Priscilla Lin’s “Unit 9: What’s Motherhood Got to do with it?” Post

The idea of procreation has been a heavily emphasized idea among religious figures, academic scholars, politicians, as well as the general public. And, the fact that “procreation” can be carried out through advancing biotechnology furthermore adds relevance to the discussion of said topic in today’s society, as it raises important questions regarding the legitimacy of biotechnology in social, cultural, and religious contexts. That being said, motherhood, a topic linked to procreation, has been set aside, ignored as it is placed in the shadows of wedge issues like abortion. However, motherhood should not be ignored when making rational decisions regarding biotechnologies, especially surrogacy. This is due to the fact that mothers do account for half of a child’s genetic composition and the rearing of said child. Therefore, scholars are claiming their stakes in correcting thinking about motherhood, as well as its relation to surrogacy, as it provides further implications and answers to the idea of permissible procreation. “Blessing Unplanned Pregnancy: Religion and the Discourse of Women’s Agency in Public Health” provides the contexts to which we should rethink unintended pregnancies in motherhood and “New Reproductive Technologies: Protestant Modes of Thought” explores the multiple perspectives of Protestants behind these technologies in a way to rid the idea of a single story and show duality behind thoughts regarding unintended pregnancies and views on surrogacy respectively. On the other hand, “Reproductive Technologies and Surrogacy: A Feminist Perspective” and “Made in India” both lay claims in surrogacy, even if they do not agree with each other. 

In “Blessing Unplanned Pregnancy: Religion and the Discourse of Women’s Agency in Public Health”, written by Don Seeman, Iman Roushdy-Hammady, and Annie Hardison-Moody, the authors explore the concept of unplanned pregnancies and the tensions that emerge between the ideas of intentions and blessings in relation to these types of pregnancies. The authors of this essay are able to explore these ideas through their ethnographic study – including participant observations, focus groups, and interviews with shelter staff members and sixteen shelter residents – at Naomi’s House, a shelter for homeless mothers who are mostly African Americans. From their studies, they observed that “multiple women ended up homeless due to their unintentional pregnancies, yet they still considered their pregnancies as a blessing or a turning point in their lives” (Seeman et al. 2). By the end of the study, the authors claim that their study “suggests for better engagement with different registers and contexts of intentionality as it might contribute to more adequate accounts of women’s agency in reproduction” (Seeman et al. 46). That being said, I thought this ethnography to be successful, as it really considered all aspects of the participants’ lives. This allowed for a discussion between being religious and being spiritual among these women, as many women claimed not to be religious but constantly used the word blessing. The vernacular behind the word “blessing” in this study demonstrates an outside force that provided “an avenue to better social support or decisions to escape debilitating personal relationships” (Seeman et al. 46). And because of their study, they were able to show – through the inclusion of Ginsburg’s ethnography over abortion – that the use of the vernacular “blessing” is seen throughout the American reproductive landscape, not just that of African Americans (Seeman et al. 45). This further supports the idea that more research needs to be done, as by exploring various accounts, scholars will be able to find pieces that more accurately describe women’s agency in reproduction. With that said, these authors were able to use their interviews to pinpoint the vernacular that suggested a lack of human agency among mothers, which I believe supports their claim in suggesting for more adequate accounts outside of the ones studied.

Often times, we think of single stories when we learn about certain topics, and we see that single story for all when it comes to unplanned pregnancies, often neglecting that there is more to the story. For unplanned pregnancies, we think of young, ignorant couples that we see portrayed through media as people who could not bother to use contraceptive methods. We see these couples as irresponsible, barely able to keep themselves together, and living terrible lives. Going off of this point, we – as a society – have painted these unintentional pregnancies in a negative light. In a way, this ethnography takes back this single-story, giving a voice to the mothers and showing society that unplanned pregnancies are not terrible and those that have them are not irresponsible and/or bad people. It showed that these mothers are not unknowledgeable for they had “an inability to influence their partners to use contraceptives or contribute to child rearing” (Seeman et al. 39). There are multiple reasons for unplanned pregnancies, and they can have success stories as women have “managed to reframe their lives around achievement and success rather than endless struggles and disappointment” (Seeman et al. 36). Therefore, this ethnography allowed me to rethink unintended pregnancy – and others as well – in that it gave mothers a voice in showing unintended pregnancies as not mere accidents but blessings. 

