The XX Factor

How to Be the New York Times’ Favorite Surrogate Mother

Jess, I don’t quite agree that the New York Times article you mention makes surrogacy out to be all sunshine and rainbows. What I’m reading is an articulation of the narrow conditions under which the modal New York Times reader will find surrogacy culturally acceptable. We’re reassured that “virtually every” woman who opts for surrogacy can’t have her own children, just as we’re reassured, multiple times, that surrogates don’t need or want the money they’re receiving. “People don’t become gestational carriers as a way of making money,” a lawyer explains. “Rather, their motives are altruistic.”

I’ve no doubt that this is what people want to hear, but what an oddly binary way of considering the motivation to express and nurture another person’s genetic information-money or altruism, transaction or gift. Human beings are more complex than this. Ask a man why he sells his genetic legacy to the local sperm bank, and he’s likely to give you more than one reason-a bit of money, the chance to help someone, the idea that his code might live on. But whether selling eggs or womb space, women seem to be faced with this stark division of motivational labor: Are you doing it for the cash (in which case you’re being exploited) or out of pure, unadulterated kindness (in which case you’re eccentric)?

An article that questioned rather than pandered to these social anxieties would be a great read. Why is it that we must be assured that a woman seeking a surrogate is infertile rather than merely disinclined to undergo the pain of childbirth? (And why is it then OK to search for a surrogate rather, than, say, adopt?) And who are we to demand that any woman who chooses to help be motivated by compassion alone?

Photograph of a pregnant woman by Digital Vision/Getty Images.