Sat 13 Dec, 2008 11:06 am
Rent-a-Womb Is Where Market Logic Leads
by Thomas Frank - Huffington Post
Posted December 12, 2008
At long last, our national love affair with the rich is coming to a close. The moguls whose exploits we used to follow with such fascination, it now seems, plowed the country into the ground precisely because of the fabulous rewards that were showered on them.
Massive inequality, we have learned, isn't the best way to run an economy after all. And when you think about it, it's also profoundly ugly.
Some people haven't received the memo, though. Take Alex Kuczynski, author of the New York Times Magazine cover story for Nov. 30, which tells how she went about hiring another woman to bear her child.
For years Ms. Kuczynski worked the plutocracy beat for the New York Times, and in her whimsical way she described the travails of the world's supermodels, the scene-making that went on at this or that high-end restaurant, and the feeling on the hard streets of Greenwich and the Hamptons.
Somewhere along the way, Ms. Kuczynski went from observer to observed. She married a hedge-fund billionaire and in 2005 was the subject of a memorable bit of plute-worship in W magazine. Here we learned about her four homes (including one on Park Avenue and one in Southampton) but mainly about her really inaccessible spread in Idaho, where everything has to be flown in: the masseuses, the meat, the guests, the yoga instructor, the chefs, and the logs that were required to restore the property's log cabins to her husband's exacting standards.
Now Ms. Kuczynski's trademark concern for the moneyed becomes memoir as she relates to us, in last week's Times Magazine, her "adventures with a surrogate mom." The story starts with Ms. Kuczynski's infertility, which is genuinely piteous, but quickly goes wrong, as she and her husband decide to hire a woman to carry their child and review applications from women with available wombs.
Surrogate motherhood has been the subject of much philosophical and political dispute over the years. To summarize briefly, it is a class-and-gender minefield. When money is exchanged for pregnancy, some believe, surrogacy comes close to organ-selling, or even baby-selling. It threatens to commodify not only babies, but women as well, putting their biological functions up for sale like so many Jimmy Choos. If surrogacy ever becomes a widely practiced market transaction, it will probably make pregnancy into just another dirty task for the working class, with wages driven down and wealthy couples hiring the work out because it's such a hassle to be pregnant.
Ms. Kuczynski is not entirely oblivious to these issues; indeed, she considers them for several poignant paragraphs before inevitably brushing them off.
It's "organ rental," Ms. Kuczynski decides; nothing worse. She is taken with the surrogate's reference to herself as an "Easy-Bake oven" -- a toy appliance -- and further describes her as "a vessel, the carrier, the biological baby sitter, for my baby." And, yes, the surrogate applicants could all use the money, if not desperately; the one who gets the job plans to use it to help pay her kids' way through college. Additionally, one of the surrogate's children, Ms. Kuczynski notes, "had been an egg donor to help pay her college tuition."
Maybe if this young woman had been donating her eggs to buy groceries Ms. Kuczynski would have understood that all this reproduction-for-hire was a product of her billionaire-centric world as surely as the Blahniks and Versace she used to trill about -- that college and surrogacy are available to people like Ms. Kuczynski and not to others because that's how our system works.
Instead she tells us, very sincerely, how much she enjoyed spending the last few months before the child arrived "by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River" -- presumably Level 10 rapids are really quality rapids -- "racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl." She also does a lot of "Bikram yoga," which is presumably a really quality form of yoga.
What she doesn't tell us is even more revealing. Of the story's nearly 8,000 words, there are only three quotations from the surrogate mother. Ms. Kuczynski does not describe this remarkable woman's clothes or, really, tell us her thoughts about much of anything. About Ms. Kuczynski's own feelings and fears and cravings we get paragraph after maudlin paragraph. The one who does the labor is almost completely silent.
Then there are the photographs, already infamous: Ms. Kuczynski in a black sleeveless sheath and stiletto-heel pumps, posing next to the pregnant surrogate in khakis and a tousled pink flannel shirt. Ms. Kuczynski holding the baby on the lawn of her Southampton estate, with columns, topiary and servant. The surrogate sitting, barefoot and alone, on a beat-up porch of her house in Pennsylvania.
