December 3, 2008

Warning: Unnaturally Serious Post Ahead

I'm a few days behind, but I'm fascinated by this whole brouhaha surrounding a (very long, very detailed) NY Times article written by Alex Kuczynski about her experience hiring a gestational surrogate to give birth to her baby.  With over 400 comments on the NY Times site, and some fiesty reactions in the blogging world, this certainly caught people's attention.  

Some interesting highlights:

- The photos - yikes.  Note the surrogate - barefoot on her porch.  Note the mommy - holding baby in front of Southampton home with African American baby nurse standing by.

- As many of the comments point out, she does seem to take on a slightly elitist tone in discussing, well, most things.  I mean, she compares pregnancy with carrying her tiny dog in a "BabyBjorn-like harness on hikes."  Really? 

- The author portrays pregnancy as a miserable burden that she is lucky to avoid.  I feel like this touches on a huge (and unfortunate) cultural issue - I (and many other women my age) suffer from a wee bit of a pregnancy/birth obsession/fear.  Seriously.  It's bad.  You do not even know how many belly galleries I've browsed on parenting Web sites.  It's disturbing.  And articles like this aren't helping.  Somehow it seems that we've come to look at reproduction as a terrifying and painful burden.  And when a woman writes a 9 page article in the NY Times about how she's glad she didn't have to deal with her feet swelling "like loaves or bread," it's certainly not going to help younger women look at pregnancy with a very favorable eye.  

- That said, it's interesting to compare this article to the very recent NY Times article on home births which illustrates how some people are taking a very different approach and eschewing medical technology in favor of of a more natural approach.  (Eh, perhaps a little too natural for my tastes)

- Finally, I just don't know how I feel about the whole surrogacy thing.  Not at all judging those who choose that path, but not sure if I could do it.  All of these infertility issues always remind me of a Human Sexuality class I took at Rutgers.  The professor was fantastically interesting, and very very against infertility treatments.  He continually talked about infertility as a means of natural selection - if you can't have a baby, maybe that means you're not supposed to have a baby.  In theory I agree... but then isn't that true of ALL medical technology?  Why bother with any kind of surgery or medication at all?  And I think everything changes when it's suddenly you dealing with the problem, when your biological clock is ticking and there's nothing you can do to make it stop.

{Photo by mistybliss}


Daisy said...

A dear friend has two daughters, both conceived by in-vitro due to endometriosis. Working with her during her pregnancies was watching a miracle. She and her husband truly became a family. Immoral? Never.

JenX67 said...

pretty compelling post. Surrogacy only sounds insane until I think of it being the only way I might be able to have a child. Once, I heard of a woman who was a surrogate for her DAUGHTER. How cool is that? The daughter was barren and mom carried the baby. I'd do that for my girls, but only my girls. I've had three full-term pregnancies. They were very difficult, especially working full time. But, so worth it. If I wasn't passed 40, I'd go for FOUR!! =)

Countrybelle said...

as a fellow young woman, i totally know what you mean about pregnancy fear. when i think about pregnancy it seems scary and unnatural: something else taking over my body (which i guess it kindof is). when we have worked so hard for (legal, social, personal) control over our bodies, sometimes it seems crazy to me to let something else (a baby, procreation) take us over. but then i remember... pregnancy IS natural, how could it be more so? it makes me wonder, how can women have empowered pregnancies? or is that beside the point?

Ginger said...

I don't think surrogacy in and of itself is bad, though the costs can be staggering, but I do think that the way that she wrote & talked about it was...well, tasteless at the very least. And my god, those pictures were such a poor decision.
Of course I read her previous book about plastic surgery and ended up strongly disliking her when I finished, so when I found out she was the writer of this article, I wasn't surprised.

CJ said...

