14 thoughts on “Week 10: Surrogacy Continued

  1. Hi Katie! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts this week – I’m impressed by your evaluation of both of these sources as well as the analysis you conducted in comparing them to each other. I think that I would largely agree with you in terms of leaning towards a more social constructionist view of surrogacy, but Katz’s piece forced me to consider elements of the process that I may have previously glossed over; but first, I feel that it’s important to distinguish “traditional” surrogacy from “gestational” surrogacy, as these processes are inherently different and may change the ways in which these arguments can be applied. I understand “traditional” surrogacy to mean that the surrogate doubles as an egg donor and gestational carrier. In this case, the surrogate mother is genetically connected to the child, but does not parent the child following delivery. On the other hand, a “gestational” surrogate receives a/n embryo/s that has been previously obtained from the intended parents of the child, meaning that the carrier has no genetic relationship to the child she bears. While it is important to consider the role of genetics in surrogacy, the process is more complex, as these sources consider. According to Katz, there is a strong physical connection between a pregnant woman and the fetus she carries, and I do not doubt this, for we try to minimize this physical connection after birth: most gestational carriers choose not to nurse the child they deliver, in order to minimize contact between the newborn and the surrogate. Why do we do this? What would be the physical ramifications for a gestational surrogate mother who does nurse the child she delivers? What would be the emotional repercussions? I also am glad that you brought up Katz’s definition of infertility as a disability. This troubled me initially, but I think it points to a broader set of questions about how we define motherhood, femininity, and kinship, as well as disability, both individually and as a society. Perhaps Teman is overly optimistic about the process of surrogacy, but I feel that both authors present valid arguments in the complex discussions surrounding surrogacy, and therefore we should consider both tests in conjunction in order to gain a more holistic view.

  2. Katie! You give a great summary of these arguments! I was also struck by the idea that infertility could be seen as a disability. I think there are types of disabilities and, while this may not fall into the same category as down syndrome or autism, I do believe it is a type of disability. Something in a woman’s body does not function the way that it should and as a result, her body is not capable of certain functions. That is, in my view, a solid definition of a type of disability. One can still have a child and fulfill their desire to be a parent, but that does not change the fact that their body does not perform an important function. Regardless of whether or not one considers it a physical disability, I do agree with Tenman that many people in society consider the ability to be a surrogate as a psychological abnormality or even disability. I also enjoyed reading Teman’s piece because I felt like it adequately addressed some of the emotional and psychological unease I had been feeling when talking about surrogates. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I read this piece, but I now realize that I struggled with the idea that mothers could have children and not immediately and inherently love them. It seemed counterintuitive to everything I had been taught by my own parents. I felt that the process of growing a child and feeding them nutrients would create an unbreakable bond. However, the more I considered the information I had been given about surrogacy before taking this class, I realized that the reason I felt this way is because that is the only storyline I have ever been presented with. In the few books and movies I am familiar with that mention surrogacy, the surrogate mother always forms in an attachment to the child and, in the case of one show, steals her away. I also realized that one of the many things I was thinking during our class discussions was “I could never do this” and if I could never do this, then many “normal” women also couldn’t. Not only is that wrong, but it is the type of mindset that I want to suspend when reading ethnographies about surrogacy- and ethnographies as a whole. In order to really understand why people do this and how they do it, I want and need to be able to set aside my own personal thoughts and, more importantly, not adopt an ethnocentric mindset that allows me to apply my opinions to all women.

  3. Hi Katie!
    This was great. It was a good point to establish at the beginning of your blog how you never really had any main religion or anything that you followed, but you are viewing this with a more psychological point of view. That is a great point to make to start you off. And then you do a good job highlighting that Katz is arguing from an essentialist perspective while Teman is from a social constructionist perspective and you highlight the importance of both ideas. I too found much f what Katz had to say about surrogacy and how she does not like how it could use women as tools for society compelling. I also thought that that was an interesting analogy that she made between a blind person taking eyes from an unwilling donor and someone using a surrogate. But the flaw there was that the surrogate as far as we know is a willing “saleswoman” of her body.
    That leads into what Teman talked about, which you summarized very well-99% of surrogates have not had a problem relinquishing the baby that they nursed. According to Katz, nursing the baby makes it their child, but then all of these people are giving up their child. And Teman addresses all of these assumptions that say that the surrogates are not normal, or deviant, or want money. But neither you nor I believe that to be totally true.
    This was great.
    Thank you

