Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Surrogate's Tale

About five years into the program, the dormitories were built. It was a natural offshoot of the work, and a work of charity as well -- more and more women in need were applying to be part of the program. Homeless women, jobless women, divorced women finding it hard to make ends meet (but without children of their own -- that wasn't allowed any more, because those women should be taking care of the children they already had). College students had long been a mainstay of the program, because it was getting harder to be hired into a good job right out of school, and people weren't getting married early anymore. And of course no one was obliged or compelled to be a Benefactor -- the requirements were clearly spelled out, and there were counseling requirements to be met before a woman was accepted into the program.

Terminology was set in the early stages. The clients were called "Sponsors". Advocacy groups pushed for the term 'parents', but the language of parenthood was fraught in cases where there were anywhere between two and five parties involved in the development of the fetus, and the directors thought it best avoided. And using the term Sponsor deftly sidestepped any judgment of the client, whether it was an infertile couple, or a pair of gay men, or a career woman who couldn't afford the setback of pregnancy, or an actress who relied on a body unblemished. The term for the surrogates had gone through many evolutions. "Surrogate" itself was considered too clinical, "Carrier" was too demeaning, and "Mother" was, off course, right out. Eventually a cadre of outside consultants settled upon "Benefactor" as striking just the right note -- women helping others, giving the precious gift of parenthood to others.

The dormitories were part of the aesthetic of benefaction. The initial Benefactors were cultured women from elite colleges, attractive, healthy, saddled with debt. These coveted genes commanded good money, but there had been problems with administration -- missed doctor's appointments, substandard diets, substandard housing, lifestyle choices that might harm the fetuses. Apparently a single pregnant woman needed more of a network than a monthly check and a monthly check-in. The dormitories offered concierge living -- in-house doctors, a cafeteria, live-in monitors who exercised motherly care over the Benefactors. The Monitors helped ensure that the Benefactors were making good choices with their pregnancies. Sometimes, left to themselves, the Benefactors might engage in unprotected sex or eat less-than-healthy foods. Sometimes, they might take unapproved medicines that could harm the baby, like some unapproved anti-nausea remedies or Tylenol. The health of the fetuses was very important, and everyone needed to work together to ensure that a perfect baby was delivered to the Sponsors.

Again, the dormitories allowed for a wider range of Benefactors, and a wider range of prices. College-educated women with various positive physical specifications could command the highest compensation, but there were potential Sponsors who wanted babies without being able to afford Grade A rates, even with the upswing in insurance coverage. (The dormitories were key in getting insurance approval, in fact -- private surrogacy arrangements were increasingly seen as too risky to cover.) But there were other less-qualified women willing, even desperate, to participate in the surrogacy programs, desiring the security of dorm life and the paycheck, and so a new pricing structure was developed. Past drug use, homelessness, a lower IQ -- why should these preclude a woman from giving back to society? And if they were helping Sponsors with a lower income to get their desired baby while establishing a more stable life, who could complain? 

People did complain, of course. The program was controversial from the beginning, creating a new intersectionality between radical feminists and conservative Christians. The objections ranged from "dignity" to "the rights of the child" to "treating women as objects" to "institutional patriarchal oppression". But most people didn't think too hard about the programs, and the directors knew that there were plenty of professed feminists whose ideals could not resist the money offered to Benefactors, and plenty of professed Christians whose ideals didn't stand up to pain of their infertility. More and more people knew someone who'd been involved with the program, either as a Sponsor or Benefactor, and less and less people were being judgmental.

And there were success stories: The women who'd paid off their college educations, put aside a nest egg, made connections, and found good jobs based on their new network. The former drug addict who'd turned her life around, the homeless woman who'd found her purpose helping gay couples achieve their dream family. Particularly physically attractive Benefactors could receive placement help with pregnancy modeling agencies. Literary reputations were established. A significant number of alumni found fulfillment as counselors, social workers, and other altruistic careers. Past experience as a Benefactor wasn't even seen as a detriment in the marriage market -- it ensured that a woman knew what she was getting into with pregnancy, if she opted to go the route of bearing her own child, and anyway, only in the program could one expect to find a virgin, even at the premium prices that a clean sexual history could command. The mainstream societal vision of being a Benefactor fluctuated between an ideal, an obligation, and a vocational program.

