Stupid is as Stupid Does: Another Rant on Surrogacy in the News

I generally think that media coverage of infertility and surrogacy is a good thing,  helping to raise awareness of infertility and the process of surrogacy, but sometimes I read something that is so infuriating and just wrong that I can’t let it go.  Usually this reaction is triggered by the comment section, but this time it’s the articles themselves.

Over the weekend, CNN featured a story on James and Natalie Lucich, and James’ sister Tiffany Burke who is carrying their twin boys.  At first blush, the story seems so sweet: a sister generously carrying twins for her brother and sister-in-law after Natalie had an emergency hysterectomy.  Awwww.  But there’s this comment from Tiffany on her reaction to James and Natalie telling her they were considering gestational surrogacy:

“I was pissed!” [Tiffany] Burke recalled. She was worried: What if the surrogate drank or smoked or did something to harm herself? She didn’t want the Luciches to take that chance.

That’s right.  Because every woman who carries a child for another couple is an unstable crack whore motivated only by money.  Tiffany’s comment invokes the stereotypical view of the amazing women who generously disrupt their family’s life in order to give a couple the most priceless gift in the world.  Comments like hers are so frustrating because no matter how much coverage surrogacy gets, the gestational carriers always come off as lower-class, uneducated women of dubious character who must be watched very closely.  This impression is why people think that surrogacy is exploitative; if the gestational carrier is so ignorant and poor that she cannot be trusted to take care of herself and any baby she carries for another, clearly she doesn’t know what she has gotten herself into.

Edited to Add:  I’ve received some comments stating that the above quote was made two years ago and that Tiffany feels differently now and is collaborating on a documentary with her sister-in-law in order to help people understand surrogacy.  I think that’s awesome and that documentary will fill a much-needed void.  However, if I knew nothing else about Tiffany, didn’t read her blog, didn’t dig deeper etc., I would have only that quote to go on to draw conclusions about how she perceived surrogates in general.

And then there is this gem from the Huffington Post’s coverage of the Lucich/Burke story:

Burke is troubled by online speculation that her pregnancy is a form of incest because James is her brother. As Burke explained, the twins are Natalie and James’ 100 percent genetically and were conceived before they were placed in Tiffany Burke’s uterus. It has also been noted that James and sister Tiffany were both adopted and have no biological bond.

Are you serious?  People are so ignorant of biology that they honestly think that Burke’s pregnancy is a form of incest?  OMFG.  I can’t believe Burke has had to clarify that she is not related by blood to James.  When I read shit like that, I really fear for this country and its educational standards.  It’s worse than I thought.

And then there’s the coverage in The Stir that led me to this story in the first place: Woman Pregnant with Her Brother’s Twins Must Make His Wife Feel Guilty. My interest was piqued because I wondered if it was going to be some salacious tale of a horrible gestational carrier (just as with every situation, there can be a few bad apples) who is going out of her way to torment her sister-in-law.  What I read was actually worse.  First of all, it’s poorly written.  Secondly, it’s pure speculation.  Writer Mary Fischer muses that James’ wife Natalie must feel enormous guilt for the disruption in Tiffany’s life and the extreme nausea Tiffany has been experiencing during the pregnancy:

While she’s no doubt eternally grateful to her for being willing to give her and James the gift of more children, I can’t help but wonder if she has days when digging out from under the guilt is almost unbearable. She must feel so indebted to Tiffany for the rest of her life, because there’s just no way you can ever repay something like that.

I cannot speak for all Intended Mothers, but when I think of our gestational surrogate, I feel grateful to her and in awe of her. And no, there is no way we can ever repay her in any meaningful way that matches the significance of what she has given us, but Fischer’s notion of Nicole’s indebtedness seems slavish and overwhelming. As if the twins will be always be a bittersweet reminder of her sister-in-law’s noble sacrifice.

And last but certainly not least, Fischer throws Natalie a bone:

And as much as people will applaud Tiffany for carrying these babies for her brother and sister-in-law, Natalie’s strength should be noted as well. Not many women would be able to handle a journey like this without falling apart.