In the same way,  “New Reproductive Technologies: Protestant Modes of Thought” refutes the idea of the single-story for how Protestants view these reproductive technologies, namely surrogacy. He does this by first mentioning in the beginning that “There is no single ‘Protestantism,’ nor is it clear to what authorities all Protestants agree to bend the knee” (Meilaender 1637). He then continues to show that there is no single “Protestantism” – or way of thinking among Protestants – by invoking various theological ethicists and their viewpoints regarding reproductive technologies. For example, while McDowell turns to the Bible to understand the meaning of parenthood and finds that the first loyalty is to God through the “binding of Issac”, Fletcher “takes Jesus’ warning not to love father or mother more than God as offering a new understanding of the family, no longer grounded in ‘blood’ or genes or genital origin” (Meilaender 1637). Clearly, we have two opposing views in response to surrogacy. That being said, Meilaender fails to offer his own commentary and explanations on whether or not he supports or refutes these points. I believe that he does this to support the point that I first mentioned: the multiplicity behind Protestantism. By showing these viewpoints and not subjecting himself to agreeing on one, he is showing that Protestants have multiple viewpoints – that there are gray areas that are not rigidly defined as in other religions. 

Reading through this piece, it is easy to say that Meilaender considers multiple perspectives when thinking about Protestantism and surrogacy. However, there seems like a lack of direction because he solely focuses on these works and does not use them to support or oppose surrogacy in his own opinion. However, I did find one opinion made by the author. Meilaender “records here his judgment that the Smith/Ramsey view would prove more adequate than the Fletcher view” (Meilaender 1643). However, he does not fully comment on why he believes the views of Smith/Ramsey to be more sufficient than that of Fletcher. If anything, I think that Meilaender thinks this because he agrees with Smith/Ramsey in that reproductive technologies should not be supported. I thought that he supported Smith/Ramsey because most of the viewpoints he included were similar in that they were against surrogacy. He even includes O’Donovan to further contrast Fletcher, and therefore, refute Fletcher’s point in my opinion. But, he does not clearly state which side he is on in terms of the debate over reproductive technologies. That being said, I think he was unsuccessful in trying to get his opinion – on the matter at hand – across, as it got convoluted with the various perspectives and lack of commentary on those viewpoints. However, I do admit he was successful in showing that Protestantism has various viewpoints and cannot be diluted down to a single-story. 

While Meilaender refuses to refute or support surrogacy as he “worried less about particular conclusions than about the theological approaches at work”, Rothman in “Reproductive Technologies and Surrogacy: A Feminist Perspective” opposes the idea of surrogacy through a feminist’s lens (Meilaender 1646). She does so by employing ethos, in that she establishes her credibility as a sociologist and feminist within the opening of the article. By doing so, the audience feels that she is in a place that can support or refute surrogacy, as most people will not question the legitimacy of her claim because she is able to use her position as a feminist to comment on surrogacy. Furthermore, she uses linguistics to show signs of patriarchy in society, as when “Mrs. John Smit bears John Smith Jr.” (Rothman 1600). Therefore, this demonstrates the child as the man’s child and the man’s child only, where the man must plant his seed in the woman. However, this shows a loss of control of the man’s child, which is why Rothman brings to light that “to control the seed is to control the women” (Rothman 1600). Clearly, Rothman would not like this idea of patriarchy, as demonstrated in pregnancy, because she is herself feminist. Thus, she opposes the idea of surrogacy because that would imply control over women. For instance, not only would men have control over women, but “women, too, may have the use of wives” (Rothman 1602). She continues on with this argument by mentioning the moral story of Abraham, Sarah, and Haagar, as well as a modern-day case known as the Baby M case. What these examples illustrate is the idea that “Women do not have particular rights to their children” and “these rights are weakened dramatically by the position women find themselves in within our society (Rothman 1603). Furthermore, this implies that women are helpless in their position and will always lose without a doubt, which in turn makes the audience pity these women and come to terms with Rothman’s argument. That being said, I believe that Rothman also uses pathos in that we feel sympathy towards the women who are at the hands of a society dominated by men. With her employing ethos, logos, and pathos, I believe that Rothman’s argument is successful. That being said, Rothman clearly does not support surrogacy because it supports a non-feminist agenda in her viewpoint. 

