I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while and recently feministe posted up some handy links on the subject one to The daily beast and one to The American Prospect

Increasingly it seems that one of the acceptable ways that people acquire their “own” children is by paying a woman in the developing world to be implanted with a child and carry it to term for them. To me this seems outstandingly exploitative. Women from poorer countries are chosen so the “parents” do not have to pay as much as they would in the west. Almost all the women who chose to be surrogates are doing it to give themselves and their children an adequate standard of living. The article Childbirth at the Global Crossroads explains that:

Saroj turned to surrogacy so she could move to a rain-proof house and feed her family well.

and quotes another woman as saying:

We can’t live on my husband’s earnings, and we had no hope of educating our daughters.

in the Outsourcing Pregnancy an embryologist explains

They get a decent amount of money. They get free food, free boarding, and free clothes, and they are housed in a nice place”

and the first article quotes a clinics founder and director as saying:

residents are offered daily English classes and weekly lessons in computer use. Patel arranges for film screenings and gives out school backpacks and pencil boxes to surrogates’ children. She hopes to attract donations from grateful clients to help pay children’s school fees as well.

So essentially these women are doing it for money, okay everybody does something for money, but if they had decent housing, health care and education for their children would they really be doing something so physically taxing and emotionally tumultuous?

Both articles seem to be quite dismissive of the effects of surrogacy on the women, however Childbirth at the Global Crossroads does at least acknowledge that the women who are paid to be surrogates do have feelings about the children they carry:

Leela openly bonded with her baby. “I am the baby’s real mother,” she says. “I carried him. I felt him kick. I prayed for him. At seven months I held a celebration for him. I saw his legs and hands on the sonogram. I suffered the pain of birth.”

And why wouldn’t they? Much research had been done on in utero bonding and how damaging it is for the woman and the child if this bond is severed directly after birth. I wouldn’t think the effects would be any different even if the surrogate and the child were not genetically related to each other, as one surrogate said

“It’s my blood, even if it’s their genes.”

There are enough first mothers talking now that we know that giving up a child that has grown and been nurtured inside you is devastating and yet we are willing to tell ourselves either that these surrogates will feel no grief or the need for someone to have their “own” children is more important than these women’s pain.

These articles highlight how often the want of a child turns to short sighted selfishness Outsourcing Pregnancy tells of one couple who:

explored adoption. They researched what Griebe termed “a baby factory type deal,” where you basically pay for a “ready-made baby.

As if babies came off conveyor belts and didn’t have “ready made families” who just needed support. The same couple found a surrogate in India

because of the legal issues. Here, there would always be the chance of the mother coming back and saying, I’d like to have visitation. Over there they can actually have it legalized.

So they, like many adoptive parents, felt that it was acceptable to exploit poor women in a developing country so they could pretend that their child had never belonged to any one else.

There also doesn’t seem to be much thought about how the children will feel in these situations, in some cases (as with adoption) it seems the child isn’t thought about at all:

But Dr. Patel… sees for-profit surrogacy as a “win-win” for the clinic, the surrogate, and the genetic parents.

so it seems it doesn’t matter how the “product”, the child feels about the situation and as with adoption there is the assumption that the situation is uncomplicatedly positive for the first Mother when it very well may not be, it is once again about pandering to affluent middle class peoples wants while exploiting the first mother and ignoring the needs of the child.

There is a discussion about whether the children will ever want to find their first Mothers

I asked Dr. Chakravarty if he thought that some children born of surrogacy would one day fly to India in search of their “womb mothers.” … “Yes,” he said. But chances are such an 18-year-old would not find her womb mother. Instead, she might come to realize she had been made a whole person by uniting parts drawn from tragically unequal worlds.

but the assumptions and tone here are uncomfortably close to the but why aren’t you grateful? Why Do you want to find her? rhetoric that far too many adoptees hear, and you know it maybe that the she would have the reaction suggested but it is just as likely that she will never feel whole and she may be furiously angry that we live in a world that is so unequal that this kind of exploitation is acceptable, and that she has been one of the exploited parties.

Unlike a lot of writings on issues such as this Childbirth at the Global Crossroads seems to have a very coherent, if nowhere near critical enough, understanding on how reproductive exploitation such as this fits into the wider exploitation that developing world populations experience under capitalism.

The Akanksha clinic is just one point on an ever-widening two-lane global highway that connects poor nations in the Southern Hemisphere to rich nations in the Northern Hemisphere, and poorer countries of Eastern Europe to richer ones in the West. A Filipina nanny heads north to care for an American child. A Sri Lankan maid cleans a house in Singapore. A Ukrainian nurse’s aide carries lunch trays in a Swedish hospital. Marx’s iconic male, stationary industrial worker has been replaced by a new icon: the female, mobile service worker.

Person to person, family to family, the First World is linked to the Third World through the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the care we receive. That Filipina nanny who cares for an American child leaves her own children in the care of her mother and another nanny. In turn, that nanny leaves her younger children in the care of an eldest daughter.

Until we live in a world where affluent middle class westerners don’t think they have a right to everything including people, at the lowest possible price none of these exploitations are going to stop.

Childbirth at the Global Crossroads suggests that regulating the surrogacy industry would protect the surrogates:

Observers fear that a lack of regulation could spark a price war for surrogacy — Thailand underselling India, Cambodia underselling Thailand, and so on — with countries slowly undercutting fees and legal protections for surrogates along the way.

However as international adoption is supposed to be regulated,yet we hear over and over again of exploitation, corruption and child trafficking that happens because of the demand for infants, why would the surrogacy industry be any different? Things are only going to change when we stop thinking of children as must have commodities and poor disadvantaged women as providers of those commodities

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