Excuse me?  Why wouldn’t a woman be able to handle a gestational surrogacy journey without falling apart?  Clearly Fischer knows nothing about infertility because by the time you have decided to pursue surrogacy as a means of family building, it is imperative that you have come to terms with your inability to carry children.  Based on my experience and the women I have talked to and read about, yes, you might feel a pang as you watch another woman’s belly swell with your child, but frankly, you’re kind of over it by that point.  The focus has shifted from pregnancy to parenting.

I also detect a bit of condescension that Fischer believes Natalie is lesser than her sister-in-law because she no longer has the ability to carry children and that not being able to do so must be damaging to her perception of herself as a woman that most women could not handle watching another do it for them.  One of the first reactions to discovering you can’t have children is often to feel like less of a woman: if your body can’t have children, why are you a woman?  One positive (ha ha) from infertility is that I was forced to confront cultural and societal perceptions and expectations of women and work through them.  I am a woman and a woman of worth in spite of my inability to carry a child.  Of course I have days when I struggle with this; I’m not that enlightened, but infertility has broadened my understanding of what it means to be a woman beyond reproductive abilities.

And then we come to NBC’s The New Normal.  I’ve griped about the show in previous posts, but I don’t think I’ve laid out my concerns.  In case you don’t know, it’s a comedy about a gay couple who decide to have a child through surrogacy.  Let me be clear: I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with gay couples having children and/or using surrogacy as their route to parenthood.  I support their ability to do so.  My issue is that I wish that the show were about an infertile couple pursuing surrogacy.

There are differences in the experience of a gay couple pursuing surrogacy versus that of an infertile couple: coming to terms with infertility; the relationship of the mother to the surrogate; the IVF process; stupid comments about who the mother is.  There are some similarities: stupid comments about who the mother is, misconceptions about what a surrogate is like and legal issues.  I’m not saying The New Normal is a bad show; I guess I just wished it told the story of what it’s like for a normal couple to experience infertility and pursue surrogacy, to act as an antidote to the stereotypes perpetuated in most media coverage.  I worry that people who watch the show will think they understand surrogacy and more importantly, what it is like to go through it or really, what it was like for us to go through it.

Rant over, I guess. I just wonder if it’s fruitless to keep railing against articles like these and how surrogacy is portrayed on television in the same way we can’t seem to get reporters to stop using “implant” for “transfer.” I have to keep trying, though, because articles like these and network TV capture the public’s attention and are the ones that color their perception of infertility and surrogacy.  They color their perception of my very personal story and how that little blond boy playing with legos at day care came to be.

What one thing do you wish the media would get right about infertility?

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12 comments

  1. I haven’t seen the show, but I agree it would be educational to many to pursue infertility and gestational surrogacy. Perhaps the producers are worried about emotional complexities, which is too bad, bc it would be a show that support a lot of intended parents and surrogates and would educate the public.
    Fortunately, I have only seen and heard positive personal stories and perspectives about gestational surrogacy from both intended parents and the carriers who were trying to educate others.

    1. Yeah, it’s not that I don’t want the show to be a success. Any positive portrayal can help. I just worry about factual errors and whether surrogacy is going to be played for laughs.

  2. I see Tiffany’s initial comment on her brother & SIL using a surrogate as someone being protective and concerned over a loved one. One that she admits making before she really knew much at all about surrogacy. In the end, what led her to being the amazing woman she is to carry for them. I also find it incredibly sad that so many people are this ignorant over surrogacy in general, especially all of the incest related comments. It would be nice if people at least took the time to read and think before speaking.

    1. I agree that the comment probably arose out of her concern and feelings of protectiveness for her brother and his family; I wish the article had clarified that. After all the publicity surrogacy has received in recent years, I am still stunned at the ignorance that remains.

  3. I agree with TXGSx4 above, it seems Tiffany was at first totally out of the loop with what surrogacy really is but, unlike a lot of other people, she became informed on the subject and took it even further by becoming a surrogate herself.

    “I just wished it told the story of what it’s like for a normal couple to experience infertility and pursue surrogacy, to act as an antidote to the stereotypes perpetuated in most media coverage.”

