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July 20, 2022

Surrogacy: a Godsend to Women or Taking the Easy Way Out?

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
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I recently heard some “big news” through WhatsApp that a distant family member’s twice-removed cousin’s daughter had a baby.

We all oohed and aahed and congratulated the new mother, even though most of us had no clue who she was. But it’s the done thing, right? When someone has a baby, you say congratulations. So, we happily did.

The news died down for a few days before it was resurrected by an interfering family member who revealed the even “bigger news.” Apparently, the baby was born via a surrogate.

And that created a sh*t-storm of messages going back and forth furiously on the rights and wrongs of this young woman opting to have a child through surrogacy.

Like I said, barely any of us know this woman’s first name, much less the reasons why she opted for surrogacy. But going by the remarks about her decision in our group chat, you’d think everyone had a front-row seat to her decision.

And the judgment! Oh, the judgment on that poor woman.

Just when I thought that this was more of a “my family thing,” perish the thought. It turns out that even celebrity moms are being shamed for this.

A few months back, I remember Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas announced that they brought their preemie home after she’d spent three months in the hospital. I prayed for the baby’s health, but that post actually reminded me of the one the couple posted a few months before that—when they announced that they’d recently become parents to a beautiful baby girl.

In their Instagram post, the couple wrote: “We are overjoyed to confirm that we have welcomed a baby via surrogate. We respectfully ask for privacy during this special time as we focus on our family. Thank you so much.”

It seemed like the fact that this particular couple opted for surrogacy started up a conversation on the rights and wrongs of the process of surrogacy itself. But before I go down that rabbit hole, here are some celebrities for whom surrogacy has been the go-to method to become parents.

Kim Kardashian had children number three and four by way of surrogacy. Andy Cohen opted for surrogacy, as did his friend Anderson Cooper. Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Jimmy Fallon and Nancy Juvonen, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Elton John and David Furnish, and most recently Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson—the list of celebs who have opted to have children by way of surrogacy could go on and on.

But unlike the Priyanka Chopra Jonas/Nick Jonas scenario, in almost all of the above cases, the people in question opted for surrogacy because the women’s medical conditions stopped them from safely carrying a baby or the couple or person who hopes to become a parent is gay. There appears to be a clearly defined reason why these folks opted for surrogacy. The lines were drawn.

But that appears not to be the case with Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. There was such a big controversy, at least in India, surrounding Chopra’s opting for surrogacy because there appeared to be no ostensible medical condition that stopped her from giving birth to a child, despite her being 39 years old. According to The Daily Mail, (I know, I know…I’m quoting the worst of the worst supermarket rags here but go with me on this) it was because, “A source close to the couple said the pair had been wanting to have a baby together for ‘quite some time,’ but their busy schedules had gotten in the way. Priyanka doesn’t have any fertility issues preventing her from having a baby, but she is 39 now so it’s not getting any easier.”

Similarly, actress Jamie Chung and her husband Bryan Greenberg welcomed twins via surrogate in October 2021, and in an interview, Chung explained their reasoning: “I was terrified of becoming pregnant. I was terrified of putting my life on hold for two-plus years. In my industry, it feels like you’re easily forgotten if you don’t work within the next month of your last job. Things are so quickly paced in what we do.”

There are many questions we can ask ourselves when it comes to surrogacy, starting with:

>> Is it really any of our business what a woman and her partner choose to do with their lives, including having however many children they want in whatever way they go about acquiring them?

>> Can we question celebrities because (like it or not) many of them are seen as role models to the younger generation and their behavior impacts how “regular” people live their own lives?

>> Is it ethically and morally right for an otherwise medically healthy woman to go the surrogacy route just because she can? And by that, I mean because she can afford to?

>> Is it ethically and morally right for a woman to decide that she does not want to spoil her body by giving birth and/or does not want to stop working if she can afford to pay someone else to carry and birth her baby for her?

These are all provocative and thought-provoking questions that I’ve seen raised all over the blogosphere, in the United States and especially within India. In fact, one of the biggest feminist icons of modern times in India, Tasleema Nasreen, created a media sh*tstorm when she tweeted about people “buying readymade babies” after news of Chopra’s surrogacy came out. After intense backlash, Nasreen back-peddled a little but doubled down on her core concerns regarding surrogacy itself.

In a series of tweets Nasreen said:

“Surrogacy is possible because there are poor women. Rich people always want the existence of poverty in the society for their own interests. If you badly need to raise a child, adopt a homeless one. Children must inherit your traits—it is just a selfish narcissistic ego.

How do those mothers feel when they get their readymade babies through surrogacy? Do they have the same feelings for the babies like the mothers who give birth to the babies?

I won’t accept surrogacy until rich women become surrogate mom. I won’t accept burqa until men wear it out of love. I won’t accept prostitution until male prostitutions r built & men wait for female customers. Otherwise, surrogacy, burqa, prostitution r just exploitation of women & poor.”

These are some extremely powerful ideas and questions, all of which were raised by my own extended family in our group chat regarding our distant relative and her newborn baby.

Look, I am not married, nor do I have kids or fur babies. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t mothered. I’ve mothered many of my friends. I’ve mothered family members, including my parents. So, I’m no stranger to mothering. But I know I can never claim to understand the bonds you create with another human when said human literally comes out of your body. I have no idea if this bond is more powerful than when someone else gives birth to a child who has your DNA or when you adopt a child who doesn’t share any of your DNA.

I simply do not know.

That said, from my own experience of mothering those who share my DNA and those who don’t, there is no difference in the love that I feel for either of them. So, for me, love is love and “giving birth” does not matter. But then, I also trust and believe many close women friends who’ve told me that giving birth created a bond with their child that was unlike any other.

Back to what Nasreen said in her tweets, I wonder, does she have a point? If a woman does not suffer from a medical condition and decides to literally “offshore” the job of giving birth, is that like buying a readymade baby?

And let’s not kid ourselves: opting for a child via the surrogacy route is only for those with deep pockets. The process is so expensive that it’s out of reach for even many who consider themselves upper middle class. So, is this a class thing? Is this a convenience thing? Are we—in 2022—at that point where creating human life has become just another business?

Or are we taking this conversation someplace it doesn’t need to be?

For instance, some celebrities make giving birth look like it’s nothing. Remember how gorgeous Princess Kate looked each time she came out of the hospital and posed with her newborn baby? It seemed effortless. The wind-tossed hair, the almost-flat tummy, and a dewy-fresh face that belied the fact that it’d been a mere 15 hours since she gave birth? Even A-list superstar Keira Knightley blasted Middleton for setting impossible standards of beauty for women who have just given birth.

But those are few and far between. Every single woman I know who has given birth talks about what a complete mess their body was post-pregnancy. From putting on extra weight to losing hair to extreme body aches to a loose bladder that takes millions of Kegel exercises to bring it back to some semblance of normalcy, it takes months, if not years, for women to “bounce back” from pregnancy, if they ever do at all.

So, if women have the option to choose motherhood without getting pregnant themselves, who are we to sit in judgment of them? And are we being too judgmental toward women who opt for surrogacy, no matter their reason?

Or are we not being judgmental enough given that this is human life we are talking about and there has to be some sanctity attached to the continuation of our species?

Again, I don’t know the answer. I’m genuinely flummoxed with this one. Please let me know what you think in the comments.

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