Saturday, January 3, 2009

Womb for Sale

I am going to say it very clearly, I do not agree with paid surrogacy.  I know, know, what about women's autonomy and agency?  Here is the thing, we all forget while we are screaming about women having the right to choose what they will and will not do with their bodies, that all of these decisions are occurring within constrained circumstances. 

CNN recently published an article detailing the  trend of gay and straight men turning to surrogate mothers to have children after being turned down for adoption.   As I read through and learned that these men desperately wanted to parent, I could not help but to have sympathy for them.  In a world where so many children are in the system being shuffled from foster home to foster home there is no reason to deny an adult who is responsible and loving, the opportunity to adopt a child.  While I am very empathetic to their position I cannot support the exploitation of women to achieve their aims. 

In the story they divide the women into to groups: the egg donors and the gestational carriers.  Don't you love the way that terminology is used to pretty up the process.  These "egg donors" actually sell their eggs.  Now that the economy is in the pits there is has been an increase in the number women willing to sell their eggs.  Women are not deciding to "donate" simply because they want to help someone have a child.

Women can earn $7,000 or more for just one donation.
"That's a lot of money," Block says. "It's great for school. It's great for the mortgage. It's great... great to help their families out. And you know, it's... it's something that they feel good about."
But, Koeppen notes, egg donation isn't an easy way to make a quick buck. It's a time consuming medical procedure, with risks. Donors will spend weeks taking fertility drugs. Medications can cause hot flashes, headaches and vision problems. Donors also have to have frequent blood tests and ultrasounds. And it takes several days to recover after the eggs are harvested.
But Christy Bush helps support her two kids and pays for nursing school with the money she's earned donating eggs -- nearly $30,000.
Over the past four years, she says, she's donated four times and, with money being tight, she's decided to donate again.
"It makes it so that I'm not working 40 hours a week. ... It's given me hope that I can actually do the parenting and the schooling and still be home and doing great things and actually watching my kids being be raised," Bush says.

Imagine having to sell a part of your physical being so that you can get an education and raise your children.  The so-called donors are actually victims of the combination of patriarchy and capitalism.  In a world where poverty has largely become a feminized phenomenon, is it really any wonder that women are reduced to "donating" their eggs in order to maintain subsistence? An act of altruism would mean that there is no need on the part of the one providing the service.

The gestational carriers put themselves at an even higher risk, for a longer period of time.  As much as pregnancy is a natural occurrence in the life of a woman it comes at a great risk and a great cost. 

20/20 aired a segment last night on surrogate mothers.  They focused on two women, Anita Brush and Carole Horlock.

The former day-care worker's unlikely career as a surrogate began 12
years ago,
when she was looking for a job that would allow her to spend more time at home with her three young kids.

After passing a rigorous screening process, which involved
psychological tests, medical exams and background checks, Brush joined
an agency and quickly became pregnant for a Japanese couple.

Am I the only one that sees the irony here.  Socially we will not pay women to stay home and raise the children that they have given birth to, but we are more than willing to use their capability to reproduce.  In this method, reproduction becomes a process and the child a product that is no different than a loaf of bread or flat screen tv.  Now that it (the child) is a commodity somehow it is valuable enough for someone to invest in.

Brush said she's not in it for the money. "Somebody figured it out
once, and just in a normal pregnancy like a 10-month pregnancy, it
worked out to be about $1.75 an hour."

And if a woman gets all those shots and goes to all those doctor's
appointments and she fails to get pregnant, Brush said,
she doesn't
get paid. (all emphasis is mine)

Yes you read that right $1.75 per hour.  When we consider what is involved this constitutes not only labour exploitation but specifically genderized exploitation.  This amounts to far less than the legal minimum wage and the women involved are taking drugs and risking their lives.  So devalued is the woman in this whole process that if she fails to become pregnant she receives nothing.  Nothing for the hormones, the discomfort, the pain...the baby is the product.

Those involved would like us to see this as just a business transaction, after all the women can decline to participate.  What I have noticed over and over again in these situations is that the women that are "choosing" to participate in paid surrogacy come from working class backgrounds.  This is not a decision that their rich sisters are choosing to make.  It is a matter of the rich turning poor women into baby mills.  It reduces women to nothing more than a rentable uterus and devalues the whole process of pregnancy, labour, delivery, and motherhood.

If a woman makes this decision because she is helping family or a friend the element to of exploitation is removed.  The moment we begin to commodify something we enter in a master/slave relationship.  For nine months her life does not belong to her.  She must consider her pregnancy in every single activity.  The job becomes totalizing in that she can never  escape it. All  this for 1.75 per hour. That rate of pay is exactly why you don't see rich women suddenly overcome with the desire to "help out" infertile couples.

We use pretty language to cover for what it really is.  We don't want to think of it as renting a womans body for a minimum of 9 months  time (gestation + fertilization time).  We would rather couch it in terms of nurturing and aid; pretty feminine language to cover up the exploitation.  This is exactly how we view all kinds of feminized labour.  Womens labour is  necessary to the progression of our society, but the fact that women are the ones performing is the justification we employ for maintaining a low wage. 

I simply cannot agree to this kind of arrangement when women are so clearly undervalued.  There is clearly a difference in power between the parent and the gestational carriers that extends beyond the normal relationship of employer/employee.  We all become slaves when we must sell our time and labour power, but surrogacy adds the element of selling ones reproductive capabilities which as aforementioned is feminized exploitation. 

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