Can We Talk?
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
In the spring of last year there was an apparent uproar on Facebook (FB) over a recent CBC article on a surrogacy problem in Canada. https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/surrogacy-agencies-expenses-costs-oversight-canada-1.5476965
I had left FB almost a year ago and so was only made aware of the article through my counsellor and another surrogate woman I am in touch with. My counsellor emailed me the link while mentioning to specifically read the comments; although initially I was apprehensive to read anything concerning surrogacy and public opinion. My fellow surrogate friend mentioned, "can you imagine how the surrogate the article is talking about feels right now? Apparently, many surrogate women tried to talk to the journalist who wrote it to give the other side, but he never bothered to respond". After reading the article I mentally re-titled it as "Intended Parents feel entitled to exploit, but now demand to know why the grocery budget for their surrogate was so high." I further imagined sitting down with the IP's and the surrogates written about in the article, to ask some honest questions and mull over some truths.
Although I have never experienced being managed through a surrogacy agency myself, I do have some insider knowledge, having been a surrogate woman myself, to weigh in on 'what the real oversight in Canadian surrogacy regulations is'. Right off the bat, a possible theory that comes to mind is that because of criminalization of any monetary compensation to surrogate women for their time, grocery budgets can be a potential way to generate a legitimate 'sense' of reciprocity. Allowing for a high grocery allowance, could possibly be a way of working around the laws so that intended parents don't have to leave their surrogate feeling completely exploited. Some intended parents might welcome a way that they can legally find a way to reciprocate the spirit of generosity.
The IP's in the article apparently were so shocked to know that their surrogate would have such a large grocery monthly costs statement in comparison to their own groceries. One intended parent came across as though quite upset that a lottery ticket somehow accidentally got slipped into the expenses. The task of keeping track of every receipt and maintaining the monthly expenses is a bit of a part time job in itself for surrogate birth mothers, and at the end of the day, most likely not every expense can fit into the previously arranged agreement. There is a strictness of the law for a surrogate to account for every penny pending threat of criminal charges, that it seems highly doubtful anyone would intend to slip in a lottery ticket. If I had the chance, one of the questions I would ask the IP's in the CBC article is then, ''why wouldn't you want to give your surrogate a large grocery budget, especially knowing you are knowingly exploiting her so that you can hopefully become parents? Or do you feel so strongly that a surrogate mother should have nothing beyond out of pocket expenses paid that you'd rather publicly shame and humiliate her over an accidentally submitted lottery ticket receipt?''
There are some other important questions I'd like to ask over the subject of concerns of money. I would ask them if they plan on spending money on child day care, or a nanny at some point during their child's life? I'd ask the intended mother in the article if she realizes that children from conception to at least to their early 20's will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in clothing, food, education, gifts and more? I would mention to the ip's in the article that there are monetary expenses incurred for many surrogates, for things not covered in the agreement, or that they will never know about. Costs such as required dental treatments due to IVF and pregnancy hormones can end up unexpectedly costing the surrogate mother thousands of dollars.
The apparent transparency here is that surrogacy agencies are a money-making business, they recruit for the thousands of IP's who have their ''marketable wants'', and so that the IP's will not have to rely on the adoption pathway. Perhaps the surrogacy agencies also need to make their surrogate's happy for word of mouth advertisements, as well as return business to keep their ability to increase the availability of surrogates for more wanting IP's? The real concern behind transparency of surrogacy expenses is that the intended parents in the article are all too often the embodiment of an unspoken misogynistic attitude towards surrogate women in general. An attitude that seems to equal that surrogate women are strictly there for the purpose of providing their use of their body, time and life-force and deserve nothing extra in return.
I personally can relate to the other side of the grocery expenses challenge. I recall attempting to haggle back and forth over several emails and days while asking the IP's I surrogated for to have a $10 a day grocery allowance rather than a $60 dollar a week amount initially agreed on. Even when my reasonable increase request was finally allowed, I was soon after sent an article featuring a surrogate mother who doesn't ask for grocery amounts. I imagine the surrogate woman in that article was not a single mother and most likely had a partner at home who was helping to support her. At the end of the day, I spent times over the allowable grocery budget, however I didn't want to have to go through the demeaning process all over again to be treated as though I were the one taking advantage of the intended parents. Similarly, on another occasion it was brought to my attention that I had charged $10 in gas rather than $5, shortly after leaving a three-hour pregnancy gestational diabetes test appointment. It was an honest mistake on my part, most likely due to weeks of sleep deprivation and physical challenges with the pregnancy. Then again later on, after an emergency c-section birth and fifty pound weight gain, I also had been shamed by the IP's for asking for the costs required for me to have enough comfortable post pregnancy clothing to wear for daily and back to work wear. Meanwhile the ip's owned three, million dollar homes and went on six-weeks long exotic vacations.
I can't imagine what it would have felt like to discover that the IP's I surrogated for had an article written for the public interest about how they were possibly taken advantage of through the altruistic gift I gave them. All IP's will no doubt be aware of the hundreds of hours of appointment times, communications and management that a surrogate mother is required to contribute as a gift. The IP's will also be aware of the fact that surrogate women often take hundreds of doses of hormones and injections to allow for a pregnancy to happen and that these hormones have an impact on the physical and psychological health of the surrogate mother. The CBC News article was written by a journalist who was willing to frame the concern in such a way that blatantly erased the reality that exploitation of surrogate women is the real heart of the matter here. Instead he focused entirely on the intended parents were possibly taken advantage of over having to compensate for high grocery amounts and a lottery ticket. Meanwhile, it is a rumour, and a surrogacy industry secret that many IP's go out of their way to find creative ways to give back to their surrogate multi-fold in sincere gratitude. Not every IP is comfortable exploiting women and those that aren't bring the spirit of generosity to the table. However, many surrogate women experience being used and disrespected for their altruistic gift.
Lastly, I would ask the IP's in the article if they ever were concerned over the amount they were required to pay for private life insurance in the event their surrogate died because of the pregnancy they were asking for. Did they find the costs associated with this fair or too high? In Canada, all surrogacy contracts must include that the IP's pay for life insurance because there are higher risks involved with surrogacy pregnancy and women can still die from conditions like pre-eclampsia and as well as while in childbirth. Although infertility is unimaginably painful for many, not being able to empathize with their surrogate can perhaps be the very reason why some IP's might complain about the lack of transparency with some expenses.
Eventually, I did end up reading the comments of the article as my counsellor had suggested. From what I read, the way the public reacted for the most part was unsympathetically towards the IP's in the article. Some people suggested that adoption instead of surrogacy is the answer, while others pointed to the concerns as being an obvious issue with capitalism. The woman in the photo holding her baby in the article is really not a victim for gaining a child through another woman's sacrifices, despite having to pay for a high end grocery budget. The truth is that the surrogate birth mother of the child put her life on the line, health at risk and gave from her heart just so that the woman in the article could have the chance to experience her dream of being a mom.