However, Rothman does claim that “Religions have hesitated about any kind of “artificial” procreation at all. She includes that Jewish traditions are a part of this as well. However, based on our previous readings and class discussions, I thought that Jews did support reproductive technologies. For example, I thought that the state of Israel heavily invests in reproductive technologies, as they wanted to ensure procreation. Therefore, I think it would be important to note where she got her information regarding the views of religion in their claims to surrogacy, and I would like to know others’ stance on her inclusion of religion in her argument. If religions do not support the idea of reproductive technologies, why attack it in the first place if it, in the end, helps support Rothman’s appeal to end surrogacy. In context, I understand that she is trying to rid the ties of women as not worthy without children and to advocate feminism. I just thought it was interesting that she decided to comment on religion when it would be advancing her claim in opposing surrogacy. 

On the other hand, I feel that the film “Made in India” supports surrogacy. This ethnographic documentary by Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha follows an American couple, Lisa Switzer and Brian Switzer. This couple has tried fertility drugs, intra-uterine insemination, and IVF counseling over the past seven years but to no avail. Therefore, they turn to surrogacy so that Lisa can fulfill her dreams of having a child. At the beginning of the film, she states that “a woman a lot of times defines herself by her ability to have children”. Clearly, she is desperate to have her own children, and therefore, chooses to go to India for surrogacy purposes. This is due to the fact that U.S. surrogacy costs around $70,000 to $100,000 according to the film. By going to India, Lisa and Brian will be able to fulfill the dream of having a child at a much cheaper cost. Therefore, this documentary follows the couple’s adventures, which are full of obstacles nonetheless, in using surrogacy as their one last chance at parenthood. Within the film, they employ interviews with Lisa, Brian, the clinic, the surrogate, as well as others. By doing this, the audience is able to see surrogacy from multiple perspectives, especially that of the gestational carrier, which we were unable to read about. That being said, the audience did not get to hear much from the surrogate because issues related to money in personal opinion. In fact, her experiences with the emergency c-section were zero to none; I was not sure if she was able to have a say in any of these procedures as it made it sound like she had no clue what was going on in the hospital. For me at least, that could be used as a negative against surrogacy. But, the film also included at the end how she was happy and asked to be a surrogate again, so in a way, the film did try to rebuttal that one detail. In addition, Lisa and Brian state that they would go back and do it [the process of surogacy] again, despite the obstacles they faced. That being said, I believe that the film “Made in India” did paint surrogacy in a rather positive way, therefore supporting the idea of surrogacy in a successful way. They were able to rebuttal most, if not all, negative aspects of surrogacy as described above. 

All in all, these readings and the film gave insight into motherhood and surrogacy through various perspectives. It is clear that some of the readings and film employed ethnographies, as well as rhetorical strategies, to either support or refute surrogacy. That being said, I was able to come to the conclusion that everyone has different opinions in trying to advance their motives like with Rothman denying surrogacy because it allows not only men to have control over women/surrogates but women as well. Therefore, in order to accurately come to conclusions regarding surrogacy and reproductive technologies, one must actively pursue various viewpoints in order to fully understand the complexity behind surrogacy and its relationships just as “Blessing Unplanned Pregnancy: Religion and the Discourse of Women’s Agency in Public Health” calls for more adequate accounts.

Discussion Points: 

  • Do you think the inclusion of religion was necessary for Rothman’s claim? Why or why not? 
  • Do you think surrogacy is an attack on feminism? Why or why not? 
  • If Meilaender were to have a view on surrogacy, do you think the author would support it or oppose it, and why or why not? 
  • What would agency look like in terms of a surrogate? Do surrogates even have agency? How does one decide to become a surrogate? To clarify, do you think it is more of a relationship between different reasons, and if so, which ones? We read a lot of readings and watched a film regarding using surrogates but none from the perspective of one. 
  • Should we even offer the option of surrogacy, and why or why not? For instance, there is the option of adoption. It may seem a little extreme to travel to a country on the opposite side of the world to have a child when there are plenty within our country who do not have homes. 

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