  4. Hi Katie! Thanks so much for your comments on this week’s readings. Like you, I definitely find myself more aligned with the social constructionist point of view than the essentialist point of view, and tend to support Teman’s perspective more than Katz’s. With respect to your question on whether infertility could be categorized as a disability, I definitely don’t think that infertility would fit a popular understanding of what disability is, but I do understand how it could be interpreted as such under strict legal interpretations or why individuals might consider their own infertility a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act essentially includes anything as a disability if it curbs a “major life activity.” It definitely isn’t a particularly large stretch to contend that pregnancy and giving birth could be, for many, a major life activity. For many people, having biological children could be viewed as a major part of their life, and the inability to have biological children could be an instance of them not being able to participate in what they (and society) view as a common and key component to adulthood. For those reasons, I would argue that while construing infertility as a disability isn’t the most common perspective, it definitely is not unreasonable to take such a stance. I also agree with your interpretation of Teman’s work as challenging the western ideals of family and motherhood. Personally, I tend to take a rather expansive view of family, and generally discount the notion that blood ties determine family ties. In my opinion, regardless of whether a surrogacy is gestational or traditional, family is determined more by who raises the child than it is by who carries the child. Thanks again for your thoughtful post!

  5. Hi Katie, I think your categorization of each author’s position is accurate and really helped me while I was writing my post. In response to your thoughts on infertility as a disability, I largely agree with you. I find the social constructivist perspective on disability (i.e., disability is a social construct) the most convincing. A physical condition or a way that someone lives in the world is not disabling unless the society that that person lives in considers it a disability, affecting their quality of life or chances to attain their goals. The range of abilities that are accepted as normal likely varies from society to society. Although there are probably some physical attributes that are universally or almost universally considered to be disabilities like having paralyzed legs. If a disability is dependent upon the cultural context that you find yourself in, then I think that infertility is not a disability in the US. In societies where a woman’s ability to bear children is more closely associated with her life outcomes or her ability to marry or a man’s fertility is associated with his status, I think infertility is a disability. Technically, infertility is considered a disability in the US, and is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act but only to the extent that infertility cannot be overcome with “mitigating or corrective measures.” Through advances in reproductive technology, it is not hard to see a future in which infertility is no longer acknowledged as a disability by the US government.

  6. Hi Katie. Thank you for your blog and opinions on the week’s readings. I think you summarized both very well. I, too, tend to agree with Teman and follow her line of reasoning a bit easier. It is very easy for people on the outside and for people without much insight into surrogacy to assume the people involved are not “normal” and that they are potentially morally inferior. In the article, Teman talks at length about many studies that seem to have started because researchers were hoping to find an explanation for this behavior, some reason for women to be acting in a way they would not expect, and found that surrogacy is not necessarily deviating from “normal.” I think her use of the word “normal” is also very telling. Surrogacy is an alternative option for those struggling with infertility, and just like there are people who call IVF out of the ordinary and disapprove, so are there people who find the concept of surrogacy abnormal and require an explanation through science. As you mentioned, I agree that I think most bonding between mother and child happens when the child can reciprocate (ex. after they are born), but I would also caution against this being the only influence. I do believe there is an element of bonding in utero, but it then becomes a question of nature versus nurture–how the child was born and who they were born too versus the parents who raise them.

    Thank you for your insights!

  7. Hi Kate! I am so impressed with your ability to critique the works from this week as well as your humility in admitting feeling “out of your wheelhouse.” I additionally appreciate your focus on the fluidity of these arguments–both of Katz and Teman–and specifically your focus on the complex nature of the establishment of motherhood.

