Well, they did it again. Good old New York Times pleasured us with yet another surrogacy article that sets us all behind a giant step. The same day as my baby shower, December 12th, they printed an article "Building a Baby, With Few Ground Rules." Just from the title alone you already can see where it's going. Believe me, I used to write headlines during my experience in journalism and I know what they are all about. You keep them punchy and provocative enough so readers will salivate. Already we know the angle of the article. No doubt it is going to portray babies as commodities in the unregulated, dangerous, immoral wild west of surrogacy.
But I read on. Despite my stomach turning, knowing full well it would be biased and end with a slew of nasty online comments from fire breathing know-it-alls, I needed to know how bad the damage was. Furious doesn't come close to describe my utter disappointment and anger (once again) at the New York Times.
The story opens with "Unable to have a baby of her own, Amy Kehoe became her own general contractor to manufacture one." The couple used donor egg and sperm as well as a surrogate. The article proceeds to tell the story of the Kehoes and their surrogate, Laschell Baker, who filed for custody of their twins after finding out "Ms. Kehoe was being treated for mental illness." Once again we see the same tiresome stereotypes - crazy desperate infertile woman spends gobs of money to buy a baby.What's her punishment? Concerned surrogate feels she must keep the baby because she can be a better mother. Because why? For the public, it's obvious, she carried the baby. Second, anybody with mental illness of any level should not be a mother. Great logic. So I guess we should start having all women get approval from a psychiatrist that they are fit to parent? So glad that it's going to be 2010 and we are still pandering to the prejudices again mental illness and fears of new reproductive technology.
The writer, Stephanie Saul, doesn't even try to hide her own opinion in the article. She devotes just one line in the article stating the fact that most cases of surrogacy are not as complicated as Ms.Kehoe's case. But she then follows that up with the thesis statement of the article:
The lax atmosphere means that it is now essentially possible to order up a baby, creating an emerging commercial market for surrogate babies that raises vexing ethical questions.
So if most cases of surrogacy are not this complicated and messy, why is she claiming that suddenly we are now plagued with vexing ethical questions? Okay, journalism 101 - this very opinionated tone needs to come from an interviewed source, NOT the writers voice. Look at the language she uses - "order up a baby," "commercial market for surrogate babies, "vexing ethical questions."Um, this is objective writing? This isn't the Op-Ed section lady. A better journalist would have set the issue up like this:
"Though surrogacy and donors has given opportunities for couples struggling with infertility to find alternative methods for starting a family, the complexity of surrogacy laws, financial costs, and relationships with surrogates has opened the door for cases like the Kehoes to raise debate about what's best for the child."
So we already know where the writer stands and it's not an objective journalistic voice. It's quite obviously suspicious and obsessed with the monetary aspect of surrogacy. As the article continues on we hear about other poor babies being created by maniac infertile couples who are putting the children at jeopardy. Saul then sets up her defining punch of the story with the perfect crazy story of a single man who uses a surrogate to have a baby and brings his pet bird to the hospital. Among other evidence she lays out that this man is unfit to parent, she is able to create the obvious metaphor that people using third party reproduction are essentially seeing their babies as pets. She quotes George J. Annas, a bioethicist who says “This is the main problem with commercialization, seeing children as a consumer product...This is especially true when there is no genetic connection with the child,” he said. “It really does treat children like commodities. Like pets.”
Okay, so according to this statement, intended parents like myself must see our babies as that cute dog we have always wanted? I guess that goes for adopted parents too who also have no genetic connection. You mean after years of infertility and miscarriages and IVFs, all I really wanted was a dog? Gee wiz, I've always wanted a cat or guinea pig, hey, why not a baby?
Jesus New York Times, can you be a little more simplistic and judgmental? Can you see beyond the dollar signs and the manufacturing process? Can you see that there are humans making decisions to love a baby and start a family? Do you jump on every bad apple to base your entire lens on surrogacy? Is there no further explanation you can give of what Ms. Kehoe went through with infertility? Is there consideration that mental illness is treatable and that an enormous amount of people suffer with depression and other disorders and are not barred from parenting? No, I guess not. I guess Ms. Saul couldn't resist keeping the thread of the story focused on the absurd claim that babies are being bought and sold like commodities. She showed no informed debate about the needs of the intended mother and the needs of the surrogate. Nope- dollar signs rule. It's much sexier. Just read how she concludes the article:
"Ms. Kehoe still has hope, though. It is stored in a tank of liquid nitrogen at IVF Michigan. The tank contains 20 frozen embryos made from the eggs and sperm she bought."
Are you kidding me? Um, do you hear the snide use of "hope"? Oh, she's hopeful that she can just buy another baby. If it wasn't bad enough that Saul portrays this whole scenario as if crazy people are building babies without thought or responsibility, now she implies that Ms.Kehoe didn't care that much about those twins to begin with because look at how many embryos she bought and so she can just make another one. Like she bought her supply of high-end designer shoes so she can always have back-up if a pair goes out of style. A nice frivolous ending. Is there no understanding of what loss these intended parents must be going through? Is there no understanding that this is the same feeling as having a stillborn or a miscarriage? So are we suppose to think that people who have frozen embryos just look at them as commodities and not the greatest gift of potentially expanding their family?
Frankly, this is just bad journalism, bad story-telling, and an oversimplification of why people turn to third party parenting. I completely agree with Kerry Howley's blog post, "It's 2010. Can We Stop Talking About 'Designer Babies' Now?" who writes,
Part of the impetus to describe these relationships as new and frighteningly alienated comes, I think, from the misperception that until recently the process of having a baby has been entirely separate from the market economy. And there is undeniably something new about the buying and selling of ova among former strangers. But for as long as childbirth has involved medical professionals, the “creation” of a child has been a group endeavor including parties both paid and unpaid. New technologies create the possibility of new relationships. As those relationships—egg donor and intended mother, sperm donor and surrogate mother—become normalized, the pattern I see is less one of alienation than adaptation.Again, there is something about infertility treatments that people love to see as excessive, selfish, and most of all, vain. There is a tendency to put it in a box and label it anything but normal. It turns woman against woman, parent against parent, and media love to feed off this.
Ironically, as this completely negative portrayal of third party reproduction hit the stands in my beloved city of New York, I wish, just wish the world could know what was happening simultaneously. That very same day just blocks from the New York Times building, my family and friends were gathering for my baby shower, celebrating and honoring the coming of my baby via A. Instead of some legal battle and commercial baby market that the rest of the world was reading about, my wonderful surrogate A. video skyped in to my shower so everyone could meet her. Instead of fears that she would announce she is keeping the baby, screams of joy and applauses rang out from friends and family as A. stood up and showed her big belly carrying my 33 week old daughter. In that moment, was anyone thinking about how much this cost? Were my friends and family tearing up because of our financial loss? Was everyone wondering whether I was mentally fit to have this child? Were we all wondering when my commodity will be born? I think I make my point loud and clear New York Times, that you chose the low road. Tell me who is commodifying babies? Intended parents who seek help to start a family or journalists who chose to exploit and sensationalize a legal tangle and a tragic misunderstanding between two women just to sell some newspapers?