What is your favorite surrogate movie? When the Bough Breaks? The Surrogacy Trap? The Sinister Surrogate?
Although it’s a lot of creepy fun, the surrogate theme has everything to do with horror movie clichés and nothing to do with the reality of surrogacy. A welcomed outsider who eventually threatens or destroys the family is a common horror movie scenario, and the surrogate concept fits nicely.
Unfortunately, most people are more exposed to surrogacy through popular culture than through reality. Here are the top five myths about surrogacy that “give birth” to these “misconceptions”:
ONE: The Surrogate Can “Change Her Mind” and Keep the Baby: the stubborn resonance of the notorious Baby M case from the late ‘80s keeps this myth alive. In that case, the surrogate mother was inseminated with the intended father’s sperm, so it was actually her genetic child. Beforehand the surrogate signed an unlawful contract to award the father and his wife custody of the child: this arrangement was more like an illegal adoption than a modern surrogacy.
With gestational surrogacy, which is what is done today, the surrogate CANNOT keep the baby: the baby has no genetic relationship to her. The embryo is created by the parents’ and / or donor gametes (and then transferred to her uterus). The contract, signed in advance, is legal and binding.
An offshoot of this myth is the fear that the surrogate will go crazy or behave badly: in fact, surrogates are thoroughly psychologically and medically screened. They are actually eager to help.
TWO: Women Hire Surrogates to Carry their Babies Because They Do Not Want Pregnancy to Ruin their Figures: I believe this comes from a general hostility toward slim, wealthy, and privileged women. In fact, only women medically unable to carry are able to engage surrogates. Not being able to carry a pregnancy to term is actually very painful, and surrogacy is no frivolous indulgence.
THREE: Surrogacy is Only for Celebrities. Most people only learn about surrogacy from celebrities, therefore they think it is only for celebrities. But regular non-famous people engage surrogates as well. Infertility affects all types of people.
FOUR: Surrogacy Exploits Poor Women. For those who oppose surrogacy on ethical grounds, including some feminist groups, this is a big one. The reality is, in order to qualify as a surrogate, a woman needs to be healthy, well cared for and living in a stable home with family support. She is provided excellent medical care and legal representation. Her compensation is not her only source of income. Impoverished women would not qualify to be surrogates, and The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian fantasy that has nothing to do with the reality of surrogacy.
FIVE: Surrogacy is Medically Risky: although IVF has more medical risk than creating embryos the old-fashioned way, a surrogate pregnancy and birth is no more dangerous than any other. In fact, surrogates are thoroughly screened to make sure they are healthy and capable, and receive a great deal a pre-natal care and monitoring. In order to qualify, a surrogate must have children of her own already, and have a history of uneventful, easy pregnancies and births.
Myths serve their own purposes and I do not expect to change anyone’s perceptions. But do you know what is more satisfying than a cheesy-good Lifetime movie? The experience of helping intended parents have a baby through the kindness and generosity of a real-life surrogate!