Who Is My Mother?

Surrogate Motherhood On The Market

By Esther Karpets

This seemingly obvious question may be one you never asked your parents, but 5,238 babies born between 2004-2008 will get a complicated response. What do you say to a child when they were carried and birthed by one woman and raised by another? Or what if the child has biological ties to the birth mother, but is being raised by the only the biological father? With surrogate birth, the topic of motherhood has gotten more complex than ever before.

There are two main options for surrogate birth. A traditional surrogate is “a woman who gets artificially inseminated with the father’s sperm”. So the birth mother is the biological mother, but she carries the baby for another couple. A gestational surrogate uses “in vitro fertilization” (IVF) which makes it possible for the birth mother to carry an embryo acquired from the biological parents. In this case, the surrogate is only the birth mother, not the biological mother.

History Of An Increasing Market

1978 marked the birth year of Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through IVF. This successful birth marked the start of an “assisted reproductive technology industry” that is now flourishing in the US. So far, there is a limited amount of available statistics on surrogate birth, but the numbers that are given do reflect a general increase in popularity. According to the Council for Responsible Genetics, “the number of babies born to gestational surrogates grew 89% percent in just four years, from 2004 to 2008.” Recently, even celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Keith Urban, and Jimmy Fallon were able to have new additions to the family through surrogate birth.

Although the trend of wealthy couples and even singles, choosing to have children using a surrogate mother is on the rise, there are usually serious complications that motivate this choice. The main explanation is that people turn to surrogate births when they are unable to have their own children due to infertility, age, no partner, or a homosexual partner.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that “12 percent of American women 15 to 55 — 7.3 million — have used some sort of fertility service.” Generally speaking, technological advances in modern science and genetics are equipping people with the ability to take full control of childbirth.

Issues

A tight hold on child planning, however, may come with unintended consequences. One of the first surrogate mothers became an advocate against surrogate birth when she experienced negative effects after having to give up the child to whom she grew an emotional attachment over the time of her pregnancy. Another surrogate birth made the headlines as Melissa Cook fought for the legal custody of the triplets she carried when she found out that the biological father was inadequate to care for the children. Her fight was unsuccessful.

In cases like these, heartbroken birth mothers say “surrogacy contracts are exploitative to the birth mothers” and “create a class of women as breeders and commodify children.” There is an obvious bias in situations where birth mothers create a strong attachment and find their “child” in an unsafe situation. On the other hand, surrogacy has brought a new hope to families that struggle with issues that prevent them from conceiving.

Since surrogate birth is still a controversial topic, it is not legally recognized in a number of states. New York and Lousiana, for example, prohibit surrogacy contracts. However, research reveals that “In states where legislative deliberation has deemed that surrogacy is undesirable and should be prohibited, there appears to be no enforcement of this policy.”

The New Family Dynamic

The progressive culture and advances in reproductive technology are allowing people to influence the modern family dynamic. Unexpected pregnancies are the things of the past. With surrogate birth, couples can plan a baby by “renting” a woman’s womb, choosing the child’s eye color and even planning the date of birth. It seems that the individuals who are privileged to afford a surrogate birth can now control their family life as they please.

The greatest complexity of the process seems to be experienced by the surrogate birth mothers who face emotional strain, short and long-term health risks, and a lack of legal representation. The Council for Responsible Genetics states that “we cannot rule out the possibility that women working as surrogates are risking their lives” even though there is a need for more research and hard evidence.

Surrogate birth is an option for a limited number of people-  couples who have the money to pay for a birth mother and women who are willing to sacrifice their health. Within these limitations, the process is still on the market, and with a greater demand. The once impossible procedure is now a reality- couples can birth biological babies in their infertility, and childlessness is no longer a misfortune. The only difficulty, however, may be to help the child understand who is its real mother.

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