Being a guy, I think it would be the height of arrogance for me to hold any opinion as to the goodness or otherwise of surrogacy. However, there is one technical problem that I can see and that is the fact that, at birth, the human female body releases a whole mass of hormones to help the mother to deal with that birth and, apart from doing a lot to strengthen the mother, both then and for some time to come (some female distance runners actually consider having a baby as a means to help them to run better in the future), that rush of hormones does much to create the "bond" between mother and offspring. I just wonder how that works out.

Johnny Truant said...

For what it's worth (and that may not be much), it seems to totally depend on the woman and her temperament. My wife handled pregnancy twice without any real issues other than the fact that she got uncomfortable at the end. I personally think I'd be scared enough to shit peachpits, but that may be because I have nowhere to grow a kid.

the sassy kathy said...

all good thoughts - thanks all for your reactions!
(johnny truant - you made me laugh with the peachpits comment)

Rayven, 2X Gestational Surrogate said...

I've been a surrogate mother twice, and am considering a third journey.

It is not something everyone can do, and you are totally right; it's easy to say you "wouldn't use a surrogate" until it is you facing infertility.

I think that the NY Times article did not offend those of us in the infertility circles the way that it did everyone else because we understand.

When she was saying she was glad she wasn't pregnant, that was her way with coping with this horrible devastating situation she was in. Until you walk those shoes, you just don't know what it feels like. She was writing from the heart, and a broken one at that, trying to make it seem reasonable in her mind. A situation that seems so unreasonable in reality.

Best wishes!

the sassy kathy said...

rayven - thank you so much for this perspective. and i totally agree with you - she certainly had to develop some kind of defense mechanism to deal with that pain. couldn't have said to better myself.

LegalMist said...

Interesting thoughts.

Re: pregnancy as a "burden" -- I have known women who had awful pregnancies, with nausea 24/7, on bed-rest for months, pre-eclampsia and other issues, and other women who sail through pregnancy without a problem in the world. I even have one friend who told me pregnancy hormones kept her arthritis pain under control and that she never felt completely well except when she was pregnant. There is just a huge range of experience.

My own pregnancies involved some mild discomfort (nausea / exhaustion for a couple of months at the beginning, swollen ankles / exhaustion in the evening for a couple of months at the end, and other minor inconveniences), but I found the whole experience fascinating and kind of cool. Yes, it's scary the first time, thinking about how the baby has to get out... but then it happens and you survive and it's not nearly as scary the second time around.

So don't let this woman's excessive fear (really -- she hired a surrogate because she didn't want her feet to swell?!? She couldn't think of anything at all better to spend that money on? Wow) -- anyway, don't let it scare you away from having kids if it's something you want to do. Yes, you could have a truly awful pregnancy. But it's not that likely, and even if it happens, it's only nine months. Such a short piece of your life, really.

Just my two cents (or eighty-two, maybe, given the length of it...)

LegalMist said...

Ok, so I didn't read the actual article. In looking at the other comments, it appears the author's article was actually infertile and did not just hire the surrogate to avoid pregnancy problems. So I take it back about her not having better things to spend her money on. I certainly didn't mean to disparage her for that if she really is incapable of having kids herself! (Oops.) I hope I didn't inadvertently offend anyone with that comment.

But I stand by my opinion that no one should let the fear of swollen ankles or other potential problems scare them away from having a baby if they want to and are able to.

distracted by shiny objects said...

Interesting post. I'm especially interested in hearing what you have to say about today's young women and your fear/apprehesion of pregnancy. One thing I know FOR SURE about pregnancy is that when you are quietly minding your own business someone will come up and tell their own horror story of the experience and on the days that you are feeling nauseated/fat/ clumsy/ugly someone else will find you like a heat-seeking missile and tell you how fabulous they felt during their entire pregnancy and they wish they could be pregnant every, single day. That's truth. As far as an empowered pregnancy...I don't experience with having babies & being a nurse for 100 years is that bodies and babies do whatever the hell they want to do. You think you have some control ovet the whole operation; that's just a ruse:>)