Tuesday, February 15, 2011

This Is Not a Food Post: Musings on Surrogates and Circuses

Update: A little while after I wrote this, I was happy to read that the grandfather and surrogate's husband told the press that the original Chicago Tribune article was the last and only time that the family would discuss the circumstances of the child's birth in public. It sounded like common sense had prevailed. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. This morning, I learned from my mother that on this Tuesday the whole family will be interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Here's the link. If you catch it, you'll have to report back because I'm not sure I can watch it.

Unfortunately, since reading Sunday’s Tribune, I’ve been a little fixated about an entirely unrelated subject. And in this post, I’m asking you readers to bear with me while I try to write myself through this preoccupation so that I can back to blogging about what I love best and what matters more.

In the news of the weird, a 61-year old woman gave birth to her own grandchild at Northwestern’s Prentice Hospital last Wednesday. Ordinarily, I would have scanned an article like this, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on. In this instance, however, the surname of the new parents was all too familiar to me. Familiar being that I once shared it. Now, given that I have no siblings, there’s only one answer to this riddle: the new father is the ex-husband to whom I have referred upon on occasion in this blog. If this weren’t cause enough for my morbid interest in the unfolding of this story, I’ll share a little fact about me. I’m an adopted child. I have, thus, been fascinated as this story goes viral, starting in the Chicago Tribune, hitting today’s Time Magazine blog, and circumnavigating the globe in reprints. Oprah can’t be too far behind.

I’ve always been a bit squeamish about surrogacy. So even without the peculiar familial relationship of surrogate to intended mother, this story doesn’t sit right with me. Let me try to explain . . . and please don’t be afraid to tell me why I’m wrong. As I said, I’m working through this.

What’s So Wrong with Adoption?

I know that surrogacy is becoming a more and more common route to parenthood. Not too long ago, a close friend chose to pursue this option after enduring several miscarriages. She would have been perfectly satisfied adopting a child but for her husband. His rationale: “he couldn’t love a child that was not biologically his own.” Personally, I wanted to advise her to ditch the husband, instead of worrying about having kids with him, but as a good friend, I kept that view to myself until they ultimately separated (three kids, two surrogates later).

I don’t have a problem with the science of it all. But still, as an adopted child, I have never understood the cult of biology. I was adopted at 3 months and my parents are my parents. I’ve never known anything different, nor would I want to. I admit that I was blessed to have no problems getting or staying pregnant, and in talking with friends who have and my mom, I know it is heartbreaking. What is even more heartbreaking are the millions of children who need homes. Were I to have had fertility issues, my choice would have been clear given my background. On the subject of understanding, I empathize even less with the concept that a person could love a child less because it did not have shared genes. To me this is akin to the idea that you couldn’t love a child if it didn’t share your hair color. Love is nurture, not nature, at least in my view.

Surrogacy Changes Things

Relationships, no matter how close, are changeable. The friend to whom I referred earlier is no longer married to her husband or friends with her surrogate (her best childhood friend). However, she is currently married to her surrogate’s husband. I have promised to my good friend not to judge her or her situation and I won’t. I am instead stating the facts. It’s a difficult situation for all parties, big and little and I hope for the very best for them. While the folks involved in this former situation don’t hide the provenance of their relationship, they certainly aren’t publicizing it all over the web. I think that this will ultimately serve them well in dealing with society’s judgment.

Judgment and Lack Thereof

Speaking of judgment, I’ve seen two main reactions to this story. The former is rather negative and the latter a suggestion that we not judge. Unfortunately, however, as a good friend of mine who has more disdain that I do for the situation, correctly observed the family has opened itself to society’s judgment by inviting the media into the delivery room and their lives.

Sadly, I think that there’s more Octomom than Mother Theresa in this situation. I can’t imagine in a conventional birth inviting the press, much less in this situation. What’s next? Will society be substituting press releases for baby announcements? Yuck. Call me old fashioned, but I think that perhaps there are some things in life that should be sacred, private, and shouldn’t used as fodder for career advancement.

Ultimately, people should do what they think is right. And if having your 61 year old mother bear your child is right to you, well then so be it. But don’t expect to be justified by the court of public opinion.


This last point really doesn’t have much to do with surrogacy, but the situation in particular. After my divorce, but prior to my ex’s second wedding, I had the unfortunate displeasure of dealing with Chicago’s archdiocese. See, the new mama is catholic and the surrogate mama wanted very much for her daughter to be married by a priest, but to do that the prior marriage had to be annulled. After completing pages of questionnaires and numerous calls with catholic authorities, the dogmatic fiction was complete – my ex and I had never been married in the eyes of the church. What I’m trying to figure out is how the views of Rome are no longer significant when they are inconvenient to the mamas in question. See, as you might imagine, the pope doesn’t view surrogacy with a kind eye. Who was it that said ‘consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’? Oh, well.

Ultimately, I hope that the baby in question, as babies tend to do, will provide some needed balance for this family. Perhaps, by doing so, they’ll end the media circus before it gets out of hand. Because I can’t imagine affixing Time Mag’s blog on the subject entitled “Weird or Wonderful” next to the baby footprint in grandma’s brag book.


  1. Melissa,

    Its seems so sad that you were put through such stress with the divorce, and then they contradict themselves with this debacle.
    thank goodness for your intelligence.

  2. Naomi,thanks for your kind words. The annulment piece really bugged me because it was such an awful thing to go through. I remember talking to the archdiocese's rep and asking what would happen if I refused to sign off on the papers. I was actually told that they would categorize me as "mentally unstable," which would allow the annulment to proceed. In the retrospect, on the crazy-o-meter, while I've got my moments, I certainly don't even come close to this.

  3. Prevailing intellect. Love it! Your writing is refreshing Melissa.

  4. Your writing is indeed refreshing. I was fascinated by that article in the trib and shared it with my husband. Life is so bizarre! I would never ask my mother to bear a child for me -- even if she volunteered.

  5. Mrs Q....well said "life is so bizzare!"

  6. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

  7. Melissa, thanks for sharing such an honest piece. I like your writing even when it's not about food. You are right on the money about the option of adopting, when there are so many children in need of a loving home. I also agree about the inconsistencies in the church. These are what keep me from considering the Catholic Church my spiritual home anymore personally.
    You may have caught this story in the New York Times about "twiblings" but if you haven't you should.

  8. Thanks Christine. Hypocrisy is one of my least favorite traits. Maybe that's a bit harsh - inconsistencies, as you call it, may be the best description. And not so much for the daughter - she was in her 20s and people grow up in their views, but the mom forcing the annulment on all parties doesn't sit right with me. It never did, but now even more so.

  9. Hi Melissa! Just reading thru old posts on your blog. I wanted to offer another point of view, to people who believe that those who have trouble with fertility should adopt rather than pursue treatment. Since there are so many children who need to be adopted, why shouldn't that be anyone's first option, fertility problems or not? If you ask yourself that, it's because you want a biological child. Well, that is also true for anyone who goes through fertility treatments. It is not fair to judge people who have help with fertility, and to decide for them that adoption is a better idea. Adoption should not be a "last resort" to have a child; it should be because a couple wants to love and raise a child, biological issues aside.

  10. Jen, Now that there's renewed attention to this issue, I just reread your comment, which is an excellent one with very sound reasoning. It's interesting as that topic came up for discussion with husband about a second child. It was also why I chose to ignore any biological clock ticking after Thor was born, I figured if we wanted a second, we could always adopt. Thanks for your perspective.


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