Longtime Faithful Readers may well remember the infamous Senior Citizen Pregnancy Incident at my old blog, wherein I complained bitterly at how awful I thought it was that tens of thousands of dollars were being spent so that a woman in her 60’s could get pregnant, when that money could better serve humanity in any number of fashions, including paying the fees for that woman to adopt several children, really helping make the world a better place. Anyhow, I cannot find the link to the original post, but it was a classic, and, in my inimitable fashion, I managed to completely destroy one of my friendships based on my opinions about such a…sensitive matter.
Seeking a repeat performance, who am I not to wade into the debate quasi-raging on the ‘sphere today about Alex Kuczynski’s piece in the New York Times Magazine about her experience with gestational surrogacy, the practice of having another woman carry an embryo, made from the egg and sperm of you and your mate, to term.
As I say, debate has been semi-raging. Ramesh had a not-so-surprisingly derogatory response over at The Corner. However, being Ramesh, it also makes a couple of good points. For one, I find it amazing that an 8-page article, some 7500 words long, can avoid the question of adoption altogether, or at least explain it away so pithily:
And, at that moment, having a biologically related child felt necessary. What began as wistful longing in my 20s had blistered into a mad desire that seemed to defy logic. The compulsion to create our own bloodline seemed medieval, and I knew we could enjoy our marriage — our lives — without a child. Yet I couldn’t argue myself out of my desire. A child with our genes would be a part of us. My husband’s face would be mirrored in our child’s face, proof that our love not only existed, but could be recreated beyond us. Die without having created a life, and die two deaths: the death of yourself, and the death of the immense opportunity that is a child.
I hate to be the bad guy here, but it always seems to be my job. A large part of what makes us human is our ability, in the absence of any external stimulus, to choose not to do things that seem necessary for us, if our logical brains tell us that they’re not the right thing to do. We can’t make ourselves stop wanting to do them, but we are able to keep ourselves from doing them anyways.
So, I’m sorry. That simply doesn’t make it as an excuse for failing to even consider adoption. If you think that an adopted child, especially one raised from birth by his or her parents, cannot love them just as dearly as a biological child, I don’t know what to say about that, except that I’m terrifically sorry for you.
Anyhow, Ramesh’s other point is quite salient, which is that, while he would really like to read the story from the side of the surrogate, it’s much more likely that the Times already had a buyer on staff, rather than someone who felt the need to farm her uterus out for $25,000, a point quite saliently made by the picture of mother and child, with a plantation-style home in the background and a “baby nurse” at the ready, in case something more important than parenting this most precious of all gifts (an unexpected opening in bikram yoga class, perhaps?) happens to come up.
Ezra had some good links on the issue as well. One was an article by Kerry Howley in Reason magazine about her experience as an egg donor. It’s a good article, written from the non-mother point of view, and complete with all sorts of introspection which is, frankly, lacking in Kuczynski’s article. It deals with some of the more interesting moral challenges to the question of egg donation and surrogate parenting, at least lightly.
Somewhat better in this regard is another piece Ezra linked to, Dana Goldstein’s response over at The American Prospect. Dana raises some very healthy concerns which are, at best, noted and then brushed away in the Times piece.
…there’s no mistaking that [surrogate mother] Hilling and Kuczynski come from vastly different worlds. Hilling is small town America to Kuczynski’s Manhattan; she is pink fleece to Kuczynski’s little black dress.
Inequality and trouble paying for basics — like a college education — push some women to carry other women’s pregnancies.
I believe surrogacy should be regulated and legal. But I don’t want to live in a country where women turn to surrogacy in order to pay their own children’s college bills.
This last, in particular, is both imminently agreeable – I don’t think anybody thinks that it’s a good world where poor women are seen mostly, or even largely, as baby mules, best used to carry to term the infants of their socioeconomic betters – and very thorny. Who are we, as a society, especially we who take the “women’s right to privacy and self-determination of their own bodies” argument very seriously in the question of abortion legality, to say that a rational, adult woman should not be able to do this with her own body? Nobody else is being hurt – indeed, another couple is being helped, immensely so.
At the same time, I am still, personally, stuck on the extreme amount of egotism and sheer narcissism that these sorts of decisions imply to me. Now, I will freely admit to being a male member of the human species, which means that my biological clock, if it exists at all, is very quiet, and runs much more slowly than that of the average woman. And, so, I can only do an imperfect job at putting myself into someone else’s shoes. However, the fact remains that I simply cannot understand how such a well-educated woman is so caught up in her needs and desires that an idea like adoption, something I would consider a completely reasonable action in lieu of natural pregnancy, if not a full replacement, never seems to enter the picture.
The sheer tone of Kuczynski’s piece, all about how embarrassed she was to have to remove herself from yoga class, in case her surrogate went into labor, and how all her friends responded to her pregnancy, is so self-centered – I feel like her husband was little more than window dressing in the piece, and even Max, her eventual son, barely rates a mention, even after he is born.
I don’t know. It’s a complicated question. Adults should be allowed to consummate economic transactions like this, about that I am sure. At the same time, I think that less self-involved, more moral people would choose different uses for their time, energy, and money. And I’m freely willing to admit that this might all be narcissism on my part, because I am young(ish), and unmarried, and able to make criticisms like this without any life experience that teaches me any different. So, I guess, I reserve the right to say that this is my opinion now, and it might change later. I know several of my readers are parents on their own right – I’m curious, what is your response to these sorts of issues?