    I agree with you that it is a slippery slope to liken infertility as a disability. For if infertility is a disability, is something like severe acne considered one, too? Severe acne limits expression with an individual and may lead to a deep emotional toll. Does the severe emotional toll, though, permit an individual to use a skin graft of a living individual to cover their face? No, because the individual is meant to survive the emotional toll and frankly, deal with the cards that have been dealt. These examples, of course, are not that comparable at all, especially because infertility also damages one’s unique ability to reproduce and create a family in a specific way. However, the comparison does illuminate the importance of understanding severe emotional tolls as ammunition for possibly using another individual’s womb as a means of a vessel.

  8. Hey Katie!
    Thank you for such an insightful post. I really appreciate you sharing about feeling more in tune with these readings because I am also someone who has not particularly grown up religious. My grandparents and most of my aunts and uncles are relatively religious, but it does not have a large impact on my family as a whole. I totally agree with you in that I did not fully agree with Kat’z argument, but I did understand her line of thinking. I feel like this class has helped me see other perspectives other than my own in a non-abrasive or political sense, which has been helpful and very interesting. One point that I wanted to touch on was your question about if being infertile should be considered a disability. I think context is important here. I do agree that an individual could be distraught if they wished to have kids and are unable to, but I feel like it gives the connotation that being able to give birth is the definition of being a woman, which in my opinion it is not. In a bioethics and disability anthropology class I took last semester, we discussed this and it debated was very interesting; if you are someone who did not want to have kids, why could it not be seen as a good thing? Like you, Katie, I align more with Teman’s arguments in that I believe the bonding that happens inside the womb is usually a build-up of excitement to meet and raise the child if you’re not a surrogate. The bond after you are born is much more formative, so if you know that you’re not going to keep the child, it might be easier to disconnect from the excitement.

  9. Katie,
    I enjoyed reading your summary and thoughts on the readings from this week. I appreciate how you approached all perspectives with respect and open-mindedness. I am also minoring in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and I liked seeing your take on the feminist perspective presented. I was also surprised when Katz equated infertility with a disability. I have been in other classes where this was heavily debated, and I know a lot of people have very strong feelings about this. Considering so many people do suffer from infertility, and it impacts such a major aspect of their life, I can see why it would be considered a disability. I also liked how you mentioned it can lead to other health conditions such as depression, and I think that helped me see infertility from another perspective. While I understand Katz’ sentiment, I do not think carrying a child makes someone a mother. I agree that motherhood is much more about what comes after pregnancy. Adoptive mothers form strong bonds with their children, and I don’t think it is fair to invalidate that. There are also women who carry their own children that then go on to abandon or mistreat them. I found it really interesting when you suggested that the bond formed between mother and child during pregnancy could be partially due to the fact that the mother knows she will be the primary caretaker for that child’s life. This would make sense, as a woman preparing to get an abortion probably doesn’t feel the same bond with the fetus as another woman, in the same time frame, who is planning to complete her pregnancy. Overall, pregnancy is definitely an emotional and physical period that will alter you in one way or another. I imagine I will have more insight if I ever become pregnant, but I currently would have to side more with Teman.

  10. Hi Katie. Thank you for your insightful post. I especially appreciated the way you outline the difference between Teman’s social constructionist and Katz’s naturalistic viewpoints. One of the things I found interesting in Teman’s argument was how fully it supports generalizations. Even though she wants to challenge the socially constructed idea of the “normal” woman as the woman who feels a natural attachment to the baby she’s carried, and the women who willingly give their children away as “abnormal,” I think she is still, in this piece, constructing a new idea of “normal” that is just flipped. According to Teman (and supported by her review of the literature,) women are “normal” when they’re willing to give their children away and “abnormal” when they feel an attachment to it. I think narratives, especially those we see in literature or media, often focus on some “exception to the rule.” In the case of surrogacy, these exceptions are women who do not want to give their children away. Since most of us have an inclination towards empathy, we want to believe that these exceptions are somehow representative of the whole, or in some way show some issue with the whole and the way we know things usually are. Do exceptions to the rule always need to be considered? Often these exceptions pose their own problems, too. I think Teman is right in saying that our urge to empathize or indulge in particular situations often obscures practicalities and allows us to buy into narratives that end up being inaccurate and sometimes harmful.

