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.