducing to create offspring.

    3rd party gametes seems like an oxymoron – if its reproduction that’s being assisted – someone will assist two people in reproducing in an artificial process that is not natural like coitus.

    The way I’m reading it in your sentence its almost like what you mean is that its possible for party 1 and 2 to reproduce themselves if one of them is steril with genetic material from a 3rd person and assistance from a 4th person to essentially assist in the human reproduction of parties 1 and 3, which again leaves us with the assistance being by party #4 – so what does party #2 really have to do with the reproductive process.

    You can make the argument and quite convincingly I’ve heard you that the child is being created specifically for party 1 and 2 to raise, but to be clear, that is only after party 1 and party 3 get the assistance of party 4 to artifically introduce sperm and egg to conceive their offspring.

    The reproductive part of the process ends at that point and then there is the gestation, and the birthing and the birping, feeding and underwriting that continues on through the years. But I think it would be better not to muddy the definition of 3rd party assisted reproduction – to make it appear that infertile people are actually reproducing when they are not.

    “about using third-party gametes ”
    ” that children conceived with third-party gametes
    “those conceived with third-party gametes “

    marilynn huff | February 4, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Reply
    No amount of assistance from any 3rd party will help an infertile person reproduce. The terminology is so illogical its distracting me from paying attention to your point.”

    • I’m not sure where you are going with this, but perhaps I need to clarify my terms a bit.

      If a man and a woman produce there own gametes but use some bit of ART to ensure that the egg is fertilized by the sperm–ICSI followed by IVF comes to mind–I would call that ART but not third-party reproduction. When I use “third-party reproduction” I mean when a person not part of the couple provides gametes (eggs or sperm) or a uterus (surrogacy). Thus, I don’t count the medical personnel who facilitate the process. I don’t know that everyone uses these terms the same way–in fact, I’d suspect that there are variations. This being the case, clarity is always good. I do think there is some need to distinguish between the role the medical personnel play and the role those other people (gamete providers and surrogates) play. They are quite different, to my mind.

      I do see that the use of the word “reproduction” is a sticky point. I could say (and I think I have said) that no one literally reproduces, even if they have a child using their own gametes. A child is not a reproduction of any adult. I suppose this demonstrates that these words have different meanings in different contexts.

      All that said, I’m inclined to say that a person or people who use a surrogate or third-party gametes are using ART. But–and I know this might seem inconsistent–I wouldn’t say they’ve reproduced. Then again, I don’t think I ever say (in common speech) that a person has reproduced. I say “they had a child” or something like that. Which of course raises a whole host of other language issues.

      • You are justifiably bugged by someone telling others that that they are pregnant when in fact they are not. It is a deliberately misleading use of a medical term and the person using this phrase is hoping that their audience will sympathize with them and will bend the rules and give them poetic license because they are planning to raise the child once born.

        If you are bent about people who are not pregnant going around saying they are pregnant just because they intend to raise the child born of someone else’s pregnancy then apply that logic to people who go around saying they conceived children when really they are just planning to raise the child conceived by someone else. Apply that logic to people who say they reproduced when really they just want to raise the child someone else reproduced to create. Romance and intent to raise a child is truly lovely but it does not give people poetic license to apply medical terminology related to human conception, fertilization, reproduction, gestation, pregnancy and delivery. They can say whatever they want to say of course, it’s a free country, but they are lying. They want to give the impression that they experienced something they did not experience,

        • I see what you are saying, but I’m not sure I can follow the logic. It’s not the logic, per se. I just don’t think anyone does go around saying “we conceived a child.” Certainly I’ve never heard anyone say that.

          I have heard people say “we’re having a child”–though I’ve actually never heard that in the context of surrogacy. As I’ve said, while I generally understand what that means, I find it a rather vague locution. If a woman has used assisted insemination with sperm from a third-party provider to become pregnant, is it inaccurate for her to say “we’re having a child?” Or for her partner to say that? I suppose it depends what one means by “having,” which leads me nowhere as it’s a word with so many uses. (“I’m having a good time?”

          • No I really do mean to stick to the kind of text book words that don’t have a reasonable argument – unless one wants to go there with the emotional intentional aspect of it. Like pregnancy, perfectly reasonable of you to feel like we have to draw a line in the sand if we are going to say we are speaking the same language and pregnant is pregnant physically pregnant whether the woman conceived the fetus shc’s carrying is another matter but fetus in uterus = pregnant and no fetus in uterus = not pregnant. Wanting to raise the child a woman is carrying just is not the same as being pregnant. Also it’s not the same as conceiving or reproducing which was all my point ever was. In the past you attempted to validate the stance of couple’s saying they conceived with a donor egg or sperm – well that’s the same as being pregnant through surrogacy….someone else is pregnant and someone else conceived they should stop lying it misleads others and its chintzy

  3. If these Thai women are gestational surrogates, the Thai government is essentially holding Australian citizens hostage. Such lawlessness is unacceptable and the Australian government should demand the immediate release of its citizens.

    • I do think the Thai surrogates are gestational surrogates. I don’t know anything about either Thai or Australian law regarding parentage/citizenship. Does anyone reading? It might be good to know.

      It may be that Thailand says they are Thai citizens. It may be Australia agrees. It may be that the parentage (and/or the citizenship) of the children is unclear. But I suspect Thailand has the right to keep the children there while it is sorted out, just in case it turns out they are Thai citizens.

  4. When we had our Surrogacy pregnancy I believe we we’re pregnant. We formed a team to work together to beat infertility. We all had defined roles on our team and worked together for a common goal. We celebrated goals along the way together.

    We created the embryos and they were five days old, growing on their own, when the Surrogate took over and she become 2 weeks 5 days pregnant on the day of the transfer.

    At that point everyone on our team celebrated being pregnant. We Celebrated again two weeks later when a Beta test showed that we we’re still pregnant. Our team was winning.

    It’s no different than the language used when fans cheer on their favorite sports team. When the game is over any fan will tell you “we won or we lost.”

    It’s a natural human response to a communal shared experience.

    • I think the perspective you add is both important and thought-provoking. Two thoughts come to mind. One goes with your other comment and I’ll put it there, but as to this one: I think you are very likely right that the “we are pregnant” formulation is a natural human response under the circumstances. I suppose what I was musing about wasn’t why people use that formulation but rather what the impact of people using that formulation is. Even though I can see your point (and essentially agree) as to the “why” question, I am still troubled by the use of that language. I think when people say “we’re pregnant” when the pregnant person is essentially a stranger half a world away (I do not know if this is your situation. I’m thinking of the Thai surrogacy industry) that tends to erase the unique contribution of the surrogate. This troubles me even if it is not an intended result and even if the usage is part of a natural human response.

  5. An embryo connected directly to me biologically is growing in another person. Regardless of distance or who is carrying the embryo growing into a baby it’s my DNA. You do a 3D ultrasound and you can see my features in the babies face.

    I’m not pregnant. We are not expecting, because this would imply that we are raising the child together and I am not raising the baby with the Surrogate. We do not share an intimate relationship. Nor do we have an ongoing expectation of being joint parents. Our relationship is the pregnancy.

    She is physically carrying the pregnancy and I am emotionally bonded to the baby.

    We are pregnant. Together.

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