The rules for residency were quite liberal -- Benefactors could maintain their jobs if they preferred, or could take classes to earn a GED or get college credit if necessary. Leaves to visit family or friends, or for vacations, were generally granted, assuming specific dietary and exercise obligations were maintained. Sexual contact was not prohibited, though Sponsors could select from a menu of preferred restrictions (and price options), ranging from "no preference" to "screened partners only" to "no genital contact". 

No good program was without its glitches, of course. Sponsors demanded more say into the details of the Benefactor's diets, medical care, exercise routines, and delivery plans. Some Sponsors wanted c-sections for more control over the process and timing; some wanted natural births with no interventions. Some wanted to be able to drop in for unannounced inspections. One memorable day, a Sponsor discovered that their Benefactor had been smoking. The upshot was that the Benefactor was released from the program, the Sponsor opting to start afresh with a new Benefactor and fetus.

The program offered six weeks of residential care, support, and a set number of medical follow-up visits and birth control counseling to provide for Benefactors who had successfully completed their term of service. These were free, included as natural and humane extension of the program. The program remained aloof from various controversies about the state of maternal leave in the United States, as of course the Benefactors were not burdened with the care and maintenance of a newborn. No objection was made if former Benefactors preferred to receive medical care and counseling from the many partisan organizations devoted to crisis pregnancies and support for traumatized women -- if a woman had regrets, she was better off with her own kind, and her own kind could bear the cost. Women who did not complete the follow-up care with the program also received a note in their file indicating unsuitability.

The Benefactors were not passive, of course. There were always attempts to unionize. Some women could not fit into the program. A pattern of miscarriages earned a Benefactor a polite dismissal from the program -- at no cost to her, of course. No woman was obliged to stay with the program if she really wanted to leave, but naturally there were contractual obligations to be met and expenses to be reimbursed. And there was always the issue of the fetuses. Obligatory monthly ultrasounds might reveal defects which needed to be dealt with. Most Sponsors preferred to terminate at that point (and no wonder at the cost of the program), but some Benefactors objected. If the Sponsors particular arrangement did not obligate him or her or zir to accept the fetus as-is, but the Benefactor refused to terminate, the Benefactor was released (with a note in her file indicating unsuitability for future benefacting). There were plenty of private programs to place the fetus or offer support to former Benefactors. The program, whose terms were clearly set forth, did not make provision for defaulters.

Stories did tend to circulate around the dorms, like the urban legend about the Benefactor who'd wanted out of the program after six months, but refused to terminate or give up the fetus. Supposedly, she'd been placed on house arrest, and then in confinement until the earliest point that the fetus could be safely removed and delivered to the Sponsors. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn't. If so, it was an extreme case. It was only natural to have some kind of bond with the fetus and even to be sad about the Sponsors claiming it at birth, but women had been giving up children since the beginning of history. Pregnancy, clearly consented to, chosen for the good of others, without the complications of sex, fairly compensated, medically optimized -- everything lived up to the mission of the program: "Service, society, autonomy -- building better families through science".


JoAnna Wahlund said...

Chillingly perfect. If you wrote this novel, I'd read it and recommend it to all my friends. Brave New World, the prequel.

Rebekka said...

Well, that was scary...

Finicky Cat said...

Scary and nauseating. Well done!

Banshee said...

In India, surrogate mothers already live in dorms and can't get out easily.

The disgusting bit is that I found this out from the blog of Milton Friedman's son, the libertarian David Friedman ("Cariadoc" in the SCA). His son and daughter-in-law went to India for surrogacy a few years back.

It was totally creepy. I'm sure they all meant well, and I know from personal encounters that all these people are "nice people" in other circumstances. But it was so wrong, and yet they were okay with it.

Having kids is a good thing. Having kids as a goal that you fulfill at all costs? Not good. Not good at all.