Surrogacy in New York Times Magazine: Meet the Twiblings

Posted On January 2nd, 2011

This week’s cover story (“Meet the Twiblings” by Melanie Thernstrom) does last year’s (or rather late 2009’s) “Her Body, My Baby” one better: Thernstrom has not just one child via a gestational surrogate, but two, via two surrogates, at the same time. Dare to judge!

Generally, this story is very positive on surrogacy and egg donation. Thernstrom was infertile and unhappy, and egg donation and surrogacy provided her with two healthy children. Furthermore, the medical procedures went smoothly: the first retrieval resulted in a good number of healthy embryos; enough for two separate transfers that both resulted in live births.  She is brave (and right) not to consider her egg donor and carriers as threats to her own maternity.

The piece is her own personal story, so one cannot quibble with her statements of feelings and opinions. But two egregious unsubstantiated points stood out:  “The Internet was filled with stories of predatory egg-donation and surrogacy agencies” and “There were several cases of surrogacy in recent years in which the surrogate succeeded in keeping the baby despite an absence of any genetic connection.” On the former, the Internet is filled with a lot of stories, many untrue. The vast majority of egg donation agencies are reputable. On the latter, I am unsure of these “several” cases to which she refers. But if a surrogacy takes place in a state with established legal protections in place, and governed by a proper contract, the carrier would have no claims to the child.

Thernstrom quotes the opinions of uninformed others, which she wisely ignores.  Donors and surrogates are compared to both angels and prostitutes; one sensible friend claims that egg donors are “ordinary young women looking for a way to make money.” (In my experience, this is the case.)  She receives some appalling advice from an egg donor agency director to keep the donation a secret. Thernstrom has a poor opinion of agencies, unfortunately, although her egg donor and one of her carriers started with an agency.

I never heard of Melanie Thernstrom before I read this article. I was surprised to find she is a Harvard-educated writer of some distinction, as the tone and style of the piece is dumbed down and sometimes juvenile (“gazillion” is not a word we’d expect in the New York Times). She opens with a quote from Dante then admits she did not read the book from which it came: surely not the best way to establish trust with your reader, especially when quoting a great work that most literate people have read. Her references to angels and “Fairygoddonor” further undermine our respect. She describes a fantasy of a suicidal “grungy kid on the bridge” whose fatal impulse is sidetracked by the chitchat of a friendly stranger (an “angel”). Rejuvenated, the kid “goes home and makes an omelet.” I wonder if the egg reference was intended or not; either way, the image is clumsy. It’s the stuff of Oprah’s magazine.

Why are women expected to bring their sophistication down a few notches when writing and reading about motherhood?

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