Commence Controversy Now

I had the opportunity to waste an inordinate amount of time today getting worked up over comments posted by many (apparently) fertile people in response to Judith Warner’s op-ed piece in The New York Times on the “outsourcing” of surrogacy to India. Did I take it? You’re damn right I did.

I should first discuss the piece. Warner discusses (and takes great umbridge at) the idea of Western women renting wombs from poor and presumably downtrodden women in India. She is also very turned off by the woman featured in the original piece on Marketplace. Warner wrote:

This was ‘Julie,’ an American thirtysomething who’d come to India to pay a poor village woman to bear her baby. She went on: ‘You have no idea if your surrogate mother is smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs. You don’t know what she’s doing. You have a third-party agency as a mediator between the two of you, but there’s no one policing her in the sense that you don’t know what’s going on.’

Would you want this woman owning your womb?”

Wow. Just wow. My mother taught me that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Ms. Warner, like me, apparently doesn’t follow that advice. I understand that columnists are paid to generate controversy, but this just seems like a low blow. Part of the reason is because she doesn’t mention that Julie tried five times to have a baby and wasn’t able to do it. Julie is infertile. Julie is not one of those women who don’t want to get stretch marks so they use a surrogate. Ms. Warner, however, apparently thinks that Julie is one step from this by talking about how Julie “… [was] speaking in her awful, entitled tone.” I can’t tell if Ms. Warner feels this way about all infertile people or if Julie just particularly grated her. I’d like to think she has a tad more empathy than that.

Not surprisingly, the histrionics she employed set the stage for hysterical flagelations of commenters about the injustice of bourgeois women from the rich West using poor, third world human incubators to do the dirty work. I can see their point. While I think surrogacy in principle is a wonderful thing – the ability of one person to give someone something that they could not otherwise have, my nose begins to crinkle a little at the idea of paying someone in the developing world to carry my child because things are sticky here. While I don’t know if I would do it, I’m certainly not going to tell someone else that they can’t.

What really bothered me about the comments, though, were how many people felt that infertile couples should just “deal with it” or “find a new fixation”. The assumption is that if they are to the point where they would go to India and essentially rent a uterus, they need to get a life. This frustrates me no end because I’m pretty certain that everyone who said those things has not dealt with infertility (and statistically, most of them will not have to).

Infertility calls into question your very essence and being. You feel betrayed by your body because it’s having trouble achieving one of its primary functions. You feel inadequate because you cannot perform the most basic thing that a woman is supposed to do. It is all consuming and you have to fight not to make it your only life. To tell someone who is infertile or dealing with infertility that they should deal with it, to me, feels as if I had cancer and someone told me to just die gracefully. It is amazing the tyranny others can inflict with their opinions when in reality they don’t know shit.

The fact is that people who have not dealt with infertility cannot judge the choices and actions of those who do. End of story.

4 thoughts on “Commence Controversy Now

  1. I don’t believe in coincidences. I JUST THIS MORNING read about this article of & I was trying to decide just what is my opinion on the topic.

    As someone who is blissfully {& hopefully will remain} childfree, I won’t pretend to understand the heartache & longing that hits couples who want desperately to be parents but fight infertility.

    I will, however, always be sympathetic to the plight. Is plight a good word? Mayhaps not, but I can’t think of any better.

    If these women in India are not forced into the position, are treated with respect & receive good health care, if they arrive at the decision to become surrogates of their own free will, who are we to say this is a bad thing? If it is mutually beneficial to all concerned, & within the law, where’s the harm?

    We continually are told that the world is now a “global village” & reminded to remember that we are all connected, but when people try to live with that in mind, they are chastised? If these women lived across the street, there would be no uproar – no matter what their social standing or financial situation was. But since they live across the world, it’s wrong & exploitive?

    Sounds hypocritical to me.

  2. Leaving aside the judgemental tone of the original article, stories like this really make me question how far I would be willing to go in my quest for a baby. Ultimately it remains up to the individual to decide whether it is something that she feels comfortable with. As you say, only those who have themselves dealt with infertility can understand the depths of emotion it brings in its wake – which is why I am not willing to join Judith Warner in condemning those who do decide to go down this route out of hand.

    I also wanted to wish you all the very best with your treatment – I had very similar feelings to you on unpacking my IVF goody bag just before Christmas!

  3. I think one element that’s consistently missing from discussions re: IF and treatment extremes–it’s usually the extremes that make the news–is the notion that IF is a medical problem and should be subject to the same approaches as other non-lethal conditions that have a significant impact on the patients’ quality of life. I agree with Ms. Heathen: within certain, as-yet-to-be-legally-determined limits, individual choice and sentiment should prevail.

    Instead, we see (in the comments) the same old punitive moral platitudes about needy orphans, overpopulation, “moving on,” selfish career women waiting until they are 58 to consider motherhood, and so on.

  4. Amen ladies!

    Wilma- it is indeed a plight, trial, epic journey, Homerian odyssey, whatever else you want to call it. I do agree that the viewpoint is a tad hypocritical.

    Ms. Heathen- thanks for your wishes on my first IVF cycle! Same to you! I agree that each person needs to determine what they are willing to do- but I don’t want other people taking away options from the table because they are morally uncomfortable with them. Only those people who are involved in infertility should make decisions about their treatment.

    Shinejil- your last paragraph is what I kept thinking the whole time I was reading those comments. I am a selfish career woman who waited until she was 29 and had blocked tubes. Quel horror!

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