Too Posh for Pregnancy?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on February 6th, 2012

Most people who hire a surrogate to carry and deliver a baby for them are women who cannot become pregnant or have been advised not to for medical reasons, or men (typically same-sex couples) looking to become parents. But some women who opt for surrogacy face no biological barrier; they say they’re too busy to be pregnant, or don’t want to lose their figures.

It’s impossible to know how common “social surrogacy,” as it’s sometimes called, really is. It popped up last week in an article in The Telegraph of Calcutta, India, about an American woman who got frustrated by delays in getting an Indian passport for her surrogacy-produced baby, and walked out of the government office in a huff, leaving the infant on a bench. It’s a strange and sad story. But what really caught my eye was this statement from a Hyderabad fertility doctor:

“Most of the clients are women from well-to-do Indian families who want to avoid childbirth so that their lifestyle, or body shape, is not affected,” said Srinivas Prasad, a doctor at one of the city’s top 15 fertility centres.
It took only a bit of Googling to confirm that affluent North Americans and Europeans are also using surrogacy for lifestyle and vanity reasons. Last August, Dr. Stuart Fischoff, a psychologist who consults with the film and television industries, talked with the Toronto Sun about why surrogacy is gaining ground in Hollywood. “Celebrities can afford the same luxury of avoiding bearing and birthing and not have to worry about societal clucking," he said. Furthermore, for those
who can't afford the risks of pregnancy or carrying to term, or of losing precious time from their burgeoning careers, or who might find it hard getting into fighting shape and sloughing off weight again, then off-the-shelf (adoption: Madonna and Brangelina) or right from the factory (surrogacy: Kidman, Bassett, Sara Jessica Parker) might be just what the doctor ordered.
As far back as 2001, The Sunday Times (UK) carried a story about social surrogacy. Reporter Tessa Mayes found that
successful businesswomen, actresses, athletes and models are among those opting for ‘social surrogacy’. They cite career pressure, the pain of childbirth and the prospect of stretchmarks as the main reasons for avoiding pregnancy.
And guess who The Sunday Times cited as its surrogacy expert? None other than Theresa Erickson, who opined that “it’s not for us to judge why people do not want to carry a baby.” Erickson is the San Diego lawyer recently convicted of running what the US government termed a “baby-selling ring” that involved deceiving intended parents, surrogates, California courts, and a state program to provide prenatal care for uninsured women.

Even within the fertility industry, social surrogacy is often held at arm’s length. Many fertility clinic websites are circumspect about appropriate reasons for considering surrogacy; some clearly state that they will not accept clients who are themselves able to carry a pregnancy. Surrogacy broker and advocate Sharon LaMothe is quite clear about her views:
Plain and simple, if you are too busy or stressed out about how your body will look after a 9 month pregnancy and childbirth then perhaps YOU, my friend, are not prepared for motherhood!

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Posted in Assisted Reproduction, Marcy Darnovsky's Blog Posts, Surrogacy


Comments are now closed for this item.

  1. Comment by Judith Levine, Feb 21st, 2012 12:51pm

    I didn't mean we should set aside the question of class nor was I suggesting that you/CGS should not comment on, or condemn, certain uses of surrogacy that exploit and exacerbate social inequities.. I was just questioning the sourcing of the info.

    Anecdotal info & conjecture like this too often get picked up in the press & become nonexistent "trends" -- for instance, the "epidemics" of sexting among teens, college-educated women deciding not to work, etc.

  2. Comment by M. B. Weaver, Feb 18th, 2012 1:19pm

    This article is informative and as a mom I agree wholeheartedly with the concluding line! BUT the accompanying picture is very misleading. The article states that most of the women using surrogacy in India are from "well-to-do Indian families." So why is your picture of a Caucasian woman? Social expectations in Indian society are transforming the biopolitical landscape, in terms of both surrogacy and sex selection procedures. You should be accurate in both your written and visual reporting.

  3. Comment by Marcy Darnovsky, Feb 17th, 2012 11:22am

    Hi Judith - Thanks for your comment (I somehow missed it until today).

    I'm not sure it makes sense to set aside questions of class in thinking about how to evaluate the social meaning of surrogacy.

    (E.g., did you catch my colleague Doug Pet's recent piece in Slate about some "innovations" in the surrogacy business and how they affect poor women in India? It's on the front page of the CGS website.)

    I know that I'm much less comfortable invoking "choice," and refraining, on principle, from voicing an opinion about others' actions when the potential for exploiting less privileged women is so large.

    And in any case - as I think you'd agree - deciding to hire someone to carry a pregnancy (for whatever reason) is an entirely different kind of decision than deciding to terminate a pregnancy (for whatever reason).

    I hope you're right that there's no trend toward "social surrogacy." I did report the comments of a surrogacy advocate (who herself was a surrogate), though you're right to point out that I didn't include quotes from anyone who hired a surrogate for "social reasons." I'd love to hear from those women.

    - Marcy

  4. Comment by Judith Levine, Feb 10th, 2012 4:53am

    Hey Marcy,

    I notice that none of these quotes comes from one of the women herself -- just from other commentators. I'm sure there are some people who use surrogates for these reasons, but I'm a little suspect that this is a trend.

    It reminds me of the idea that women have abortions just because they feel like it -- remember those "Chardonnay abortions"?

    This sets aside the question of the morality, class ramifications etc., of surrogacy in the first place. Still ...

    xx Judith



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