Thursday, October 11, 2007

Womb for Hire

A friend of mine told me about an Oprah Winfrey show (air date: 10/9/07) about surrogacy, specifically a white American couple who hired an Indian woman to be the surrogate for their egg&sperm (unclear why woman can't carry the baby to term--and I didn't watch the show).

For a description of the Oprah show, click here:

My friend was very upset about the repercussions of all of this--the exploitation of women's bodies in developing nations (yet another instance of outsourcing to India?), the racial aspects of a relatively wealthy white American couple hiring an Indian woman living in poverty, the premium on biology and birth over adoption (and transracial adoption especially), and just the overall problematics of commercial surrogacy--especially when these Indian women, who all have children of their own (a condition of their being surrogates is they have to have a proven track record of successful fertility and birth) must leave behind their children and live in a "surrogacy center" in another part of India until they have the babies for their hired Moms. Apparently there were a few Indian women they brought to Oprah's show and they actually cried when they talked about being away from their children.

I did a little digging and commercial surrogacy is apparently against public policy in India but not technically illegal (here's the abstract written by an Indian law professor). And I also found a chatboard (for families adopting babies from Guatemala) and according to one poster, commercial surrogacy is illegal in many countries.

I hope someone is doing research on this. What is particularly disturbing to me are the comments on the Oprah discussion board about this topic. It just seems that NO ONE is really disturbed at the implications of hiring out another woman's womb--and doing it for commercial profit. And more specifically than just the issue of surrogacy (which, I have to say I have less of a problem with, within an American context--perhaps because of the choices we, as Americans, have) is that it seems like it's predominantly white European and American couples hiring Indian women--the first world imposing on the third, a colonizing of the womb. The lack of examination of privilege--white privilege, American privilege, and the privileging of biological children--whether birthed by you or not--the privilege of one's genes,the possessiveness this implies...Isn't anyone else disturbed??? Why do we, as Americans, feel so entitled???

And is it just me, or is anyone else reminded of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale?


Paul said...

Yah. This phenomenon is disturbing. It's outsourcing pregnancy! It's related to the whole thing of looking for egg donors from Ivy-league-educated white women. I don't know if it's still the case, but it was definitely a thing a few years back to see ads seeing egg donors in Yale's campus newspapers.

And yes, The Handmaid's Tale. Ha ha. That was our department's Common Text this semester. The one that's bringing the wrath of one very persistent parent. (And also the disapproval of the archbishop.) Sigh.

Jennifer said...

I should have also included class privilege--because there is a class privilege and I do remember the ivy league ads also happening a few years back.

I know the politics of transracial adoption, especially inter-racial transracial adoption are tricky and problematic in themselves, but at the end of the day, don't we want babies to be adopted into loving homes--and if so, then the other stuff, the cultural stuff, it matters but it also seems like we can work with those issues.

Whereas setting up a tier system of fertility and birthing, that is HUGELY problematic.

As for the common reading issues you're having at your school, first Desmond TuTu and now Margaret Atwood? What'd going on over there??? And why is one parent so persistently upset? I taught it on a regular basis to my contemporary lit class and the students were really into it. And, of course, as we see all around us, the evidence for this dystopia becoming a reality is in the here and now.

Cristina said...

You guys have no idea what it is like to want a child so badly and not be able to have it. Of course, most couple who do that first try to do it in the USA but the prices here are only for the elite. Middle class people can't afford it. Don't judge before you know how it feels. Indian women are not exploited. They choose to do that in order to get some money and a better life. Everyone has something to gain from it.

Jennifer said...

It seems that this post has touched a nerve, so I just wanted to say a few things.

First of all, about judgment, I understand how you could feel like either I (or others) are being judgmental about this subject, because we are--but I think that at least in terms of my own "judgment" it is around issues of race more than the issue of surrogacy. Again, if you read carefully through the post and the follow-up comments, the real issue I want to see addressed and discussed is the issue of race and privilege--neither of which your own comment seems to acknowledge--since your focus seems to be on class. Also, as I noted in my most recent posts (November 13-15) middle-class seems to be such a nebulous area. Affordability of adoption may be outrageous in the U.S. if parents want to adopt white infant girls, but there are options of adopting black and Latino and mixed race babies (and tax breaks) which may not make this process so exorbitant (I have 2 friends who work for adoption agencies).

Finally, I would also encourage you not to judge others as you don't want them to judge you (or others) under the particular charge of "desiring fertility/a baby." You don't know me personally nor do you know Paul. You have no idea what our respective fertility issues may be (or desires for a child) and what we may already have gone through. This is not the space in which I want to disclose personal information about myself, but I would have to say that of all the things you wrote, that was the one that struck a nerve in me--one in which I had to think through your position and realize that, ironically, you appear to be accusing me of the very judgment that you, yourself, have put forth.

Anyway, I do appreciate you reading this post and leaving a comment and hope that you took my remarks (as I took yours) in the spirit of wanting a genuine dialogue on issues of race--especially as they pertain to issues of international and trans-racial surrogacy.