Father Of Multitudes?: Thai Surrogacy and More

There’s a story from a few weeks ago that I’ve been thinking about.   A young Japanese man, Mitsutoki Shigeta, hired a series of Thai surrogates.  He became a genetic father to at least 16 children this way, spending something like $500,000.   While is motives remain obscure, he apparently wanted to continue at something like this pace for as long as he could, presumably creating hundreds of children.

Now the obvious thing to talk about here–and one that has gotten a lot of attention–is what this says about the Thai surrogacy industry or surrogacy more generally.   Surely there is a lot to think about.   But I am not going to add to the welter of comments on that topic you can already find.

I want to think about this more broadly.   What Shigeta was doing is extraordinary–I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this.  But at the same time, it’s not unheard of for men to have many, many genetic offspring.   This can (and has) happened in other circumstances.

One such circumstance is the sperm donor who ends up with scores (or hundreds) of children.   That’s been a topic on the blog in the past.   But I’m not going to discuss that, here, either, because I think there’s a significant difference:   The sperm donor provides sperm but has no intention of serving as legal or social parent to the children.  Indeed, he goes on his way with no idea this is happening.  Thus, while there may be many troubling things to discuss in those cases, they’re different things.

The circumstances I do mean to consider are those where a man has multiple wives, or at least multiple parallel relationships.   It does seem that you can find nearly everything on the web sometimes, so here’s a link to a top-ten list.    Perhaps in time Shigeta would top the list, but for the moment, he’s not even close.    What I wonder is whether these are meaningfully different cases.   Shigeta pays his surrogates while the other men marry their wives, but I wonder how much that counts for, really.

I also find myself thinking that this is pretty much a male thing.  Of course, with IVF and fertility drugs it’s possible that a woman could produce scores of eggs, have them fertilized in vitro and then have surrogates carry her children to term.   (I don’t think there’s any way to get the same result without technology.)   But I’ve never heard of such a thing happening.

All this leads me to think about gender and parenthood.  Given our expectations for what it means to be a mother, it’s just impossible for me to imagine a woman to be am other of multitudes (even though I rather like the alliteration.)   Indeed, could a woman sustain the emotionally complex relationship we expect between mother and child with even twenty-five children?    But men–they claim not motherhood but fatherhood.   Men do not need to have such emotionally complex relationships to be called “father.”    So while we may shudder a bit, the idea that a man is father to twenty-five or fifty children strikes us a possible, even if aberrant.

What I am getting at (not very clearly–out of practice) is something about the differences is expectations for male and female parents.   What we expect of female parents precludes having dozens of kids.   What we expect of male parents doesn’t.    I do not mean to suggest it should be this way or that it must be this way, just that it is this way.  And I think that should give us pause.

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3 responses to “Father Of Multitudes?: Thai Surrogacy and More

  1. I only have my own experience but I don’t view either parent as the default one who provides the nurturing (for lack of a better definition). With a few limitations for one, I had access to both throughout the day. Does it matter the length of time spent, or is it the connection made during the time spent that matters in nurturing? To me it is the quality of the connection made vs. time spent, but I’m fairly introverted so that may contribute to what I feel.

    When you stop and think though, it was common historically to have 12-20 children, mind you most were a year or so apart, but even so, what they had to do each day just to eat three meals and clean clothes/other chores would take up most of the day for the mother, and the father would be working long hours too. It was also common to have nannies if you could afford it, shipping your kids to a relative for the summer was also the norm for quite a while more recently.

  2. indeed it seems hard to imagine that mr shigeto is actually taking care of his many children that he is churning out, which leads me to wonder who is? as for your conclusion julie that this is a statement about fatherhood, i really don’t view it that way…. i think he is too far of a cultural outlier to represent anything meaninful. while i agree there is a huge gap between our expectations of motherhood and fatherhood, in my opinion the gap is closing and far more is expected of fathers nowadays

  3. Weird story. He’s very rich and claims he wants all the kids to grow up and work in and inherit his business.

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