Challenging the Media’s Sugar Coated Portrayal of Surrogacy

by Kallie Fell, Executive Director on December 19, 2019

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I’ve never been into watching a lot of television. As a child, I was often busy inventing my own country with my friends or making homemade music videos. In early adulthood, I didn’t even own a television. However, with the indulgence of in-flight entertainment and the invention of the iPad, I find that one of my favorite travel pastimes is watching a new show or movie.

While traveling home to the Midwest for Thanksgiving, a new miniseries by Amazon Video titled Modern Love caught my eye. The 30 to 35-minute shows are based on the weekly column, by the same name, in the New York Times. The show is charming, and I do recommend it, but I am not here to tell you about the show in general, but to draw your attention to a small segment in the second to last episode, “Hers Was a World of One.” Don’t worry, there are no spoiler alerts here! 

In the first three minutes of the episode, we meet a lovely gay couple, Tobin and Andy. Over a late-night cup of tea, the two begin to address their desire to become parents and the obvious obstacle that arises for men in their situation. The first solution that Modern Love suggests is surrogacy. Right away I cringe. I really liked this series and I was prepared to be disappointed. However, the conversation that ensued, although depressing, showed a glimmer of truth that the rest of the world needs to realize. To save time, here’s a transcript of the conversation: 

Tobin: Well, we could do IVF- like my friends Charlie and Mike.
Andy: What did they do? 
Tobin: They paid some poor lady in India to be their surrogate, and then they mixed up their sperm so they wouldn’t find out which one of them fertilized the egg.
Andy: Did that work? 
Tobin: Sure, they’ve got a beautiful three-year-old who looks exactly like Charlie. 
Andy: And what happened to the poor Indian lady? 
Tobin: I don’t know. I guess she ate really well for a year. 

Although I am disappointed in the light-hearted tone and nonchalant attitude that Tobin shows, I am relieved that the exploitive nature of surrogacy is approached. We need to start talking about this. We need to understand that buying wombs is oppressive.

Until 2018, surrogacy was legal in India, and surrogacy clinics operated much like a real-life Handmaids Tale. Women in India were targeted because laws were lax and the price was low. Just as Tobin jests, the income surrogates were promised did nothing to end their poverty. In fact, I write about surrogacy in India in another article that you can find here.

It is imperative that we recognize the oppressive and exploitive nature of surrogacy. We sympathize with individuals and couples who want to grow their families, but we have to be diligent to make sure that our desires don’t quash someone’s health, welfare, and freedom.

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