According to the Times's "Public Editor" column, Ms. Kuczynski objected to the pictures before the article was published. And who knows? Maybe the photographers and art directors were out to subvert her story all along. If so, they understood market relations far better than the author herself.
I believe if some woman wants to rent out her womb that is entirely her business and snarky articles about spoiled women who use surrogates are mean spirited.
Surrogates typically earn about $20,000 - that's for nearly a year long commitment. Nobody is forcing them to be a surrogate.
we should not allow rent a womb any faster than we allow people to sell body parts. It is not always in the collectives best interest to allow individuals to pursue everything that they want. It is certainly not in this case.
I personally would never participate on either side of the equation. Biological relatedness is just not that important to me. I understand that for some people it is very important though.
If a woman chooses to be a surrogate for another couple, so what? Nobody forces her into it. She isn't sold into surrogacy. Her body, her choice.
I have a bit more of a problem with prostitution which is essentaily a vagina rental but only because some women are forced into it, or they don't see any other way to make a living.
A surrogate could work 24 hours a day for nine months at minimum wage and make more than she does working 24 hours a day for nine months as a gestational carrier.
As a person who believes that prostitution is a public good and the sex workers should be legal and well paid, I see your point. However, womb rental exacts a physical price on those who sell. This price can not be conveyed effectively, and it is a program that would certainly lead to exploitation of the underclass. Prostitution on the other hand has very little physical toll if safe sex is used, is a short term arrangement thus easily ended. Prostitution is also not a strictly underclass affair, as sex buyers generally want to buy sex from a person whom is a member of their class. Guys could spend a lot less than they do getting some poor girl with the habits of the poor class and probably the health issues related to her underclass status, but they don't. They spend a lot more to get a girl who looks and feels like a woman that they would normally be with. Ask Elliot Spitzer, he can tell you all about this.
there is also the matter of the natural connection the womb host will feel towards the child. What is a reasonable price to put on the pain and suffering of giving up a baby you have carried? How does the market price that so that the host does not get the short end? I don't think that the market can, therefor there should be no market. Furthermore, this is not a service that is required so extreme efforts to provide an avenue to provide the service is a poor use of societal energy. Some folks can't have kids and they will not die if they can't find a way to have a biological kid. I see no collective good that can come from pandering to the desires of barren couples.
This ties in the the homosexual marriage question....so small number of people think that the society must cater to their hopes, dreams and desires. Bullshit. We can, if it is a good idea, but we don't need to. If the program hurts the best interests of the collective then we probably should not be doing it.
Interesting that this was only just published -- I've been working on a piece about this for Observationalism and keep getting stuck.
I was really dismayed by several aspects of Kuczynski's article, and have been trying to figure out why exactly and how much of my dismay is justified. Not making a lot of headway.
maybe because the author is full of ****. Women are emotional creatures, womb rental is not organ rental as if the woman has no feelings. denying the entire emotional component makes one not credible, because they are either lying to further their point or they don't understand what they are talking about.
Well, the author did bother me but I don't really agree with what you say after "full of ****." People are emotional creatures, for one, it's not like a) women are all extremely emotional or b) all men aren't
The surrogate mom in this article seemed pretty clear-eyed about the whole thing. She was good at being pregnant -- she didn't have difficult pregnancies. (I became pregnant easily enough and delivered a healthy baby but I sucked at being pregnant, from morning sickness to swollen ankles to interminable labor...) She liked the feeling of helping people. And she liked the money.
Especially, she'd done it before and chose to do it again. If the first time was so traumatic, she wouldn't have done it again. I can't see her as a victim in all of this. She made choices, and they seemed to be good choices for her.
It was the author's weird justifications that bothered me. For example, at one point she ruled out a possible surrogate mom because she and her husband hadn't visited the state in which that person lived and she didn't want her son to wonder about that. What? (From memory, can get the original section if that's too confusing.)
But where I get stuck is, is that so bad? It's weird, and she seems to be anxious to justify this whole thing in a way that leads her down dubious logical paths, but then what? I think that there are better choices that she could have made -- adopting an American child who really needs a home, for starters -- but nobody's perfect and I don't expect or demand perfection from anyone. And I think American mothers get the "be perfect" message all the damn time, and I don't have any particular interest in contributing to that.
