Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Surrogate Exploitation

`As the mother of two wonderful boys (mayhem and destruction), I can understand the desire to have a child,  yet this desire to reproduce should not obscure the ability of some potential mothers to exploit others.  Some women have turned to surrogacy to become mothers, and in the process have ignored the system of exchange, and the potential it has to reduce womens bodies to their wombs.  Womens ENews has an article detailing the exorbitant cost of surrogacy. It seeks to draw attention to the fact that with a declining economy, surrogacy as an option is becoming, more and more difficult to utilize as an option. We are meant to feel saddened that one group of women are having difficulty exploiting another group of women, for the purposes of projecting their genes into the future.

According to the article, "After fertility treatment, the expenses of surrogacy break into about four categories. Legal expenses range from $5,000 to $6,000. The carrier's health insurance ranges from $26,000 to $30,000. The carrier's fee--for services and living expenses--ranges from $20,000 to $45,000. The fee for the agency (which includes a legally-mandated $1,500 screening fee to check the carrier's background)--ranges from $3,000 to $25,000."  Where oh where is a western woman to turn to make sure that her child is genetically related to her? The answer is obvious isn't it. Let's just fall back on the poor, and WOC.  Western culture has a history of breeding us when it is convenient, all the while decrying our "rabbit" like fertility when we choose to have our own children. Yep, that's the problem with the third world, too many women having babies, but it certainly is not problematic for western women to fly over there, and pay women to give birth to children.  Whose fertility matters? Remind me which bodies count?

"Intended parents may cash in their airline frequent flyer benefits to meet carriers in India, Eastern Europe, Mexico, Russia, Thailand or South Africa, but once these air miles run out, they may be unable to afford $2,000 plane tickets so they can continue monitoring pregnancies and legal proceedings."

Oh dear, due to financial restrictions you may not be able to aptly police the woman that you have chosen to exploit. Heaven forbid that western women are unable to make sure that the leash does not aptly restrict the blood flow. What if mammy forgets her place? What if Mammy makes a decision that is not in the best interest of my genetically superior child?  But with every problem there is a solution. India is becoming a magnate for the surrogate industry precisely because the women stay in clinics or supervised homes, to ensure that their every movement can be appropriately monitored.  We must not forget that westerners are paying between 6-10 thousand, and they deserve their moneys worth. Let's over look the fact that women are taking this option because it represents the equivalent of years of labor. 

But what about supporting the choices of women?  After all, women are willingly choosing to become surrogate mothers.  We can pretend that this is not a choice constrained by circumstance, but the relevancy of the system of exchange cannot be ignored. This is simply a new form of colonialism wherein womens bodies, instead of land are being used to project western hegemony.  This is an exploitation that is specific only to women, a man cannot be exploited in this way.

Each and everyday in our consumerist, capitalist economy we are part of a system that exploits third world countries.  We have created  informal colonies so that we may consume more than our share of the global produce, and yet we can still wax prophetic about choice, and agency.  Pointing out that women will be able to educate their children, buy homes and invest the money they earn from surrogacy does not negate the fact that  this is still exploitation, and had this predatory system not been in place, India would not be the new breeding ground for infertile western women. How many choices can you buy with a dollar a day?

It is arrogance to prioritize western biological imperatives in this way.  Our DNA is no more necessary to the progression of humanity as a species than the DNA of an impoverished woman of Delhi. This is not a case wherein both sides will ultimately be satisfied, as the surrogate will always be aware that it is her body that was reduced to the level of brood mare to provide for her children.  How many auction blocks do WOC have to stand on? As I have said on many occasions our identification as women only matters when it is used to benefit others.  We are the downtrodden, 'unwomen' of the world unless of course, you happen to be in the market for a spare womb.


cooper said...

I clicked over to that link and thought what a bunch of obtuse self indulgent people. I really hae to post about this I can't believe anyone writes about it as some forthcoming tragedy to the Middle Class white women as opposed to what it is the end result of a culture which has always had what they wanted and they don't intend to stop now.

hysperia said...

How absolutely nasty, and not new, that women are prepared to exploit the vulnerabilities of other women in order to satisfy that obsessive and rather fetishistic desire to have what you call a genetically related child. Woman's body as incubator. Child as product? Awful. If the object were really to engage in that most difficult and contradictorily joyous proposition: being engaged with a child, as we all know, there are plenty of living children who need the engagement. But do you ever, as I, get uncomfortable as well, with the number of people who are willing to adopt kids from developing countries where they have been abandoned, mostly for socio-economic reasons, rather than working their asses off so that the women of those countries aren't forced into making that "choice"?

Lynn said...

"Physicality" is a tough issue, tough to frame how we look at it. On one hand, we want to look at exploitation, we should look at it I think. On the other, we want to say that we trust women to decide what is best for their bodies even if we would not do it ourselves- and so on. We see these two points of view come up when we talk not only about surrogates but the sex industry. I am not saying that being a surrogate is like prostitution, but the exploitation versus "empowerment" arguments come up in both, that's what I'm saying.

When we attach money to the use of one's body- we know that we cannot ignore exploitation and power. Some say that's irrelevant but I can't personally say that.

I could see many people saying that these women are aware, informed, and the process should not be judged because who are we to say what is best for a woman, in any country. On the other hand there is something upsetting about this, I mean- would we say the same about a poor woman selling her kidney to some American? That this is the act of empowerment?

I don't know. I have not thought this through enough, just hear both sides, you know? I just don't feel a lot of empathy- there are many orphans in the world whose lives would be better if such resources were devoted to them...

Renee said...

there are many orphans in the world whose lives would be better if such resources were devoted to them...

Exactly this is privileging DNA and then exploiting in its name. If you truly want to love a child it is possible to do so without exploiting another woman.

Anonymous said...

While the articleproblematic, would you feel better if the surrogates were American women? No doubt that many American surrogates are also poor and often white. Why do I feel like your comments suggest that the problem is one of race and not class?

More importantly, why shouldn't a woman who cannot give birth explore all the possible options? I also doubt that it is "middle class" white women who are doing this. Most middle class white women can't afford $100k to have a surrogate.

Ashley said...

I want to post as a woman who has considered surrogacy. First off, the idea of hiring a woman, period, regardless of country, to be a surrogate is disgusting and something I would never do.

I had a friend (PhD, mother of 2, financially comfortable) offer to be a surrogate for my child. She wanted to experience pregnancy again, and her husband didn't want children, whereas I simply want a child. We wound up not going through with it for many many reasons and will probably adopt, but there are situations where surrogacy can be totally non-exploitative.

And there are benefits compared to adoption. I very much want a newborn (don't give me crap about this: rule #1 of adoption is knowing and sticking to exactly what you want.) and newborn adoption is so tricky and risky. It seems like 50% of matches wind up not going through because the pregnant woman decides to parent. Additionally, there are those first 3 days before an adoption can be finalized where any number of things can happen to a child that will be yours that you're opposed to (case in point: circumcision). By using a surrogate I would know and have legal guarantees that I would parent the child, and because I know the woman/potential carrier I know that she would take excellent care of herself (and does) and that our opinions on birth coincide.

So a free offer (unpaid, unsolicited) of surrogacy conveniently takes out much of the uncertainty of adoption, and that's not even getting into the genetic issue.

Ebony Intuition said...

I'm watching this movie called "Spanglish" and the white women says to the Spanish women, "omg look at your child she's so beautiful, you could make a killing at surrogate pregnancy".

I find that very rude.

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