  11. Katie, thank you so much for you well verse blog post. As you mentioned, Teman addresses the psychological misconceptions that surrogates are unhappy and have a traumatic experience. In fact, many women have a pleasant experience. This is due to the fact that the idea of being a “mother” is not giving birth to a child, but rather forming a bond with it throughout the years. In other words, a “mother and child” relationship is formed more so out of the womb than inside of it. The end goal is to grow a child so that it can be born and raised with affection and protection, which may or may not come from the same person giving birth to it. That is why I agree with your statement that it is important to take the surrogate’s emotional and physical health into account, but that the fact that the surrogate is growing the child doesn’t necessarily mean she will be a mother to it.

  12. Hi Katie, thanks so much for your insightful post! I think your opinions on the two articles provides a great launching point for discussion on the matter. I largely agree with you in that I mostly support Teman’s view more than I do Katz; for the most part, I believe that someone should be able to be a surrogate if they want to, and they are not necessarily contributing to further control by men over women’s bodies. However, I think Teman’s almost entirely positive view of surrogacy does not encompass the entirety of the context in which many surrogate pregnancies take place. For example, we saw in “Made in India” that many such arrangements only come to fruition as a result of financial hardships. And in accepting a role as a surrogate to a wealthier, foreign family, it does feel as though there is a power dynamic at play that is important to acknowledge. For example, to undergo the surrogacy process to make some money is one thing, but to do it in order to survive and therefore develop complete dependence on the biological parents of your gestating baby is another issue entirely. It takes away the liberty and control that one can exert as a surrogate mother and places it in the hands of the wealthy. However, in an ideal situation, these issues do not occur, and I largely agree with Teman in that it should not be stigmatized.

  13. Hi Katie! Thank you for your contribution to this week’s discussion. I think that your point of view in this specific conversation is unique in that you approached it from an academic perspective as opposed to a personal background, merging the worlds of logic and emotion when it comes to constructing an impactful view of surrogacy ethics. Your first point serves as a great introduction to this idea that an answer cannot be created using only logic or only emotion – the topic is not “all black and white” like you mentioned, and relies on the integration of many viewpoints in order to establish a better understanding. This can, however, complicate things. You mention that the bonding stage is important in establishing a maternal relationship (what happens following pregnancy and through the child’s life). While I agree with you, this is difficult to determine and to analyze across different cultural contexts. In some societies, there are many people that look after children throughout their childhood – this includes nursing, disciplining, teaching, feeding, etc. In others, there is a greater emphasis on independence from an early age. Even in individual contexts, this definition might be difficult to create. I think that what is important from an anthropological perspective in coming to terms with a definition of “mother” is looking at situations from “cultural glasses”. There truly can never be a single definition, because there is not a single utopian society that all others are built in reflection of. In the case of biology, motherhood is a simple phenomenon. However, in the case of anthropology, it is not. Drawing a distinction between the two is the first step. In regards to your discussion on Teman’s argument, I am curious as to whether “mind over matter” can play a role in surrogate-child relationship, or if there is truly a strict and evolved neurological or hormonal pathway involved. Is it possible for a surrogate to ignore this response? Can modern medicine push limits and potentially create a medical “block” to this response if it exists? Would that be ethical?

  14. Hi Katie, thank you for your helpful summary and synthesis of these readings. I appreciate how you incorporated your psychology background and infused that into your analysis of the author’s arguments. You bring up an interesting point about infertility as a disability. I had not previously thought of infertility as a disability, but this has caused me to ask – what “counts” as a disability? Who determines if you have a disability? I don’t think it is my place to say whether infertility is a disability or not. I agree with you that motherhood is about after the pregnancy. Teman discusses how it is natural to bond with the baby during pregnancy. While I am sure this is true, so much bonding happens after the pregnancy, for the approximately 18 years the child lives with the mother. Additionally, fathers do not carry their child but still have a natural bond. The same can be said about adoptive parents. Thank you for sharing with us!

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