On the third hand (you can so see why I'm stuck, eh?), I do think it's important to recognize that parenthood is an important job. There seems to be some sort of value judgment inherent in that. That includes positive sides but also negative sides. So I stop short of saying that I'll never criticize a parent -- even though I think positive recognition of stellar efforts are more important.
I'd like to read the article you're talking about, soz. Is there a source for it online?
It's the one that BBB's article is talking about too.
Here's the part I mentioned:
Alex Kuczynski wrote:
We considered connecting with one woman who lived in the South but changed our minds when we tried to figure out how our child would explain why he was born in a state that his parents had never visited before his conception.
Friends of mine will have a baby via surrogate. After failed in-vitro and a premature hysterectomy, it was their next step to have a baby. They're not
famous or rich, just a couple unfortunate of conceiving on their own.
Thanks soz, I'm off to read the article.
I agree that seems like a really stupid reason to not choose a particular person as your surrogate.
I'm totally not buying it as "bullshit" either, hawkeye.
Getting pregnant doesn't suddenly make a woman a saint and giving birth to a baby doesn't make someone a "connected" mother.
And what about women who get abortions? What is their "connectedness" status?
Soz, here's what bother's me about the article:
.... 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.
And just about everything that came after that quote.
This genetic thing just baffles me. My brother's mother died in childbirth. My mom married our dad when my brother was about two years old. The connection between them is as rich and deep as it is between her and any of here genetic kids.
I know CJane and I can attest that there is no way that any parent loves their biological children any more than we love our kids.
I've known a few women who put their bodies through torture to have a "natural" baby. It never made sense to me.
I'm not saying that people shouldn't have their own babies. That's really the way it's supposed to be. More power to them when they really think it trough and do it intentionally like I know you did.
BTW -- did you know that many surrogates are military wives who do surrogacy while their husbands are deployed?
Yep, that was the single thing that bothered me the most, too. I started out reading it sympathetically and about there the record started scratching...
BTW -- did you know that many surrogates are military wives who do surrogacy while their husbands are deployed?
Had not heard that, but is does not surprise me. Military wives need a project to keep occupied if they don't have a meaningful job, and between the surrogacy money and the deployment money a couple can use a year to make a game changing move up in finances. I certainly hope that the military does not pay the medical though.
re genetics: there are more than a few guys for whom genetics matter a great deal. If guys find out that kids they had raised as their own are not their own the reaction can be violent. Could it be the women care about genetics because they know men do and they want to please men?
I'm still sympathetic to her and to the surrogate she used.
I don't know anything about this woman other than what I've read here but my take on this in some other circumstances (and maybe this one) is that biology seems crucial in marriages where there is a power imblance, especially when there are previous biological children involved. Yes, I'm cynical enough to believe women can be so manipulative that they might see a biological child as an insurance policy.
But maybe that's just non-biology me. I just can't help but think that when biology becomes essential to wanting to parent that there is something more at work.
I think that jobs on military bases are scarce -- especially when the troops are deployed and that surrogacy can provide some income. I think there was some abuse of insurance early on but that there are now many checks in place to make sure it doesn't happen. I also know that insurance through the military isn't what it used to be. My brother is very high ranking in the Army and he buys private inusrance still (I think....)
I think a child will seek parents if their own aren't up to the task. I can't count the number of kids that "lived" at our house for periods of time. So not all men are so wrapped up in genetics. (Thanks Dad.)
as a military spouse I will tell you that finding a good job and/or career is difficult when we move so much. However, the army at least is trying to keep soldiers in one place for 7 years now (new program) and is trying to start programs that prepare spouses for careers that are transportable. Nothing the Army does will help with overseas moves however.
Not all men are hooked on genetics, that does not matter. If a woman thinks that men generally are and does not know her man well enough to now that her really is not (she will not trust his words) then she will act as though he is. She will push for full genetic link thinking that her man really wants it, or will in the future decide that their kid should have had it. There is also the whole match process, were humans pick partners on the aspect of beauty and other indicators of good genetics because they want their offspring to have good genetics. Not caring about one half of the genetic code of our kids in not going to happen.