Thomas Frank Will Not Buy Your Baby!


Via IOZ, I see that Thomas Frank is troubled by the fact that women are allowed to form contractual agreements involving their own reproductivity:

When money is exchanged for pregnancy, some believe, surrogacy comes close to organ-selling, or even baby-selling. It threatens to commodify not only babies, but women as well, putting their biological functions up for sale like so many Jimmy Choos. If surrogacy ever becomes a widely practiced market transaction, it will probably make pregnancy into just another dirty task for the working class, with wages driven down and wealthy couples hiring the work out because it's such a hassle to be pregnant.

Frank is talking about Alex Kuczynski's much-criticized New York Times Magazine story on her experience with infertility. He finds it interesting that Kuczynski only quotes "the surrogate mother" three times. I find it interesting that Frank can't bother to call the surrogate mother by her name (it's Cathy Hilling) and chooses to disregard those quotes Kuczynski does include. He seems to find the lived experience of surrogate mothers irrelevant to his thesis. Here is Hilling, paraphrased:

The experience of having a baby for the New Jersey couple, Cathy said, provided her with a deep thrill, and the feeling that she was needed in a profound, unique way. There might always be other willing foster parents, she said, but there would not always be willing, able surrogate mothers.

Perhaps this is simply what one is supposed to say to prospective parents, but I think it's fair to assume that Hilling doesn't see herself as performing a "dirty task" and would find that framing offensive. On the other hand, Hilling seems aware that she is performing a service worthy of payment, precisely because it is a "hassle to be pregnant." This transaction is so controversial in part because women are not supposed to acknowledge that pregnancy can be a burden; rather, it's "what we're made for," "deeply fulfilling." "You're glowing!" men say, patting you on the back for a job well done, an evolutionary purpose fulfilled. Surrogacy exposes pregnancy for what it is: work. 

To her considerable credit, Kuczynski didn't spend 6,000 words trying to signal all the officially sanctioned feminine emotional responses. She writes:

As the months passed, something curious happened: The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.

Obviously, this kind of thing is not allowed. The acceptable reaction would be an expression of profound loss at the inability to experience the Most Important Day of a Woman's Life; angst at the fact that she was forced into the position of spectator, jealousy of the lucky woman growing heavy with her child. Such dishonesty would not have done justice to Hilling and the work she performed, but it probably would have appeased many of Kuczynski's critics.

[Crossposted at]