The Wild West of Surrogacy

For most my life, I didn’t know traditional surrogacy was illegal in so many places. It’s not a topic of conversation that comes up unless I bring it up. For the United States, I found this to be a fairly comprehensive site that breaks down laws for both gestational and traditional surrogacy on a state by state basis since it varies so much. Internationally speaking, the variance is maintained country to country with places like France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria prohibiting all forms of surrogacy. In a strange way, this is when I’m glad to also identify as being queer, another identity that faces legal complexities with 76 countries still having discriminatory laws against LGBTQ people. Being seen as illegal is not new to me. In many ways, the legality of it is the main reason why it often feels like I have to “come out” as a surrogate kid.

These are the facts though – anyone can look them up if they care to. To live knowing how you came to live is deemed illegal is hard to bear. It creates a pit in my stomach and great confusion. Just for fun, let’s throw in the Catholic Church’s stance:

Surrogacy is not a moral option. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral.

These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ right to become a father and a mother only through each other (CCC 2376).

How I was born is considered immoral and unethical by many across the world. It’s for these exact reasons, I feel a need to speak and to be heard. I’ve felt and seen the power of visibility in the queer community. I believe the same can be said for surrogate kids. We didn’t choose to be born this way yet we must live knowing in the back of our minds how other people view how we came into this world. I’ve been lucky not to encounter those folks in my lifetime yet.

To be clear, this isn’t a post about how surrogacy must be legal everywhere. I don’t believe that particularly with the power imbalances that are wound up in the “industry” for lack of a better term. My own personal stance is one of regulations seeing as the surrogacy industry is described as the “wild west”:

From the above video:

“I think it is the wild west in surrogacy because there’s no required license – you don’t have to be a lawyer, you don’t have to be a social worker or psychologist. People are entering this some of whom are very honorable and some of whom are not so honorable. I’d like to see regulation take place.” – John Weltman from Circle Surrogacy

I couldn’t agree more but that’s as far as it goes – I am not an expert enough in the matter to know what types of regulations are needed. The simple fact that this is such an unregulated industry involving the creation of human life worries me. I don’t think many people know this reality.

According to some, my “type” of surrogacy is the most immoral and unethical: I was born through a non altruistic (read: paid) traditional surrogacy (using the birthmother’s egg and womb) arrangement. Altruistic (read: free) vs non altruistic (read: paid) surrogacy remains a heated debate to this day with a Canadian politician just a few weeks ago looking to decriminalize paid surrogacy:

Surrogacy is legal in Canada but paying a surrogate is not. A Canadian MP is proposing that the country decriminalise payment for women who choose to become surrogates. As global demand for Canadian surrogates grows, is commercialising the practice the answer?

In college, I got roped into helping a friend of a friend write a paper on surrogacy. I don’t quite remember the context but I do remember sitting in the student union while he scribbled down answers growing bolder in his questions as the time went on. I’ve noticed when folks first find out they tend to have 3 reactions: brush off that I said anything, start with a completely innocuous and vague question before building up to more real ones, or they jump right into the deep end asking personal questions. I like the last kind of response the most even if sometimes it can veer into accidentally insulting territory as it at least shows curiosity.

“Do you know how much the surrogate was paid for you?”

I didn’t. I grabbed my phone and called my Dad immediately repeating the question to the horror of the student sitting across from me. My Dad could hardly remember and gave me a ball park figure which blew my mind. I know the exact price of my car and my car isn’t a living, breathing being. This has been a recurring theme for me in understanding surrogacy. I’ll have what seems to be a really central question for my parents and they’ll come back with “Hmm you know, I don’t remember” type answer.

In asking them about whether they were worried about it being illegal or in the wake of Baby M (I was born in 1993, only 6 years after Baby M was born), neither expressed much concern. The lack of any concern almost seems like a coping mechanism as otherwise I can imagine it would be too overwhelming to pursue surrogacy. I guess that’s why they ultimately did unlike many couples who likely opted out at the time and who still do today. I’m not quite sure but I do know the desire to have another kid was the driving force even after they had my brother while working to have me over the course of 4 years.

At the end of the day, I do my best to remember that I’m already here and I am part of this narrative. I can’t change how I was brought into the world but I can try to grasp the complexities of it. From talking with friends and seeing them start to have children of their own, you begin to realize how complex and messy every family is. I am not afraid to admit that my coming into this world was hyper planned with legal documents, money exchanging hands, and sperm being shipped across the country. I can face that reality as it also includes one of being so wanted by parents that they went to great lengths to get me here.

While some may view how I was brought into the world as the most immoral, in some ways, it feels the most human especially knowing my birth mom now. Gestational surrogacy where the surrogate mother is not carrying a baby with her egg (using either the intended parent’s egg or a donor) seems less so. I remember talking to someone in the surrogacy world about this when she suddenly blurted out, “If you think traditional is confusing, imagine how confusing gestational surrogacy is going to be for those kids!” After hours of a putting up a facade while talking about how great surrogacy is, it was a sigh of relief to break through to the complexity around this narrative.

I can see both sides on this issue. You could spend hours going down the internet rabbit hole trying to suss this out:

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 9.35.00 PM

As a woman, I can see how it can be both exploitation (“I need the money” even though the pay is less than minimum wage) and a gift (“I love my friend’s family – of course I’ll help”) depending on the situation. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I understand the desire to have a family of your own (genetically speaking) for gay men. As a child of surrogacy, I am deeply affected by this debate as it underpins my entire existence.

I read this somewhere (paraphrasing) in an article about technology and the responsibility those of us have in the field: “When building a new technology, always think about how the technology you think will do so much good can be used for bad. It will happen and you need to be ready.” I offer this same advice to surrogacy agencies. My hope is those in the surrogacy industry who are living up to high standards win out and drive the conversation towards proper regulations. My fear is money and power will corrupt. Time will tell.

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