    I quoted you above to point out that I think Tiffany, James and Natalie are doing exactly what you are wishing for by participating in the creation of a documentary and awareness on the subject of a heterosexual couple overcoming their infertility to become parents through surrogacy.

    I agree there are many people who have ridiculous views on surrogacy, I don’t think you need to give up your pursuit in trying to correct their views although I know it can be incredibly frustrating.

    1. Thanks for the information on the documentary. I will support it wholeheartedly and hope it is widely seen. Yes, it can be very frustrating for both IPs and surrogates!

  4. Tiffany and Natalie are sharing the type of story that you are trying to find, but it is their story which is going to be different from your story, my story, or a gay couples sitcom.

    Your taking a quote of hers from the very start of their journey over two years ago as if it was made today. Now that they are almost at the birth of the baby I don\’t think that you would hear the same statement from her.

    All of us came to Surrogacy with very little factual information and had our beliefs of what Surrogacy was based on from media reports or stupid movies. That is why the mantra in the community is research, research, research – because we understand that no matter how smart the newbie\’s might think that are – they really know nothing.

    As we go through the process we learn that it\’s not a \”pay a fee and pick-up a baby process\” but a grueling marathon that we put all of our heart into everyday.

    The experience changes all of us forever.

    It is emotionally very hard to put your child\’s birth story out in the public forum for the anti-Surrogacy groups and the ill-informed to attack. It\’s even harder when the negative comments come from within the Community. It is natural to want to withdraw, protect your child, and not share with anyone anything more about your experience.

    Nobody wants to be an emotional pinata where everyone is taking turns hitting them upside the head with a bat and that\’s what reading negative comments on a website about yourself feels like after you have shared a part of your heart.

    Why would the next person want to share their story when they just saw the last person abused by everyone?

    The question should be how can we help these brave people share their story so that the general public is more informed and knowledgeable of the process? Their success will then lead to the next couple sharing their story with confidence.

    1. I appreciate the clarification that the quote was 2 years old, but that wasn’t clear in the article, and if I didn’t know that, I bet a lot of other people don’t either. Maybe it’s CNN’s fault in how they edited the article, but left on its own without further qualification, the quote appears to be very insulting to surrogates. I don’t think my post is overly critical about their journey; most of my negative criticism is for the other piece and how it portrays Natalie. Yes, each story is unique, and I wish them nothing but the best. I think it’s wonderful she is helping her brother to expand his family.

      1. The media is never going to tell our story the way we want it shared. CNN ran this story under two different headlines first it was called “Carrying these babies for my brother” and then they changed the title to “Modern family strained by surrogacy.”

        Which title do you think got more of hits?

        CNN only has ratings on their mind and controversy is what gets people to pay attention.

        The New Normal is a Comedy sitcom so of course the are going to play Surrogacy up for every laugh they can get. That means making fun of the stereotypes people think of when they think about Surrogacy. Most people are smart enough to now the difference between a comedy and reality.

        I think that laughter reduces fears though and can open the doors to many people looking into Surrogacy to find out what it is really about because they saw it on a TV show.

        By creating their own documentary Tiffany and Natalie can bypass the media and get their story out directly to the public. One that hasn’t been filtered by the need to be twisted for ratings or laughs.

        I think that they are on the right track and I wish them well.

  5. You brought up some very interesting things that I hadn’t given any thought to. I have never met anyone who was a surrogate or had that blessing of a surrogate. Thank you, you definitely opened my eyes about how it is depicted. Great post!

  6. I’ve DVR’d a couple of episodes of the New Normal, and, for what it’s worth, *everybody* is a frickin’ cliche on it. The intended parents are even gay stereotypes. In the first episode I watched I was incredibly queasy because there was one gestation carrier candidate who held her uterus “hostage”, threatening to drink and smoke if the intended parents didn’t compensate her further with a BMW. And, of course, they use all the wrong IVF terminology (ex, “implant” vs. “transfer”–“We’re going to implant the embryo”), trumping up a false understanding of IVF, too. I don’t know–I’ll keep watching it because I want it to be successful. I want to see more attention given to alternative family building. Like you, though, I want it to be accurate. Who says you have to forsake humor for accuracy?

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